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How foreign aid has become unwanted

Airport Juba(Photo Petterik Wiggers)Photo Petterik Wiggers

Immediately upon arrival in the South Sudanese capital Juba, the sight of white relief workers is overwhelming. At the airport there are long rows of white-painted aid aircrafts and helicopters, from the United Nations, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. In the city one gets stuck in traffic jams of four-wheel-drive vehicles owned by foreign aid workers. The aid industry has taken over South Sudan, it organizes air transport, arranges tasks for ministries and keeps the economy running.
Such aid dependency increasingly irritates African governments, this is in strong states like Rwanda and Eritrea as well as in ‘failed’ states such as Congo and South Sudan. This has been the case for years, but since the turn of the century, Africa has seen remarkably high economic growth and increasing political stability. That is why governments have become more assertive. The painful dependency on the one hand and self-confidence on the other creates tension.
African countries increasingly consider the presence of foreign aid groups and the UN as an unwanted interference. Foreign aid is in danger and becomes a political toy.

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This is our home, say the Sengwer

the Embobut forest in the west of Kenya

The dilemma whether an indigenous people can live in a forest that is a water catchment area, stares you in the face in the Embobut forest in the west of Kenya. There are only tufts left, while it harbours the source for a river that is important for a large part of Western Kenya. The forest needs urgently to be rehabilitated because Kenya is already struggling more and more with water shortages.

And then there are the Sengwer, a people of what used to be hunters and gatherers, who consider the Embobut forest as their traditional home. Their ancestors found everything they needed in the forest. They ate meat from wild animals which they killed with bow and arrow. They gathered tubers and wild grains with which they supplemented their diet. They also got honey from the bees and used medicinal herbs for diseases.

Elias Kimaiyo, a Sengwer activist, believes that it is not a dilemma but a win-win situation. “We know the forest best. We are the natural guardians. The forestry department must teach us how to restore it.” However, the government does not want anyone in the forest and chases everyone out of it with use of excessive violence.

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The Last Male Standing

Sudan(Photo Christan Paulussen)

Panting from the heat he lies in a pool of mud. Bubbles of air emerge from his derriere, caused by the fermented food in his stomach, and deep sighs escape from his large nostrils. Sudan is already 44 years old, a considerable age for a rhinoceros. “Just a little while and he will be dead,” Zacharias says sadly, one of his permanent guards. “Sudan is my father and brother, Sudan is my best friend”.
Sudan is the last of its kind, the only living male of the northern white rhinoceros. With difficulty he gets up, slips away, threatens to fall and stands up again. Sudan is The Last Male Standing. With pain and compassion, documentary filmmaker Floor van der Meulen follows his fight against extinction. “What is so attractive about extermination, that is the question I ask in the film The last male standing. Why do people from all over the world want to meet Sudan”, Van der Meulen wonders. “What does that say about us as people”.
Van der Meulen had previously made films about Syria, such as Paradise Stormers and Greetings from Aleppo*. Her new fascination is with a rhinoceros, which she has been following for two years now.

What do you have with that beast?
“I saw a picture in the newspaper with Sudan standing on the savannah with four armed ranchers around him, his own personal bodyguard team. Why should such a large and powerful and dangerous animal be protected by four armed men? That is the world upside down”.

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Military superpowers try to elbow each other out in Djibouti and China is winning

Djibouti oct 2017

On the island of Mouchas, an hour sailing from the mainland of Djibouti, lie the remains of pirate tombs. They date from the 19th century. Already then pirates were a threat to cargo ships in the busy Red Sea lane as they brought their treasures to this coral island.

In the blue-green sea container ships with cargo for hinterland Ethiopia lower their anchor. In the sweltering air flies an American fighter plane which has taken off from Djibouti; a ship from Shanghai sails to the port near the Chinese military base. Sometimes the inhabitants of Djibouti can hear the Saudi air force bombing the coast of Yemen.

Nowhere in Africa are there as many foreign bases situated as in the Horn, and especially in Djibouti military superpowers try to elbow each other out. China has recently gained a solid footing there and Saudi Arabia also wants to set up a base. Turkey and the Arab Emirates established their military support points in the neighboring countries of Eritrea, Somaliland and Somalia. Soldiers from all directions of the wind come to this strategic region to combat modern pirates, smugglers, human and arms traffickers and radical Muslims in Yemen and Somalia. Their attempt to control one of the most important seaways is part of a global game of military dominance, by which the barren desert state annually raises millions of dollars. Jokingly the mini-state is sometimes called the International Republic of Djibouti.
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Dutch University Slanders Genocide Hero

Samuel

Samuel, one of the witnesses, showing the names of murdered family members in the genocide memorial in Mugonero

Photo by Elley Ho

Text by Jos van OIJEN

Wolfgang Blam saved lives during the genocide in Rwanda, while the rest of the world looked the other way. This hero is now depicted as a charlatan by students of VU University in Amsterdam.

Twenty-five years ago, the ‘Innocence’-project was launched in New York, set up to help the victims of miscarriages of justice in America. Since then, hundreds of wrongly convicted people have been released. This success led to similar initiatives in other countries. An example from the Netherlands is the student project ‘Reasonable Doubt’ at the Vrije Universiteit (VU University) in Amsterdam.

The most recent project of ‘Reasonable Doubt’ is the case of Joseph Mpambara. Mpambara is serving a life sentence in the Netherlands for his part in the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda by Hutu-extremists, and for terrorising a German-Rwandan family during the same period. The results of the research were published in the book A Rwandese House of Cards (in Dutch: Een Rwandees Kaartenhuis).

“Vampires”

Unlike the ‘Innocence’-Project, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ does not search for new evidence to prove the innocence of the convicted person. In this case the students are mainly limited to analyzing the judicial files, as provided by the former defence lawyer of Mpambara. The students received additional information from a handful of other lawyers of genocide suspects, and from Mpambara himself. The postscript of the book was written by one of the advisers: Mpambara’s current lawyer.

This guidance from interested parties reveals a major weakness of the book. The VU-students criticize the manner in which the criminal investigations were carried out by the Dutch authorities, but they forget to contact those responsible. The only government official who is listed as a source tells me by phone that the information he provided is largely ignored in the book.

No independent genocide experts or victim associations were contacted either. The logical consequence is that many questions remain unanswered, forcing the students to speculate. A risky approach. “It’s a useful book with a lot to learn from, but hardly scientific,” says Martin Witteveen, an examining judge who has interrogated dozens of witnesses in Rwanda. “Much of its content is open to question. It’s more like a plea that was never made.”

Whether this plea is sincere remains to be seen, however, as several of the advisers of the project are controversial. One of the lawyers has infuriated Africa-experts by referring to Tutsi-witnesses as “vampires” and to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) as “the International Hutu Meat Mill.”

A few years ago another one disturbed an international art project about the genocide. And a third source was heavily criticized by Genocide Watch last summer for denying the genocide. So, in addition to the vested interests of the consulted lawyers, these sources display some dubious sentiments that will not have contributed to the objectivity of their information either.

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All about Self-Liberation

by

Dawit Mesfin

I have a friend who served as a British soldier during WWII whose stories I find quite fascinating. In fact, I have made it a habit to meet him every other day during my coffee breaks at the British Library in London. Listening to the stories of his youth, when he was deployed to Kenya and Egypt and his stopovers along the Red Sea, helps me to understand what the situation of that time was like for young recruits as well as how the British Empire functioned.  Ken, who has recently celebrated his 88th birthday, loves to reflect on the bumpy journeys of his life as well as numerous other experiences.  Currently, he is rushing against time to finish his 3rd or 4th book on the history of medieval England.  He is a self-taught intellectual with an acute sense of the pitfalls of modern times and the ‘futile escapades’ of the young, so to speak.  I admire him for the way he maintains a steady balance of his old values by juxtaposing himself to modern times and the lives of his children and grand-children.

Ken introduced me to the writings of Yuval Noah Harari who wrote in great detail about where we, human beings, came from (Sapiens), and where we are going (Homo Deus). To learn why we are the way we are and what we can do to influence our direction is indeed interesting.  I appreciate Ken’s grasp of such complex theories which I find difficult to take in.  However, I am not sure his interpretation of Harari’s theories is spot on. There is something about the theories’ validity that I find irksome concerning Africa’s development history.  Leaving that aspect of the narrative aside let me go back to the story of my friend. Ken, from time to time, makes me flinch with some of his views of the world (die Weltanschauung). His cynicism, mistrust of elected official and contemptuous attitude towards the Wikipedia generation raise eye brows.  He tends to glorify some aspects of the past and ridicule the present. And he is constantly worried about the future because of migration anxieties.

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God has lost the key to make rain in Turkana

Turkana areaA dark cloud emerges above the cruel landscape of sand, stones, rocks and thorny bushes. On the plains as dry as cardboard live the last hardened cattle nomads. “The pattern of the blood vessels on the intestines of a goat we slaughtered yesterday show that there are still a few showers coming”, the tribal elder Muchu points to the cloud. Muchu belongs to Turkana, tribal people living in this extreme northwestern corner of Kenya around the borders of South Sudan and Ethiopia. Again, the rainy season has failed in most parts of Kenya this year. One drought has come on top of the other, for years now. In inhospitable areas like here, the nomads have come to a standstill because of climate change.
 

Maybe one car a day travels to the hamlet of Lokamarinyang, there are no roads but tracks. Children with little blubber buttocks pray for food or water, the elderly have protruding chests and legs like sticks. “Look at our mouths”, points an elder to his lip ring. “Did we have tea this morning? Our women and children eat the hides of carcasses”.

A group of slow-moving men sits down on boulders under an acacia tree. They talk about old days. A crisis that started many decades ago has reached its breaking point. It is not just about the devastating drought of 1960, that the Turkana refer to as Namator (“the time when the bones of camels showed themselves”). Or the one of 1980, or of 2011, or the present one. Due to the culmination of the increasingly occurring droughts, life is hardly possible any more in Turkana. “God has lost the key to making rain,” says a man.
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New tactics of Nigerian army drives Boko Haram away but keeps the population hostage

 Prominent faces on the wanted list

The helicopter lands on a field that is littered with bullets. We have arrived in Gwoza, an area in northeastern Nigeria where only military vehicles can safely reach the cities. In the surrounding countryside, the militias of the Boko Haram terrorist group still prevail. Mostly women live in Gwoza. Their husbands were forced to remain in the countryside, captives of Boko Haram.

Today, the weekly military convoy has arrived with goods. The soldiers also brought new displaced people. “Stand in rows, we must do a body check on you”, a soldier commands the refugees. “Do they really think we may be planning suicides?,” protests Gaji Saida.

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Fighting against the demons created by Boko Haram

kFFatima Akilu

Fatima Akilu

Violent memories rage in their heads, as if possessed by demons. Every night Amina, a young woman, falls into a deep hole. Because two years ago she saw the way her father was beheaded by Boko Haram. She ran away, dragging the headless body and her baby on her back. But in her panic, she fell into a deep pit and lost the child. When she later found it, it was dead. “I cry and I pray. What have I done”, says the young woman.
The psychological trauma of brutal conflict in Africa is huge, but international aid organizations usually do not pay much attention. However in Nigeria that is different, thanks to a special Nigerian woman, Fatima Akilu. She founded the Neem Foundation last year and together with twenty psychologists she attempts to fight trauma caused by the war. “It’s a drop in an ocean, because there are hundreds of thousands with memories of atrocities,” she says.
They are sitting on an orange mat in an unfinished house in Maiduguri, Borno’s capital, the Nigerian state ravaged for eight years by Boko Haram. The groups terrorizes civilians and commits both huge material and mental damage.

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The child captives of Boko Haram: “Suddenly we were all alone”

Ontheemde kinderen in MaiduguriWe agreed to meet at the zoo in Maiduguri. There, the two girls aged nine and seventeen and the thirteen-year-old boy feel comfortable talking about their captivity under Boko Haram, the Nigerian terrorist group which in eight years killed an estimated 20,000 civilians and drove millions more from their homes. The face of the nine-year-old girl gets tense and she moves evasively as she remembers the strokes of the whip. The boy holds his hand on his throat during his story about an execution. The seventeen-year-old avoids eye contact when she talks about her rape. They are the victims, but could they also be the perpetrators?
Every loud noise seems to cut into their soul. Like the helicopters of the Nigerian government army which take off from Maiduguri, the capital of the northeastern state of Borno. The population has doubled to two million because of people fleeing for Boko Haram. Nobody travels outside the city without military escort.
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Pygmies: How the oldest people of the world became the poorest of the poorest

Bernard Wewela teaches how to climb a tree to fetch spinage(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Winding rivers make their way through the rainforest. A fisherman casts his net into the steaming brown stream. “U-aah, u-aah” comes from the river’s edge, primal sounds of the Pygmies in the jungle. This is one of oldest communities in Africa, dating from the times when people lived solely by hunting and gathering plants. The Pygmies, or BaAka as they call themselves in the Central African Republic, live in the Congo basin along the equator.

The visitor must first be cleansed of bad village spirits. The BaAka never used to live in villages but rather stayed with their family throughout the year as nomads in the jungle. There they felt safe and secure and had enough food. After their expulsion from the forest by loggers, poachers and farmers, village life meant deep poverty, alcohol and discrimination. The old man Bernard Wewela throws leaves in a circle, the young people begin to beat their branches on the ground. “Buu-uu, buu-uu”, they call. “We drive out the bad energy of the contaminated village life.”
Wewela teaches young people from the village the secrets of the forest during a trip over several days. Wewela resides most of his time in the village. Reluctantly. Because after their dramatic expulsion from the jungle the BaAka live as outcasts, the village life has heralded their demise.
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‘One day there will be an uprising in Kenya. Things have to change’

Robert 'Rowbow'Ochola(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Robert ‘Rowbow’ Ochola(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Introduction:

With a new constitution since 2010 and with social media as a new tool for communication, Kenyan politics has been re-energised. But tribes and old political blocks still dominate the political discourse. Will there be space for young and independent candidates in the general election in August? Robert ‘Rowbow’ Ochola is as real as they come; a man from a hood in Nairobi. He is as poor as his voters.

“People are angry”, he says, “They are not happy with the beneficiaries of theft, corruption and shoddy dealings in the government. One day there will be an uprising, an uprising by the poor majority who also want a piece of the cake.

An interview:

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We must not give up on revolutionary optimism in Kenya

Election violence 2008(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Introduction:

Kenyan former chief justice Willy Mutunga speaks out. “We must not give up on revolutionary optimism”, he warns in this piece. Since a new and progressive constitution was promulgated in 2010, reactionary forces try to undermine it. But “the struggle to implement the progressive vision of this Constitution continues today”. Mutunga praises devolution, which he sees as “transformation from the margins”.

This article first appeared on the website of Transformation.

On August 27 2010 Kenya promulgated a progressive Constitution whose vision is social democracy. It’s a vision of the promotion and protection of the whole gamut of human rights; the equitable distribution of political power and the resources of society; and the creation of a nation out of different ethnic groupings. The Constitution aims to bring an end to the organization of politics through divisions; mitigate the protection of private property in land; cement agreement on national values and principles; promote integrity in public and private leadership; and build depersonalized national institutions.

The struggle to implement the progressive vision of this Constitution continues today. The elite forces of the status quo who found this vision unacceptable are resisting its implementation at every step. As the latest stage in this process, Kenya will hold new elections on August 8, 2017. I was Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya from 2011 to 2016, so I’ve observed and participated in this process first-hand. Given the efforts of the political elite to resist the implementation of the Constitution, I became convinced that the Judiciary had to play a pivotal role in defending and advancing it. We consciously developed a jurisprudence that promoted the Constitution’s robust implementation, and in that way the Judiciary became a political actor.

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The invading cows can’t be stopped anymore

drought in Samburu district(Photo Koert Lindijer)

The gate stands wide open and the fence is destroyed on this normally heavily guarded farm. At the entrance there are some empty cartridges. No landowner can resist the invasion of the mooing cows and the government seems powerless. The stubborn cattle nomads of Kenya show their strength originating from an archaic past, when they were the strongest power in a large territory. Faced with a severe drought, the nomads and their herds have occupied large tracts of private land in the Laikipia region around the equator.
Dust clouds hang above everything that moves in the country. In their rivalry for the last grass and water humans and livestock as well as elephants and giraffes pulverize the fragile soil with their feet. “Yes, it is possible that the owner of this farm holds the title deed,” smirks a nomad of the Samburu who has invaded the farm. “Yes, he has the title deed, but I have the soil. If you are sitting in a protected place in the shade and I sit on a bare rock in the sun, I have the right to come and sit with you.” He points into the distance. “See that smoke over there? Go there. Let the smoke tell the story.”
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Gambia, a country of slaves, sex tourism, alcohol and peanuts

-6Tens of thousands of European tourists come to Gambia annually, while thousands of Gambians leave for Europe illegally. The number of Dutch tourists in particular is large. “Would the Dutch and British holidaymakers stay away, then the economy goes kaput,” says Marc van Maldegem, manager of the Kombo beach hotel near the capital Banjul. Welcome to “the smiling coast of Africa”, as Gambia advertises itself to tourists.
Welcome to the most unreal country in Africa, a monster of colonial history. The smallest country in mainland Africa is also one of the poorest. Therefore Gambians look elsewhere. “I will marry only with a Gambian in Europe, only then will I be assured of a good future,” says a girl in Bintang, a village located a hundred kilometers inland.

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Can robots in Congo bring order where humans fail?

Congo river at Kinshasa facing Brazaville

Tamoke

The Botswana diplomat politely presents his passport at Kinshasa airport. He is startled when the customs official slaps it down on the desk with a bang. “That is a false visa. Come with me to the police.” Forged visas are indeed issued by corrupt employees working at Congolese embassies in Africa. But the distinguished diplomat, who is in Kinshasa to do some training, is merely a victim of bad luck: the date on his perfectly-legal visa is incorrect. Welcome to Kinshasa, probably the most intimidating capital on the continent.

The chaos starts outside the airport – sometimes it is the kind of friendly disorder that characterizes any informal society, sometimes it is cruel, planned disorganization, which leaders use to stay on top. On the wide main road to the city of 12 million people, honking cars swerve wildly into the path of oncoming traffic to avoid the snarl-ups. The police do nothing, focusing instead on beating up a driver who refused to pay a bribe.

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Fifteen years ago, a deadly silence descended on Eritrea

 

Issayas Aferworki in 1986 in the bush. Photo Koert Lindijer

Issayas Aferworki in 1986 in the bush. Photo Koert Lindijer

The Eritrean exile Dawit Mesfin is a bitter man. “There is no news at all of the prisoners”, he says from London. “They have totally been isolated in secret detention since their arrest fifteen years ago. That is an extremely cruel measure against Eritreans who sacrificed everything for the liberation of their country”.

Mesfin is still affected about what happened on the morning of September 18, 2001 in the capital Asmara. President Isayas Afeworki on that day committed fratricide. He put 23 critical senior government politicians and soldiers behind bars – all comrades of the thirty-year liberation struggle – as well as twelve prominent journalists. “Of the twelve journalists, we think, five are still alive,” said Abraham Zere, another Eritrean exile. “The last survivors wait in jail for death to come”.

The arrests ushered in a period of repression without end. Eritrea is at the bottom of the world list of press freedom, it has never held elections since its independence in 1993. Almost thousand youngsters flee the country every week.
Zere calls it “a chilly police state where fear has been implanted in people’s genes”. Independent researchers and journalists rarely get permission to visit the country, so the scant information usually comes only from exiles.

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South Sudanese run away from their new nation

A small van from South Sudan enters Uganda with a group of refugees. All of them are children. “The South Sudanese army stops the men coming out”, the driver says, “they cannot leave the country”.

It’s eleven o’clock in the Ugandan border town of Elegu and four hundred South Sudanese have arrived since sunrise. Since the civil war erupted again in July in Southern Sudan, hundreds of thousands of refugees have crossed the border. Many others fled to Ethiopia and Kenya, bringing the total to one million.

South Sudan has already one and a half million displaced citizens. Half the population of twelve million cannot live without food aid. The UN call it an emergency.

Rural dwellers from just across the border tell of their fear for South Sudanese government soldiers. They go from house to house and pick up young men they accuse of supporting rebels. They also tell of looting by the army, about undisciplined rebels and robbers who attack food trucks.

“Everywhere armed men scour the country side”, says farmer Sunday Ngawana. Their enemy is the civilian population. “One group first stole everything from my house, then a other group took off with the leftover stuff when I escaped to Uganda”.
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The landscape has turned naked and brittle

 -1 in de plantage met op de achtergrond een boom van het oerbos

Vet Roland Suluku rides every day over scorched earth with the bike owned by his local priest. “The country is getting warmer and poorer,” he says about his working visits to the rural villages of Sierra Leone. “Rain forests almost entirely covered my country thirty years ago, now they are almost nonexistent.”

Up to the mountains and to the horizon, everything is blackened. The landscape shimmers and lacks the sounds of birds and crickets. Having all been put to flames by farmers who practice shifting cultivation.

A trail of empty plastic hard liquor sachets leads to a patch of forest. “Traditional hunters” sighs Suluku. Hunters, farmers, logging companies and diamond prospectors penetrate deeper inside the already depleted rainforests. But nature strikes back as the invaders come out of the forest with dangerous diseases. Viruses such as HIV/AIDS, Chikungunya fever, West Nile fever, Rift Valley Fever, Dengue, and Ebola Marlburg have emerged in the last century from the animals in the woods.

Deforestation is perilous. The famous Frenchman Louis Pasteur(born 1822), the father of microbiology of the microorganisms, predicted it: “The microbes will have the last word.”

A century ago, in West Africa most areas of the coast and further inland were dazzling green. British writer Graham Greene describes travelling in the region in his book “Journey Without Maps” published in 1936 as going through “a green tunnel with no end.” All those woods made him claustrophobic, in panic he began “thinking about things to think about.” Further eastward three hundred years earlier Dutch entrepreneurs plowed for weeks through scarcely penetrable forest in search of gold and slaves.

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A crisis is emerging in the fight against Aids

A crisis is emerging in Africa in the fight against HIV because of increasing resistance to the most commonly used antiretroviral(ARV) drugs. “The problem is very serious. In our hospital we see more and more patients who after several years of treatment develop resistance to the medicine against the HIV virus”, says internist Furaha Lyamuya. He works at the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC), a regional referral hospital in Moshi, a small Tanzanian town at the foot of the Kilimanjaro. “In the hospital we can only see the tip of the iceberg. In the countryside there is fear, because many patients have already died because of the failure of antiretroviral therapy.”

The experience with the failing antiretroviral therapy in KCMC is confirmed in a study conducted in 36 countries between 1998 and 2015. Based on that research, the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases(May 2016 issue)  publishes an important article about increasing resistance to one of the most widely used antiretroviral, tenofovir.

Co-author of that article is the Dutch fellow infectious diseases Raph Hamers, affiliated with the Department of Global Health of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam. He is stationed at KCMC for several months as part of his research on HIV therapy resistance in Africa. “Treatment fails in one out of five HIV patients in Africa, and in six out of ten of them it is because the virus has become resistant to tenofovir.”

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Kenya is faced with home-grown muslim extremism

Ahmed (32) joined the islamic terrorist movement al-Shabaab in neighboring Somalia two years ago. His sister Halima has not heard from him since. “Fortunately,” she says in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. “Al-Shabaab will only make contact if your family member has arrived in heaven.”

Ahmed is one of the hundreds of young people in Kenya who have become radicalized in recent years. Most come from Mombasa, or from the slums of Nairobi. “Al-Shabaab recruits them to carry out terrorist attacks in Somalia and increasingly in Kenya itself,” says social worker Phyllis Muema. Muema, who heads Kecosce, a group in Mombasa trying to dissuade youngsters from their radical ideas, calls it “an explosive situation.”

Mombasa has become a hotbed of extremism. About a quarter of the Kenyan population is Muslim. Most live at the coast and in the northeast of the country, in the region bordering Somalia. When the first major terrorist attack took place in Kenya – in 1998 by Al-Qaeda on the US Embassy in Nairobi – the perpetrators were merely foreigners. Now Kenya is faced with home-grown Muslim extremism. President Kenyatta labelled this terror recently as “a threat to the survival of the nation”.

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Western Mali, where migration is a religion

The road from Bamako to Kayes

The road from Bamako to Kayes

The minarets plastered with azure colored tiles tower above the baobab trees on the desolate savanna. In this region in the west of Mali signs of prosperity are dissonant with the image of an otherwise poor country. Besides the beautiful mosques, stone houses and shops with corrugated iron roofs catch the eyes in contrast to the traditional mud dwellings with thatched roofs.  A school, a clinic, a small water treatment plant – all these are fruits of the labor of migrants in African and European countries.”Welcome to the port of departure for migration,” says Mayor Sega Sissoko in the dusty village of Ségala in the western region of Kayes. “Migration is for us a religion. If Europe does not allow migration it means that you do not grant us a life. ”

Migrants from Ségala transfer money to their families, and in consultation with the village elders  they invest in social and infrastructure projects. “Our young people cherish just one desire: migrate” The adviser to the mayor has also recently left for France in search of work.

Moussa Fofana in SégalaMoussa Fofana

From far and wide mopeds strapped with coolers ride on and off at the house of Moussa Fofana in Ségala. On his property are two second hand Mercedes cars and a satellite dish which he uses to watch French television.  After 44 years working as a steward on French express trains he has now retired to his hometown. He bought with his little capital a generator and fridges with which he began to produce ice water. “I rebelled against poverty. When I left in 1971, the Malian government banned migration, but you will always find a way out. I bought a Ghanaian passport and chose the adventure.”
Why did he go to France? He pulls the woolen hat which he brought from Paris over his face and says, “My father served in the colonial army. At home we were always talking about France. It was a logical choice. ”

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How Al Shabaab tears apart Kenya

The two towns belong to the same County in northeastern Kenya. Coastal Lamu town with its Muslim population, and the inland Mpeketoni which is predominantly Christian. Only fifty kilometers lies between these two towns, but what really separates them is the deep chasm of misunderstanding, distrust and jealousy that tears them apart. The terror movement Al Shabaab knows how to effectively exploit these very old problems that exist between the two towns, and drive a further wedge between the Christians and the Muslims. Since a major terrorist attack in Mpeketoni, the tourist resort in Lamu is dead.

LAMU

“Every terrorist attack is a blow to the relationship between Christians and Muslims. It takes a lot of effort to reduce anxiety and mistrust again”, sighs Issa Timamy governor of the region Lamu in Kenya. Seated in a big leather armchair at his residence, the political leader tries to add an optimistic smile to his words. He fails.

The narrow boulevard in front of his house is deserted, the waters of the Indian Ocean lapping gently against it. Gone are the visitors who took walks through the historic town of Lamu which is a World Heritage Site and one of the oldest Islamic settlements in East Africa.

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Information on birth control from the pulpit

They call themselves the male champions. The five ministers from the poor area of Kayole in Nairobi have a double meaning for their name tag. They see themselves as champions in spreading information about family planning. “And we are champions because we all had a vasectomy. We believe that we should not only provide information but also be good examples”, says James Ngugi (56) who is one of the preachers.

Family planning is still in its infancy. Sterilization of men and women is rare. Family planning is entrenched in the constitution but tradition, religion, politics and ignorance constitute major obstacles. In the last few years, however, more and more people appear to take matters into their own hands when determining the number of offspring.

The population in Kenya is growing by a million a year. Especially in rural areas the belief is still that having many children is a good security for old age. Pensions are a rarity and very often not sufficient.  Parents are convinced they have to rely on their offspring. On top of that parents also assume that some of their children would die before adulthood. But today, thanks to improved health care, most children now survive. Alas due to high unemployment many of them fail to secure a job and are not in a position to take care of their parents financially.

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South Sudan: The hope of a better future lost

The school in Pilieny The school in Pilieny(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Game Dock had run out of school exercise books for his students some months ago.  He is a teacher at a village school in Pilieny. “Can you miss a few leaves from your notebook,” begs one boy. The children are seated in the rubble remains of their looted primary school, trying to remember everything they learn by heart. “God created paradise” is written on the blackboard. “That was a lesson befóre the outbreak of the war in southern Sudan,” laughs Game scornfully, “Now I do not have any chalk to write with.”

Every sign of development is lacking in this harsh habitat of the Nuer, the second largest tribe in South Sudan. On the sun-baked plains around the swamp of the Nile there is no asphalt, no electricity, and no water. In a heat wave of over 40 degrees a strong wind rages over the bending reeds, the crumbling stone buildings, the wrecked four-wheel drive cars, and whistles through the windows of the school.

This is the situation in the north of South Sudan, less than four years after the independence of the country. The new war had driven teacher Game Dock back to his hometown. He had always dreamt of going to college at the University of Juba. But when in December 2013 a dormant power conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riëk Machar erupted, he had to flee the southern Sudanese capital.  Dinka soldiers loyal to President Kiir killed thousands of Nuers, the population group to which vice-president Riëk belongs.

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Give value to the spirits in the fight against ebola

Roadblock in Sierra Leone

“Mi no dae” – I do not want to die – says Alpha through the window of the isolation room. The doctor of the small hospital in Yele, a little town in the heart of Sierra Leone, tries to comfort her. But the doctor knows her chances of survival are small: Alpha has diarrhoea, blood in her stool and she vomits. All symptom of ebola.

Yesterday, Alpha and five other suspected ebola patients were brought from neighbouring Maraka to the hospital. One of them died last night. Several weeks ago, the first ebola workers travelled over the dirt road, lined with long grass and towering palms, to Maraka village to spread the news. None of the 700 inhabitants took them seriously. Not even when a little boy died. They buried him in the dead of night, many villagers touched his body. Then his brother became ill too, followed by his mother.

It’s dead silent in Maraka. Terror has stuck. This morning the deceased child’s grandmother died. Ebola, the invisible enemy, has become real. Everyone hides indoors. “Finally they believe us,” grumbles an ebola officer dressed in plastic jacket and helmet.

Village head Fodo Tulli, who wears an orange hat decorated with two tassels, peeks through a wooden shutter. The ebola workers persuade him to gather his people under the big mango tree, where he sits on a bench. Some bewildered men rally around, each keeping a distance from one other. “Are you infected?” whispers one to the other. When the ebola officers tell them everyone could be infected and everybody should stay home for three weeks, some people start to grumble. “I still have to get the harvest in,” protests an old man.

Villagers are being told by ebola workers that Maraka has been hit by ebola              The head of the village calls a meeting. The ebola workers on the left inform the inhabitants of Maraka, while keeeping a distance

 

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Albinos:tortured by the sun and hunted in the shade

 

The Maasai boy Molle in 2009

The Maasai boy Molle in 2014

The Maasai boy Molle in 2009 and in 2014

A long high wall shields students of the elementary school Mwerereni from the cruel world outside. It is necessary because 35 out of its 620 student population are albinos. “That wall protects us from witchdoctors who want to chop albinos into body parts,” says the school Principal Damas Urengi in the Tanzanian town of Moshi. “Otherwise our children may fall prey to ritual sacrifice.”

Blind pupils, albinos and children with other serious skin diseases shuffle cautiously along the neatly swept paths under young trees. A special building equipped with screens that shield them from the pernicious bright light of the sun gives them solace. Bryan is an albino. Nurse Rose examines him in the school’s clinic. “There is nothing going on with you, you just ate too much,” she laughs. “We give our students extra care. And we teach them to love each other,” she explains. “So they will later become our ambassadors in a world full of hatred and superstition.”

For many albinos Africa is a curse; tortured by the sun and hunted in the shade. Because of their lack of skin pigmentation, which protects against ultraviolet rays, they quickly get skin cancer. The bright light cuts like a knife into their eyes. In Tanzania for instance, only 2 percent of albinos do grow older than forty years. A nurse at a clinic in Moshi says that since 2008, the dermatology department has surgically removed 500 deadly tumours from albinos.The hospital now provides free sunscreen.

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Nigerian Yoruba offer unique glimpse of religious tolerance

Nigeria is often in the headlines because of religious conflicts that have cost thousands their lives and displaced many more.  The extremism contrasts with the religious tolerance among the Yoruba, the largest ethnic group in the country. A perfect and common example is the Koiki family.  Eight brothers and sisters are spread over six belief systems and religion is never a point of controversy.

“It does not matter to us how and where you pray. The important thing is that you believe in God which will give you support in life”, says Iyabo who is preparing snacks with one of her sisters in a house in Lagos. There will be a gathering of Muslims from the neighbourhood to commemorate the fifth year of passing on of the father of the family.   He was a deeply religious man, who together with his wife made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Three of his children are Muslim, one is Catholic, another Anglican, two evangelicals, and the oldest belongs to a spiritual movement.

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South Sudan: extremely poor or ridiculously rich

Surrounded by a series of blue and red suitcases two young women check in for the flight to the South Sudanese capital Juba. Their suitcases are of an expensive brand and their clothing is pricey too. The luggage weighs much heavier than the free baggage allowance but unlike other passengers, they do not plead for exemption. They pay without batting an eyelid a considerable amount for the excess luggage.

“It is mainly presents for family. In Juba it is hard to get nice things unlike here in Nairobi where you can buy almost anything as long as you have a happy back account”, says one of the ladies. The two South Sudanese women study in Kenya where their fathers possess houses besides the homes they own in Juba. They clearly belong to the elite of South Sudan because upon arrival in Juba they do not throw themselves into the mayhem in order to obtain a stamp on their passports or retrieve their luggage. This is taken care of by a man in a dark suit and fashionable sunglasses who sees them through customs with a simple hand gesture, and whisks them away.

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South Sudan: The mothers of Bentiu burry their children

Mother brings child to the hospital tents

The white hospital tents are surrounded by a puree of mud, shit and waste. Latrines nearby spill over and children splash in a lake with waste water of foreign aid workers. Inside the tents children scream and mothers wail. Nora Echaibi, dressed in wellington boots, gives a tour of what they here call a hospital, a facility run by Medecins sans Frontieres Holland.

Eight months old, four kilo's

In the reception tent an emaciated child is weighed in a laundry tub: eight months old with a weight of four kilo’s.

Young men with amputated limbs

In the next tent are young men with amputated limbs, victims of the bitter power struggle which broke out in December between President Salva Kirr and his former Vice President and now rebel leader Riëk Machar. Nora Echaibi wades through the mud and says: “And now we go to the worst tent”.

“That little child will not reach the end of the day,” she points to one of the dozens of mothers clamping their babies to their bodies. A silent cry jolts against the ribs of his small chest. Pneumonia. Besides diarrhoea, malnutrition and malaria, this is the leading cause of death in the camp of 45,000 displaced persons near Bentiu in South Sudan. “Fifteen percent of the children in the camp is severely malnourished, a percentage that indicates an emergency “.

A mother begins to weep loudly. Her child has just died and Nora Echaibi tries to comfort the woman. This is the fourth death in “the worst tent”, and it’s only two o’clock in the afternoon. “It will get worse today,” she predicts.

Toby Lanzer, UN humanitarian coordinator of the United Nations, calls the situation in South Sudan an “almost catastrophe”. “I do not see any light at the end of the tunnel. The rainy season has started. Almost all roads are unpaved, and it is increasingly difficult to get through the mud to reach victims.  Cities and markets were destroyed by the fighting and traders have fled.  In large parts of the country people could not plant because of the violence. The damage has already been done, even if fighting would stop straight away”.

He uses superlatives to combat a lukewarm response from donor countries. “By the end of the year the situation will be just as bad as during the great famine in Ethiopia in the eighties. There exists in the world a huge disappointment about what is happening in the youngest nation and that frustrates me a lot. ”

Of the eleven million South Sudanese inhabitants four million need help, more than one million are displaced in the country itself and 400 000 walked to neighbouring states. Tens of thousands of civilians sought protection in camps  of the United Nations, which were intended for the accommodation of peacekeepers and are not equipped to lodge masses of hungry and sick people.

Mud, everywhere mud

In the four sections of the camp near Bentiu, the Dinka and the Nuer have been separated. What began as a power struggle within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), degenerated partly in brutal tribal killing. President Kiir is a Dinka, Riëk Machar, a Nuer. Bentiu, which was occupied twice by rebels since December and is now again in government hands, is in Nuer territory.

Nyakuoth, mother of six children, scoops the mud out of her shelter and starts cooking porridge of millet on a fire of reeds. “The Dinka’s destroyed my house in Bentiu. The Dinka’s murder us”. She means government soldiers. She does not dare to go outside the camp to gather firewood. “We are afraid to be killed. Or they do the terrible thing to us”. She means rape, a taboo which is not discussed openly.

A young man called James Michael shits in the open, this part of the camp lacks toilets. “Always rain, always floods. I wish I had a piece of plastic sheeting at night to protect me”.

Throughout the day he does nothing and is terribly bored.”I wish I could go to school again”. His father got stranded in a UN camp in another part of the country; he lost his mother during the fighting. He sends his youngest sister to fetch firewood.  “She runs less risk that the terrible thing happens to her. You must be very brave to go outside the camp”.

The morgue in the hospital is next to a shed where the first suspected cholera patient has been separated. Nora Echaibi washes the children’s bodies; she removes the needle of the infusion from their arms, wraps the bodies in blankets, puts them in white plastic bags and hands the packets over to the mothers.

She hands the white packets over to the mothers

Another child died in the last hour, the fifth kid today. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon when the four wheel drive car filled with the mothers and their white packets works itself through the mud a way out of the camp for the funeral.

The car filled with the mothers finds it's way in the camp for the funeral outside

The women walk through the tall rustling vegetation to the already dug holes. They seek a pit not filled with rainwater, they lay the corpses on the wet ground and make a cross of reeds.

The women walk through the high vegetation to the graves

A sob, a prayer and men splatter the wet soil on the plastic bags. A little further four UN soldiers stand guard, because even for a funeral it is not safe outside the camp.

The filth of the UN camp in Bentiu

This article was first published in NRC Handelsblad on 1-7-2014

The war against terror in Kenya could turn into a success for al Shabaab

 

THE PAST COUPLE of weeks have seen the government implement the most dramatic combination of an anti-terror operation and a crackdown against illegal immigrants in decades – Operation Linda Usalama.

Broadly it seems aimed at responding the security meltdown underway across the country and more specifically at the threat posed by ‘Islamic extremism’.

This operation has been accompanied by a series of massive sweeps in Nairobi and other towns seeking out illegal immigrants and terrorists supposedly associated with the originally Somali al Shabaab terror group.

Initially, these sweeps were aimed mainly at members of the Somali community and other Muslims in the context of a steadily and intensifying number of terrorist attacks over the past couple of years. By last week security forces were going house-to-house in an invasive (and for many expensive) graduation of the operation.

From grenades being thrown into churches, eateries and matatus killing and wounding a rapidly growing number of innocents; to the discovery of sophisticated improvised explosive devices (one of them in a car parked in a police station after being driven thousands of kilometres from Kismayo to the Coast) – its clear Kenya is under attack. Fear and anger have grown with every attack.

The most shocking was the brazen violent strike on the high-end Westgate Mall in Nairobi last September that resulted in 67 deaths and over 170 injuries. Most of the victims were middle class that lent events a resonance far more profound than would otherwise have been the case.

All this has been accompanied by the extra judicial assassination of some of the more outspoken Coast-based radical Muslim preachers over the same period.

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A genocide that never ends

He does not like to tell his story. Edouard Bomporiki rubs his eyes. That terrible image in his head. He was eleven years, too young to participate in the genocide that began on April 7, 1994 in Rwanda, and cost the lives of 700,000 Tutsis and 100,000 moderate Hutus.

“I was lying on a hospital bed with malaria when an old Tutsi man ran inside carrying a baby. He hid under my bed. The extremists of the Interahamwe militia pursued him. They beheaded him and then split his skull into two. The baby they beat to death with a club full of nails. I did not understand. My mother said: ‘Oh my son, you will never understand.’”

Twenty years after the genocide, Rwanda is still a traumatized country. The survivors live with a shadow in their souls, with a daily feeling of emptiness. Many of the one million Hutu perpetrators of murder, rape and theft are haunted daily by the memories too: the images of how they routinely hacked to death children and the elderly with machetes. The people under 20 years, to whom the stories were handed down from their parents, equally become victims: they either carry the stigma of the atrocities of their father and mother, or the feeling of hatred because their families were exterminated. The killers and the survivors must live on the same hills and in the same villages. “Rwandans are working hard on reconciliation, but we are still injured. Everyone is looking for recognition for what happened to him. Therefore, every Rwandan has his story to tell. That is the only way out,” says Edouard Bomporiki.

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Once again War destroys dreams in South Sudan

Juba, – Kon Kelei and Tong Akot returned three years ago from the Diaspora, full of optimism, back to South Sudan. They had fled as teenagers from the civil war between North and South Sudan, and ended up in the Netherlands where they studied and worked.  In 2010, a year before the independence of South Sudan, they both separately decided to help with the building of their country. After a laborious start they eventually found their niche only to end up in another war in their country, this time between the South Sudanese themselves.

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South Sudan: Mediocre fighters from the guerrilla crush their new state

South Sudan has only a one paved highway, the one linking Nimule on the border with Uganda to the capital Juba, two hundred kilometres further north. Along the road wrecks are scattered everywhere, of overturned busses, mangled cars and trucks. The two years old country with the size of France had until recently no paved road at all. “We are not used to asphalt, it feels slippery”, says Richard my driver. “That’s why we drive recklessly. On the paths in the bush we felt much safer.”

A van loaded with Dinka’s rushes over the road to Nimule. A power struggle in December within the ruling party SPLM between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riëk Machar degenerated in a civil war. Factions of the disintegrated government army have been fighting each other for two months. Feelings of revenge between the two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer, have free rein. President Kiir is a Dinka, his opponent Machar a Nuer. Probably more than ten thousand people are dead because of this political fight. More than 700,000 people have been driven from their homes.

Like the occupants of the van, many Dinka’s have fled from Bor, a town two hundred kilometres north of Juba. The fighting in recent weeks razed the town to the ground. “Life was good when independence came in 2011,” says James Kuol who with 17,000 other Dinka’s has sought refuge in Nimule. “I had a wife and a couple of goats and sheep. Old wounds of the conflict with the Nuer were healed.” Kuol is referring to 1991, when another tragedy occurred in Bor. Then as now, the resistance movement SPLM had fallen apart. With the tacit consent of Riëk Machar Nuers attacked Bor. And like now, the city was reduced to ashes and hundreds of Dinka’s were slain.

James Kuol tells how at the end of last year Nuers attacked his house near Bor, how they burnt the granary and killed his brother and two children. “The vice-governor invited my brother and other elders to a meeting to discuss ways to avoid a tribal fight. But my brother walked into a trap: the Nuers killed all those present. ”

Suddenly children start throwing stones. “Go away, you strangers,” they shout to James Kuol and his family. South Sudan has no national identity. Inhabitants anxiously protect their own tribal home land. It is a country full of distrust, with politicians inciting mass murder. “I feel stateless,” sighs James, “during the war of independence against the Arabs in the north at least we had an enemy in common.”

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Alarming rate of suicides in peaceful Northern Uganda

“We later learnt that they went from house to house in Katikati as
well, taking all boys and girls around your age with them. They
said that the rebels would train the children to fight. Train them
to lure other children. Join the big war to save the Acholi. Oust
the government. Overthrow Museveni’s government. We didn’t
know what that meant. We didn’t want to ask anyone. What we
knew was that we didn’t want our children to get involved in that

war.”

 

Thousands of families in northern Uganda recognize themselves in the words of writer Beatrice Lamwaka. The region, which had for some twenty years been terrorized by the Lord’s Resistance Army, is now afflicted in peacetime by an unusually high number of suicides. Silence is a national character trait of the northern residents. It proved not to be a solution for trauma.

Lamwaka describes in Butterfly Dreams the return of a teen, abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which had kidnapped more than 20,000 children and transformed them into killing machines. The short story is based on the abduction and return of her 13 year-old brother. He never talked about his experiences. His family did not ask. They also did not tell him that his Tipu, his soul, had been buried according to tradition.  Everyone assumed he was dead. This was to happen two years later when he died of pneumonia.

“We, Acholi, do not talk about what others know. Nobody wants to talk about a child who had been kidnapped. Such a child was a killer.” says the 35 year old writer about her people which form the majority tribe in northern Uganda.

The LRA left Uganda some five years ago in a significantly reduced number, and moved to the Central African Republic and Congo. The people left the displaced camps in which they had gathered for protection and tried to resume their lives. But that proves not to be easy.

In 2012 more than fifty people took their lives in and around the town of Gulu, a region of 400.000 inhabitants. “We fear that the number is twice as high. Families prefer to keep it secret because suicide is a taboo in our culture,” said Francisco Watdok Awori, a local councillor who helped with research into the suicides. “Last year it was more or less the same number, usually people aged between 25 and 40 years.” Research shows that trauma, poverty and alcohol abuse are the main reasons for suicides or attempts.

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South Sudanese in the grip of fear and anger

Behind the gate of the compound of the United Nations in Juba, South Sudan, an odour of decay hangs around thousands of displaced people, birds of prey swarming over their heads. Children relieve themselves next to the tap where women fetch drinking water. At the entrance a man jostles with a suitcase on wheels, a woman with a laundry tub. Aid agencies cars push for space with a military tank of the UN peacekeeping force.

In the UN camp near the capital Juba airport stay around 17,000 people, all members of the Nuer tribe. All speak of killings in Juba by Dinka’s in the government army.  Most sleep in the open air, others under staircases for airplanes and some in small tents. “President Kiir,a Dinka , ordered the murder of all Nuers after he got into a political power struggle on December 15 with his former vice president Riëk Machar, a Nuer ” says Paul . Until recently Paul was an aid worker, now he’s a victim. “I live two miles away from here, but my neighbours are Dinka’s. I cannot go home anymore”.

The displaced are in de grip of fear and anger. And sorrow. Frank is a singer. “I, my brother and my sister lived on a church compound in Juba. The day after the fight in the ruling party SPLM broke out, Dinka soldiers arrived in the parish. They demanded that all Nuers come forward and they started shooting. The pastor tried to intervene and he was slain”.

Frank swallows. “And then it was the turn of my sister. They dragged her to an abandoned building, I could hear her scream. They raped her”. Frank cannot continue anymore. He walks over to the shade of a blanked hung in a tree and starts pampering a young baby.  He cries. “That’s the baby of his murdered sister,” says his friend Patrick.

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KENYA: THE HONEYMOON THAT NEVER WAS

Kenya celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country in december. I was struck by how low-key it was considering the scale of the milestone.

This was partly because of Nelson Mandela’s death and subsequent funeral. It isn’t in the best of taste to throw too big a party when the continent is mourning its most respected and beloved son.

However, it is also the case that the past nine months since the Jubilee coalition controversially won the election have been challenging ones.

The swagger and hubris of May to September has been somewhat tempered. One simple reason for this is that it is easier to run a campaign than a government; especially a government that you know contains within it a massive bloc of officials whose resentment of you is virulent and seethes below the surface.

Thus it is that those who were thumping their chests in May today plead to be given time to deliver; for the public to cut them some slack as they grapple with multiple governance challenges.

That has not, however, tempered the hubris of commercial types unable to smell the political coffee, who continue to believe that Kenya can grow its way out of its unresolved fundamental political contradictions.

This administration has emerged to be an alliance between the Gikuyu and Kalenjin elites, their followers and the corporate sector narrowly defined.

The youthful Nandi Hills MP, Alfred Keter, has been persistent in warning Deputy President William Ruto essentially that ‘the Gikuyu are out to use and dump’ the Kalenjin in the political alliance that is Jubilee.

While there are some observers who have dismissed this as the mere posturing of coalition partners grumbling that they aren’t being allowed to ‘eat’ enough (partly true), others have argued its indicative of a deeper malaise among the Kalenjin vis-à-vis their already totally unlikely and deeply uncomfortable political marriage. I tend towards the former view.

The alliance’s durability is heavily dependent on impunity with regard to grand corruption. The more the pigs can gorge themselves at the trough, the less whining one will hear out of this regime.

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How Islam from the north spreads once more into the Sahel

In the narrow streets of Mopti, the sweet smell of cow dung mingles with that of the exhaust fumes from mopeds. Opposite the mosque, some youngsters play a game of table football.  Mamoudou Fané strolls with his work tools into the house of prayer. “There goes the Wahhabi plumber”, the young people mock at him. An irritated Fane throws back his arms. “In the mosques of Wahabites I get work and food,” he retorts. “I am poor and have to feed a family.”

“Turncoat!”  shout the boys.

Mali witnesses a steady religious revolution that may have dire consequences for the entire Sahel, and may eventually also pose a danger to Europe. The predominantly Muslim country was once a cradle of religious tolerance.  In recent years there has been an insidious change with the advent of the fundamentalist Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia. The religious situation in Mali last year came under stress because of the rise of armed Muslim extremist groups from the north which had the whole country in their grip. It was only the military intervention of France that contained it.

Centuries ago trading empires developed around the cities of Djenné, Mopti and Timbuktu. The basis of the wealth was their geographical position which lay between Africa above the Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa.  Islam arrived with the traders from the north. The black population absorbed the faith and merged it with their own religions, an interaction of religious and spiritual influences, and thus created an African Sufi form of Islam.

Hundreds of years later, Islam again comes to the Sahel, this time with an unstoppable mission mentality and the way paved by money from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan. Foreigners, and also Malians who received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia, introduce this strict form of Islam, and condemn the sufi’s.

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Mali conflicts undermine economic growth

Horses, cars, donkey carts, motorbikes and pedestrians compete with one another over the limited space on the narrow quay of Mopti. Market stalls, lining the quay and overlooking the small harbour on the Niger River, offer mainly unrefined salt in hefty slices or smaller chunks. Previously the product was transported on camel caravans to Mopti from the north of Mali; nowadays it’s by four-wheel drive. The town is an ancient trading post on the dividing line between north and south of Mali.

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Conservative islam is on the rise in poor Mali

The mosquitoes in the car do not observe Ramadan and eagerly attack when we drive away from the Malian capital Bamako in the early morning. The pockmarked road to Segou has given way to a perfect highway, built by Chinese. An imported second-hand van from Germany with inscription Fahrschule pushes Chinese mopeds on the roadside, where bottles filled with gasoline are on sale.

Suddenly there is a traffic jam on the tree savannah of the Sahel. A long line of trucks of the French army drives north. The heavy equipment-tankers, security of dozens of soldiers, lorries with mineral water- does not give an impression that the French military intervention has come to an end. The Muslim extremists have been driven out by the invasion in January, but 3,200 French soldiers were left behind. Soon 12,000 troops of the UN will be stationed in Mali. “Every day I see the French army bringing in more material,” says my driver Amadou when we arrive at Segou after four hours.

The break I have in this historic town on the Niger is spoilt by children beggars. “My father is dead,” complains one. And when that does not evoke a reaction, the other one says: “And my mother died.” Amadou tells them to buzz off. Two European election observers are less abrupt, and the nagging beggars keep on swarming around them like mosquitoes.

After Segou, endless plains start with only gnarled baobab trees as landmarks. It rains in Mali for a few months in a year, and this brings jubilation time. Shepherd boys desert their goats and splash in the puddles. Where little sandstorms had ravaged the desiccated landscape, there now lays a green carpet. There are even nets thrown in puddles to catch mud fish which had somehow survived the drought miraculously.

These are busy times in the rural areas. A Fulani shepherd crosses the road with hundreds of cattle, and the sweet aroma of cow dung penetrates inside our car. Some villages along the road to Mopti are dead quiet; everybody makes his contribution on the fields. Only the rich farmer owns an ox for ploughing. With little hoes women, children and old men work the sandy soil, seed by seed, and plant by plant.  It is a farming method that still exists only in the poorest regions of the Sahel. I have seen only one tractor and we have already covered four hundred kilometres.

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Coniferous trees and centipedes: basic commodities for revival of nature.

Australian pine and red-legged centipedes were the basic necessities to revive a dead limestone quarry and transform it into a lush park.  In the Haller Park, near the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, an impressive variety of trees, shrubs and plants grow and flourish on which feeds a host of animals.  Already parking is often difficult at the entrance to the park because one has to manoeuvre between the long legs of giraffes while they nibble unperturbed on tree leaves. A herd of Oryx antelopes, with their long and slightly curved horns, always seem to take the right of way on the walkways.

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The Great Digital Leap Forward in Africa

IHub is an oasis of modern order in the otherwise so chaotic Kenyan capital Nairobi. Absorbed on their screens and with headphones strapped on, young technologists work on new apps. A football table gives some relaxation. Rachel Gichinga of iHub orders an espresso at the bar. “Coffee is an essential part of the digital age,” she laughs. Previously Kenyans hardly drank coffee. Nowadays middle class youths hang around in coffee shops with free wifi.

At iHub, technological innovations which find following worldwide are being devised. Africa slowly shakes off the image of being the most backward continent. The continent that had for so long been characterized as a lost one, is now evolving into a global trendsetter for innovative applications in communication, banking, agriculture and other sectors.

Kenya is spearheading this evolution . It first began in 2007 with M-pesa, an easy way to transfer money using the mobile phone.  M-pesa caused a small revolution: 31 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product is now going through mobile phones and there are now eighty similar systems in and outside Africa set. As of recent, the mobile can also be used to save money. In Kenya, also as a first, a rechargeable smart card to provide health insurance for the poor was introduced. “We are working on communication for farmers, herders and students”, says Rachel Gichinga.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said recently during a visit to Kenya, “Nairobi is emerging as a serious technological center and may be the captain of Africa”. He visited iHub among others. In the glass and concrete building, which lies along one of the busiest roads of Nairobi, iHub occupies two floors. “This is the breeding ground for web designers and social entrepreneurs. Here the ideas are born,” says an employee.
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Yida refugee camp, February 2013

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The typical building material in Yida is grass.

Yida refugee camp is situated in Unity State just South of the border with North Sudan. It houses now an estimated 63,000 people with between 300 and 500 new arrivals every day. The reasons for its existence have to be looked for up North in the Nuba Mountains (NM).

The war in the NM resumed in June 2011. Since then the Khartoum army occupies the main towns while the SPLA / North holds most of the countryside. The main war activity going on is the Antonov. In the Christmas period the little town of Kauda on its own received more than 90 bombs. January was relatively quiet. But since then the planes fly over the area practically every day and they drop bombs arbitrarily on any small settlement.

P3 pupil Intisar Bushra from Kauda arrives at a hospital early February with bomb shrapnel in her thigh.

The bombings do not attract much outside attention, not even in South Sudan. An exception was Jau which was bombed on February 14. Jau, about 15 km North of Yida, is considered the border between North and South.

These bombings have had two main effects. Schools still function but many pupils and students have left in search of better education. Nuba students can be found now all over the South and even in refugee camps in Kenya. The bombings have also affected agricultural activity and this, combined with drought and many of the men under arms, has recently created wide-spread famine in the NM.

It is this lack of food that makes people to leave for Yida according to the refugees themselves. For many this involves a journey of 100 km or more, often to be done on foot. If they are lucky a trader’s lorry will help them; e.g. a certain Cletia paid SSP 350 for the transport over 200 km of herself, her husband, 4 children and 2 beds.

In Yida a harsh life awaits them. Once they have paid SSP 5 for the allocation of a plot in the sprawling 20 sq km vast camp they have to collect in the bush the building materials for their shelter. At the same time they have to try and get registered for the monthly food distributions.

Sorghum, pulses and oil awaiting distribution

Water point in Yida

 

According to WFP the refugees receive 15 kg of cereals per person per month. Refugees themselves claim the ration is more like 4 malwa which equals slightly over 9 kg per person per month. But even if WFP is right the ration is minimal and forces people to look for additional income. For many the only source is to go and collect useful items in the bush such as building materials and firewood.

Once they have settled the daily provision of water is a big challenge for the women. Samaritan’s Purse drilled the boreholes in the camp. Four NGOs are active in the field of health. MSF runs a hospital as also some outreach activities such as malnourishment monitoring. IRC does reproductive health. Solidarity International promotes sanitation. And Samaritan’s Purse makes its plane available for medical evacuations.

MSF monitoring centre

If health is relatively well taken care off then education is the most neglected service. If it was not for the local administration by the Nuba Relief and Development Organisation (NRRDO) which made schools to be built and appointed teachers, there would be no education at all for the large population of school-age kids. There is no NGO that provides any material support up to the present day.

Amazingly enough the lack of support to education is intentional. A fact finding mission from the British Anglican Church recently wrote: UNHCR “has prevented funding for schools – leaving 13,000 primary school children and young people with little access to education.” (HART visit to South Sudan, Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan) and Blue Nile, January 4-18, 2013, p. 5).

This UNHCR policy is motivated by its wish to move the entire camp further away from the border. It appears to have two reasons for this: it would make the refugee camp safer (in fact Yida was once bombed in November 2011 though without any resulting damage); and it would give UNHCR greater control over the refugee population and so protect it against accusations of feeding SPLA / North soldiers.

Long line of classrooms. There are 3 more schools like this one in the camp

Main entrance of the UNHCR compound. The two busses, though idle, undoubtedly represent the single biggest investment in Yida refugee camp.

It appears that UNHCR Geneva and a ‘coordination group in New York’ have mounted a successful campaign among the foreign affairs ministries of the main donor countries to refrain from funding support as long as Yida has not moved. However, the intention to move the camp Southwards goes against the need of the refugees to remain as close as possible to their homes, fields and relatives who stayed behind.

In fact this discussion has poisoned the relations between UNHCR and the refugees while the implementing NGOs (and probably also the UNHCR staff in the field) feel caught in the middle. But worse, since the time UNHCR came in proper service delivery has been paralysed.

For people in the field the discussion has meanwhile been overtaken by the facts. In the words of Msgr. Macram Max Gassis, bishop of El Obeid: “Who still wants to move people who have been in a place already for over a year?”

 

Deputy camp manager Najda Romeo Peter: “If UNHCR wants us to move let them leave us alone”

Run up to Kenyan elections already bloody

Eric Kioko is in seventh heaven. He has been working since the first of January as ‘DJ Talanta’ with the popular radio station Ghetto Radio in the Kenyan capital Nairobi. It’s the first time he has a job since he lost an arm during the election violence of 2008.

Kioko is one of the thousands of victims of the orgy of violence that erupted after the election results in Kenya. He lives in Maathare, one of the slums that almost encircle Nairobi. It was one of the places where things went terribly wrong in 2008. The ethnic origin of the then 25 year old Kioko made him a target for his attackers. “Since then the government has done nothing to reconcile rivalling tribes. The tension has not been eased. On the contrary, tension is growing in the run up to the elections”, says Kioko in one of the narrow alleys of Maathare. The empty sleeve of his T-shirt moves softly in the wind.

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Touareg, scapegoats of Mali’s misery

Mohamed Moctar is packing his belongings. There is not much is his room besides a sleeping mat, a blanket, a small sound system, a teapot, two cups, and a heap of cloths. All of it is on the floor. “I will return to Timbouktou now it is liberated”, says Moctar a teacher at a primary school in the legendary city in the north of Mali.

He fled his hometown last year after the Islamic extremists occupied the north of Mali. “In the beginning we hardly noticed them”, remembers Moctar while he is brewing a cup of bitter tea that Malians sip all day. “Slowly though crazy rules were introduced. Children were not allowed to play football and smoking became forbidden. They stopped you on the street to check the ringtone on your mobile phone. When it was music they destroyed your sim card and gave you a new one with verses from the Koran.”

Within months the rebels had introduced the strictest form of Sharia, the Islamic law. “We were commanded to public places to witness the cutting of hands of thieves and whipping and beatings for other offences. It was sheer terror.” It all became too much for Moctar, a Touareg, and he left for the capital of Bamako in the south of Mali.

He was not received with open arms. Mali has some twenty different tribes and most of them have issues with the Touareg. It was the MNLA, a secular Touareg militia that had started a year ago an uprising against the army.  Aim was the creation of Azawad, an independent state in the north of Mali.

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The enemy has become invisible

The old man Lamine Traore comes chuffing towards an army roadblock, sixty kilometres from the western frontline in the city of Diabaly. Malian soldiers at the roadblock watch a French television channel to get the latest news about the war. Traore gives “un petit cadeau”, corruption money, to the soldiers to pass. It’s war time, but old habits don’t die. “Almost everyone has left Diabaly”, says the old man. “We fear the extremists, but I also rather stay away if the Malian army returns. The insurgents withdrew into the rice fields. Or they fused with the population in the surrounding villages. They have become invisible. ” The government soldier stops journalists. “We do not know where the Islamic extremists are hiding,” he says. “It’s too dangerous for you to continue, they can take you hostage.” Does he have an idea when his army will advance to Diabaly? “When the French army tells us to”.

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Kenya coast boiling of anger

Mombasa (Photo Ilona Eveleens)

Mombasa (Photo Ilona Eveleens)

Trucks and tourist buses race down the highway from the port of Mombasa to the African interior. The road is a symbol of economic progress. Turning away from this highway of progress, every sign of prosperity goes immediately up into dust. Barefoot women and bored teenagers are hanging around in the shade along a dirt road. “We do not belong in Kenya”, complains Hamisi Kanona, a motorcycle mechanic in the hamlet of Kasemeni, near Mombasa.

Mopeds serve as public transport. “With a moped young people can earn two euro’s per day,” says Hamisi. “There is no other work here. The government in Nairobi does nothing for us. Why would I still vote? We young people do not talk about elections anymore; we don’t belong to Kenya anyway. On the coast an election means fight and die. ”
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Native inhabitants of Lamu see new port as threat

Old Town of Lamu ©Ilona Eveleens

A wide, dusty road ends in a gaping hole in the mangrove forest through which the water of the Indian Ocean is visible. A man appears from the remaining forest of trees that grow in the shallow, salty water along the coast. He carries a bag with two live crabs. “There are abundant crustaceans between the mangroves. But they will soon disappear when the new port of Lamu will be constructed”, he says.
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Boko Haram: The root cause of the conflict is ideological

Northern Nigeria. © Petterik Wiggers

©Petterik Wiggers

Terror initiated bomb blasts from the Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad sect in Nigeria otherwise known as the Boko Haram, may decline or escalate for any period of time but the indicators for overall peace may truly be farfetched. The sense of engagement beyond unleashing military combatants in the hugely affected and now paralysed North Eastern parts of the country is utterly undefined. Indications in military circles and indeed conventional military wisdom do not suggest that the Nigeria Military has the capacity to utterly and decisively defeat the terror band.

The brand of terror introduced into Nigeria by the insurgents is not an affliction that is proverbially skin deep. It is deeper beyond the skin and requires even much deeper strategic and sophisticated engagement. Sadly, all that has been seen from players at the policy level has been anything but out-of-control techniques. There’s been so much opportunism, so much of personal profit and so much shadow acting. The superficial is at the driving seat where professionalism is in dire need.

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The Nuba Crisis: A Continuing Assault

Dry weather means war in the Nuba Mountains. News from the front comes almost every day: shelling of Kadugli, clashes at Um Heitan, an assault on Daldogo. A steady trickle of refugees moves south, wearing their households on their heads: pots, pans, a radio, some flour and sometimes a whole bed.

Valley after valley lies desolate where rich crops used to grow, the seedbeds now in disarray and the stalks bruised. Market after market is depleted, but for some produce from the highlands. On mats no bigger than bath towels traders lay out their fare: piles of little tomatoes, okra, potatoes or three to four lemons, sometimes mangoes. Almost nobody buys.

Unmistakable overhead comes the swelling hum of engines. No more than a glint between rock and sky, the Antonov is the most widely recognized aircraft type in Sudan. More cargo plane than bomber, its creators in the Ukraine must have never imagined that it would be used in such a place, over and over again, bringing more than 2000 bombs this year, according to Montasir Nasir, head of the region’s human rights commission.

On a Sunday morning in Buram the church is emptying, stirred up by the sound overhead. The service will be held in the rocks. Through the tall grass the congregation searches toward the mountain, a group diminished by so many departed – those at the front, those in the camps, those who have died.

The deacon Isaac Kafi Nahal leads the ones that remain: Women in scarves almost neon bright, drab barefoot children, men in flamboyant shirts. The sermon is from Revelation: “Outside are the dogs and murderers. But God will come soon.” In the rock cave there is cheering, dancing and prayer. When the time comes for the collection, the congregation produces a corncob and two Sudanese pounds – half a dollar.

I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced’

There is only one real hospital in the Nuba Mountains. It is run by Dr. Tom Catena, a 52-year old Catholic mission doctor from New York state. He has more than 300 patients.

“Over the past three years I have seen the number of malnourished children grow,” says Dr. Catena. “Within a few months, I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced. The people have no more reserves. The rain in the past year was so bad, that they hardly made it through the year. Due to the air bombardments there is not enough harvest in November. This will lead to a great shortage of food.”

His assertion appears to be backed up by survey data collected in August by a hybrid group of local civil society and foreign aid workers. The group, which prefers anonymity owing to fears for their security, conducted a household survey in August that showed “high levels of ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ hunger in all SPLM-N-held localities.”

“The levels of ‘severe’ hunger reported in Kadugli are particularly high, at 85.4 percent for resident households and 87.5 percent for displaced households,” the group noted in a report which was given to Radio Tamazuj in late October.

Little relief will come from the ongoing harvest, according to the survey, largely because security in many areas was too poor for planting or harvesting. The result of this is evident at the local markets: “Wheat and millet were not available in any of the locality markets surveyed and availability of maize was also limited. … The situation is notably worse in Kadugli [locality], where staple commodities are much less readily available. Indeed, sorghum, the key staple food for poor households, was only found in one market in Kadugli.”

Malnutrition rates have worsened, according to a separate August survey conducted by an international NGO that that likewise prefers anonymity, fearing retribution from the Sudan government.

The ‘Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment’ report, which was vetted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, showed that food security in the Nuba Mountains “has dramatically deteriorated, with 81.5 percent of households surviving on one meal per day, compared to only 9.5 percent one year ago, and 0 percent two years ago.”

The report concludes that the nutrition situation is serious, verging on critical, with a current global acute malnutrition rate in children 6-59 months of 14.9 percent and a severe acute malnutrition rate of 3.6 percent with the presence of aggravating factors such as endemic malaria.

Exodus

Nobody is counting exactly how many Nuba have fled. There are three UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and South Sudan – in Darfur, South Sudan and in the disputed Abyei area – costing some $2.4 billion per year. But none has a mandate for the Nuba Mountains. The UN pulled its bases from the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan when the conflict began in June 2011.

The UN Coordination Agency (OCHA), however, sketches out some rough estimates. It says in an October report that the number of ‘displaced and severely affected’ people, including refugees, is 207,000 within government-held areas of South Kordofan, 350,000 within the SPLM-North territory, and 65,000 refugees in camps South Sudan.

That puts the total figure at more than 600,000, a quarter of the state’s population of 2.5 million according to the 2010 census, but a far higher percentage if one excludes the western, Misseriya-inhabited counties of the state, which have not been directly affected by the conflict.

Adrian Edwards, UN Refugee Agency spokesman in Geneva, says that a new influx is expected at refugee camps in South Sudan as the rains come to an end. He says that the agency is preparing new sites to settle refugees to relieve pressure on the already massive Yida camp. At least 100 refugees are still arriving every day at the camp, a far lower intake than earlier this year but what is taken to be only a temporary lull.

Some Nuba, on the other hand, head north, crossing the front line into government towns. They risk recrimination or abuse in the hope of accessing food and labor opportunities. Dr. Catena explains: “Here in the Nuba Mountains it is a matter of starving or you walk over to the Khartoum-controlled areas. Read the reports. What happens if you do not choose their side: torture, rape, abuse, or you will be treated as a spy.

“They are draining the Nuba Mountains of humans as one would drain a swamp. Food is in government-controlled areas, like in Talodi and Kadugli. It does not come from the government of Khartoum, it is provided by WFP,” he adds.

Other Nuba stay behind anyway. For some, they would rather die than join the enemy. For others, the journey to South Sudan is too long, and there is little chance of help along the way. International organizations that are caught providing assistance in the rebel-held region will be thrown out from northern Sudan, so less than a handful of organizations help secretely by providing medicines or food. Among them are Americans, Germans, French and Dutch.

The remnant of the Nuba still clinging to their homeland try to bring supplies from the outside. But the roads to the south are so poor that it’s cheaper, though far more dangerous, to smuggle goods from the north. At Kurchi market, for instance, a truck pulls in carrying sesame, sorghum and diesel. Nomad traders bring the goods from across government lines. The prices are less than they are at Yida refugee camp.

But virtually no one in the Nuba Mountains carries money: 73.2 percent of all households have no income, according to the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment carried out last August.

‘Language and culture are systematically destroyed’

Montasir Nasir, a chemical engineer with a calling for human rights, lists churches, schools and farms that have been hit by bombs. He shows little anger, just grief. Since the Christian Nubian kingdoms were overrun in the 14th century, “the culture of the Nuba peoples and especially the Christians is restricted,” he says.

Nasir says that the conflict is about identities: “The politics of Khartoum toward the Nuba peoples is to Arabize and Islamize. The local language and culture are systematically destroyed. In all bombings, the government is trying to hit schools and churches. By hitting the cornfields, they cause a famine.”

Any opposition to this programme – real or perceived – is met with brutality, according to Martin Boulis, a refugee working with the Sudan Council of Churches. He recalls the day he lost a friend, 32-year-old Nemeiri Phillip Kallo: “Right in front of the gates of the UN peacekeeping mission in the capital Kadugli my friend who worked for the UN was executed.”

Nemeiri was in Kadugli, the state capital and a government garrison, when the first fighting broke out on June 5, 2011. Ethnically Nuba and fighting age, he feared for his life. He headed to the base of the UN, which was preparing its exit but still had a troupe of Egyptian peacekeepers.

Pulling up near the gates of the base, in a car driven by a friend, he was stopped by security officers and taken from the car. The Egyptian UN officers at the gate did not dare to intervene, says Boulis. “A soldier pointed his gun at Nemeiri’s head. Someone shouted: ‘Do not shoot here.’”

“So they threw him in the truck, tore away around the corner and then we heard the gunshots. Soldiers threw him out of the car on the side of the road.” The account of this murder is corroborated by a former employee of the UN who was an eyewitness and driver of the car from which Nimeiri was taken.

Wounded, sick

Dr. Tom Catena lifts the shirt of a boy he operated earlier in the day. The boy has a temporary stoma surgically created because there is a shard in his bowel and abdominal cut: “No problem, it can later be removed.”

He takes the sheet off a woman. Her abdomen is covered in gauze. “I removed nothing but grass and stones from the inside,” he says. She was hit by debris from a bomb while crossing the fields near Heiban. “She has a family of seven children, and they have twice already given here a chicken. She’ll make it.”

The doctor continues his round. He is worried about the man who turned his hand to ‘spaghetti’ in an accident with a grenade launcher. He fears amputation will be necessary. Then there is a prostate patient, and a woman who miscarried twins, and a woman with a leg traction expertly mounted to the bed frame.

Doctor Tom smiles at a small man standing in the ward: “I thought he had appendicitis. I cut him open this morning. Then I found two bullets. He had forgotten that he had been shot a year earlier.”

“Look around you here in this hospital. Are these rebels? Here, look at this boy, he lost his arm. That girl is a paraplegic because of a bombardment. These are dangerous people? Are malnourished babies guilty of fighting? Help me out here, these people just live in this area,” he says.

Frustration

The doctor strokes his shaved head: “Instead of giving assistance to the region, the world watches the bombs falling. We are ruled by criminals, but the international community still does business with them. President Omar al Bashir and Governor Ahmed Haroun are both indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague wanted for war crimes. But they can quietly continue their destruction of the Nuba people. ”

“This is ethnic cleansing, chasing people from their area because of their political, ethnic and religious beliefs. They had the right to fair elections, which have not been held. According to the peace agreement, the Nuba peoples had the right to a popular consultation on what form of government they wanted. Khartoum denied it,” he adds.

“Normally international organizations come in to help. The government and rebels had even reached an agreement with the UN, African Union and the Arab League to give help. But until today there is no grain that arrived in the rebel areas. But meanwhile the UN Food Programme, WFP, gives food aid to the government-controlled region.”

The lone doctor in the Nuba Mountains shakes his head: “This is a classic example of the use of food as a weapon… I don’t get it. Why don’t people understand the logic of this?”

Nuba soldiers, meanwhile, expect that more attacks are imminent. The government is preparing its dry season offensive. Montasir Nasir looks up at the sky: “Make it stop.”

Hildebrand Bijleveld is a journalist working since 1994 in Sudan. He is the founder and director of Radio Dabanga and Radio Tamazuj, shortwave broadcasters for Darfur and the other conflict zones in Sudan. Edited by Daniel van Oudenaren.

Related: Photos: The Nuba in Crisis

You can contact the director of Radio Tamazuj, Hildebrand B. Bijleveld:

bijleveld@nullfreepressunlimited.org

 

Flower farms in ancestral Ethiopia: a choice between large or small

Flower farm in Ethiopia(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Flower farm in Ethiopia(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Amentu, Ethiopia. The Rift Valley in Eastern Africa is our hole in the ground, where we all come from. Not far from here our earliest ancestors stopped hanging out in the trees and started to use their rear limbs to get around on. From here we began to migrate and multiply all over the world. Today a line of worn tarmac runs along the valley floor, fed by earth tracks through fields of stubble lying brown and empty after the harvest. Wriggling lines of green mark streams which lead to the Awash River. The east and west horizons are bordered with crazy grey mountains jagging into a light blue sky. Flashing like mirrors in the sun are the valley’s huge blue lakes and, in recent years, vast rigid squares of plastic sheeting have sprung up.

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Chinua Achebe: Peaceful world my sincerest wish

By Nasrin Pourhamrang*

Recently, the classic African novel “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe was translated into Persian by Ali Hodavand and released in Iran. Nasrin Pourhamrang, Editor-in-Chief of Hatef Weekly Magazine interviewed the author on a wide range of topics from Art, culture and literature; politics, cultural and linguistic preservation to the legacy of colonialism and his forthcoming book there was a Country-A personal history of Biafra.

Nasrin Pourhamrang: Technology has come to the help of the borderless world of art and literature and has eliminated the geographical frontiers. How do you feel about the fact that your novel has been translated into Persian and that Iranian readers can read some of your works for the first time and make an acquaintance of Chinua Achebe?

Chinua Achebe: I received the news of the Persian translation of Things Fall Partwith great joy! Of course, one of the goals of any writer is to connect with his or her readers. Things Fall Apart in particular, indeed all my books, have enjoyed a warm readership. I am particularly grateful for the effort of the translators of my work. They extend the reach of Art, in this case stories, to more people who may not have encountered them in the original English. I am told with this Persian translation that Things Fall Apart now exists in nearly 60 world languages! It is a wonderful blessing and I am deeply, deeply, grateful! So, the fact that readers in Iran can also read my work is very important to me.
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When Antonovs fly over: history repeats istelf

An old postcard from Antonov

*

The story was published  12 years ago. Many Sudanese today would not notice a difference.

He arrived at a quarter to nine in the morning, and immediately became the most feared man in our little town. “De huwo!” (“it is him”) people shouted, and everybody started to run for cover.

He kept at a safe altitude of 20,000 ft, started to make a lazy circle around the town, and then made as if to disappear. But after a few minutes the noise of his engines increased again. The town had become eerily silent: the dogs had stopped barking; even the birds had stopped singing. {read more…}

Homosexuality in Kenya: Pushing from behind!

It’s wet and raining hard as we maneuver through dark streets in a middle class neighborhood in the lake side city of Kisumu.  There is a power blackout and with the heavy rain, perfect aura for having sex.

We drive slowly looking for a signpost for our rendezvous but the darkness doesn’t make it easy. After brief phone conversation with our host, we finally stop at a gate and my colleague and I are ushered into a huge bungalow. Music is blaring, guys dancing and the place is abuzz with activity. “Welcome to the Friday Jam at Kisumu Initiative for Positive Empowerment in short KIPE.”

We are ushered in by the centre’s project coordinator Mr. Mutisya. “Our days are themed and Friday is when we let loose, booze and just have fun,” he continues as he introduces us to different people. There are only two ladies present, the rest are young men.  Condoms, sex lubrication sachets, dildos, sexual and rehabilitative health materials are lying all over as we are shown one room after another. <!–more–>

Africa can solve its own problems

“We are not immature, poor, backward people. We Africans have our own ideas about how to solve our own problems”, says Kenyan business woman Atia Yahya. The proof lays in her innovative ideas to create access to affordable healthcare for millions of her country folk. She sees fertile fields where others see dry savannas.

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Oumou Sangare sings – audio

In the capital of Mali, Bamako. I met the famous singer Oumou Sangare.
She sang a song for peace.

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Mali: If the music dies…

Bamako — Huge posters in the capital Bamako tell it all: a map of Mali, tears rolling down the North and the South covered by a big question mark. In the wake of the Tuareg rebellion that began in January, Al Qaida affiliated Islamic extremists have taken control of many but not all towns in the North.

A military coup d’état led by captain Amadou Sanogo against President Toure on March 22 had made the situation worse. Sanogo was quickly forced by the West African regional organisation Ecowas to step down in favour of an interim civilian government, but behind the scenes he is still calling the shots.

“Malians feel very sad”, the famous singer Oumou Sangare told me. She then sang a powerful song: ” We need peace, we need peace to sing and dance”.

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Shuga may shock

It has never been too difficult to shock a Kenyan. Liberal westerners will often brand Kenya as a traditional country – conservative and puritanical – but now this image is growing dated, in the capital Nairobi anyway.  The soap opera Shuga on Kenyan TV may be a metaphor for these fast-changing times, thanks to new technologies and a growing middle class.

A heated Angelo tries to open the miniskirt of his girlfriend Kipepeo. As his temperature continues to rise, he makes an attempt to dive right in.

This scene definitely shocks in a country where just 25 years ago the then president Moi banned the American TV show Solid Gold for showing bikini-clad ladies performing some mildly sensual dances. Also not a fan of modern art and music, Moi preferred to promote traditional dancers and slowly swaying church choirs.
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Bonoko

Bonoko looks young and innocent, but he is hardened and shrewd. He gained his life experience on the streets of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where thousands of kids live. A strong genge beat under a TV interview with him talking about police brutality, made him instantly famous in Kenya. “When you see a cop, you better protect yourself and run away”, he raps in the song.

“My father was a street kid, my mother is still alive. She used to sell glue for sniffing”, Bonoko says. Streets kids don’t have a long life in Kenya. “There is always war, there is always violence”. Thugs and sects do kill, but the major killers are the police. “No money for a bribe and you end up in jail”.

All the people of the Nairobi slums, all passengers in the public transport matatu vehicles, sing loudly along with the Bonoko. “What we experience on a daily basis is being said by Bonoko”, they praise the 21 year old boy whose real name is James Kangethe Kimani.

Bonoko was born on the streets. As a baby he slept with his mother under the verandas, as an independent street kid he preferred other places, like the gutter under the highways. The government started to pick kids up from the streets in 2011 and send them to special schools to be reformed. After being caught Bonoko ran away twice, once walking for a week from Kakamega in Western Kenya to Nakuru, on his way back to Nairobi. “The watchmen at these schools beat us too much”, he complains. He ended up completing only two years of primary school education.

Back in Nairobi Bonoko made Ngara his home and place of work. Kipande became his close friend, a young butcher who sold mutura, a traditional Kikuyu sausage, on the streets. “Me and my street friends gave him our pennies for safekeeping, and he gave us leftover meat. He was a good man”.

His big rival on the streets was Kisi wa Central, a nickname for a cop who exhorted money from people in the neighbourhood. “That cop had already killed some kids. One day a rich man hit me with his car. He wanted to take me to hospital and gave me money as compensation. Kisi wa Central took it and told the rich man to get lost”.

One day Bonoko’s life took an unexpected positive turn. Kisa wa Central had apprehended Kipande because of urinating in an alley. Knowing the reputation of the cop, Kipande fled. Kisi wa Central shot the butcher dead and planted a fake gun near his body, a ‘bonoko’ in local slang. James Kangethe Kimani saw it all happening and from that time onwards he would be known as Bonoko.

That afternoon a crew from Citizen TV came to do a story on the killing. “The butcher is not thug, the cop is the dangerous one”, the words flowed out of his mouth for the TV camera. Many months later he heard his words back as a ringtone on a mobile, and after a while also on his favourite Ghetto Radio. Somebody in the slums had used his interview to make a raw rap song on his computer.

The angry cop has sworn to kill Bonoko and that is one of the reasons Ghetto radio has given him a safe place to stay. “I finally sleep without lice on my body”. Ghetto radio dj Mbussy has given him a slot on his daily show. “I have been liberated from police terror. It is so nice to go to sleep, knowing you are safe from the police”.

 

 

Recruting for Al Shabaab in Nairobi

John is gently kicking the ball against the wall, still a bit insecure after his long absence from the football team in Majengo, one of the many Nairobi slums. “Once recruited to fight in Somalia, you never come back to Kenya”, he says. “I had already been taken by al-Shabaab to the northeastern town of Garissa and was on my way to Somalia, but after Kenya’s intervention in Somalia last month al-Shabaab got nervous and sent me back.”

His coach Ochieng has welcomed John back, but not without a stern lecture. “I have been telling all of you in my team not to listen to these recruiters for al-Shabaab here in Majengo. They are cheating you, they are brainstorming you, and they don’t take care of you”. Little John grumbles. “It is not true, coach. These people of al-Shabaab gave us shelter in the mosque, they gave us food and clothes, and even some pocket money”.
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Stranded in the war of Sudan’s Nuba mountains

I don’t want to start writing this story. I’ve been stuck in a rebel area in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, surrounded by hostile government soldiers, without any way to reach the safety of the outside world for several weeks now. I feel smothered by lethargy. Hope leads to hopelessness. Writing takes energy but energy creates expectations. In order to get through this I have to put my feelings on standby.

A new war has broken out in Sudan. In 1955, the black South Sudanese started a rebellion against domination and exploitation by the Arab people of northern Sudan. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended decades of fighting and eventually led to the independence of South Sudan on 9 July 2011. But the CPA didn’t solve Sudan’s fundamental problem: is this an Arab or a black African nation?

The black tribes in the Nuba mountains and neighboring Blue Nile State, as well as in the western region of Darfur, continue to resist marginalization and Arab domination. Civilians are the main target in the Nuba mountains; in order to cover this vicious conflict, I have to be here where it’s happening and so here I am. The resistance is being led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army–North (SPLA/N).

Everyday, government bombers fly overhead. The Sudanese government is using the same tactics it used during the first war: bomb the civilians in the rebel areas into submission. Tens of thousands of Nuba people have fled into the mountains to escape the bombs.

They can’t do much farming and the blockades around the cities mean that trading has stopped as well. Students don’t go to school because the bombing is indiscriminate. There is no medicine because foreign aid organizations have been prevented from entering the area. A few weeks ago, a pilot took a chance and flew me in. It’s been raining since then and the landing strip is just a mud pool.

There is no way to tell one day from another and sometimes I wonder if the sun will ever shine again. I want to be a cow and just endlessly chew and chew. Watching insects is a way to pass the time; sand flies during the day, mosquitoes in the evening and fleas during the night. Ants bite me anywhere they can and leave nasty red bumps behind. Tonight I’m going to imitate the goats: they climb up a rock-face and then slide down, scraping insects and bites off their hides. I want to scrape away the itching and the pain.

Julud was a mountain village during the first war. After 2002, the thousand inhabitants came down the mountain and created a new village; first there was a little shop, then a market with ten little shops and then more houses. Every day I go and eat my plate of beans at Arafa’s, she’s an attractive young tea lady. She serves beans with sugar or beans with crumbled cookies and sugar. She also has milk with sugar and tea with sugar. People in Sudan like sugar with everything.

Arafa brings Adam some cucumber and sour milk. When fighting broke out in the regional capital Kadugli four months ago, Adam fled to the rebel-held territory. “President Omar al-Bashir’s government wants to wipe out us Nubas,” he says loudly.

Government soldiers ransacked his house in Kadugli; anything that had any value was taken, including the furniture, the roof, the toilet and the kitchen sink. Then the soldiers brought in a bulldozer and flattened his house: Adam has nothing any more. His long political tirade in Arafa’s teahouse betrays a deep hatred of ‘the Arabs’. “It’s a genocide of the Nuba people.”

Adam tells about a bombing that took place yesterday, some ten kilometres up the road. Two women were killed by shrapnel wounds to the stomach. Exhausted rebel fighters stumble into Julud from the front lines; the government troops went on the attack but were intercepted, eight people dead.

The SPLA/N commander decides to move me to a safer area, further away from the front line. It’s cheaper in Tima; smugglers have managed to bring goods in from the besieged towns. There are tubes of toothpaste and lollies on the dusty shelves of the little shops and on market day, even a few bottles of fizzy drink. The richest person in the village has a teaching diploma and a television. In the evening, the silence is broken by a police siren screaming on a TV show.

There’s excitement in the air the following evening; the fighters welcome a man, they clap him on the shoulders and embrace him: “SPLA oyé,” they say jubilantly. He escaped from the nearby garrison town of Logowa and, after a two-month trek through hostile territory, finally made it to SPLA/N territory. He laughs, “I’m free here, I’m home.”

Will I ever get away from here? Will this ever end? I haven’t got anything left to read and there’s nothing else to do. I’m even running out of paper to write on.

 

The graves of Garba Tulla

Yussuf Ammo Halake lives in Garba Tulla in an area called Prison. “It was once a concentration camp”, he says. “There is a mass grave here of the shifta war in the sixties. At that time we nomads of the Wuasa Boran were dying an invisible death. Now we are living an invisible life”.

Garba Tulla lies on the vast and mainly dry savanna’s of Northern Kenya. The wounds of a vicious war nearly fifty years ago are still open. “Thousands of civilians were killed, we were imprisoned in this area and our cattle was driven away to the highlands”, laments Halake. “That is the way the authorities deal with us nomads in the North”.
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‘Lost boys’ of Sudan may not have been so lost

Daniel Deng leads a protest march in Juba, Sudan.  Photo  Arne Doornebal

Daniel Deng leads a protest march in Juba, Sudan. Photo Arne Doornebal

Dave Egger’s book What is the What tells the story of Sudan’s ‘lost boys’. But the term is “bullshit,” one lost boy claims.“We were not lost, we were led.”

Daniel Deng feels like he is still being treated like a child. “The South-Sudanese government spent so much money on campaigns for the Sunday elections and now it has suddenly withdrawn its candidate at the very last minute. Who should we vote for now? Don’t we have anything to say here in South Sudan?”
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