(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

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  • Hear it from the people: What's wrong in the Central African Republic?

    The room was packed. Everyone wanted to speak: unsurprising after years of conflict that has claimed thousands of lives and seen the Central African Republic riven by ethnic and religious cleansing.

    After a lifetime of being ignored, the ordinary people of CAR are finally having their say, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to speak truth to power.

    In the town of Baoro, 400 kilometres from the capital Bangui in northeastern Nana Mabéré prefecture, power took the form of Minister of Communications Victor Wake. Loud applause and ululations punctuated each intervention.

    Many spoke of the horrors the town suffered under the control of the rebel Seleka alliance that toppled president Francois Bozizé in March 2013 and remained in power for 10 months.

    “There was violence here and brutal attacks by the ex-Seleka which cost the lives of 163 people, including 30 women and 10 children,” said a man who identified himself as secretary of the town’s self-defence units.

    “They burned houses, including my own. We counted 1,586 burned houses. But nothing has been done for the victims here,” the man added.

    Another speaker recalled: “When the [rebels] came they threatened me and I hid in the bush. I drank dirty water and fell sick and was evacuated to a hospital in Bangui for two months.”

    “The Selekas came and torched my field and stole all my animals. Many houses were burned here but the owners have got no help at all. It’s sad. That’s what we want you to tell the president.”

    Destroyed houses in the village of Boyeli (near Bozoum) burned by the Seleka in January 2014

    Les effets personnels de musulmans empilés dans les rues à Bozoum
    Nicholas Long/IRIN
    Destroyed houses in the village of Boyeli (near Bozoum) burned by the Seleka in January 2014
    Monday, February 3, 2014
    Obstacles à l’aide et aux évacuations en RCA*
    Destroyed houses in the village of Boyeli (near Bozoum) burned by the Seleka in January 2014

    Since late January, meetings like this, called grassroots popular consultations, have been taking place in all of CAR’s 16 prefectures as well in neighbouring countries such as Cameroon, Chad, and the two Congos - where some 190,000 CAR citizens live as refugees.

    The consultations are a prelude to the Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation, due to be held from 27 April to 4 May, which aims to shore up a new peace deal and determine the eligibility criteria for elections slated for later this year

    “Mr. Minister, unemployment is rampant here in Baoro. Young people are just hanging around town with nothing to do. Bring the NGOs here to give them work,” said a woman who took the floor.

    “Then there is security. The gendarmes and police don’t have the resources to do their job; they don’t even have a motorbike. Think about giving the security forces at least a vehicle,” she added.

    The Bangui Forum will bring together peoples’ representatives chosen during the popular consultations, leaders of armed groups, transitional authorities and political parties, as well as prominent members of civil society.

    CAR’s constant political unrest can be directly linked to a failure of governance, a failure to deliver basic services and security to most of the population, especially the farthest-flung and most marginalized areas that are prone to armed opposition.

    Minister of Communications Victor Wake leads consultations in the town of Baoro in April 2015 as part of reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic

    Communications Minister Wake presides over the Baoro meeting
    Crispin Dembassa-Kette/IRIN
    Minister of Communications Victor Wake leads consultations in the town of Baoro in April 2015 as part of reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic
    Tuesday, April 7, 2015
    Hear it from the people: What's wrong in the Central African Republic?...
    Minister of Communications Victor Wake leads consultations in the town of Baoro in April 2015 as part of reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic

    Wake explained that the object of the consultations was to “let the people speak, encourage everyone to unburden themselves, to let loose their fears and hopes, to identify the challenges to overcome and hear their ideas about how to emerge from crisis for once and for all.”

    The people of Baoro did not waste their rare opportunity to tell it like it is, and provided a grim snapshot of the ills and dire needs that plague most of the country.

    Another speaker railed at the sense of impunity and called for the town’s jail to be rebuilt.

    “FACA (CAR’s dilapidated army) and the police and gendarmes should be given weapons to provide security. Also, our hospital must be given medical supplies and competent staff,” he said.

    “I call on the government to build an agricultural development centre in our town, to support farmers and livestock-raisers with subsidies and loans. Young people must also be helped by giving them income-generating activities,” said another speaker.

    The town of Baoro air their grievances at an April 2015 consultation meeting that is part of reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic

    Crispin Dembassa-Kette/IRIN
    The town of Baoro air their grievances at an April 2015 consultation meeting that is part of reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic
    Tuesday, April 7, 2015
    Hear it from the people: What's wrong in the Central African Republic?...
    The town of Baoro air their grievances at an April 2015 consultation meeting that is part of reconciliation efforts in the Central African Republic

    The grievances are much the same all over the country, according to summaries of the consultations presented recently at the Bangui headquarters of CAR’s provisional parliament.

    The nation’s preoccupations, “hinge on impunity, security, meeting basic needs, peaceful coexistence between communities, national reconciliation and social cohesion,” General Babacar Gueye, UN envoy to CAR, said in remarks to open the Bangui presentation.

    In eastern Haut-Mbomou prefecture, “people feel abandoned to the mercy of armed groups such as Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army [a rebel group of Ugandan origin] and groups of armed peuhls [an ethnic minority],” said consultation facilitator Bernadette Gambo.

    “People also told us of the kidnapping of around 2,000 children by rebels in South Sudan. Their parents are demanding their return and want better security in their area,” she said.

    Minister of Reconciliation Jeanette Détoua conducted the consultations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where some 75,000 CAR citizens live as refugees.

    “Our compatriots in DRC said that former presidents Francois Bozizé and (Seleka leader) Michel Djotodia should come back to the country to seek forgiveness because they are to blame for this division between the people of Central Africa. They also said that those who are not Central African and who came to divide the country should be sent home,” she said.

    "If we listen to them, we can find the solutions"

    CAR has tried before to seek reconciliation by involving government officials, party leaders, civil society and rebel commanders in peace talks or dialogue, but there is hope that this effort is different.

    “Previous processes have always favoured politico-military actors to the detriment of these crises’ innocent victims,” said interim President Catherine Samba Panza. 

    Applauding this new approach, the UN Development Programme’s Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye said on a recent visit to CAR: “Solutions to peace and development lie with the people. If we listen to them, we can find the solutions.”

    Former Seleka rebels at first openly opposed the public consultations, but may now be coming round to the idea.

    “In five of the 16 prefectures, there was resistance from armed groups and the facilitators came back to Bangui,” said Detoua, the reconciliation minister.

    In the central town of Kaga-Bandoro, the rebels briefly abducted the regional prefect and the town’s mayor who had been set to lead the consultation there. And, in Bambari, they chased a whole team of facilitators out of town.

    However, after negotiations with the rebels, consultations were later held successfully in both locations.

    Everyone is finally getting a chance to have their say. For those unable to attend the consultations, the government has even set up a special hotline.


    Speaking truth to power... at last
  • Killing us softly

    A recent public outcry in China, sparked by a damning documentary about air pollution, was based on well-founded fear:

    Of the 100 million people who viewed the film on the first day of its online release, 172,000 are likely to die each year from air pollution-related diseases, according to regional trends.* 

    Worldwide, pollution kills twice as many people each year as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined,** but aid policy has consistently neglected it as a health risk, donors and experts say. 

    Air pollution alone killed seven million people in 2012, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures released last year, most of them in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) in the Asia Pacific region.*** 

    In a self-critical report released late last month the World Bank acknowledged that it had treated air pollution as an afterthought, resulting in a dearth of analysis of the problem and spending on solutions. 

    “We now need to step up our game and adopt a more comprehensive approach to fixing air quality,” the authors wrote in Clean Air and Healthy Lungs. “If left unaddressed, these problems are expected to grow worse over time, as the world continues to urbanise at an unprecedented and challenging speed.”

    A second report released last month by several organisations – including the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution, an international consortium of UN organisations, governments, development banks, NGOs and academics – also called for more funding towards reducing pollution. 

    “Rich countries, multilateral agencies and organisations have forgotten the crippling impacts of pollution and fail to make it a priority in their foreign assistance,” the authors wrote. 

    Housebound in China 

    A dense haze obstructs visibility more often than not across China’s northern Hua Bei plain and two of its major river deltas. Less than one percent of the 500 largest cities in China meet WHO’s air quality guidelines. Anger over air pollution is a hot topic among China’s increasingly outspoken citizenry.  

    “Half of the days in 2014, I had to confine my daughter to my home like a prisoner because the air quality in Beijing was so poor,” China’s well-known journalist Chai Jing said in Under the Dome, the independent documentary she released last month, which investigated the causes of China’s air pollution.

    The film was shared on the Chinese social media portal Weibo more than 580,000 times before officials ordered websites to delete it

    Beyond the silo

    Traditionally left to environmental experts to tackle, the fight against pollution is increasingly recognised as requiring attention from health and development specialists too. 

    “Air pollution is the top environmental health risk and among the top modifiable health risks in the world,” said Professor Michael Brauer, a public health expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada and a member of the scientific advisory panel for the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a consortium of governments and the UN Environment Programme. “Air pollution has been under-funded and its health impacts under-appreciated.”

    Pollution – especially outdoor or “ambient” air pollution – is also a major drag on economic performance and limits the opportunities of the poor, according to Ilmi Granoff, an environmental policy expert at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. It causes premature death, illness, lost earnings and medical costs – all of which take their toll on both individual and national productivity.

    “Donors need to get out of the siloed thinking of pollution as an environmental problem distinct from economic development and poverty reduction,” Granoff said. 

    Pollution cleanup is indeed underfunded, he added, but pollution prevention is even more poorly prioritised: “It’s underfunded in much of the developed world, in aid, and in developing country priorities, so this isn’t just an aid problem.”

    Mounting evidence 

    Pollution kills in a variety of ways, according to relatively recent studies; air pollution is by far the most lethal form compared to soil and water pollution. 

    Microscopic particulate matter (PM) suspended in polluted air is the chief culprit in these deaths: the smaller the particles’ size, the deeper they are able to penetrate into the lungs.  Particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter (PM2.5) are small enough to reach the alveoli, the deepest part of the lungs, and to enter the blood stream.  

    From there, PM2.5 causes inflammation and changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and blood clotting processes - the precursors to fatal stroke and heart disease.  PM2.5 irritates and corrodes the alveoli, which impairs lung function - a major precursor to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It also acts as a carcinogen.

    Most research looks at long-term exposure to PM2.5 but even studies looking at the hours immediately following bursts of especially high ambient PM2.5 (in developed countries) show a corresponding spike in life-threatening heart attacks, heart arrhythmias and stroke.

    Asia worst affected

    The overwhelming majority - 70 percent - of global air pollution deaths occur in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions.  South Asia has eight of the top 10 and 33 of the top 50 cities with the worst PM concentrations in the world.  


    WHO says a city’s average annual PM levels should be 20 micrograms per cubic meter.  But cities such as Karachi, Gaborone, and Delhi have yearly PM averages above 200 micrograms per cubic meter. 

    The main source of PM2.5 in indoor air, or household air, is burning solid fuels for cooking and heating, using wood, coal, dung or crop leftovers - a common practice in rural areas of low and middle-income countries that lack electricity.  

    Almost three billion people live this way, the majority in the densely populated Asia Pacific region: India and China each hold about one quarter of all people who rely on solid fuels. For these people, the daily average dose of PM2.5 is often in the hundreds of micrograms per cubic meter. 

    Filling the gaps

    Unlike many other health risks air pollution is very cost-effective to address, Brauer said. Analysis of air quality interventions in the US suggests a return on investment of up to $30 for every dollar spent. 

    “We already know how to reduce these risks, as we have done exactly that in high income countries, so this is not a matter of searching for a cure - we know what works,” he said.

    But the World Bank report said that unless it starts gathering better data on local air quality in LMICs, the amounts and sources of air pollution and the full gamut of its health impacts, “it is not possible to appropriately target interventions in a cost-effective manner.”

    Granoff said there are also gaps in government capacity to monitor, regulate and enforce pollution policy. 

    Beijing hopes to bring PM2.5 concentrations down to safe levels by 2030, and has said it will fine big polluters. 

    The World Bank report said China is also charging all enterprises fees for the pollutants they discharge; establishing a nationwide PM2.5 monitoring network; instituting pollution control measures on motor vehicles; and controlling urban dust pollution.

    But enforcing environmental protections has been a longstanding problem in China.

    “Pollution policy will only succeed if citizens are aware of the harm, able to organise their concern [through advocacy campaigns], and have a responsive government that prioritises public welfare over the narrower interests of polluting sectors,” Granoff said. 

    While more people die from household air pollution than from ambient air pollution, the latter – through vehicles, smokestacks and open burning – still accounted for 3.7 million deaths in 2012, according to the WHO. 

    A change in the air

    Kaye Patdu, an air quality expert at Clean Air Asia, a Manila-based think tank - and the secretariat for the UN-backed Clean Air Asia Partnership, comprising more than 250 government, civil, academic, business and development organisations - said the aid community is finally starting to recognise the importance of tackling air pollution.  

    Last year’s inaugural UN Environment Assembly adopted a resolution calling for strengthened action on air pollution.  
    WHO Member States are planning to adopt a resolution on health and air quality at the upcoming World Health Assembly in May. 
    The proposed Sustainable Development Goals, which will set the post-2015 international development agenda, address city air quality and air, soil and water pollution. 

    None of the experts IRIN contacted could provide a breakdown of total aid spending on all forms of toxic pollution (air, water and soil pollution that is harmful to human health).  So IRIN asked each of the major global donors for their figures.  

    Three responded.  

    A back-of-envelope calculation of all reported spending on toxic pollution by USAID, the European Commission and the World Bank suggests that between them they committed about US$10 billion over 10 years. This does not include aid spending on the diseases that pollution causes. The World Bank’s spending figures eclipsed those of other the other donors. 

    By very rough comparison, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, with half the death toll of air pollution, received $28 billion via public sector commitments to the Global Fund – the world’s largest financier of programs that tackle these diseases – over the same period, a fraction of total spending on these diseases. 


    *Based on WHO statistics for per capita mortality rates in the Western Pacific region in 2012. 

    **The mortality figures for air pollution come from 2012 statistics and were released by WHO in 2014, while the figures for the infectious diseases come from 2013 statistics and were released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in 2014 (the Global Burden of Disease study).

    ***Includes deaths from both household air pollution (4.3 million) and ambient air pollution (3.7 million): the combined death toll is less than the sum of the parts because many people are exposed to both. 

    For more: 

    The relationship between household air pollution and disease

    Ambient air pollution and the risk of acute ischemic stroke 

    Cardiovascular effects of exposure to ambient air pollution 

    Particulate air pollution and lung function  

    Long-term exposure to ambient air pollution and incidence of cerebrovascular events: Results from 11 European cohorts within the ESCAPE Project  

    OECD's The Cost of Air Pollution report

    Killing us softly
  • Coaxing the dragon: Why China should join the great aid debate

    How much attention is being paid to China's growing role in the global humanitarian space? Not enough perhaps, but the wariness cuts both ways. James Wan, fellow at the Wits University China-Africa Reporting Project in South Africa, argues it's time for China to get its hands dirty in the great aid debate.  

    There appears to be an elephant in the room. Or rather a dragon. Amid the countless meetings, summits and conferences being held around the world to determine the post-2015 development agenda and the future of humanitarian aid, no one is talking much about the growing role of China. Despite accounting for one-fifth of the world's population, Beijing has been little more than a wallflower at the global party.

    Considering its size, its evolving position in the global aid landscape, and the fact that it single-handedly lifted half a billion people out of poverty between 1990 and 2005, China has not had a significant enough role in the discussions.

    There have been a handful of conferences and papers from China but, as academic Kenneth King has noted, these have often been initiated by Northern partners not Beijing. Meanwhile, China doesn’t appear interested in joining the #ReShapeAid debate.  It seems happy to observe but wary of getting its hands dirty; and Chinese researchers do not seem nearly as engrossed in the post-2015 agenda as their Western counterparts.

    The caution cuts both ways. In the West, China's international aid is often portrayed as inherently suspect, particularly when it comes to Africa. It stands accused of neo-colonialism for its huge resource deals, of being a "rogue donor" for tying aid to Chinese goods and contractors, and of propping up African dictators with its lack of conditions, and transparency and absence of concern about fundamental human rights.

    From East to West

    Some of these criticisms are well-founded. Some are based on exaggerations and misunderstandings. But amid the calls for China to follow the West's examples of best practice, the point is often missed that there is plenty the West could learn from China too. For example, China has been sending dedicated medical teams to Africa since the 1960s and was one of the first countries to send hundreds of medical workers in response to the current Ebola crisis. It has trained tens of thousands of Africans in all things from agricultural science to economics, and it has built countless miles of roads, pipelines and railways on the continent.

    Unlike the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were drafted by a handful of UN staffers in a basement, their successors, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, are meant to take into account a wide diversity of views and perspectives. But for all the rhetoric about universality and inclusivity, the post-2015 agenda has been criticised by civil society groups for privileging a narrow band of voices with discussions largely driven by the Global North. 

    A stronger Chinese voice would, by definition, help correct this specific imbalance. But more significantly, China's whole approach to aid offers an alternative to the prescriptive Western impulse.

    In contrast to a sometimes blunt, one-size-fits-all, donor-recipient strategy advocated by many international donors, China typically emphasises a relationship of partnership. It calls for policy experimentation and flexibility rather than pursuing rigid goals and strategies and emphasises country ownership whereby recipient governments assess their own needs and priorities.

    A fresh approach

    While China's aid to Africa is viewed suspiciously by some in Western capitals, many African leaders praise Beijing’s approach. Rwanda's Paul Kagame, for example, has criticised Western aid, contrasting it with the way in which "the Chinese bring Africa what it needs", while many others, such as Uganda's former agricultural minister Victoria Sekitoleko, have suggested that: "Different from our traditional partners, like the European countries, Chinese companies want to listen to us and make our requirements the priority in the cooperation."

    It's a more 'horizontal' mode of engagement, often viewed as more effective and respectful than the West's typically top-down approach.
    China's aid model is very far from perfect, but in some ways it is actually very similar to the Rio+20 Conference's agreement that the SDGs be "universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities". Rather than just wariness and criticism, perhaps there is a leaf to be taken from the Sino Aid playbook?

    Framing China's aid to Africa as somehow being in competition with Western aid is not particularly helpful. We risk missing the point that each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Collaboration and cooperation are likely to yield much more than rivalry – certainly from the perspective of recipients.

    China’s former leader Deng Xiaoping once declared that China should "keep a low profile and never take the lead" in world affairs. But Beijing is increasingly flexing its muscles in global politics and economics. At a time of increasingly complex and expensive humanitarian interventions, China should be encouraged also to take a more active role in discussions about the future of aid.


    China should join the great aid debate
  • Working to keep the peace: The impact of job schemes on ex-rebels

    Job-creation schemes are the traditional way to tackle the post-conflict problem of unemployed ex-fighters and to reduce the threat they can pose to peace and stability in fragile states.

    The theory - encapsulated in most demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programmes - is that jobs can be generated through training and capital inputs; that employment decreases the risks of re-recruitment; and once armed with a pay cheque, ex-combatants settle down and reintegrate more easily into society.

    Those assumptions were tested in a recent study exploring whether employment could reduce lawlessness and rebellion among high-risk men in Liberia. Of those who took part in the training scheme that was studied, 74 percent had fought in Liberia’s traumatic 14-year civil war.  The study concluded that training and cash incentives did encourage lawful employment, and as a result the men resisted being signed up by mercenary recruiters during a neigbouring conflict.  But there was no evidence employment improved their societal reintegration – they remained violent and anti-social.

    The NGO Action on Armed Violence (AoAV) works with ex-fighters and other troubled young men, typically involved in illegal mining and logging in remote “hotspots”, providing agricultural training and farm inputs. The income-generating scheme gave the researchers - Christopher Blattman of Columbia University and Jeannie Annan, of the International Rescue Committee - what they described as a unique opportunity to study employment-led rehabilitation.

    Their study found that even the highest risk men where “overwhelmingly interested in farming” as a result of the AoAV training. But although they spent 20 percent more time on farming, they didn’t abandon their illicit activities. Instead, they adjusted “their portfolio of occupations”, and saw a modest rise of $12 a month in earnings. Crucially the men reported “24 percent less engagement” with mercenary recruiters when Cote d’Ivoire’s short war erupted in 2011 – and none went to fight.

    The study’s findings were published in the Social Science Research Network.

    DDR employment programmes generally have a low success rate: Often the primary goal is to get a peace agreement signed, not sustained economic reintegration – a failing witnessed from the Central African Republic to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The study suggests that the single-trade focus of most DDR programmes fails to appreciate how, in the real world, the poor use multiple streams of income to mitigate risk. Liquid capital is key. The AoAV scheme demonstrated, almost accidentally, the power of cash incentives. As a result of a supply problem, roughly a third of the men expecting a second farm input installment were told to expect instead a cash payment – conditional on them not taking up mining or mercenary work. This financial inducement worked. 

    “The potential policy implication is that one-time transfers will not fully deter future criminal or mercenary opportunities. Ongoing incentives, such as cash-for-work programmes or other conditional transfers, could be important compliments,” the study noted.

    Despite the men’s relative economic success, the programme had “little effect on aggression, participation in community life and politics, or attitudes to violence and democracy” – in other words, little progress in terms of social integration. Furthermore, although AoAV’s intervention had a positive impact, an additional $12 a month earned was “not a high return” on the investment. 

    “Cost-effectiveness thus hinges on the hard-to-quantify social returns to lower crime and violence,” the study noted. In a fragile country recovering from conflict, that may well be a price worth paying.

    For further reading on DDR see:


    How to help ex-rebels adjust to peace
  • Three words of advice for WHO Africa's new chief

    The World Health Organization says the number of new Ebola cases per week rose twice this month for the first time since December.

    This rise in incidence of new cases - if proven to be a trend - will be just one of the challenges facing WHO’s new regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti, as she attempts to overcome the multitude of criticism launched against WHO in recent months for its failure to act earlier and more competently during West Africa’s ongoing Ebola outbreak.

    “This is a critical moment for the WHO,” said Michael Merson, director of Duke University’s Global Health Institute. “It’s a real crossroads as to whether or not they’ll be able to reform and become an effective and efficient organization, particularly at the regional level.”

    Moeti, who officially took office 1 February, has vowed to make fighting Ebola WHO’s “highest priority,” while supporting countries to develop strategies to build up their health care systems, and reduce maternal and child mortality, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases.

    Many international observers say they have high hopes for Moeti, a medical doctor who has more than 35 years of experience working in the national and global public health sector. But she has a tough road ahead – particularly as the number of Ebola cases continues to rise, nearly a year after the outbreak was first declared.

    Here’s some advice from a few experts as Moeti begins her five-year term:

    1. Think Local

    Having competent and qualified staff on the ground, whose skills and expertise are matched to the needs of the country, is key to effectively implementing WHO policies and recommendations.

    “Everyone tends to discuss WHO at the global level and the regional level, but I don’t think this is where the problem lies,” said Fatou Francesca Mbow, an independent health consultant in West Africa. “It really lies in what the WHO is meant to be doing at country level. It is of no use to have very technical people sitting in Washington [D.C.] or Geneva, and then, where things are actually happening, [they become] politicians.”

    Mbow said that despite a wealth of technical documents being produced at headquarters, very often the staff from the field offices are appointed based on political motives. Country and field-level office meetings are often dominated by talk that, while politically correct, says “nothing of real meaning”.

    Staff reform at the local level will require both investing in employee development, including recruiting new and existing talent to the field offices, as well as making posts in “hardship” countries more attractive to the most qualified experts.

    “What often happens is that when people in-country are seen as being quite effective, they tend to get headhunted by the headquarters of the institutions that represent them,” said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in international politics at Queen Mary University of London. “So we see a type of brain-drain among people working in these sectors.”

    She said that improving salaries and offering more benefits, as well as taking into account what these people have to offer, could go a long way in incentivising them to stay at their field-level posts.

    “Good documents are interesting,” Mbow said. “But unless you have people at country level who understand them, who participate in writing them, who are able to implement them, who are passionate and committed to doing so, they’re just going to be reports.”

    2. Strengthen health systems

    There were many factors that contributed to the unprecedented spread of the Ebola outbreak, but inherently weak local health systems in the three most-affected countries meant that local clinics did not have the capacity, resources or expertise to handle even the smallest of caseloads.

    WHO must now work with local governments, partners and other on-the-ground agencies in all African countries to train and employ more doctors and nurses, implement universal health care coverage, and invest in better vigilance and surveillance measures.

    “I think the real test will be… how the WHO turns this outbreak into an opportunity to use our energy and thoughts and actions to build health systems that will not only help people [day-to-day], but will be able to respond to health crises like this in the future,” said Chikwe Ihekweazu, a managing partner of the health consulting firm EpiAfric.

    Increasing the number of health workers will be particularly important post-outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where more than 400 health workers have died from Ebola, including some of the countries’ top doctors and nurses.

    “The WHO also needs to help minimise the knock-on effect that the Ebola outbreak is having on other health priorities in the region, such as HIV/AIDS and maternal health,” Harman said. “What we are seeing is that because of Ebola, people are afraid and so they are not accessing health facilities, which might actually reverse some of the many gains we’ve seen in the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals].”

    3. Rebuild credibility

    Despite WHO having, admittedly, acted much too late, both in terms of identifying the Ebola outbreak and then mobilizing resources to contain it – and losing much of its credibility in the process – experts agree that WHO remains a much-needed and relevant global health body, particularly when it comes to technical expertise.

    “We all recognize that the WHO has had a fairly good history in the past,” Ihekweazu said. “And while it was certainly criticized for its slow response at the beginning of the outbreak…the WHO is seen as the leading organisation that provides guidance for countries and I think…we are at a stage where [Africa] needs the WHO as a mutual partner who provides leadership for the continent going forward.”

    Mbow agreed: “What I would say is that when you are criticised, take the blame fairly, but don’t lose sight. And don’t lose confidence in the resources you do have to offer.”

    Restoring donor confidence in WHO will be particularly important, as the regional office for Africa has the largest budgetary needs, the most countries, and, in many ways, the most challenging health problems to deal with.

    “No one wants harm done to the WHO,” Merson said. “We will be a much better, healthier planet, if the WHO is strong and effective… But it is never going to have a huge budget and so I think its strengths should be in standard-setting, norm-setting and providing the best technical sound advice in health that countries need.”


    3 tips for WHO's new director for Africa
  • Who celebrity advocates are really targeting. And it’s not you.

    This week was a fanfare for celebrity humanitarians: Forest Whitaker appealed for peace in South Sudan alongside UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos; Angelina Jolie opened an academic centre on sexual violence in conflict with British Member of Parliament William Hague; and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham launched an initiative for children. 

    In recent years, aid agencies have increasingly used celebrity advocates to raise awareness and money for their causes. There’s just one snag: 

    It doesn’t actually work. At least not as much or in the ways we think. 

    According to research by Dan Brockington, a professor at the University of Manchester, public responses to celebrity activism are surprisingly muted. His work is the first quantitative research on the subject. 

    “Using celebrities for broader outreach, for reaching mass publics and attracting media attention is absolutely not the silver bullet it appears to be,” he told IRIN on the sidelines of a 6-8 February conference at the University of Sussex, where he presented research recently published in the book Celebrity Advocacy and International Development.


    In a survey he conducted with 2,000 British people, 95 percent of respondents recognized five or more of 12 charities listed to them, including the British Red Cross, Save the Children UK and Oxfam UK. But two-thirds of the respondents did not know a single “high-profile” advocate of any of the NGOs (In this case, music executive Simon Cowell and singers Victoria Beckham and Elton John respectively, among many others). 

    The realpolitik might not be that pleasant. But you'll achieve your goals. 

    Focus groups and interviews with more than 100 “celebrity liaison officers” and other media staff at NGOs further reinforced his findings. 

    What’s more, Brockington says, those who pay attention to celebrities do not necessarily know which causes they support. 

    “People who follow celebrities often do so because they are not political,” he said during the interview. “They are fun, light. You want to live their lives…[People] don’t engage with [celebrities] for the more worthy things.”  

    Celebrity stardom flat-lining 

    Despite the rise in the use of celebrity advocates (which, by the way, dates back to at least Victorian times), the mention of charities in broadsheet and tabloid articles about celebrities only increased ever so slightly between 1985 and 2010, according to a separate study by Brockington. “There has also been a decline in the proportion of newspaper articles mentioning development and humanitarian NGOs at all,” the study found. 

    The perception that celebrities engage the public in the first place may itself be overstated. 

    After a steady rise in coverage of celebrities in the British press over two decades, the percentage of articles mentioning the word celebrity (only a fraction of total articles about celebrities) stopped increasing around 2006 and is now hovering at about four percent of all articles studied, the research found, validating the findings of earlier studies on the same subject (The study looked at The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Daily Mail, The Mirror and The Sun). 

    The magazine industry’s own statistics show a tapering off of readership in recent years after steady growth.

    Celebrities can be successful in engaging the public – Miley Cyrus made waves last year when she sent a homeless man to pick up her MTV Video Music Awards; Bob Geldof’s charity single on Ebola quickly rose to the top of the charts; and celebrity-driven telethons like the UK’s Comic Relief are generally quite successful. Leonardo DiCaprio’s speech at the opening of the Climate Summit 2014 garnered nearly 2 million views on YouTube – far more than many of the heads of state who also spoke at the summit.

    And the effectiveness of celebrity advocacy in non-Western contexts, which is much less studied, could well be higher. UNICEF, for example, uses more national than global celebrity ambassadors because they often resonate better with local audiences. Social media campaigns can also be extremely successful in some instances, though “not a game-changer”, according to Brockington (For a cold shower on this topic, see Paul Currion’s column on why KONY 2012 may have engaged the public, but ultimately failed).

    Influence without accountability 

    But on the whole, at least in the UK, public interest in celebrity appears to be lower than most people think, Brockington says. But the belief in star power - inaccurate as it may be - lingers: In his survey, 74 percent of respondents said they thought other people paid more attention to celebrities than they did. Statistically, this cannot actually be true, but it proves an important point: If people think that other people care about celebrities, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Brockington found that while celebrities may not be as successful as we think in engaging the public, they are still successful at engaging politicians and decision-makers. 


    Because politicians - like most people - like being around celebrities. But also because politicians – also like most people - believe that celebrities express populist sentiment, even though, in fact, they often don’t. So they grant them access and influence. 

    Ben Affleck, for example, has briefed US Congress about the Democratic Republic of Congo and George Clooney has addressed the UN Security Council about Darfur.   


    For the small but growing number of academics studying the subject, the gap between celebrity advocacy and public engagement raises a major ethical question: If celebrities wield all this power and influence, yet do not represent popular sentiment, who are they accountable to?  

    “The celebrity is not beholden to his or her public in the same manner as the elected official,” writes Alexandra Cosima Budabin, of the University of Dayton, in an upcoming book: Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations. “Misguided proposals and ineffective interventions will not endanger a celebrity, whose position is assured by both financial and political elites.”  

    Celebrities’ increasingly powerful voices on issues of humanitarian aid, poverty reduction and famine has allowed them to “often decide for the suffering receivers” and eliminate public scrutiny and debate, according to Ilan Kapoor, a professor at York University in Canada and author of Celebrity Humanitarianism: The Ideology of Global Charity. 

    “…Mostly unelected, private individuals and organizations have, for all intents and purposes, taken over what should primarily be state/public functions,” he writes

    A Machiavellian approach?

    Perhaps even more interestingly, Brockington found in his interviews with staff of NGOs with celebrity advocates that liaison officers know the impact on the public is limited, but use celebrities anyway because they can access and influence not the general public but decision-makers. 

    “The realpolitik might not be that pleasant,” he told the University of Sussex conference, “but you’ll achieve your goals.”

    UNICEF’s announcement of a new initiative for children by its Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham may reflect a clear understanding of this precise point. It reads: “David will use his powerful global voice, influence and connections to raise vital funds and encourage world leaders to create lasting positive change for children,” the statement said. 

    Malene Kamp Jensen, of UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador Program – one of the first and largest of its kind, acknowledges that sending a message to policy-makers is a “very, very important role” of celebrity ambassadors: “They do have certain access and platforms.” 

    But she says it is important to engage all segments of society: “You communicate to as many people as possible… I don’t think you can just say: ‘Forget the public; let’s lean on the policy makers. It’s very much a collective effort.” 

    For Jeffrey Brez, of the UN’s Messenger of Peace Programme, the target audience depends on the specific goal in that instance. 

    “Is there a treaty about to be ratified and you need a few extra votes? Is it a humanitarian crisis and you need a bump of visibility to help Congress push through appropriations for humanitarian aid? There are so many moments when they can come in and give you a little boost. It depends … what you’re trying to achieve.”


    Celebrity advocacy "industry" 

    Brez and Jensen both challenge the suggestion that celebrities are seen to be a silver bullet to public engagement, insisting they are just one tool in the toolbox. 

    “We’re always looking just to incrementally move the needle,” Brez says. But he complains that he and his colleagues lack real research to assess just how much impact their outreach has. 

    When Project Runway All Stars shot its Season Finale at UN Headquarters, 2 million fashion fans – not the UN’s traditional audience – were exposed to its work in a positive light. But how much did they retain? Did their perceptions of the UN change? 

    Brockington cautions not to read too much into his findings: celebrity advocacy can work, he says, but must be used strategically, for example to influence elites or fundraise among existing supporters. 

    But he says celebrity liaison officers are themselves frustrated by their NGO colleagues’ expectations that if they just throw a celebrity at something, the organisation will be instantly successful at captivating the public imagination. 

    Could the bubble eventually burst if more people become aware of the limits of celebrity advocacy? Unlikely, Brockington says, given what has now become a celebrity advocacy “industry”, in to which NGOs invest a lot of time and resources.  

    “There is a fair bit of smoke and mirrors in this… [but] a lot of people are vested in this. They want it to work. There’s all sorts of strong collective interests in sustaining it.”


    Does celebrity advocacy actually work?
  • Sexual violence in conflict – what use is the law?

    Through conflict after conflict, sexual violence persists, not just as individual crimes but as a weapon of war, from the Balkans to the Congo, from Liberia and Sierra Leone to present day Iraq. It persists, says Madeleine Rees, the secretary general of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, because it’s effective.

    “It works in conflict,” she told a meeting at London's Chatham House, “because it helps destroy and tear apart communities. And the reason it works to tear apart communities is to do with our social mores. It does work and if you want to win a war, then you do it.”

    Working to prevent it and cope with its effects is a dauntingly wide-ranging task, which entails tackling deep-seated attitudes at the core of societies, as well as the provision of medical help, emotional support and legal advice to the victims.

    When a woman – or a man – has been raped, legal redress may not be the first thing she feels she needs, but many victims do feel passionately that their abusers should not go unpunished. Ending impunity also plays a role in preventing such violence in the future.   Legal tools are there, and the London meeting explored how they can be used, and how, once the legal instruments exist, courts can develop and extend their scope.

    Margaret Purdasy is legal counsellor at the UK Mission in Geneva, and as such she has been involved with a British initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict, launched in 2012 by the then UK foreign secretary William Hague and actress Angelina Jolie. She says, “There are several different strands of international law, and actually understanding the different strands is really important, and how they interact together and how they can be complementary to each other.”

    Humanitarian Law is always the starting point

    Purdasy described international humanitarian law as always being the starting point. The Geneva Conventions and Protocols specifically prohibit rape and also serious sexual assault. It's less clear cut, she says, whether they might constitute “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, a designation which obliges states to seek out and prosecute, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, anyone suspected of committing such acts, regardless of their nationality or of the country where the crime was committed.

    While not specifically identified as grave breaches in the Conventions, rape and other acts of sexual violence could, according to Purdasy, fall under the umbrella of “torture or inhumane treatment”, which is so listed.

    Such an interpretation was upheld by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for instance, although it is not accepted by all states. Moreover, a strict reading of the Conventions would limit the applicability of the grave breaches – and by extension, universal jurisdiction – to international armed conflicts, to the exclusion of civil wars, the most common type of conflict today. (The jury is still out on this point, however.)

    Then there is international human rights law, as enshrined in various conventions. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, for instance, might prohibit some of these acts. But these too have their limitations, since they bind states, not individuals, and many of the worst perpetrators are “non-state actors”, such as rebel groups.

    So what of criminal law, national or international? Rape and serious sexual assault are both considered war crimes by the Rome Statute, which underpins the International Criminal Court, and have also been prosecuted by a range of other international tribunals.

     “They've made interesting contributions to the development of the law. Courts have to interpret the law, that's part of their power. For instance, evidence of rape: that has been adjudicated on by the Yugoslav tribunal, the Rwanda Tribunal [which established rape could be an act of genocide], the Special Court for Sierra Leone, all developing the law on what constitutes rape and evidence of sexual violence. There have been ground-breaking judgements on particular issues.”

    She added: “All the strands of law have their limitations and their setbacks, but they are not the same limitations; one helps to plug the gaps in the other.”

    The Chatham House meeting also looked at the issue of so-called “soft law”, the kind of declarations and protocols which nations sign up to, but which are not binding and which have no enforcement mechanisms. These can stimulate discussion, establish best practice, and give civil society a baseline of standards which their governments should meet.

    The UK's former Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, said soft law can also serve a practical purpose in court. “Protocols are also used by courts as a powerful, creative tool, not just with state parties but with other institutions which are involved in delivering solutions. You can ask them, 'So what is your response to the provisions of this protocol? What are you doing? How are you responding?' And it doesn't matter that it's not binding. It is persuasive.”

    Breaking the silence

    A fundamental problem with all this is that laws and courts exist within society as it stands. Where women – the most frequent victims – are discriminated against, that is reflected in their experience with the law. Rees says it comes down to the different relationships of men and women to the structures of power, particularly in the context of transitional justice, where national courts will eventually take over from international tribunals.

    In the former Yugoslavia, she says, “We still had the flawed interpretation of law coming from the national courts feeding in to the international court. So look at rape. Rape is one of the most badly prosecuted crimes; the statistics are horrifying. And the reason for that is because it is coming from a particular standpoint, a particular view of women and their sexuality.

    “One woman, who was sixteen at the time of her rape, was cross examined for several days on the issue of her consent to having sex with one of the commanders...and that had an enormous impact on women in Bosnia. They wanted to withdraw because they said, 'We are not going to be subjected to this sort of denigration in a court of law when we are the ones seeking justice.' The case was won... but still it caused damage.”

    The International Committee of the Red Cross works on these issues, both with victims and with potential perpetrators. Its diplomatic advisor, Anne-Marie La Rosa, stresses the need to address the whole range of issues.  “You need to strengthen institutions.  You have to make sure you have courts who have jurisdiction over those who are susceptible to sexual violence, in particular weapons-bearers.  You have to have investigative bodies with forensic capacity.

    “But addressing seriously sexual violence is not just about putting into place good facilities and skilled professionals,” she said.

    “It is also about breaking the silence and fighting against taboos. You can only do this if the victims are in an environment with a person they trust.  And to achieve this it's vital that any work that we do is combined with community-based approaches.”


    Sexual violence – what use is law?
  • Nice and dirty – the importance of soil

    Be it laterite, loam, peat or clay, soil is life. It's the foundation of food security, and so the UN has declared 2015 as the year to draw attention to the stuff.

    As much as 95 percent of our food comes from the soil, but 33 percent of global soils are degraded, and experts say we may only have 60 years of nutrient-rich top soil left - it is not a renewable resource. 

    Africa is especially hard hit. Land degradation denudes the top soil, shrinking yields and the ability of the earth to absorb harmful greenhouse gases. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 65 percent of agricultural land is degraded. That costs the continent US$68 billion a year, and affects 180 million people - mainly the rural poor, already struggling to eke out a living.  But better land management practices could deliver up to $1.4 trillion globally in increased crop production. 

    So how to implement sustainable policies that protect the food security of future generations? The uptake of sound soil management approaches is currently low. Farmers are under pressure to abandon effective traditional methods in favour of practices that deliver quicker, short-term, returns. 

    Further reading on the issue
     2015 – International Year of Soils
     FAO Soils Portal
     Agriculture for Impact
     The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme
     United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
     Africa Soil Information Service

    But a report - No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, Restoring, and Enhancing Africa’s Soils - released in December 2014, points to potential pathways. These include combining targeted and selected use of fertilisers alongside traditional methods such as application of livestock manure, intercropping with nitrogen-fixing legumes or covering farmland with crop residues. The goal is an ambitious - if contradictory sounding - “Sustainable Intensification” of agriculture.


    Nice and dirty – the importance of soil
  • Central African peacekeeping force gears up for action

    With hundreds of soldiers from its member states successfully completing a series of joint exercises and manoeuvres in Congo, the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC) says its Multinational Force for Central Africa (FOMAC), is now ready to intervene in local conflicts and be part of global anti-terrorism initiatives.

    The recently completed Loango 2014 operations brought troops from eight of CEEAC’s 10 member countries (Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sao Tome et Principe - Rwanda may rejoin) to Loango in the south of Congo.

    During 10 days of intense exercises, Congolese, Angolan and Cameroonian soldiers disembarked from a vessel supplied by Equatorial Guinea. On land, they constructed a field hospital and staged simulated exercises in which hostages were liberated and a rebel leader was captured and removed to a safe location. The operations involved both ordinary soldiers and more specialist parachute units. In overall command was Congolese Chief of Staff Gen Blanchard Guy Okoï.

    Presidents Denis Sassou of Congo, Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon and Obianga Nguema of Equatorial Guinea were among the guests at a closing ceremony on 29 October. Ahmad Allam-Mi, a former Chadian foreign minister, now CEEAC’s secretary-general, said the organization had shown how quickly it could respond to human needs in time of crisis. “Our force is capable of bringing help to the population,” Allam-Mi emphasized.

    There was a strong emphasis in Loango on fighting terrorism in central Africa. Gabon Defence Minister Ernest Mpouho Epigat pointed to the challenges posed by maritime piracy, but also warned that the Nigerian Islamist movement Boko Haram was in striking distance of central African nations. “Cameroon is now on the frontline,” Epigat warned. “It is good that the countries of the sub-region hold this kind of exercise to see how we can pool our personnel and resources to respond to these threats and push them as far away as we can.”

    A bit of history

    Until recently, CEEAC was seen as slow to develop a serious military profile. Formed in 1983, it was virtually moribund for much of the 1990s, falling victim to regional rivalries and having a lack of shared priorities. Geographically, it seems an incongruous grouping of nations, stretching from Sao Tomé and Principe in the Atlantic to Chad.

    CEEAC used an extraordinary summit in Libreville (Gabon) in February 1998 to put itself on a new footing. At a subsequent meeting in Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) in 1999, heads of state outlined the need to work more closely on peace and security issues. Tracing CEEAC’s history, security analyst Angela Meyer observed in Peace and Security Cooperation in Central Africa: Challenges and Prospects: “The lessons from years of conflict and crises made it clear that regional economic cooperation could not succeed without regional peace and security.”

    Progress was initially slow. Member states were bitterly divided over the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which broke out in 1998. Chad and Angola sent troops to defend embattled President Laurent Kabila; Rwanda and Burundi backed rebels advancing on Kinshasa.

    Stronger regional framework takes shape

    But a stronger regional security framework did take shape. The Council of Peace and Security of Central Africa (COPAX), operational since 2004, was set up to guide regional policy on defence and security and given a mandate not only to deploy civilian and military missions, but to help mediate in crises.

    The Commission of Defence and Security, made up of military and police chiefs, works under a regional Planning Element and military headquarters, based in Libreville. CEEAC has at its disposal a Strategic Analysis Group and a Rapid Alert Mechanism for Central Africa, operating as an early warning system. Pointe Noire in Congo hosts a Regional Centre for Maritime Security.

    The collective security initiatives taken in Central Africa are in line with priorities outlined for the African Union’s (AU) African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA), which stresses the need for viable regional structures that replicate what the AU is doing at continental level. For example, the AU wants to see regional versions of its Peace and Security Council (PSC) and its Continental Early Warning System, which CEEAC’s MARAC seeks to emulate.

    Critical to the AU’s long-term security plans is the African Standby Force (ASF), which has the right to intervene in a member state “in grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”. The ASF’s viability is premised on efficient standby arrangements with Africa’s five sub-regions, which should “enable Africans to respond swiftly to a crisis unhampered by any heavy political and instrumental burden.” 

    In principle, each regional bloc now has its own contingent earmarked for ASF deployments, with FOMAC joining parallel forces in other parts of the continent. An AU review of APSA’s progress in 2010 acknowledged serious problems with each region in delivering on commitments, pointing to ongoing conflicts and a lack of operational capacity as major handicaps. 

    FOMAC - a force in progress

    FOMAC was not singled out for criticism, but clearly needed to become more professional and better coordinated.

    Set up in 2002, FOMAC’s standing orders identified the force as being made up of military, police, gendarmerie and civilian personnel, ready to carry out “peace, security and humanitarian assistance missions”. FOMAC’s duties also extend to disarmament and demobilization work and control of fraud and organizational crimes.

    Compared to the experience gained by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops in West African conflicts, including Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau, Central African soldiers saw little combat in regional missions, but no shortage of capacity-building and practical collaboration.

    Loango 14, which was months in the planning, was the latest in a series of multinational training events, going back nearly a decade, which have become increasing ambitious in their scale and objectives. Chad played host to the Barh el Ghazel exercises in 2005 and 2007. Over 3,500 personnel took part in Kwanza 2010 in Angola.

    Filling a vacuum in CAR

    It was the succession of crises in CAR which gave Central African troops their first exposure to a regional war zone. FOMUC, the multinational force of the six-nation Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (CEMAC), was stationed in Bangui with a brief to support the CAR Armed Forces, which had been hit by a wave of mutinies, threatening the rule of President Ange-Félix Patassé. (CEMAC members are: Gabon, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, Congo and Equatorial Guinea).

    FOMUC was superseded in 2008 by the Mission of Consolidation of Peace in CAR (MICOPAX - a specific mission of FOMAC). Funded in part by the EU and working closely with French troops, its mandate was to help establish peace and security.

    After a long period of low-intensity guerrilla activity and hesitant peacebuilding, MICOPAX was hinting at a withdrawal by September 2012. A Chadian commander told Radio France Internationale (RFI): “Elections have been held and we are now in a phase of consolidating the peace.” 

    But the emergence of Séléka, a newly formed, heavily armed rebel coalition ended that complacency. As Séléka made critical territorial gains from December 2012, CEEAC called for more troops, but could not prevent the fall of Bangui.

    As CEEAC tried, with difficulty, to drive the peace process outside CAR, MICOPAX numbers tripled, with over 2,000 troops deployed. MICOPAX 2’s brief was ambitious: to guarantee security, provide protection and help restore police and judicial system. The leading contributors were Congo, Burundi, Chad and Rwanda, although Rwanda had left CEEAC in 2007.

    Often overshadowed by the French military presence, FOMAC again faced accusations of poor leadership and incoherence and having little real presence outside Bangui. FOMAC’s Chadian contingent was accused of aligning itself with the Séléka rebels, a charge strongly denied by the Chadian authorities.

    In December 2013, after lengthy talks between the AU and CEEAC, peacekeeping operations were formally transferred to the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), which in turn transferred authority to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA) in September 2014. 

    Troops from CEMAC countries still make up the vast majority of troops deployed in the CAR.

    The verdict on MICOPAX

    FOMAC’s role in the country has been much criticised. But Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), said FOMAC soldiers had endeavoured to protect the civilian population, perhaps more effectively than other outside forces. “It was not a particularly exemplary operation”, Vines told IRIN. “But the troops were there in very difficult circumstances.”

    Vines, who has authored a 10-year study of the AU’s approach to continental security, A Decade of African Peace and Security, Architecture, said all of the regional forces meant to contribute to the ASF fell short of the AU’s requirements. He noted the lack of a regional leader, the role played (controversially) by Nigeria in West Africa in the past, and also of states, like Angola, having a stake in different regional blocs.

    Rwanda rejoins the fold

    Rwanda pulled out of CEEAC in 2007, pleading insufficient funds, and engagements in too many other regional blocs, the East Africa Community (EAC), for example. The deployment of Rwanda troops in the CAR as part of MICOPAX suggested that Rwanda was ready to re-engage with CEEAC. This was confirmed by Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwab at Loanga, who said her country had come a long way from the genocide of 1994 and wanted to play a full role in CEEAC. “We have decided to rejoin our brothers and sisters in Central Africa with whom we share an important heritage,” Mushikiwabo explained. “At the next of its summits, we will reintegrate with CEEAC. With great pleasure we will come back into the heart of the family.”


    CEEAC peace force gears up for action
  • An ambitious plan to end statelessness

    It is now 60 years since stateless people received recognition in international law, and the UN has two conventions (1954 and 1961) dedicated to their protection and the regularization of their situation. Yet an estimated 10 million people worldwide still suffer the problems and indignities of having no nationality.

    “It may be a bit of understatement to say that these are the two least loved multilateral human rights treaties,” said Mark Manly, head of the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) statelessness unit. “For many years they were pretty much forgotten and that was in large part because they had no UN agency promoting them.” 

    Manly has responsibility for the issue of statelessness, even though most stateless people neither are, nor have ever been, refugees, and this week UNHCR launched an ambitious plan to try to end statelessness over the next 10 years. 

    The plan breaks down the issue into 10 action points, addressing the main reasons why people end up stateless. Sometimes it's because children were not registered at birth, or because discriminatory laws prevent their mothers from passing on their own nationality. Some are the victims of ethnic discrimination by countries which refuse to recognize members of their community as citizens; others, especially in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, have fallen down the cracks between countries, as it were, after boundaries were redrawn and states divided. 

    In some of the world's major situations of statelessness UNHCR is already involved. In 1989 tens of thousands of Black African Mauritanians fled to Senegal to get away from murderous ethnic persecution. A large number of the refugees who came scrambling across the river border had no papers. Their Mauritanian identity cards had been confiscated or torn up by members of the security forces or by their fellow citizens, who told them, “Tu n'est pas Maure; alors tu n'est pas Mauritanian” (You are not a Moor, an Arab, so you are not a Mauritanian).

    Senegalese nationality law is generous, and allows them to apply for citizenship after five years' residence, but many have preferred to go home to Mauritania, assisted by UNHCR which supplied them with travel documents under an agreement governing their return. But large numbers are now finding themselves effectively stateless. Manly told IRIN: “What that agreement says, if I remember correctly, is that the nationality of the refugees is 'presumed' - they are presumed to be Mauritanian. However, many people have faced real problems in getting the documentation to prove that they really are Mauritanian, so there is clearly an issue.” 

    “Some 24,000 have returned,” adds Bronwen Manby, a consultant who has worked on this issue. “But the Mauritanian organizations are telling us that only about a third have got their documents. It's the standard sort of situation,” she told IRIN, “where in principle, of course - but then documents were destroyed, and then they find that the name is Mohamed with one 'm' instead of Mohammed with two 'm's, and then it's in French and not in Arabic - there needs to be more pressure on the Mauritanian government to sort out the situation.”

    Laws discriminating against women

    In the Middle East a lot of statelessness is the result of laws discriminating against women, which only allow nationality to be passed through the father - a problem if the father is not there to register his child or is himself stateless. Laura van Waas, who runs the Statelessness Programme at Tilburg University, says it can have a devastating effect on all members of a family. 

    “It's not just the stateless child who is affected by this. It's the mother, who has nationality, who feels guilty for whom she has chosen to marry. Her children are suffering and she sees that as the result of her life choices. And it's the young men who are perhaps the worst affected. This is seen as a women's rights issue, but if you are a young women who couldn't get nationality through your mother, in most of the countries we are looking at you can acquire nationality through your husband, and your children will take his nationality. But if you are a young stateless man, you can't acquire nationality through marriage, and because your children have to acquire their nationality through you, they will also be stateless.”

    In countries like Lebanon, where ID cards were first introduced in the 1920s, but not everyone bothered to register, this kind of statelessness has persisted through several generations, resulting in whole families which, although Lebanese, are non-citizens, unable to travel, and with no access to state schooling or health care. It could be sorted out with a bit of goodwill, but as in many countries, political considerations - in this case questions of religious and ethnic balance - mean goodwill may be in short supply.

    Egypt and Kuwait provide further examples.

    In situations like that of Myanmar, where the government is so reluctant to accept the Muslim community in Rakhine State as Burmese citizens, goodwill seems totally lacking. But elsewhere a lot can be done to reduce statelessness, with improvements to nationality laws, better coordination when states and boundaries change, simpler bureaucratic procedures, and a greater effort to make sure all children get registered.

    Attitudes changing?

    Manly says he is seeing a real change of attitudes, with governments increasingly willing to ratify the conventions, enter into discussions on the issue and make the necessary changes. 

    “The taboo has now been broken,” he says. “Governments now increasingly accept that this is not purely an issue of their sovereign discretion, but that issues of statelessness are of legitimate concern for the international community... Governments have also perceived that it is not in their interests to have a very large disenfranchized and frequently undocumented population in their territories... Ministries of the interior round the world don't want to have tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are undocumented. They want to know who is in their territory, and to be able to control them.”

    “In the past four years, more countries have acceded to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness than in the four decades following its adoption,” says the new UNHCR report. 

    So the UNHCR is hopeful that their campaign can bring down the numbers of stateless people in areas like the Middle East and the Former Soviet Union. 

    But Bronwen Manby warns that in parts of Africa where she has worked, a push to regularize citizenship could actually increase numbers elsewhere. “Nigeria, for instance, has a large number of people who are absolutely undocumented, but everybody somehow gets by, because that's Nigeria. But it's of concern in the context of increasing efforts to reduce the number of undocumented people for security reasons. Once you really start being strict about ID documents, all the people who have managed to get by with a bit of cash, or a bit of magouille, as they say in French, are going to find it much more difficult to get an ID from somewhere, and I think a problem of statelessness is going to be revealed which is already there but has never been identified.”


    An ambitious plan to end statelessness

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