(Formerly called IRIN) Journalism from the heart of crises

  • 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.”

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    An ambitious plan to end statelessness
  • How to boost food production in Africa

    Smallholder farmers, who hold over 80 percent of all farms in sub-Saharan Africa, are struggling to adapt to rapidly rising temperature and erratic rains, according to the 2014 Africa Agriculture Status Report (AASR), released on 3 September in Addis Ababa.

    It says these farmers are now facing the risk of being overwhelmed by the pace and severity of climate change.

    Farmers are already contending with an increase in average temperatures, with further increases of between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees centigrade expected by 2050.

    Despite a decade of pro-growth and food security policies and programmes such as the Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), 200 million Africans are chronically malnourished and 5 million die of hunger annually, says report by AGRA.

    “As climate change turns up the heat, the continent’s food security and its ability to generate economic growth that benefits poor Africans - most of whom are farmers - depends on our ability to adapt to more stressful conditions,” said Jane Karuku, president of AGRA.

    The report’s authors also predict severe drying across southern Africa, while other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are likely to become wetter, but with farmers facing more violent storms and frequent flooding

    During the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in Addis Ababa last week, participants said countries need to adopt technologies and “climate-smart agriculture” that will help make crops more resilient to future extreme weather events.

    Here is a roundup of some key issues aired at the forum:

    Forget “blanket” advice about soil health

    Erratic farming practices (such as the failure to apply mineral or organic fertilizers), and soil erosion, are depriving croplands across sub-Saharan Africa of 30-80kg per hectare of essential plant nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen.

    Soil Scientist James Mutegi of the International Plant Nutrition Institute said African countries should not only engage to reverse the current trend of low crop productivity and land degradation, but also forget blanket recommendations regarding fertilizer applications to their soils.

    Fertilizer promotion programmes in Africa are often unsuccessful because they are designed with a “one-size-fits-all” philosophy - failing to recognize the diversity of production systems and the range of farmers’ needs, according to the World Bank.

    To keep African soil healthy, Mutegi said farmers “should apply the right fertilizer at the right time, and in the right way at the right time” as the soil types on the continent, or even within a given country, are not the same. “We need to lose the usual blanket recommendations,” he said.

    Africans, he said, need to map their soil and, in the case of some countries, should update their maps. Mapping would be “crucial” to know exactly where fertilizers should be applied or not. “In cases where there is no deficiency of some nutrients, farmers should not end up losing investments in fertilizers,” he said.

    Ethiopia’s recent move to map out its soil and build in-country blended fertilizer production facilities near farmers is seen as a good approach for other Africa countries. Ethiopia’s fertilizer initiative to introduce customized fertilizers would greatly increase crop yields, said Mutegi.

    Ease fertilizer access

    Fertilizer use in Africa remains low compared to other regions, with average use at around 10kg per hectare, while the global average is over 100kg per hectare. According to Namanga Ngongi, chairman of NGO African Fertilizer Agribusiness Partnership (AFAP), African countries need to work on two areas to improve the current situation.

    “First [is] to improve the logistics around fertilizer distribution,” said Namanga, adding that about 40 percent of the cost of fertilizer in Africa is due to transport from ports of entry to the farmer.

    “Secondly, we need to have the farmers improve their financial access to fertilizer,” said the Cameroonian agronomist. Namanga said the private sector’s increasing participation in fertilizer programmes in Malawi, from procurement to transportation of fertilizers to various outlets, was a “courageous effort” to change smallholder farming.

    A decade ago Malawi introduced a large-scale national programme to subsidize agricultural inputs (mainly fertilizers for maize production), targeting more than 1.5 million farming families. The result was increased maize production and real incomes.

    Introduce new crop varieties

    The stagnant state of commercial seed production is often cited as a key reason why yields per hectare in Africa for staple crops like maize are up to 80 percent below what farmers outside Africa achieve.

    According to Associate Director of the Program for Africa’s Seed Systems (PASS) of AGRA, George Bigirwa, more work is needed to improve seed systems in Africa, through encouraging local research institutes and locally-owned African seed companies, and installing mechanisms to reach farmers with the “improved” seeds.

    After attempting to tweak their seed system, nine African countries have seen positive results in identifying and breeding seeds that are suitable for planting in a particular environment. Conducted by AGRA in 2013, a survey, planting the Seeds of a Green Revolution in Africa, found that most farmers who invested in improved crop varieties achieved yields 50 to 100 percent above local varieties.

    The same survey indicates that 69 percent of farmers in Kenya, 74 percent in Nigeria, and 79 percent in Mozambique said improved maize varieties had doubled harvests per hectare.

    Get the youth involved

    The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) says agriculture contributes one-quarter to one-third of African GDP but employs 65 to 75 percent of the labour force, according to IFPRI.

    The worrying factor is, according to a new report released last week in Addis Ababa by the Montpellier Panel entitled Small and Growing - Entrepreneurship in African agriculture, African youth see agriculture as an “outdated, unprofitable” profession.

    The report said more investment is needed in rural and food sector entrepreneurship, particularly among Africa’s growing youth population, for the continent to achieve food security.

    The sector may seem more appealing, when one considers the amount of money African countries invest in food imports. “When I hear US$35 billion food [imports to Africa annually], as an entrepreneur I say ‘what an opportunity’,” said Strive Masiyiwa, an African telecoms mogul.

    In the report, the Montpellier Panel, comprising African and European experts, said youth should be informed more about the benefits of this opportunity.

    They said this can be achieved through vocational and business management training for the youth, adequate and affordable financing for starting and growing enterprises, and by creating enabling environments for entrepreneurship on an individual and collective basis.

    Make use of the “brilliance of women”

    Female small scale farmers dominate the agricultural landscape in most production environments in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet they constitute the majority of rural actors locked in socio-cultural structures that limit their agricultural productivity, efficiency and effectiveness at all points across the value chain.

    According to the director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, the issues of equity should be embedded in all aspects of agricultural production.

    She said women are too often left out of decision-making processes and that the Green Revolution will not be successful if “we continue to deny ourselves the talent and brilliance of the women who comprise 50 percent of our population.”

    Only 45 percent of women in Africa are literate, compared to 70 percent of men; about 1.5 percent of women achieve higher education.

    “By focusing on building the capacity of young people and women in particular, African governments will be able to increase the productivity of a large proportion of their labour forces,” says the Montpellier Panel report.

    It argues that Africa should encourage initiatives such as AWARD, a career-development programme that equips top women agricultural scientists across sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate agricultural gains by strengthening their research and leadership skills through tailored fellowships. To date, 325 scientists from 11 countries have benefited from the programme.

    Manage more water, irrigate more land

    Only 4 percent of African cropland is irrigated, according to AGRA. The rest depends on increasingly erratic rainfall. But water management can mean much more than irrigation.

    According to AASR 2014, water productivity in African agriculture will be affected by climate change as more active storm systems emerge, especially in the tropics.

    Greater variability in rainfall is expected, which will increase the risks of dry-land farming.

    “The demand for irrigation will grow [in terms of area] and irrigation water use on existing crop areas will increase due to greater evaporative demand. The water resources available for irrigation will become more variable, and could decline in areas with low rainfall,” the report says.

    Total agriculture land increased by some 8 percent in the last decade, while the irrigated areas remained stable, after a steady increase from 2 to 5 million hectares from 1960 to 2000.

    The authors of AASR said agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa can be greatly increased through integrated watershed management that takes into account the full water budget for an area, as well as its use, output, and cost/benefit ratio.

    According to AASR, collecting rain in ponds or barrels, and other “rain harvesting” techniques, offers a simple but underused low-technology approach to climate change. The report also said harvesting only 15 percent of the region’s rain would more than meet the water needs of the continent.

    Rainwater harvesting for underground storage in Ethiopia, for instance, the report says, could be “used for supplemental irrigation of high value crops”.

    Follow climate-smart mechanization

    Motorized equipment in Africa contributes only 10 percent of farm energy, said AASR, compared to 50 percent in other regions.

    Mechanization can improve productivity and nutrient use efficiency, reduce waste and add value to food products.

    But progress in this area, scientists note, should be based on energy efficient innovations, including the use of alternative energy like solar-powered irrigation pumps, and supported by better training and repair services and by strong farmers’ organizations.

    Gordon Conway, director of Agriculture for Impact and chair of the Montpellier Panel, said mechanization “isn’t all about great big machines, but small machines that smallholders can use”.

    He highlighted a small company in Kampala, Uganda, that makes maize hulling machines which are sold or rented to farmers’ associations.

    “But the point is that they need to be made, and that often requires young workers; they need to be repaired and that creates jobs; and in this case the machines go from farm to farm, which involves yet another service,” he said.

    Reduce post-harvest losses

    Anne Mbaabu, director of AGRA’s Market Access Program, says post-harvest loss is “the most unanswered and ignored challenge” to food insecurity in Africa, with losses exceeding 30 percent of total crop production and representing more than US$4 billion every year. “That does not include fruits and vegetables, the loss of which is very difficult to track,” said the director.

    According to Mbaabu, simple solutions such as training farmers on post-harvest handling, food management training on appropriate pre-and post-harvest handling operations and improving market access and knowledge of market requirements would significantly reduce losses.

    She said famers need to have “better access to storage facilities” and access to new technologies to reduce losses, which exceed the total amount of international food aid provided to sub-Saharan countries annually.

    AGRA’s initiative and training for 5,610 farmers in post-harvest handling through farmer cooperatives has had “positive results” in reducing losses, says an AGRA official.

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    Boosting Africa’s food production
  • New thinking needed on food aid for refugees in Africa

    The World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have launched an urgent appeal to address a funding shortfall that has already resulted in food ration cuts for a third of all African refugees. As of mid-June, nearly 800,000 refugees in 22 African countries have seen their monthly food allocations reduced, most of them by more than half. 

    WFP is appealing for US$186 million to maintain its food assistance to refugees in Africa through the end of the year, while UNHCR is asking for $39 million to fund nutritional support and food security activities to refugees in the affected countries. A joint report by WFP and UNHCR released last week warns that failure to prevent continued ration cuts will lead to high levels of malnutrition, particularly among children and the most vulnerable. 

    Worst hit have been refugees in Chad, Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan where a total of nearly half a million refugees are experiencing ration cuts of 50 to 60 percent.

    The funding shortfall is not the result of shrinking budgets for either WFP or UNHCR, but a substantial increase in the need for food assistance generated by an unprecedented number of refugee emergencies in 2014. “The amount of large-scale, simultaneous emergencies has never been so high to the best of my memory,” said Paul Spiegel, UNHCR’s deputy director of programme support and management, speaking to IRIN from Geneva. 

    Out of a global figure of 11.7 million refugees under UNHCR’s protection at the end of 2013, the highest number since 2001, 3.3 million live in Africa. 

    “There has also been a lot of earmarking [by donors] for certain situations, particularly the Syrian situation,” he added. “Some situations, particularly CAR, have been severely under-funded so there is an equity issue here that needs to be dealt with. Protracted refugee situations have also not had the same level of funding.”

    Only about a quarter of those affected by the ration cuts are new arrivals, according to Spiegel. The rest are long-term refugees who have been unable to wean themselves off food aid, usually because they are confined to remote camps where there are little or no possibilities for them to generate an income. 

    Camps or communities?

    As donors increasingly prioritize funding for the emergency phase of refugee crises over protracted situations, UNHCR has had to shift its approach in the last two years. “The big shift has been that we’re looking at saying `if we can avoid camps, let’s do so’,” explained Spiegel. “Having refugees be amongst local communities is better for so many different reasons: it allows them to be more self-reliant, reduces long-term dependence and UNHCR can use its funding to improve existing communities.”

    But while UNHCR is advocating that refugees be allowed to settle in communities rather than in camps, governments have the final say when it comes to the refugees they host. For now, few are willing to grant refugees even basic economic freedoms such as the right to work and live outside of camps. Overcoming this reluctance will mean convincing host nations that, given the chance, refugees have the capacity to boost rather than burden local economies. 

    "We're now gathering more and more information...to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it's done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities"

    “We’re now gathering more and more information in Africa and the Middle East to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it’s done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities,” Spiegel told IRIN. 

    He admitted that much of the evidence is still anecdotal and that there is a need for more studies demonstrating the potentially positive impacts of integrating refugees into local communities. 

    Where host governments insist on an encampment policy, said Spiegel, “we’re looking more at sustainability from day one, so if we have to have camps, we would look at a development plan in that area.”

    This could include the placement of camps near existing communities, reducing the need for aid agencies to develop parallel services and increasing the likelihood of markets being available should refugees be allowed to trade.

    New livelihoods strategy

    UNHCR is also attempting to reshape its livelihoods strategy to be more responsive to socio-economic realities and more inclusive of host communities. “In the past, livelihoods [interventions have] been a lot of just keeping refugees occupied without a sufficiently market-oriented approach,” Spiegel said.

    Alexander Betts of Oxford University’s Refugee and Forced Migration Studies programme agreed that “too often in the past, [UNHCR’s] livelihoods interventions have been abstracted from the market into which they’re intervening; they haven’t been based on an understanding of what already exists and how you build upon it.”

    Betts is director of the Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) which seeks, in part, to expand the evidence base for giving refugees greater economic freedom. Last month, Betts and his team released research from Uganda, a country that allows the 387,000 refugees it hosts to live and work outside designated refugee settlements. The study found that 78 percent of the urban refugees surveyed in Kampala did not receive any international aid while 17 percent of those living in refugee settlements received no assistance. They instead relied on farming land allocated to them in the refugee settlements or trading with fellow refugees and their Ugandan neighbours.

    “What we’ve tried to do with the research is offer data that can demonstrate that governments prepared to offer basic economic freedoms [to refugees] can in turn reap benefits,” said Betts, who admitted that far more research into the economic lives of displaced populations was needed if a major shift in host nations’ attitudes towards refugees was to occur.

    Difficult choices

    In the meantime, WFP and UNHCR are having to make hard choices about which groups of refugees are more able to withstand ration cuts. Spiegel cited the example of Chad where mainly Sudanese refugees living in the desert-like east of the country have very few possibilities to sustain themselves compared to refugees from CAR living in the south where the availability of arable land for them to farm has made them more resilient. 

    “Also in Chad, we’re doing surveys where we’re trying to look at - even within a camp - who are the most and least vulnerable,” said Spiegel. “We may even consider, based on consultations with communities and leaders, giving full rations to some and smaller rations to others.”

    According to WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs, “in situations of funding constraints, WFP conducts vulnerability assessments to prioritize its assistance to the most vulnerable.”

    Prolonged ration cuts, however, inevitably lead to refugees adopting increasingly drastic coping strategies. “Refugees initially try to make do by skipping meals, taking out loans and pulling their children out of school,” said Byrs. “In the longer-term, ration cuts can lead to more risky behaviour such as crime, sexual exploitation and conflict with host communities.

    “We are urging donors to try to find innovative ways to supply badly needed funding.”

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    New thinking needed on aid for refugees
  • Genome breakthrough could help fight against sleeping sickness

    Scientists have welcomed the development of genome sequence data on the tsetse fly, the vector responsible for the transmission of human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), commonly known as sleeping sickness. They say it could be instrumental in devising strategies to eradicate the fly and reduce deaths and the spread of other diseases associated with it.

    “The genome data could ultimately advance knowledge on the biology of the tsetse fly and the trypanosome parasite it carries. Aspects of its biology may offer some vulnerabilities, such as the rearing of live young inside pregnant females, the dependence of the fly on bacteria that live inside its cells and its unusual prey-finding behavior,” Mathew Berriman, group leader, Parasite Genomics with Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told IRIN by email.

    “The protein involved in sensing light, smell and taste have been found opening the door for refinement of traps. Also in the genome we find evidence of viruses that are associated with parasitic wasps - this highlights the possibility that a natural predator of tsetse exists in the wild; if it could be found, it could be utilized for biological control.”

    Serap Aksoy from the University of Yale who co-authored the study, told IRIN: “The African trypanosomiasis affects thousands of people in sub-Saharan Africa. The absence of a genome-wide map of tsetse biology was a major hindrance for identifying vulnerabilities.”

    She added: “This community of researchers across Africa, Europe, North America and Asia has created a valuable research tool for tackling the devastating spread of sleeping sickness.”

    The researchers also found a set of visual and odour proteins that seem to drive the fly’s key behavioural responses, such as in searching for hosts or for mates.

    The analysis of the genome will help in understand the basic biology of the fly.

    ‘‘By identifying the genes that make proteins associated with vision or smell, it allows us to use this information to better understand what sights or smells might attract or repel tsetse flies from traps. We can then use this information to make more efficient ways to control tsetse fly populations,’’ Geoffrey Attardo, the lead researcher with Yale School of Public Health, told IRIN by email.

    Tsetse flies have a highly unusual biology. Unlike other flies which lay eggs, they give birth to a single live larva which is then nursed into a full grown fly by feeding on the mother’s milk glands.

    Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said in a statement: “This disease-spreading fly has developed unique and unusual biological methods to source and infect its prey. Its advanced sensory system allows different tsetse fly species to track down potential hosts either through smell or by sight…

    “This study lays out a list of parts responsible for the key processes and opens new doors to design prevention strategies to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses associated with human African trypanosomiasis and other diseases spread by the tsetse fly.”

    “The genome data could ultimately advance knowledge on the biology of the tsetse fly and the trypanosome parasite it carries.”

    According to the researchers, the genome sequencing has helped to reveal “the fly's special repertoire of proteins for procuring, filtering, and packaging the blood and for viviparity [retention and growth of the fertilized egg within the maternal body until the young animal, as a larva or newborn, is capable of independent existence] and the expression of analogs of mammalian milk proteins.”

    Critical proteins identified

    “Proteins have been identified that are critical for feeding unborn larvae - interfering with this process would break the life cycle,” Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s Berriman told IRIN.

    The study was conducted by a team of 146 scientists from 78 research institutes across 18 countries. They analysed the genome of the tsetse fly and its 12,000 genes.

    Beyond disease control, the genome is an important resource for evolutionary biology.

    ‘‘The evolution of these amazing adaptations can now be examined on a genomic level relative to other related insects (such as the fruit fly Drosophila) for which genomic information is also available. Insights gained from such comparisons allow us to understand how such dramatic changes develop at the genetic level in related organisms,’’ said Attardo. 

    Other than sleeping sickness, the tsetse fly is also responsible for nagana disease (also known as nagana pest or animal African trypanosomiasis) in livestock.

    The UN World Health Organization (WHO) says “sleeping sickness threatens millions of people in 36 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”

    Many of the affected populations “live in remote areas with limited access to adequate health services, which complicates the surveillance and therefore the diagnosis and treatment of cases. In addition, displacement of populations, war and poverty are important factors that facilitate transmission.”

    The disease attacks the central nervous system, hence causing severe neurological disorders or even death if left untreated.

    The researchers hope the new revelations on the fly’s genome will lead to the development of repellants or insecticides.

    In many parts of Africa including Ethiopia, different strategies are currently being employed to control sleeping sickness.

    ‘‘These include, control of the fly through insecticide-treated blue traps and release of very dominant and competent laboratory-reared sterile males to the tsetse fly habitat,’’ Aysheshm Kassahun, a researcher at Addis Ababa University, told IRIN by email.

    In 2009, WHO set up a specimen bank to help researchers to facilitate the development of new and affordable diagnostic tools. It contains samples of blood, serum, cerebrospinal fluid, saliva and urine from patients infected with both forms of the disease as well as samples from uninfected people from areas where the disease is endemic.

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    Tsetse fly science could save lives
  • Melding science and tradition to tackle climate change

    In the latest of several partnerships between tradition and modern science aimed at improving resilience to climate change, pastoralists and meteorologists in Tanzania are working together to produce weather forecasts better suited to farmers.

    The hope is that by drawing from both indigenous knowledge and contemporary weather forecasting techniques, crop yields could be increased.

    “We wanted to see if the two can complement or supplement each other,” Isaac Yonah, a senior officer coordinating community meetings employed by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), told IRIN by phone.

    Using traditional indicators such as the movement of red ants, the flowering of mango and other trees, the migration of termites and patterns and colours in the sky, farmers in Sakala village of Ngorongoro District compare their two-weekly forecasts with those released by the TMA.

    “This is done… to validate how accurate their forecast is and to come up with a consensus [forecast]. In the last three seasons, more than 80 percent accuracy in the findings has been witnessed,” said Yonah.

    The project is a partnership between TMA, Hakikazi Catalyst (a non-profit organization), and the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

    “Strengthening such practices could enhance the resilience of communities which are most vulnerable to climate change. Upscaling the projects will see the knowledge gap between traditional and scientific bridged,” said Yonah.

    Research published in Uganda in 2013 detailed 23 different indicators used by traditional forecasters to predict weather.

    “Farmers would profit from weather forecasts provided by governmental institutions. This [marriage of the old and new] will enable farmers to make sound decisions on how to fully exploit the seasonal distribution of rainfall to improve and stabilize crop yields,” said Joshua Okonyo, author of the study Indigenous Knowledge of Seasonal Weather Forecasting.

    The indicators cited included wind direction, cuckoo calls, and the timing of winged termites’ departure from their nests.

    Working with the Nganyi community in Kenya

    For the past five years in Kenya, government meteorologists have worked with the Nganyi community in the west of the country in a project carried out in collaboration with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC).

    The Nganyi observe bird migrations and other animal behaviour in their forecasts.

    “After thorough research, we have noticed that these traditional indicators have a high scientific value that could be integrated with the local climate information,” said Laban Ogallo, the project’s coordinator.

    “Since predicting weather within the tropics is a challenge to scientists, we wanted to learn how the [Nganyi] community has been doing it over the years. Their knowledge will be helpful,” Abraham Changara, chief meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department, told IRIN.

    As meteorologists are waking up to the value of traditional forecasting methods in adapting to climate change, it seems climate change itself poses a threat to the sustainability of these methods.

    ''There is rapid disappearance of plants and animals due to climate variability and human activities,” according to Weather Forecasting and Indigenous Knowledge Systems, published by Great Zimbabwe University.

    “There are few elders aware of traditional methods of weather forecasting. This makes traditional weather forecast less reliable,'' the study added.

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    Climate change, science and tradition
  • Rough guide to Islamic rules of war

    There is a renewed interest in translating classical texts about Islamic rules of war into English, adding to the increasing body of work on the intersections between Islam, international humanitarian law (IHL) and the protection of civilians. IRIN provides this study guide to get you started.

    Majid Khadduri’s translation (with explanation) of the Islamic Law of Nations, the first codification of Islamic rules of war by jurist Mohammad Ibn al-Hassan al-Shaybani, is a good place to start. 

    Sahih Muslim is one of the main references for authenticated hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, one of the sources of Islamic law. Here is a translation of those hadiths that address jihad and military expeditions.

    Yusuf Qaradawi’s Fiqh al-Jihad (the Jurisprudence of War) is another foundational text giving modern interpretations of the Islamic laws of war from a conservative perspective. The book itself is not online, but you can find reviews.

    Khaled Abou El Fadl, of the University  of California, Los Angeles, is one of the leading academics studying Islamic laws of war. You can find his reading of the classical sources in this 1999 article in The Muslim World.

    But there are a plethora of other academics studying the humanitarian provisions in Islamic rules of war. Among them: Nesrine Badawi at the American University in Cairo; Mohammad Fadel at the University of Toronto; Muhammad Munir at the International Islamic University in Islamabad; Andrew March at Yale University; and Joel Hayward of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi. 

    The reading list  for the Islamic Law and the Protection of Civilians workshop offered by Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP) is an excellent resource with plenty of references, from primary sources to jihadi doctrine and analysis.  

    It includes this web seminar from the Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, which gives a good overview of the issues raised in our series.

    Similarly, you’ll find a whole series of articles on this forum at Syracuse University, which has an initiative on Islam and IHL. 

    There are endless studies on the subject, including this examination by Malaysian professors of what constitutes Direct Participation in Hostilities (DPH) in the Islamic context and this article by Mohamed Elewa Badar analyzing the role of Islam in shaping modern European laws of war

    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has published a fair bit on the issue, including in Arabic here, here and here

    Harvard lawyer Naz Modirzadeh has published a number of journal articles on the practical relevance of all this for humanitarian and human rights practitioners. This one in the Harvard Human Rights Journal critiques international NGOs for failing to truly engage with Islamic law; while the final segment of this one in the European Journal of International Law delves into why there is so much interest in Islamic law and war. 

    For more on militant interpretations and application of Islamic law, the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human rights recently published a policy brief rife with examples and insights into Islamist armed groups’ behaviour. A 2010 essay by Human Rights Watch’s Joe Stork is another window into some of the intra-Islamist debate on acceptable behavior in times of war.  

    Finally, this handbook to refuting jihadism by the Henry Jackson Society is a fascinating attempt to challenge the theological authenticity of militant arguments.

    Happy reading!

    ha/oa
    99990
    Rough guide to Islamic rules of war
  • Can Islamic law be an answer for humanitarians?

    Humanitarian action today is largely taking place in Muslim-majority countries where some combatants turn to Islamic law, among other sources, to guide their military behaviour. 

    As a result, in the last decade, aid and advocacy agencies have increasingly tried to understand Islamic law in order to use its humanitarian provisions as tools of negotiation with armed groups in the Muslim world.

    This is particularly helpful in engaging Islamist armed groups, some of whom reject international humanitarian law (IHL). 

    Some aid agencies try to situate their arguments for access or protection of civilians within a religious context, sometimes using scholars, mullahs or other religious figures as liaison with Islamist armed groups. Others, like the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), are trying to highlight the linkages between IHL and Islamic law by inviting religious scholars to discuss their views at conferences.

    “In order to meet the challenges of the 21st century, in particular the growing influence of religion on politics, conflict and everyday life, ICRC has stepped up its dialogue with intellectuals, academics and scholars in various parts of the Muslim world,” the organization wrote in 2006, “the aim being to lay the foundations for greater mutual understanding, dispel existing misconceptions and find common ground for protecting human dignity in armed conflict.”

    “This initiative to engage in a dialogue and to look for common features has been an exercise of overcoming misperceptions on all sides, of creating a common understanding, but very often already talking concretely on how to improve access, activities of protection, activities of assistance to victims of armed conflict,” Ronald Ofteringer, an Islamic law expert who advises the ICRC’s director of operations, told IRIN. 

    For the most part, however, this approach remains an ad hoc effort in the humanitarian sector; and while it has seen some successes; it also raises certain ethical dilemmas. 

    Benefits of using Islamic law 

    In 2006, Naz Modirzadeh, a senior fellow and head of the Counterterrorism and Humanitarian Engagement project at Harvard law School, wrote an article arguing that the international human rights movement was failing to appropriately engage with Islamic law. She urged international NGOs to develop a “new theory of engagement with Islamic law”. 

    The status quo, she argued, risked forcing Muslims to either side with human rights or to side with God. “Whatever its intrinsic appeal, international human rights law is unlikely to be favored in this ultimatum.”

    In 2007, Human Rights Watch apparently heard her call and became one of the first large international rights organizations to use Islamic principles to frame its advocacy. In addition to using traditional rights arguments, it used justifications from Islam’s holy book, the Koran, to challenge Egypt’s refusal to give followers of the Bahai faith identity cards, on the basis that they were apostates. (Egyptian courts ultimately ruled that Bahais were entitled to an Egyptian identity). 

    "Some of it is very instrumentalist. 'Tell me verses of the Koran I can use if I get kidnapped'.

    But this approach was used by pioneering humanitarians long before that. For instance, some aid workers who negotiated access into Taliban-ruled Afghanistan before the 2001 US invasion did so using the Islamic concept of aman, or safe passage. The ICRC first reached out to Islamic seminaries in Pakistan in the late 1990s when the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan.

    More recently, when the Taliban banned one aid agency from using female staff in their medical clinic in southern Afghanistan, the agency responded by citing, among other things, the importance of women in the Koran.

    “Some agencies under similar circumstances packed up and left,” said Ashley Jackson, who spent two years studying engagement with armed groups in Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan for the Overseas Development Institute’s Humanitarian Policy Group. “But in these instances where people were persistent and used Islam as at least one of the pillars of their argument, they prevailed.” 

    “Speaking the local language” is nothing new, but aid agencies were initially - and to some extent remain - hesitant to use this approach extensively, according to Modirzadeh. 

    Now, however, some agencies are looking to hire Islamic law experts onto their staff; ICRC, for example, has a small team in Geneva dedicated to this, as well as a network of delegates who have knowledge of the issue. Others are tapping into a renewed effort among Muslim scholars to revive Islamic jurisprudence by translating texts in classical Islamic thought into English. Universities have started research initiatives on Islam and IHL. 

    “Some of it is very instrumentalist,” Modirzadeh says, citing a journalist who once asked her: “Tell me verses of the Koran I can use if I get kidnapped.”  

    The most dangerous countries for aid workers today are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Syria. 

    “Some of the most volatile operating environments are predominantly Muslim,” says Jackson. “There’s a need to gain greater acceptance in those environments. A lot of people are looking to local culture and values to distance themselves from the negative perceptions of the West. That’s got to be where a lot of this is coming from.” This became particularly important in the post 9/11 so-called “global war on terror”. 

    But increased security for humanitarian staff in the Muslim world is just one of the perceived benefits. Others are an improved and more open dialogue on humanitarian norms across cultures; a realization among armed groups that IHL is rooted in Islamic norms; and more success in aid operations on the ground. 

    “The greater understanding of Islamic law or even direct engagement with Islamic law might increase the ability of humanitarian organizations to negotiate access or effectiveness for their projects,” Modirzadeh, says.

    Limitations of this approach 

    But the use of Islamic law as a negotiation tool with militants remains largely a quiet effort, because of the many concerns this raises among international aid workers over operations and resources, let alone principles and effectiveness. 

    “Alas, at least thus far,” Modirzadeh cautioned in a 2012 article in the European Journal of International Law, “Islamic legal texts do not function as a ‘cryptex’ that will activate certain outcomes in the Muslim world.”

    "It can work, at a very tactical level, but it is profoundly dishonest and conceptually dangerous. Once we start that debate, we have essentially accepted that IHL is not enough in itself."

    One of the most commonly cited obstacles is a lack of knowledge among fighters themselves about Islamic rules of war. 

    Jackson said she realized the limitations of using Islamic law to engage with groups when she spoke to a local mullah in Afghanistan, who told her: “They think they’re fighting for Islam. It’s absolutely ridiculous. They’re not even true Muslims. They can’t read. They’ve never read the Koran. How can you debate these principles with them?”

    One Palestinian IHL expert who has trained armed groups in the Middle East for years says many of the fighters in Syria are new to Islam. “They know nothing about Islam except what they were told…. [Free Syrian Army] fighters smoke and tell me about their wild experiences on [downtown Beirut’s] Hamra Street,” he told IRIN. 

    As such, the expert said, many of them act upon misinterpretations or partial adoptions of the Koran. In training fighters on IHL, he reminds them Islamic law goes far beyond IHL in the protection it provides civilians. “‘If you’re following Islamic law properly, you’re already satisfying requirements of IHL’,” he tells them. “They come to the conclusion that they don’t even know Shariah [Islamic law].” 

    For Francoise Bouchet-Saulnier, legal director of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), certain aspects of the religion are clear: “Nothing in the Koran authorizes or requests violations of medical ethics or humanitarian principles.” 

    Where combatants use religious arguments to justify violations of humanitarian principles, “we will sit with people and discuss our counter-arguments. In case of disagreement, we can also submit our case [for] proper legal advice from Koranic courts. This is what we’ve done in northern Syria.” 

    She said MSF has negotiated the respect of its hospitals in Islamist-controlled areas of northern Syria and argued a number of cases related to the treatment of wounded with Islamist armed groups and Shariah courts, during which it referenced humanitarian principles alongside Koranic guidance of mercy and care to the vulnerable. 

    Ethical dilemmas 

    But MSF is careful not to go too far. Like other agencies, it is wary of the risks of engaging in too detailed a legal debate on Islamic or any other law, or as one aid worker put it, arguing with “one trillion interpretations” and “one-man shows”. 

    “You can find some convergence, if you look in the right texts [and] quote the more progressive among authorities, but you can find lots of stuff that does not conform with IHL,” said one international aid worker in a Muslim country who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his work. “Who are we to tell Muslims which bits are to be interpreted how?”

    “There is a real concern for many organizations… that this is a door that once opened can’t be closed,” says Modirzadeh, who advises aid agencies on issues of IHL and counter-terrorism. “This is such a rich and complex body of law that easily your organization could be pulled into a debate you don’t want to have.”

    For example, does using Shariah law in your argumentation mean that you condone all of what Shariah says, including for example, the permissibility of killing prisoners of war? Given every group has its own interpretation of Islamic law, could you inadvertently legitimize a fringe interpretation of Islam? If you accept Islamic law, why not accept local customs? Is it a slippery slope?  And most importantly, would you be detracting from the universality of IHL? This last question, Modirzadeh says, “causes people to get very nervous at the headquarters and management levels.” 

    According to Ofteringer of ICRC, the fact that many international aid workers still feel uncomfortable dealing with religious matters may be an added psychological or ideological barrier that must be overcome. 

    “If we want to do humanitarian work in these critical contexts, we have to go beyond our usual approaches, the way we see things and have to learn to see things through the eyes of the others, and then on that basis establish commonalities that are clearly based on the basic tenets of humanitarian principles, without deviating from it,” he says. 

    But for others, the approach is morally and strategically risky. 

    “You can find anything you want in religious concepts so if you accept that law has to be divinely inspired, you're on dangerous turf,” the international aid worker said. “It can work, at a very tactical level, but it is profoundly dishonest, in my view, and conceptually dangerous… Once we start that debate, we have essentially accepted that IHL is not enough in itself.” 

    MSF came face to face with these dilemmas when it was asked to participate in the application of corporal punishment in northern Mali. Under Islamic law, the punishment for theft is the amputation of the hand. When asked to sanitize the wound and providing an ambulance, MSF refused, accepting only to treat the wounded person once in hospital. 

    Best strategies

    Rather than citing specific verses of the Koran, experts suggest making a nod to broad Islamic notions or principles, by referring to a general principle of IHL – for example: not attacking civilians - and adding that the principle is also in accordance with Islamic Shariah or the principles found in the holy Koran. 

    They also suggest engagement with lower-level religious leaders like Friday prayer leaders and religious advisers to tribal councils; as well as those who may be open to different interpretations of Islamic law, like fatwa councils and shuras of ulama (consultations between legal scholars). Instead of trying to determine what Shariah says, they advise simply referring to jurists who have already interpreted the law. 

    However, Ofteringer cautions that groups may not succeed in using this approach if they are not seen to be neutral.

    Another approach is to help combatants in the Muslim world feel more ownership of IHL.

    MSF’s guidebook on humanitarian law, which has been translated into Arabic and includes a section on Islamic law, explains to field staff that humanitarian principles have their roots in religious principles, whether Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or otherwise.  

    One aid worker in Afghanistan says the message he tries to send is: “IHL is yours. It’s not different. It’s not something new.”

    In one sign of success, after dialogue with Geneva Call and ICRC, respectively, the Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) in southern Thailand and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in southern Philippines, two nationalist movements, published codes of conduct for their troops, in which they cited both relevant international humanitarian law and the corresponding Islamic teaching for each principle. 

    In another example, when Islamist rebel groups took control of northern Mali in 2011, limiting access for many aid agencies, ICRC had already established a relationship with Muslim scholars there, in particular the High Islamic Council. Through that dialogue, the two groups discussed access, humanitarian ethics and protection issues, and the ICRC was able to work with the Council at times as a go-between with the armed groups. Ultimately, the Council issued a position paper on the rules of engagement in jihad and the application of Shariah law, in which it advised against the use of corporal punishment. According to Ofteringer, this succeeded in influencing rebel behaviour. 

    “This dialogue is really about a journey together in which both sides - humanitarians and scholars - are faced with certain challenges and - via dialogue - identify means how to address these challenges,” he told IRIN. 

    Whom to educate? Sheikhs, rebels or civil society 

    But it is also important to understand who you are engaging with. 

    “Some people, when they approach Islam, they do so in a very philosophical manner, which complicates things,” says the Palestinian IHL expert. “You do that with the scholars, the sheikhs, but not with these guys on the ground.”

    ICRC, HRW and MSF have all organized conferences on Islam and IHL in Islamabad, Sana’a, Fes, Alexandria and other predominantly Muslim cities, in which they inform scholars from places as diverse as Sudan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia about IHL and invite the scholars to share their understandings of humanitarian norms in Islam.  

    “It’s not about Islamic law, but we are sharing what IHL is about,” said the aid worker in Afghanistan, who organized such forums there. “They [Muslim scholars] usually say, ‘Oh, it’s the same; it’s not much different! ... Then when they’re back home, in Friday prayer, they talk about it.” 

    From 2005-2009, HRW similarly tried to create a groundswell of support for protection of civilians on the Middle Eastern street through its Civilian Protection Initiative, in which it engaged civil society activists in discussions about civilian immunity, in part by highlighting the commonalities between IHL and Islamic law.

    “In the process of promoting respect for core international humanitarian law principles and effective accountability mechanisms in Arab societies, there is clearly a role for persons who are able to articulate those principles in language that will persuade other Muslims, including Islamists and nationalists who use primarily Islamic idioms and doctrinal references,” Joe Stork, deputy director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, wrote in a 2010 essay. “The underlying element in both [Islamic ethics and IHL] systems is the understanding that, in warfare, there are limits as to the means and methods that warring parties may employ.” He went on to reference elements of Islamic tradition that prohibit treachery and mutilation, and specify categories of enemy persons who are immune from attack in Islam, including children, slaves, women, and the lame and blind.

    However, targeting Muslim thinkers - or even members of civil society - has its limitations too. 

    “These scholars are not carrying arms,” says the Palestinian IHL expert. “They can give you a fatwa [ruling], but they are not the ones running the show nowadays.” 

    Rule versus rules 

    But at the end of the day, it is important not to overemphasize the role that Islamic law plays in governing even Islamist militants’ behaviour. In many instances, the bottom line is power, not constraint linked to religious ideals or ethical codes. 

    “Even today, armed groups’ attitudes to IHL depend in large part on whether they see the norms within that regime as reinforcing their rule and less on whether the conduct in question is sanctioned by Islam,” says James Cockayne, who studied engagement with armed group as a senior associate with the International Peace Institute before taking a position with the United Nations University in New York.   

    In Syria, jihadists with largely similar theological views are fighting each other for control of territory. Some became more “moderate” when they realized their excesses were counter-productive. 

    According to the Geneva Academy of International Law and Human Rights, this leaves negotiations with Islamist armed groups in a tough spot. Diverse interpretations of Islam make a purely Islamic legal approach challenging, while an approach that pushes IHL alone is also unlikely to prevail. 

    Where armed groups “assert the primacy of divine over man-made law,”, the Academy wrote in a January 2014 policy brief, “it is evidently difficult to persuade such groups to change their behaviour via theological arguments or by simply affirming the authority of IHL.”  Still, the briefing says, such groups are not immune to public pressure. 

    ha/cb


    Previously in this series: 
    Part 1: Islamic law and the rules of war
    Part 2: Jihadist jurisprudence? Militant interpretations of Islamic rules of war

    Next in this series: 
    Part 4: Rough guide to Islamic law


     

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    Islamic law an answer for humanitarians?
    This article is the third in a series on the intersection between Islamic law, jihadists and humanitarian norms.
  • Remittance rip-offs

    All over the world migrant workers are sending money home to their families. The money pays hospital bills and school fees, buys land, builds houses and sets up small businesses. The cash goes from the US back to Mexico, from the Gulf back to India, from the UK back to Somalia, and from South Africa back to Malawi, Zimbabwe and the rest of southern Africa. 

    But what these workers probably do not realize, since they usually only ever send to one country, is that the cost of sending money varies greatly. Now a study of the cost of remittances, carried out by London's Overseas Development Institute with support from the fund-raising charity Comic Relief, has revealed that transfers to African countries cost around half as much again as the global average, and twice as much as transfers to Latin America. 

    The ODI estimates that if remittance charges were brought down to the world average, the money saved could educate an extra 14 million primary school children, half of all those currently out of school on the continent.

    The bulk of this money goes through money transfer companies rather than banks, since the recipients are unlikely to have bank accounts, and transfer companies are quick, efficient and have a wide network of agents. But just two big international players dominate the business in Africa, Moneygram and Western Union, and participants in a meeting to launch the research were highly critical of the way they seemed to be abusing their market dominance.

    Rwanda's High Commissioner in London, Williams Nkurunziza, said he was shocked at what the report revealed. “If you look at the remittances, 30 or 40 percent of the money that goes to Africa goes to rural areas,” he said. “This money goes to the people who are most needy, and you are allowing a multinational corporation to take bread out of the mouth of hungry children. This is not what I would call responsible capitalism!”

    Glenys Kinnock, opposition spokesman on International Development in the upper house of the UK parliament, who chaired the meeting, called on the country's financial regulatory authority to intervene over the issue of excessive charges. “It is not a technocratic issue,” she said, “although it may sound like one. It is also about people's lives and the future of their children... These things have to change. We can't put up any longer with the prospect of its making things so difficult, very often impossible, for people who have such needs.”

    At the end of last year, when the ODI did its research, the fees and charges to send money to most of Africa were around 12 percent - a bit less to Zambia or Tanzania, a bit more to Uganda, Malawi and the Gambia - against a world average of just over 8 percent. Even that is quite expensive; the governments of the G8 and G20 countries have pledged themselves to working towards reducing this to 5 percent.

    It found that in more than 30 countries the two big players had more than 50 percent of the market; and in 10 countries they had more than 90 percent. Sometimes either Moneygram or Western Union had an effective monopoly, but even where both companies were present it did not necessarily mean that customers had much choice; one company could still have a monopoly of outlets in a particular area, and the companies habitually make their paying-out agents sign contracts promising not to also act as agents for their rivals. 

    Somalia different

    Significantly, the one country where the big two are absent - Somalia - has far lower remittance charges; transfers go through a number of smaller, competing companies.

    Competition has been limited by the fallout from the US “war on terror”, with the banks who do bulk international transfers citing money-laundering and anti-terrorism regulations as the reason they are reluctant to extend facilities to smaller companies. Now only the biggest of the Somali companies, Dahabshiil, still has an account with a major British bank (Barclays) and even that concession was forced by a court case and is only until other arrangements can be put in place.

    Inter-Africa transfers cost most

    But if charges to send money to Africa from outside are steep, the cost of sending money from one African country to another can be eye-watering. 

    Dilip Ratha, who works on these issues for the World Bank says exchange controls are one of the reasons the rates are so high; in some places sending money out of the country is illegal. “So if you are sending money,” he says, “let's say from Benin to Ghana, it is actually allowed (in some countries it's not even allowed) but first the CFA has to be passed through into euros or sterling or dollars, and then it has to be transferred back into the local cedi, and in both cases you pay commission. Some sort of regional currency market really needs to be created.” 

    "So if you are sending money, let's say from Benin to Ghana, it is actually allowed (in some countries it's not even allowed) but first the CFA has to be passed through into euros or sterling or dollars, and then it has to be transferred back into the local cedi, and in both cases you pay commission. Some sort of regional currency market really needs to be created"  

    The report found 10 routes with bank transfer charges over 20 percent. Charges from Nigeria to Ghana were 22 percent. To send from Tanzania to the rest of East Africa, or from South Africa to its near neighbours is particularly expensive, peaking at 25 percent for bank transfers between South African and Malawi. Some of the fees charged by money transfer companies are even higher; if you send money that way from Ghana to Nigeria you may have to pay a staggering 39 percent.

    In some places mobile phone based systems like M-Pesa have made in-country transfers much easier and cheaper, but they haven't really taken off internationally, largely because conservative, inflexible regulatory systems insist that all international transfers must go through conventional banks. And African banks tend to have very high charges, often because they are forced by governments to finance government projects or make uncommercial loans. 

    Chukwuemeka Chikezie of the Up Africa consultancy told IRIN a lot of the responsibility lay with African governments. “One of the reasons M-Pesa took off in Kenya was because the authorities nurtured and enabled innovation. If you look at other countries the regulators have tended to stifle innovation. They are very risk-averse and they don't enable even limited experiments to prove that the markets can absorb technical innovation.”

    In addition, money-laundering regulations are putting impossible demands on systems designed to serve the poor, requiring, for instance, “know your customer” procedures like taking copies of ID documents for anyone receiving an international payout. Selma Ribica of M-Pesa points out this is an impossibility for agents in rural areas with no power supply. She told IRIN she would like to see a more realistic, tiered approach with much lighter regulation for small international transfers (under, say, US$200-300) which are most unlikely to have anything to do with money laundering.

    Beware Facebook, Walmart

    M-Pesa depends on moving money between different customers' mobile phone accounts. Now people are beginning to think of other kinds of electronic “purses” which might be linked in the same way. 

    Facebook has just proposed allowing transfers between customers who have accounts with the company which they normally use to make payments for online games. So far this is only proposed for payments within the European Union, but Facebook has a huge geographical spread and has said it is keen to extend its reach in Africa. 

    And the big profits made by the transfer companies are tempting other players into the market. The latest to announce it is starting money transfers is the US supermarket chain Walmart, with recipients being able to pick up their cash from any shop in the chain. To start with this will only work within the United States and Puerto Rico, but Walmart is an international group with nearly 350 stores in South Africa, and it also has a presence in Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Mozambique, opening up the tempting prospect of a new, and cheaper way for workers to send money home.

    All these new ways of sending money aim to undercut Moneygram and Western Union. Now Western Union has responded by offering so-called “zero-fee” transfers to Africa if the money is sent from a bank account rather by credit card or cash. This would mean a saving of just under £5 ($8.40) for someone sending $100 from the UK to Liberia. The company would still make money (nearly $4) by using a favourable exchange rate, but it would bring the cost down to just below the G8/G20 target. 

    For African's hard-pressed and hard-working migrants and their families back home, change may - finally - be on the way.

    eb/cb

    99977
    Remittance rip-offs
  • What future for IRIN?

    Dear reader:

    You may have seen some public discussion recently about IRIN’s future, arising most recently from this online petition, an independent initiative launched by a US-based reader last week. In the interest of clarity we are taking this opportunity to let you know ourselves what is happening.

    The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has taken measures to ensure we are fully resourced this year but beyond 31 December there are no budgetary provisions. With the encouragement of OCHA, which has hosted IRIN since our inception in 1995, we are now taking steps to spin off as an autonomous humanitarian news and analysis service.

    In our envisaged new incarnation we believe we will be even better placed to address the complexities of the $18 billion-a-year humanitarian industry. Informed by your responses to recent surveys we are already restructuring our organization to be more nimble, relevant and responsive.

    This evolution is the keynote of a transition business plan that also sets out the potential funding and partnership structure of the new IRIN, as well as the support needed to prevent an abrupt shutdown on 31 December. It is currently being studied by OCHA management.

    We are excited by the idea of a re-launched IRIN; however, time is short, and the funding climate challenging, and while we are investing every effort in this endeavour there are no guarantees that we can succeed.

    Much has changed since the days when we were sending out daily faxes on the Great Lakes crisis. What has not changed is our commitment to sustained coverage of emergencies, especially in parts of the world often overlooked by the international mainstream media.

    Mark Bidder
    Acting Chief and Head of Operations
    IRIN

    (We welcome your comments and ideas: [email protected])
     

    99883
    What future for IRIN?
  • Breaking the cycle of youth unemployment, poverty

    Youth unemployment and underemployment are among the main barriers to development in West Africa, say experts. Not only does the exclusion of young people from the labour force perpetuate generational cycles of poverty, it also breaks down social cohesion and can be associated with higher levels of crime and violence among idle youth.

    "A decent and productive job [not only] contributes to attaining fundamental individual and family well-being, but also spills over, contributing to society's broader objectives, such as poverty reduction, economy-wide productivity growth and social cohesion," said Diego Rei, the International Labour Organization's (ILO) senior regional adviser on youth employment in Africa.

    Worldwide, an estimated 73 million youths - defined as those between the ages of 15 and 24 - were unable to secure work in 2013, according to the ILO. The rate of underemployment is difficult to measure, but experts say that it is likely that millions more were either working jobs for which they are overqualified or else receiving below-average wages.

    In sub-Saharan Africa, the youth unemployment rate hovers around 12 percent. While this is slightly lower than the global youth unemployment rate of 12.4 percent, the African region has the world's highest rate of working poverty - people who are employed but earning less than US$2 a day. Despite being Africa's most educated generation to emerge from schools and universities, a youth in Africa is twice as likely to be unemployed when he or she becomes an adult, according to the ILO.

    "Here in Africa, we have this idea that if I'm learning, I'm supposed to work in the future," said 22-year-old Mamadou Diene, an English major at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar who wants to become a translator. "But instead. we only have a very small number of them who are employed. It's a real problem."

    A form of social exclusion

    In a late 2013 report on social inclusion, the World Bank considers youth unemployment to be a form of social exclusion, particularly in developing countries: it hinders and degrades the role of young people in society and the development of their countries, and it reduces their personal well-being and future opportunities.

    Not being able to find good, quality work early on is stressful and discouraging for youths, say the World Bank and ILO. When youths do not find work, their risk of unemployment as an adult increases, as does their chance of receiving low wages later in life, according to a 2014 World Bank report on youth employment.

    There is no specific link between unemployment and violence or crime, note World Bank researchers, but unemployed youth are disproportionately more likely to commit crimes when a number of other factors, such as weak support networks, are also present.

    Young women in sub-Saharan Africa are at a particular disadvantage in finding jobs, as they usually have less access to quality education and healthcare compared to their male peers.

    Millions of productive jobs will need to be created to include the estimated 11 million African youths who are expected to join the labour market each year over the next 10 years, says the World Bank in its report.

    Growth versus jobs

    Many African countries have registered high rates of economic growth in recent years, but this has not translated into new jobs.

    This is partly because much of the growth in sub-Saharan African countries over the past decade has been driven by the extractive industries - oil, gas and minerals - says Deon Filmer, a lead economist in the Research Group of the World Bank and co-author of the organization's report. "While these industries generate output and revenues that are reflected in GDP growth, they're not particularly big job creators."

    The number of jobs created in these sectors, relative to outputs and revenues, is much lower than in export-oriented manufacturing, he added.

    Further, the pace of growth for wage-employment cannot keep up with the growing population: Africa has the largest "youth bulge" in the world, and the number of youths is expected to grow by 42.5 million between 2010 and 2020, says the World Bank. Even in countries such as Ghana and Tanzania, where the number of wage jobs has grown by around 10 percent, the increase is not enough to absorb all the new entrants to the workforce.

    And with nearly half of the current African population under the age of 14, the problem is only expected to get worse.

    Agriculture not international relations

    The director of the Economic Policy Analysis Unit for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission, Felix Fofana N'Zue, told IRIN one of the reasons so many young people are being excluded from the labour market is a mismatch between their skills and the market's demands.

    "Africa has failed to train people for its needs," he said. "Instead, it has been training young Africans to satisfy or meet the needs of other people."

    In Senegal, for example, he explained that the agricultural sector employs nearly 80 percent of the workforce, but that the majority of university graduates study subjects such as economics, the humanities and international relations.

    N'Zue said that, while these fields are important, such degrees leave young people either living in Africa unemployed or underemployed or migrating to places like the US or Europe.

    "Once we start training people with the skills they need for jobs we need to create and fill, that's when young people will become a valuable asset to the workforce," he said.

    Flaubert Mbiekop, the programme officer for social and economic policy at the International Development and Research Centre (IDRC), agreed.

    "With regards to youth unemployment, one of the issues we have been looking at is the apparent mismatch between the qualifications the youth have and the expectations of the employers in the labour market," he said.

    But it will be difficult to convince the small minority of youth who attend university to forgo study in fields thought to lead to more lucrative professions - such as finance, management, law and medicine - in favour of studying farming and agriculture.

    "We see many young people coming from rural areas, hoping they will enjoy a better life, better work in the city, but that is not necessarily the case," Mbiekop said. "So the question is: how can we make the agricultural sector attractive to the youth? How can we get them interested in a sector that is not yet well developed in many African countries, but has so many opportunities?" he asked.

    Students need credit

    "Youth unemployment isn't a one-dimensional problem.We have to look at both the human capital dimension - what young people bring to their work, their abilities, and so on, as well the business environment that's conducive to productive work or not, conducive to competitive firms starting up or not," said Filmer.

    But it is not enough for governments and the private sector to create more jobs geared towards young people - whether in agriculture, manufacturing or the natural resource industries. Access to quality education also needs to improve, alongside a focus on skills-building with apprenticeships and internship opportunities.

    Youth also need more access to credit, he said.

    "If we look at the issue of financial inclusion, there are many [young] workers operating their own business, but access to credit, to be able to purchase inputs, is lacking," Filmer said. "So we need reforms to enable youth to access financial markets."

    Support could come in many forms, from setting up savings groups at the village level to using new financial technologies, like mobile money. Both approaches have engaged young people, pulling them into financial markets and allowing them to start their own businesses.

    Access to work space and land is also important, especially for women, who are often denied land rights.

    "We see that access to land for youth in rural areas, for example, and space to operate a business in urban areas are real constraints, and youth are really shut out of those markets," Filmer said.

    The ILO's Rei said labour market interventions, such as creating incentives for the private sectors to hire young people, providing youth with information about job vacancies and career prospects, and ensuring that recruitment processes are transparent and non-discriminatory, will also go a long way in helping ensure more young people are included in the labour force.

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    Breaking the youth unemployment cycle

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