The world as a whole has made significant progress in achieving many of the MDGs. Worldwide, between 1990 and 2002, average income increased by approximately 21% and the number of people in extreme poverty declined by an estimated 130 million. Also during this time, child mortality rates fell from 103 deaths to 88 deaths per 1,000 live births a year; life expectancy rose from 63 years to nearly 65 years; an additional 8% of people in the developing world gained access to water; and an additional 15% of people in the developing world acquired access to improved sanitation services (Millennium Development Goals Report 2009).
However, this progress has been far from uniform between regions and between the goals themselves. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region at greatest risk of failing to achieve the goals, suffering from continued food insecurity, a rise in extreme poverty, high child and maternal mortality, and large populations of slum dwellers (Easterly, “How the Millennium Development Goals are Unfair to Africa."). The MDGs were created to serve as a major motivation to increase development efforts in and on behalf of poor countries. The increases in publicity and aid that have been observed since the advent of the MDGs suggest that they are achieving this purpose. However, a less emphasized angle of the MDGs is that they are also measures of performance. In this way, the MDG campaign has emphasized the failure of sub-Saharan Africa compared to other regions. Many of those involved in MDG effort agree that sub-Saharan Africa stands out as being the only region that will fail to meet any of the goals at all (Easterly).
Monitoring and evaluation data highlights Africa’s shortcomings. In terms of goal 2 (achieving universal primary education), sub-Saharan Africa still has 38 million children who are not enrolled in school and has one of the largest gender gaps in primary enrolment of any region.In terms of reducing child mortality (goal 4), sub-Saharan Africa continues to account for approximately half the deaths of children under five in the developing world. Between 1990 and 2006, 27 countries, the vast majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, failed to make any progress at all in terms of reducing childhood deaths.In terms of improving maternal health (goal 5), in sub-Saharan Africa, a woman’s risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 22, compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed regions (UNDP, "Are we on track to meet the MDGs?").
Impact of the economic crisis. The repercussions of the economic crisis on the efforts towards achieving the MDGs are yet to be felt in their entirety, and these effects will throw African countries further off course than they already are. Not only haseconomic hardship pushed tens of millions of people into vulnerable employment and increased the number who earn less than $1.25/day, but it has also created sluggish or even negative economic growth, diminished resources, fewer trade opportunities for the developing countries, and possibly reductions in aid flows from donor nations (Millennium Development Goals Report, 2009).
Controversy over the MDGs Controversy over the Millennium Development Goals centers on the issues of the interpretation of the purpose of the goals, the feasibility of achieving the goals, and the fairness of specific objectives, especially for developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Purpose. There is a debate concerning how the fundamental purpose of the MDGs should be interpreted. The main argument is between interpreting the goals and objectives as targets for development rather than tools for development. A literal interpretation of the MDGs accepts them as real targets, while a more figurative view looks at the goals as the kinds of outcomes towards which the world should strive. Regardless of one’s interpretation, it is clear that the MDGs have served generate discussion, focus attention, and help assign accountability in the fight to end poverty.
Feasibility/Practicality. Many critics find fault with the extremely high bar set by the MDGs for some countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa. The goals are asking many countries to perform “at the top end of the historical experience” (Clemens & Moss, “What’s Wrong with the Millennium Development Goals?”). For example, in order to meet goal 1 to halve poverty by 2015, countries in Africa would have to grow at a rate of 7%; only seven out of 153 countries for which we have data have achieved this in the past 15 years, and of those only two were in Africa (Botswana and Equatorial Guinea). For goal 2 (to achieve universal primary education), most African countries are starting from a level at which they must achieve in 15 years what it took some developed countries a century to complete. If at least 20 African countries have primary school enrollment of 70% or less, to reach 100% by 2015 would be enormously ambitious. If the goal for reducing child mortality by two-thirds (goal 4) had been set in 1975, only one country in the world, Indonesia, would have achieved it (Clemens & Moss). While the intentions behind the creation of such lofty goals were undoubtedly good, they are not realistic for all countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa. Depending on one’s interpretations of the purpose of the MDGs, these high targets can actually serve to set a country up for failure from the very beginning.
Fairness. It is already widely agreed upon that the vast majority of developing countries will miss most of the MDG targets in 2015. Almost every African country will miss all of the goals (Easterly). However, this should not be interpreted as a sign that poor countries have failed or that aid has been insufficient or wasted. Neither African inaction nor a lack of aid will necessarily be the reason that the MDGs are not achieved, but rather the overly ambitious goals themselves.
Consequences of Failure Sub-Saharan Africa’s likely failure to meet the MDGs will undoubtedly have ramifications in the development community. One possible effect is that development stakeholders will become demoralized at sub-Saharan Africa’s failure and that this sentiment will weaken long-term commitment to and engagement with the developing world. Another possible outcome is that failures will be turned into a message that more development aid is needed to accomplish these goals. A llack of progress may be used to demand more aid and may shift attention away from the deep economic, structural and governmental problems that increases in aid have a poor record of “fixing” (Clemens & Moss).
The Future: Setting Goals for Development in Africa The MDGs have shown us that good intentions can create goals that may be unrealistic for all settings, especially sub-Saharan Africa. The actual gains achieved in sub-Saharan Africa risk being labeled as failures because they will be held to historically high expectations. After the MDGs, there will once again be an opportunity to form a new and improved framework that will guide the world for the next decade or more. At this critical moment we must ask ourselves whether these goals are really achievable and whether they place too much emphasis on development aid at the expense of more fundamental changes. We should base this next set of goals on where countries really stand in the year 2015 and emphasize the creation of ambitious but achievable expectations. Most importantly, in evaluating the MDG process in 2015, we must not only focus on sub-Saharan Africa’s failures, but also on which interventions have shown success, what achievements have been made, and what we can do better in the future; we must do this without unfairly castigating a region that started this process with the greatest number of systematic and historical challenges and injustices.
Last week’s luncheon on the current state of Zimbabwe, sponsored by Freedom House, featured Jestina Mukoko, a 2010 International Woman of Courage recipient, and Rindai Chipfunde, founding director of Zimbabwe Election Support Network. The event’s objective was to present perspectives from civil society in the country, and both speakers spoke of the fragile peace, the current state of human rights on the ground, and their opinions as to what further actions are necessary to realize a true democratized Zimbabwe.
In her speech, Mrs. Mukoko pinpointed areas in Zimbabwean society where considerable gains have been made within a short period of time. In 2010, inflation declined from a dizzying 79600000000% per month to 5.1%, inducing a period of relative calm in the national economy, allowing for basic commercial transactions. This monetary stability helped usher in a sight long forgotten by Zimbabweans: foodon shelves at the market. No longer do people have to travel to South Africa to buy food. But new concerns loom as to whether Zimbabweans are financially capable of purchasing these materials and commodities within their communities.
The Education and Health department have both received a boost from the economic upswing in the country. Teachers were given vouchers the equivalent of $100 per month, a stark contrast to previously unlivable or nonexistent payments. This amount has now been increased to $150 per month. In addition, more Zimbabweans have access to proper health facilities and care since the Global Peace Accord (GPA) has been in effect.
However, These marginal gains in varying parts of Zimbabwean life have been offset by continual human rights abuses by the government. Mrs. Mukoko, soon after the GPA was signed, along with other members of the MDC, was kidnapped and held without charge. Still, her organization, the Zimbabwean Peace Project (ZPP), noticed a dramatic decline in human rights abuses in their records over the same period of time.
There are many reasons to be alarmed. For one, the constitutional agreement is seven months late, and some groups have declined to participate because it is not as people-driven as promised by the MDC. The Kariba draft constitution being floated by Zanu PF is currently the most widely known and contended; while its drafters are all men, threats are being issued to garner support for it from women in rural areas.
In order for national healing to occur, human rights abuses must cease.The continuation of human rights violations prevents Zimbabweans from participating in the healing process. While the GPA has sustained many gains, this remains a challenge, especially considering that one of the tenets of the agreement was for political parties to renounce violence.
For Zimbabweans to participate in the upcoming elections, a multi-pronged approach is required.According to Mrs. Chipfunde, these approaches must cover three areas: capacity-building, transparency, and changing the human rights environment. The upcoming elections will happen, mostly due to pressure from the international community, however, efforts should be taken to ensure they take place in the most fair and transparent manner possible, guaranteeing the full participation of Zimbabweans.
The recent explosions outside the governor’s mansion in Warri, Delta State, are a telling sign of the state of dialogue between the military group, Movement for The Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), and the Nigerian government. The negotiations between both parties have failed to address the roots causes of poverty, and protect against human rights abuses in the Niger Delta region. Indeed, the Amnesty agreement between MEND and the Nigerian government (issued in June of 2009 by President Umaru Yar’Adua), failed to provide tangible evidence showing a renewed commitment to improving the economic conditions in the region.
Thus, it should not come as a surprise that MEND, an organization with a proven record of violence, would not adhere to an agreement that has produced nothing tangible. The government has shown no signs of comprehending the problem or having a comprehensive plan for achieving the goal of stability and economic growth in the region. It negotiated amnesty and then sat on its hands. The incapacitation of President Yar’Adua has not helped the matter at all. He is seen by many as the first president to hold genuine considerations for finding peace in the region.
The cessation of violence necessary for dialogue and good planning to occur also needs visible signs of commitment on the part of the Nigerian government to Niger Deltans. The bomb blast in Warri this week at the Post-Amnesty Dialogue, hosted by Vanguard Newspaper, seems to indicate that amnesty has failed. The question now is: to what extent will MEND evoke its talent for destruction to get the government back to the negotiation table? In addition, will the Nigerian government learn from its mistakes and couple amnesty with visible commitments to the people of the Niger Delta? If it is unable to pursue this necessary course of action, amnesty and visible commitment, the cycle of relative periods of peace and return to violence could plague this part of the world as it does the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Over the last five years the UK, US and other countries have written off billions of dollars in loans to the world's poorest countries in an attempt to make poverty history.
But a small group of ruthless financiers - the vulture funds - have been trying to divert that money into their own pockets. Greg Palast reports on their latest target, Liberia, and on moves by UK MPs, prompted in part by a previous Newsnight investigation, to outlaw such funds.
Palast on BBC Newsnight tracked down the man behind the vulture fund that is demanding millions from Liberia. He was so reluctant to be caught on camera that he unscrewed the name plaque outside his office. Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also appealed to the vulture funds to have a conscience.
Last year, I spent three-and-a-half months living and working in Kampala, Uganda. The anti-gay rights legislation was presented to parliament in the middle of my stay, and came into the national and international spotlight just as I left the country. However, homosexuality was a frequent topic of discussion and debate for me even before this legislation brought such widespread attention to the issue.
Dealing with differing views on homosexuality was the most difficult adjustment I had to make while I was abroad, and I was shocked by some of the common beliefs surrounding homosexuality that my closest Ugandan friends held, including the perception that all gay men are pedophiles. Misconceptions are widespread: in a December 2009 in the leading Ugandan newspaper, New Vision, a reporter stated that he would not be in favor of same-sex couple adoption rights “because the outcome would almost certainly be that those children would take after these parents.” Homosexuality is commonly grouped with other issues such as corruption and ritual murder; a child at a march against homosexuality sponsored by the religious organizations Raising Voices and Children with Mission said in an interview, “I am happy to be part of this demonstration because I do not support homosexuality. Teachers should stop beating us and our parents should take good care us. The government should protect us against defilement and child sacrifice.”
I was even more surprised by the vehement denial and persecution of homosexuality on the part of the government. For the entire history of independent Uganda, politicians and leaders have openly denounced gay Ugandans for their sexual orientation, denied them basic human rights, and punished them for their behavior. Kassiano Wadri, a member of Parliament, stated publicly that he “detest[s] gays in [his] heart.”
The pending legislation was introduced on October 14 by David Bahati, a member of parliament, and proposes, among other things, a new offence called “aggravated homosexuality,” punishable by death. “Aggravated homosexuality” is considered to be homosexual sex with someone under 18, with someone who is disabled, when the accused is HIV-positive, or when the accused has a previous homosexuality-related offense. Additionally, it would jail anyone who fails to report “gay activity” to police within 24 hours and includes punishment for people who knowingly provide services such as health care to gay people. News broke on December 9th 2009 stating that Parliament would refine the bill, dropping the death penalty and life imprisonment punishments, and promised an edited version of the bill in two weeks time; this version is yet to be seen.
An Imported Cultural War on Ugandan Soil?
The gay rights situation in Uganda is complicated by the immense power wielded by the nearly overwhelming presence of non-profit and religious organizations in the country, as well as by the influence of countries that provide much-needed aid to Ugandan government programs. These external players motivate and complicate the debate, and people with vested interests are able to exert their influence on Ugandan policy. These pressures are felt in both directions, in efforts towards defending and improving gay rights and in efforts towards destroying them.
Uganda is a deeply spiritual society, and religious institutions exert a great deal of influence in everyday life, both through spiritual guidance and the provision of important services. Many people see the anti-homosexuality conference that took place in March 2009 as the beginning of this ordeal. Three prominent anti-gay American religious leaders, Scott Lively, Caleb Brundidge, and Don Schmierer, hosted the well-attended, three-day event that discussed, among other things, how to make gay people straight and the hidden gay agenda “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”
Anti-gay religious groups allege that Western countries are pouring funds into Uganda for the “recruitment” to homosexuality, an accusation to which Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) responds, “We do not receive any money for ‘recruitment’. It is absurd that some assume we would be paid to do something impossible.” Opponents to gay rights refer to “the homosexualization of Uganda,” the “wave of gay activism flooding in from the West,” and the “danger of the Homosexual Agenda.”
On the other side of the debate are non-profits and gay rights groups working to fight this legislation, and external pressure in this direction has been effective in thwarting the speed and severity of the bill.Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, distanced himself from the bill after prolonged pressure from donor countries that have been pouring millions of dollars of aid into Uganda for years and have threatened to cut ties should the legislation pass. National and international human rights groups have become involved, including Sexual Minorities Uganda, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International.
Implications for an “Invisible Population” The current criminalization of homosexuality and the proposed bill exclude homosexuals from society and do not account for them in many important areas, the most important of which is health. The national HIV/AIDS program makes no provision for sexual minorities, despite the fact that men who have sex with men are more susceptible to HIV transmission. There is no data concerning the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among gay Ugandans, making it impossible to know the state of the epidemic in this group or to adequately target at-risk populations. The spokesman for the Uganda AIDS Commission, James Kigozi, explained that the reason that gays are not considered in the national policy is because the practice of homosexuality is illegal and because they are “marginal; their numbers are negligible.” Jim Muhwezi, the Minister of State for Health, said that gays do not deserve “a special message” in the approach to fighting HIV/AIDS: “they shouldn’t exist, and we hope that they are not there. If they do exist they are covered by the three-pronged approach of ABC [Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms].” Ugandan HIV/AIDS policy towards this section of the population is based on a hope that it doesn’t exist in the first place.
Outside players are exerting their influence in the area of health as well. Many blame PEPFAR for a lack of coverage of sexual minorities; during the Bush administration, emphasis was placed on “abstinence until marriage,” which excludes homosexuals as they cannot legally marry in Uganda. USAID was criticized for barring the use of the term “men who have sex with men.” Both programs funded faith-based organizations in Uganda that did not cater to gay populations and that often preached homophobia.
A Ugandan Response
Despite the potentially disastrous effects of this legislation, it is encouraging that there is a movement against this bill, a real grassroots resistance despite its small size. Groups like Gay Rights Uganda and Sexual Minorities Uganda, as well as individual people, like the blogger GayUganda, are putting their lives on the line to defend themselves and others without pressure from foreign interests.
Gay rights activists will continue to walk the fine line between defending who they are and risking imprisonment, and international activists will continue to balance between imposing their values on a different culture and ensuring basic human rights for all. It is a historic point for gay rights in Uganda, but despite the outcome, let us hope that it is what Ugandans, not others, want.
A copy of the proposed legislation can be found here.
Reasons for the new operation Amani Leo: For the past six months, the Congolese National Army (FARDC) has been criticized by diplomats, civil society and human rights groups concerning allegations of violence against civilians during the military operations Umoja Wetu and Kimia II. Yet, there is new joint military operation between FARDC and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force (MONUC) called Amani Leo. This new operation between MONUC and FARDC is to neutralize and capture the Rwandan Hutu militia (FDLR) operating in DRC who participated in the1994 Rwandan genocide. The FDLR is notorious for attacking villages and civilians in furtherance of their efforts to control territory, which allows them to illegally export valuable minerals out of the DRC and fund their operations.
Previous operations Umoja Wetu and Kimia II: The Umoja Wetu started in January 2009 after the international community urged Rwandan President Paul Kagame to use his influence on National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) leader Laurent Nkunda to stop CNDP’s 2007-2008 rebellion against the Congolese government. After few weeks of negotiations, President Kagame finally offered to help locate and capture the CNDP leader Laurent Nkunda. In exchange, DRC’s President Joseph Kabila allowed the Rwandan National Army (RDP) to enter the Congo in search of the rebel Hutu FDLR. During this operation Nkunda was arrested, transferred to Rwanda, and then replaced by another leader Bosco Ntaganda who has a warrant of arrest from International Criminal Court (ICC) on conscripting child soldiers into his militia. Former CNDP combatants were then integrated into FARDC.
In March 2009 the second operation Kimia II started. It was a joint operation by MONUC and FARDC. The Rwandan Government supported the mission, claiming that Operation Umoja Wetu had been unsuccessful and that the FDLR continued to pose a serious security threat to Rwanda. The Rwandan Government requested that the MONUC joins forces with the FARDC to combat the FDRL. The goal of this operation was an attempt to dismantle the FDLR’s military capacity. According to FARDC, the operation was a success at the end. For the first time they were able to dislodge the FDLR from areas where they had been entrenched for years and the critical mining-dependent areas were no longer controlled by FDRL. According to UN statistic, “a significant number of FDLR combatants have been given up their weapons and returned to Rwanda since the start of military operations in January 2009”. 1,798 family members of FDRL and 12,387 Rwandan refugees were sent to Rwanda.
Criticisms of Umoja Leo and Kimia II Although the Congolese Army took control of mining sites in these operations and disarmed some FDLR combatants, FARDC and MONUC were unable to adequately protect civilian populations. These two operations have been accompanied by horrendous abuses by both government and rebel forces against a civilian population throughout the eastern Congo. For instance, there are times that the rebel groups may target civilians to punish them for their government’s decision to launch the operations. The FARDC soldiers themselves are also accused of targeting civilians who they feel are collaborating with the FDLR. According to Human Rights Watch, “between January and September 2009, over 1,400 civilians were deliberately killed by the FDLR, the Congolese army, and their allies”. 7,000 cases of rape against women and girls were reported which indicates rates nearly double those in 2008. And over 900,000 people were forced to flee their homes in Eastern Congo”. Human Rights Watch also reported that, “a comparison of the impact of military operations on the FDRL and the harm to civilians starkly conveys the suffering endured by the population. 84 humanitarian and human rights groups in the Congo Advocacy Coalition reported that for every FDRL combatant that has been removed from combat through being repatriated, one civilian has been killed, seven women and girls have been raped, eight homes have been destroyed, and nearly 900 people have been forced to flee for their lives. This report illustrates the unjustified costs of pursuing a military solution to rebel groups operating in the eastern provinces.
Conclusion Although, Alan Doss, the UN representative in Congo, announced that the new plan will more focus on the protection of civilians, conducting operations targeting the FDRL in the region, clear strategic areas of negative forces, hold territory liberated from FDRL control, and assist in restoring State authority in these zones; the UN and FARDC still have not specified how this operation will achieve these objectives, and particularly have not specified how they will guarantee protection for civilians.
Military solutions shouldn’t be used to neutralize FDLR. The violence against civilians that accompanies these military operations is unacceptable. Many Congolese have lost their lives in these operations. Women and girls have been raped and near a million of people have been forced to flee their homes. It is time for the international community and MONUC to put pressure on Rwanda to stop supporting the military joint. The UN and the international community should encourage Kagame to negotiate with the FDRL in diplomatic and democratic ways rather than pursuing only military solutions. The end of FDLR presence in Congo will put end to all types of human rights abuses and curb illegal mineral trades. The UN should help the Congo build its capacity to monitor and regulate mining to avoid any illegal trades of minerals. For instance, the UN could send a team of independent consultants to audit the mineral supply chain and hopefully, Rwanda and Congo will find ways to collaborate through diplomatic means rather relying on military forces.
From Bono to Angelina Jolie, the ‘cool’ humanitarian thing to do these days is to send money to Africa, you know, to help feed, shelter, educate and provide medical services to the starving boney children with flies on their eyes. What may come across as shocking to the Bonos of our world is that not all humanitarian efforts have helped the continent, at least that’s what Moyo would say. Most Africanists have heard of Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo for her clear-cut assertion that foreign aid has not only stagnated, but that it has also been the root cause of developmental retardation for the African continent. Perhaps it is a combination of Moyo’s conservative side and her African roots that have given her considerable attention, often compared to Ayaan Hirsi-Ali -another conservative figure bred on the continent who is widely known for criticizing the Prophet Muhammad. It comes as no surprise that both Hirsi Ali and Moyo have contributed their knowledge and experience to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, a harbor of conservative scholar academia.
The emergence of popular, educated African women icons such as Moyo has given Western as well as other audiences new paths for understanding why Africa’s predicament is still enduring decades after colonial rule. Moyo’s perspective is not a completely unexplored opinion, authors such as Paul Easterly have advocated for diminishing help from bureaucratic organizations and instead searching for what he refers to as ‘homegrown development’. So what is fundamentally different about ‘Dead Aid’? Moyo’s audience ranges from prominent politicians such as Rwandan President Paul Kagame who have been pushing for gradual independence from foreign assistance, to economists such as Jeffrey Sachs who advocate for the ‘end of [African] poverty’ through Western aid.
Throughout her many interviews, Moyo reiterates the main issues that she also raises in her book, one of which argues that foreign aid fuels corruption since there is no transparent allocation of the donation. Moyo raises an interesting point about the lack of fund appropriation for foreign aid; she also understands how this has trapped Africa in an aid dependency cycle that, coupled with operational bureaucracies, disables the development of private enterprise. Thirdly, Moyo argues that ‘large inflows of capital… really kill off the export sector’ because most African nations are abundant in extractable minerals and resources. Finally, Moyo elaborates on the consequences of corruption that result in the African government’s lack of accountability, rather than being held responsible by its people, governments have geared their liability to international organizations and businesses. As a result, Moyo makes the assertion that an African middle-class is barely existent, instead the disparities between the wealthy who remain in power and the poor who are barely surviving, continue to be the center of African realities.
Personally, I would say that Moyo’s collection of data that support her one-sided views have elements of truth within them, however, it would be unrealistic to reinforce a 'let's cut off all foreign aid to Africa' instantly. Despite the corruption and the bureaucracy, foreign aid has been the main source for the survival of at least an estimated millions, for this reason, the plan to decrease and eventually cut off foreign aid would be to strengthen the government's provision of public services. The measures would take time especially because most African governments are known for their notorious personal economic drives, that is why an internal change in the political institutions would have to be upheld alongside the development of a stronger civil society. As Moyo suggests, micro-finance is one of the most effective ways of establishing these goals since a 'homegrown' or bottom-up development could be sustainable in the long-term growth of Africa.The biggest challenges remain: how to deal with political greed? how do we create incentives for African governments to establish public services?
In Copenhagen this week, delegates from 160 countries are gathered to come up with a global plan for reversing global warming, and combating the effects of climate change.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or Congo) is home to the world’s second largest rainforest, covering over 515,000 square miles, the greatest expanse of rainforest in all of Africa. The rainforest covers roughly 60% of the country.
Deforestation in the DRC is driven by small-scale slash and burn agriculture, as well as mining and commercial logging. From 1990-2005 the DRC lost more than 26,000 square miles of forest to logging, close to 5% of all the rainforest. However, between 2002 and 2005 the government of the DRC granted 15 million hectares, over 57,000 square miles of rainforest concessions to logging companies- or more than 9% of the total rainforest. If the trend continues, by 2050 the DRC risks loss of 40% of its forests, and this loss will release 34.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Currently only 43,000 square miles of the rainforest has a protected status, safeguarding it from commercial uses.
The rainforest in the Congo directly affects weather and rainfall patterns both in the region, and in the North Atlantic. Loss of forest has a direct and disastrous effect on global warming and will result in increased flooding, heat waves, droughts, and rising oceans. Deforestation effects climate change in two distinct ways.
First, forests serve as reservoirs for carbon. The forests in the DRC account for 8% of all global carbon stores, the 4th largest carbon reservoirs of any country in the world. According to Simon Lewis, a researcher at the University of Leeds, "Tropical forest trees are absorbing about 18% of the CO2 added to the atmosphere each year from burning fossil fuels, substantially buffering the rate of climate change."
Second, the process of cutting down the trees in the forest and plowing the earth itself releases carbon into the atmosphere. Emissions from deforestation are about 25% of all global carbon dioxide emissions resulting from human activities.
Reversing the trend of deforestation in the DRC is essential to combating global climate change.
You can help reduce deforestation in the DRC and combat global warming by signing up for action alerts on Africa Action's website. Staying aware and active in the fight to reduce deforestation in the DRC is essential to ensuring that local populations are able to thrive in an ecologically sustainable way and benefit from their own resources.
During the holiday season, shop responsibly! Make sure that any gifts that you purchase do not contain timber from the Congo rainforests. Learn more by visiting the Forest Stewardship Council at: http://www.fscus.org/faqs/fsc_products.php.
Last week Côte d’Ivoire declared a “slight change” of the Nov. 29 election date. It is the latest in a long series of delays and at a glance really just seems to be more of the same in the frustratingly cumbersome progress of democratization across the continent. The announcement came from CI’s independent electoral commission president, Robert Mambe who said that the delay was a result of the length of time taken to compile the provisional voter list.
So what’s the deal in Cote d’Ivoire? Following the introduction of multiparty elections in the early 90s and then the death of its first president in soon after the country struggled with squabbling between the political parties. When the economic situation worsened in the late 90s political tensions rose and the blame game turned along divisive ethnic lines. This led to a 1999 coup and eventually outright civil war in 2002 which has left the country divided between the north and south. Eventually an integrated transitional government was agreed upon.
Original plans to hold elections in October 2005 failed after local parties and political leaders were unable to cooperate with rebels in the north, claiming that the government would rig any elections. Thanks to a U.N. backed peace agreement the current president remained in power for another year in order to facilitate elections. In November 2006 there were still no elections or concrete plans for them and the U.N. voted to extend the transitional government until Oct 31, 2007, the new date for elections. After this date comes and goes President Gbagbo announces in April 2008 that elections will be held on Nov 30 2008. One month before that the election is postponed to Dec. 31st after failures to progress in voter registration and military disarmament. Elections are reset to Nov 29.
Truthfully, the latest delay can hardly be seen as surprising. Like so many other conflicts in Africa, the rebels once unified have splintered as the crisis has dragged on. Disarmament however has not been the most pressing problem. The most politically sensitive issue remains that of nationality and who is eligible to vote. The divisive debate harkens back to the days of Houphouet’s successor Henri Konan Bédié’s political feud with northern rival Alassan Outarra whom he tried do disqualify from presidential eligibility by questioning his nationality. The U.N. has called for accelerating the remaining technical steps, such as the printing and distribution of national identity and voter cards. However official papers dispersion has been poor even before the first coup in 1999.
The on-going crisis in Cote d’Ivoire is only one of the latest to strike the region of West Africa, which has accounted for 60% of Africa’s military interventions since the 1970s. The case of Côte d’Ivoire is especially troubling, as it had once been hailed as a model of both political stability and economic success. Successful polls would, according to a Reuters report earlier this year, “lure investors back to a nation that was the economic and political powerhouse of West Africa but has seen poverty rates rise to almost 50 percent from 38 percent since 2002, according to government figures.” However, so far, leaders on both sides of the conflict seem more interested in maintaining their own success (however limited) than ensuring the ability for citizens to take back control of their nation.
In the mid 1950s, Martin Luther King, Jr. pushed for a substitution of “tired feet for tired souls” to spur the Montgomery boycotts. With the brutality of the September 28th attacks in Guinea already behind us, it is difficult to take the focus off of the exhaustion of our souls in the fight for peace and fair governance.
Though the public health facilities reported the death toll at 56, official reports cite that 151 people were killed and at least another 1,200 were injured in stadium protests in Conakry led by the opposition. Brewing ethnic tensions may be keeping many away from hospitals, leaving additional wounded still uncounted. Women who have been victims of rape are in most need of counseling, which is currently underprovided. The renewed global commitment to protecting these women was made tangible by a unanimous vote on a UN resolution on sexual violence in conflict zones that occurred two days after the stadium attacks. The urgency for the implementation of this resolution is clear.
International schools in Conakry closed their doors on the 27th of September and most non-essential personnel of the diplomatic corps and international organizations have left Conkry. Guinean schools were re-scheduled to begin their academic year on October 15th, though it is not likely that they will open their doors in such a political climate
Yesterday marked the end of a two-day strike in the country called by trade unions to protest Camara’s leadership and successfully and nonviolently brought Conakry to a standstill as citizens stayed indoors and brought mining production, a major source of income, to a halt.
Politically, the situation continues to be difficult to navigate. Celou Dalein Diallo is the leader of the main opposition party and is currently in France recovering from injuries sustained at the stadium protests. Sidya Toure, a former prime minister, is the head of another opposition party, the Union of Republic Forces. The URF rejected Camara’s call for unity at the beginning of the month. Camara continues to express that though he is uncertain of whether he will stand for re-election, that his natural rights as a Guinean citizen should not obstruct such a decision. Given the outbreak of violence on the 28th, Toure and Guinean civil society find this to be an unacceptable possibility.
Pressure from the international community, though slightly late on the uptake, needs to grow from here with only four days left before the opposition’s deadline for Camara to announce his commitment to not be involved in the upcoming election cycle in January 2010. The EU’s development commissioner, Karel de Gucht has already begun calls for Camara to be held accountable for crimes against humanity.
My soul’s exhaustion is mostly caused by the anxiety of what may happen if actions taken to secure Guineans’ right to freely choose their own representation do not begin to gain more decisive momentum before Saturday. With my mother poised behind blue helmets but with little concern for self when faced with others’ suffering, the anxiety is heightened. With the prospect of the breakout of ethnic tensions—though quite unlikely—given how her Tutsi features translate in an environment hostile to the Fulani, my mind is all the more occupied. But the call for stable governance precedes this. The argument for civil society’s right to hold leaders accountable to promises made as they ascended to power is worth fighting for. After his successful coup in December, Camara promised to not stand for re-election stating, "We are patriots, not hungry for power. We don't intend to stay in power forever." The international community must show its respect for Guinean civil society through “tired feet” supporting humanitarian efforts in the country and by looking towards Saturday as a strict deadline.