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Africa Watch

Nelson Mandela International Day
Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 
Nelson Mandela speaking at the UN General Assembly in 1994.Nelson Mandela speaking at the UN General Assembly in 1994, shortly after his historic election as president of South Africa in the country’s first democratic and multiracial election.
Photograph: UN Photo / E. Sehneide

The world marked the first Nelson Mandela International Day commemoration on 18 July with films, lectures, concerts and charitable activities in dozens of countries and communities. At United Nations headquarters in New York an audience of about 600 attended a 15 July screening of the documentary Nelson Mandela: Son of Africa, Father of a Nation, which was introduced by the producers, Jonathan Demme and Peter Saraf. The following day, the General Assembly devoted an informal meeting to the South African leader. The president of the assembly, Ali Treki, described Mr. Mandela as an "international hero" for his role in ending apartheid. The General Assembly's decision to establish Nelson Mandela International Day, he said, "is a call to action to make the world a better place, one day at a time."

In Israel, members of the African community and human and civil rights activists gathered in Tel Aviv for an evening of music, video presentations and speeches, while students and teachers at the Richmond Vale Academy on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and the Grenadines marked the day with lectures, musical performances, sporting events and community service activities, among many other commemorative events in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.

In South Africa, the day was marked by a call for 67 minutes of charitable action for the needy — one minute for every year of Mr. Mandela's service to others. The Nelson Mandela Foundation reported that activities ranged from feeding the homeless to repairing and cleaning schools in poor communities. Mr. Mandela was reported to have spent the day, his 92nd birthday, at his home surrounded by his family and children from his ancestral village.

Cameroonian journalist dead
Crusading journalist killed in car accident

A pioneering Cameroonian journalist and media advocate, Pius Njawé, was killed in an automobile accident in the US on 12 July. He was 53 years old. Mr. Njawé was the publisher of Cameroon's leading independent newspaper, Le Messager, which he founded in 1979 at age 22, and was a tireless champion of media rights in Africa.

He was in the US to attend a pro-democracy meeting in Washington, according to press reports. His defence of press freedom and resistance to censorship saw him arrested dozens of times since he began his career in 1972.

"The African media has lost a truly courageous individual whose bravery in the face of government intimidation served as an inspiration for other journalists in similar circumstances across the continent," said International Press Institute Director David Dadge. The organization named him their World Press Freedom Hero in 2000.

Mohamed Keita, the advocacy director for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, described Mr. Njawé's death as "a great loss to Cameroon's independent press." The committee awarded Mr. Njawé its International Press Freedom Award in 1991.

UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC
Congo mission gets new name, mandate

The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) received a new mandate and a new name from the Security Council on 1 July. It is now the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO), and its mandate emphasizes "stabilization and peace consolidation." The shift, said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, "recognizes that progress has been made" in the political and security situation in the country more than a decade after the peacekeepers first arrived. "This must be reflected in a strategic change in UN support," he noted.

The Security Council decision, coming in late May at Mr. Ban's recommendation, continues to permit the mission to use force to protect civilians and UN staff and facilities, but mandates the withdrawal of 2,000 peacekeepers from areas where security has improved. MONUSCO's total authorized strength is comparable to that of MONUC, at over 20,000 solders, police and training personnel, not counting several thousand civilian staff. Insecurity and attacks on civilians remain common in the eastern part of the country despite a number of offensives by UN and government forces.

Mr. Ban was in the DRC to attend the country's 50th anniversary of independence from Belgium, and for discussions with Congolese and regional leaders. Further troop withdrawals, he pledged, would be done in close consultation with the DRC government, and conducted "in a way that does not jeopardize the gains the country has made." In remarks at the unveiling of a plaque honouring the 157 MONUC personnel killed in the field, Mr. Ban affirmed the UN's commitment to help the government "build the stability that the country needs to realize its great potential."

National Institutes of Health
AIDS breakthrough offers hope for vaccine

Scientists at the US government's National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced a discovery in early July that could lead to the world's first effective vaccine against infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The researchers reported that they had identified two antibodies — blood proteins that attack viruses in the body — that prevent the virus from infecting other cells.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, described the discoveries as "exciting advances that will accelerate our efforts to find a preventive HIV vaccine for global use." The antibodies, discovered in a single person infected with HIV, attach themselves to a vulnerable spot on the surface of the virus, which attacks the body's natural defences against infection. The antibodies render HIV harmless, and are effective against 91 per cent of the known strains of the rapidly mutating virus.

Dr. Gary Nabel, the head of the NIH research team, cautioned however that a vaccine is still years away, if it proves possible to create at all. "We're going to be at this for awhile," he told The Wall Street Journal newspaper. "It will require work."


Valerie AmosPhotograph: UN Photo / Mark Garten

The UN Secretary-General has appointed Valerie Amos, a national of the UK, as his under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, succeeding in that post Sir John Holmes. Born in Guyana, Ms. Amos has had a long career, among other positions serving as the UK's Africa minister from 2001 to 2003 and as the European Union's special representative to the African Union. Baroness Amos has also been leader of the House of Lords, chair of the UK's Royal Africa Society and a secretary of state for international development. In the latter role, she was involved in negotiations on conflict and post-conflict situations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Liberia and other parts of the world. At the time of her appointment, she was serving as high commissioner to Australia.

Tayé-Brook ZerihounPhotograph: UN Photo

Tayé-Brook Zerihoun of Ethiopia has been named UN assistant secretary-general for political affairs at the UN in New York, replacing Haile Menkerios of South Africa who was reassigned as the top UN official in Sudan. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Zerihoun had a long UN career, working variously on issues such as decolonization, conflict prevention and peacebuilding. He was the acting special representative of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) in 2006-2007, and was previously a mediator in the Darfur peace talks.

Augustine P. MahigaPhotograph: UN Photo / Joao Castellano

Augustine P. Mahiga of Tanzania has been named by the UN Secretary-General as his special representative for Somalia and head of the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS). Prior to this appointment, Mr. Mahiga was Tanzania's permanent representative to the UN. In that capacity, he was actively involved in various UN reform initiatives, as well as in the negotiations that established the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2005. In his new Somalia post, Mr. Mahiga replaces Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah of Mauritania.

Youssef MahmoudPhotograph: UN Photo / Jenny Rockett

The UN Secretary-General has appointed Youssef Mahmoud of Tunisia as his special representative for the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), effective 1 June 2010. Mr. Mahmoud arrived in Chad in March to head a UN delegation to discuss with the Chadian government the future of MINURCAT. Prior to this appointment, he served as head of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB).

Charles PetriePhotograph: UN Photo / Evan Schneider

Charles Petrie of the UK and France has been named the new head of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB), to replace Youssef Mahmoud. Mr. Petrie will also serve as the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator. At the time of his appointment, Mr. Petrie was the Secretary-General's deputy special representative for Somalia. He has had 20 years of experience with the UN, with particular expertise in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacebuilding and humanitarian and development action.