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Africa in Brief

Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 

UN exposes armies using child soldiers

In a departure from past practice, a new report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan explicitly names 23 governments and other warring parties that recruit and use children as soldiers. "For the first time in an official report to the Security Council, those who violate standards for the protection of war-affected children have been specifically named and listed," emphasizes Mr. Olara Otunnu, the Secretary-General's special representative for children and armed conflict. The report, released in December, is the third such annual review of progress in protecting children affected by conflict.

While various international agreements set 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and direct participation in hostilities, the "challenge today is to ensure their implementation on the ground," the report states. There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers across the world.

In Africa, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Liberia are the only governments identified as currently not complying with these international norms. More than a dozen rebel or insurgent factions are also listed, in these countries and in Somalia. Although it does not list them, the report also cites evidence that child soldiers are in the ranks of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, in southern Sudan, and the Lord's Resistance Army, a rebel group in northern Uganda, which is believed to have abducted more than 10,000 children over the last 15 years. The report commends Eritrea and Ethiopia for not recruiting child soldiers in their recent border war, which ended in late 2000.

By publicly identifying those who recruit child soldiers, the report concludes, the international community is demonstrating that it will not allow those violating children's rights to do so with impunity. Mr Otunnu notes that the published list provides an advocacy tool for governments, civil society groups and the media to apply pressure to cease such exploitation. "This is the beginning of a systematic effort in a new era of monitoring and reporting on the conduct of parties and how they treat children during conflict," says Mr. Otunnu.

NGO review dissects adjustment policies

In 1996, a network of non-governmental organizations, with World Bank and government participation, launched a multi-year investigation on the impact of structural adjustment programmes. Known as the Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative (SAPRI), in Africa the study was carried out in Ghana, Uganda and Zimbabwe. It examined the impact of trade and financial sector liberalization, labour market reforms, agricultural and mining reforms and public expenditure policies on the productive sectors, social services, employment and women's access to resources. In August 2001, the World Bank withdrew from the initiative owing to disagreement with its preliminary findings. The final report, entitled The Policy Roots of Economic Crisis and Poverty, was released by the NGO participants in April 2002. Some of its findings were:

  • Precipitous and indiscriminate trade liberalization and the weakening of state support have devastated local industry. Domestic businesses in many countries could not compete with the flood of foreign, subsidized imports, forcing them to close.
  • In agriculture, underpriced imports, the removal of subsidies on inputs and the withdrawal of the state from providing technical and marketing assistance eroded the viability of local farmers. Emphasis on export production marginalized poorer domestic farmers.
  • Labour market reforms and privatization have led to less employment and lower wages in many countries undergoing adjustment. Workers' rights and the power of unions have also been significantly weakened by reforms granting employers greater flexibility.
  • Privatization of public services and the introduction of user fees, particularly in health care, have put these services out of reach of many poor, who cannot afford the market rates charged. This has discouraged many, especially in the rural areas, from even seeking medical care.
  • The brunt of the impact of policy reforms has fallen heavily on women. Because they are the majority of those in the informal and small business sectors in many countries, they have been undermined by import liberalization and rising credit rates. In the formal sector, labour reforms have at times also hurt women, for instance by removing the right to benefits such as maternity leave.

The study concluded that many of these problems were caused or exacerbated by adjustment programmes. (See:

Annan congratulates Kenyan presidential winner

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has congratulated Kenya's new President Mwai Kibaki and his National Rainbow Coalition party for their success in the country's general elections on 27 December. The victory marks the first time that the Kenya African National Union (KANU) has been voted out of power since independence from Britain in 1963, and ends the 24-year rule of Mr. Daniel arap Moi. President Kibaki defeated the ruling party candidate, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya's first president, Jomo Kenyatta.

In a statement issued through his spokesman, Mr. Annan commended Kenyans "for their enthusiastic and orderly participation" in the elections and praised government authorities for conducting a well organized and credible election. Previous presidential and parliamentary elections were marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation.

Mr. Annan also commended Mr. Moi and his party for accepting the election results. "I accept the choice of the people that Kibaki will be the third president of this country," Mr. Moi said after the results were announced. "From those ashes a strong foundation will begin." Mr. Kibaki's Rainbow Coalition won more than 60 per cent of the vote compared to KANU's 30 per cent.

Born on 15 November 1931, Mr Kibaki is a former economics lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda. He previously was a vice president under Mr. Moi, as well as the country's longest serving finance minister, from 1969 to 1982. His party campaigned on promises that included providing free primary education for all and ridding the government of corruption. The International Monetary Fund had suspended loans to Kenya in 2000 after the government did not fulfil commitments on tackling corruption or privatizing state enterprises.