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Africa Watch

Malian children face education crisis
Kingsley Ighobor
From Africa Renewal: 
Photo: OCHA/Nicole Lawrence
Conflict in Mali’s northern region has displaced thousands of children and their families. Photo: OCHA/Nicole Lawrence

Conflict disrupts schools

While the world remains focused on ending Mali’s conflict following rebel incursions into the northern part of the country early last year, there are about 400,000 Malian children facing severe disruptions in their education, warns the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. The fund and other aid agencies need $18 million to reverse the situation. So far, donor response has been poor, says IRIN, a UN humanitarian news service. As of March, UNICEF has been able to raise only $3 million, creating panic among aid agencies. 

“Most of the donors have drawn back after the [2012] crisis - we are still trying to mobilize as much funding as possible,” Euphrates Gobina, the head of education at UNICEF in Mali told IRIN. The real problem is that donors are far more concerned about life-saving issues than they are about health and education, adds IRIN.

According to Lori Heninger, the director of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, which helps coordinate non-profits providing education in conflict areas, parents are the ones mostly asking for interventions in education. She describes as “pretty abysmal” last year’s 0.9% devoted to education from the humanitarian budget. 

Mali’s government has been too preoccupied with the rebellion to make any meaningful intervention. Maiga Dramane, head of basic education at the education ministry says the lack of education was having enormous psychological impact on the children. 

Most of the displaced children are from northern Mali, the region hit hardest by the rebellion. Even before the rebel invasion, teachers in the towns of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu were on strike for better service conditions. When the Islamist rebels took over a swath of northern Mali, they also declared Sharia law and were set to introduce Qur’anic schools, which require boys and girls to attend separate classes.

Teachers, parents and pupils had to flee to the south and now expect UNICEF and other charity organizations to help rescue children’s education. “When a teacher is afraid to teach and when a student is afraid to go to school, the whole education is at risk,” said UNICEF’s Representative in Mali, Françoise Ackermans. The agency is dispensing psychological support and mine awareness to students who were exposed to violence. But with the country still highly volatile, getting students back to school remains a huge challenge.

Mothers’ health is improving across Africa

By Arao Ameny

In recent years, the shrill cries of a newborn baby have been bringing more shouts of joy than of anguish in maternity wards across Africa. That is because maternal deaths are decreasing on the continent, says Gifty Addico, a South Africa-based adviser for the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). New figures in a UN report, Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990 to 2010, show that maternal mortality has declined by 41 per cent in the past 10 years in sub-Saharan Africa. “But we need to do more to make sure that every mother lives to see her child,” Ms. Addico told Africa Renewal.

An awareness campaign called Every Woman, Every Child, initiated by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in September 2010 aims to save the lives of 16 million women and children by 2015, as part of the broader drive for the UN Millennium Development Goals. A year earlier the African Union partnered with the UNFPA to launch a similar programme. Called the Campaign for the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA), the programme lent strong support to existing strategies and plans.

Within three years of CARMMA’s initiation, 37 of the 54 countries in Africa had taken steps to upgrade national maternal health programmes and services. About 30 have made political commitments, such as setting aside funds for maternal health. Rwanda now offers financial incentives to high-performing health facilities.

CARMMA urged African countries to put together “a roadmap for maternal and new-born health,” Dr. Wilfred Ochan, a UNFPA assistant representative, told Africa Renewal. Uganda and Kenya, for instance, focus on training midwives, improving ambulance response times, enhancing community mobilization, reducing the number of still births and increased the use of family planning programmes.

High fees for childbirth services and hospital stays, little or no access to nearby health facilities and shortages of health workers are some of the factors affecting maternal health, explains the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Ms. Addico cites the poor quality of Africa’s health systems. Mothers who make it to a hospital may have to wait long hours to see a doctor. Facilities often do not have adequate resources — either equipment or staff — to help mothers deliver.

WHO also reports that women, especially young prospective mothers, may not be fully aware of the health risks when they are about to deliver. Pregnant young women who gave birth between ages of 15 and 20 are twice as likely to die during childbirth as women in their 20s or older. Girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to die during childbirth. 

Religious barriers have posed challenges, Ms. Addico agrees. Some health facilities run by religious groups, for example, may not offer family planning options or other alternatives they disagree with. 

The East African Community is however making sure that women who go to a religious hospital are also taken to an alternative healthcare facility. In addition, Ms. Addico points out that “We tend to forget that women with HIV have maternal and reproductive needs because of the [AIDS] stigma.”

Despite gains in maternal health, Mr. Akinyere Eric Dairo, a senior programme and technical advisor to the UNFPA, told Africa Renewal that there is still “a very urgent need to keep intensifying maternal health interventions.” According to UNFPA, only six countries (Rwanda, Botswana, Niger, Malawi, Zambia and Burkina Faso) have met the target of allocating at least 15 per cent of their annual budget to health, a goal set at an African summit on HIV/AIDS held in Abuja, Nigeria, in 2000.

Moreover, Mr. Dairo adds, many of the countries that reached the 15 per cent goal did so “due to contributions from external donors to the health sector.” He proposes that African countries consistently set aside money from their own budgets for health care, “especially when it comes caring for women and children.”

ICC stretched to its limits in Africa

By Jocelyne Sambira

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"1649","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"320","style":"width: 300px; height: 200px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]Bosco Ntaganda during his initial appearance before the International Criminal Court. Photo: ICC-CPI

Congolese rebel Bosco Ntaganda is the latest African to appear before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Mr. Ntaganda faces several counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including the rape, murder, sexual slavery and recruitment of children in the North Kivu province in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to ICC’s records. 

The ICC is an independent, permanent court that investigates and prosecutes persons accused of the most serious crimes of international concern, namely genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Mr. Ntaganda follows in the footsteps of Thomas Lubanga, another Congolese warlord who was recently sentenced to 14 years in jail by the Tribunal for recruiting and using child soldiers in his rebel army between 2002 and 2003. So far, 30 people have been indicted, all of them Africans, leading to accusations that the court has been going after Africans. 

The DRC is one of the seven situations under investigation by the ICC. The others are northern Uganda, the Darfur region of Sudan, the Central African Republic, Kenya and Côte d’Ivoire. The court is also examining claims of murder, mutilation and torture committed since January 2012 by insurgent groups in Mali. 

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a national of Gambia, recently announced that she would not drop charges against Kenya’s president-elect Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto. Before the elections, they appeared before the court to answer charges of complicity in the violence that erupted following the 2007 elections. 

Analysts believe the cash strapped court is stretched to its limit trying to deal simultaneously with several cases from different countries. It has also been criticized for using intermediaries to conduct investigations, allegedly undermining its credibility and its ability to build strong cases.