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Africa Renewal
From Africa Renewal: 

African Union plans more troops for Darfur

The African Union (AU) is hoping to send 3,000­5,000 troops to help dampen the deadly conflict in Sudan's Darfur region. Thousands of local residents are dying each month in Darfur, and about 1.5 million others have been uprooted from their homes because of attacks by pro-government militias and fighting between rebel forces and the regular army.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current chairman of the AU, told a news conference in September that the 53-nation body aims to mobilize the force quickly, but needs external financing to deploy the African troops. It is seeking about $200 mn or the equivalent in transport equipment and other logistical support. Mr. Obasanjo said the Union is resolute in its commitment to bring peace and security to Darfur and is ready to play its part to revive the stalled peace talks.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan during
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan during a visit to a camp for displaced people in Darfur, Sudan, in early July. Helping to resolve the devastating conflict in Darfur, in cooperation with the African Union, is a priority for the United Nations.
Photo :United Nations/Eskinder

Taking a lead role, the AU had already deployed about 80 military observers in Darfur, protected by just over 300 soldiers, to monitor a rarely observed cease-fire agreement signed in April by the Sudanese government and the two rebel movements - the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). From 23 August­18 September, the first substantial peace talks took place in Abuja, Nigeria, under the AU's auspices. The opposing parties reached agreement on humanitarian issues, and some progress was made on security matters, but the underlying political, economic and social differences remained unresolved. The talks were adjourned, but expected to resume, possibly by late October.

The rebels began their uprising in February 2003 after years of skirmishes between farmers who identify themselves as "African" and Arab nomadic livestock herders, mainly over land and water disputes. The rebels accused the central government in Khartoum of supporting the Arab pastoralists. Sudanese armed forces and a government-backed militia, known as Janjaweed, mobilized to suppress the rebellion.

The Janjaweed have been blamed for killing and raping thousands of civilians, and destroying homes, wells and cropland. According to prevalent estimates, some 50,000 people have been killed in the last 19 months. The UN estimates that nearly 1.5 million more are internally displaced and another 200,000 are refugees in neighbouring Chad. A total of 2 million people require humanitarian assistance.

The carnage in Darfur has aroused world attention and has prompted a number of UN Security Council actions. Concerned that Sudan has not fully met its obligations to protect civilians, disarm the Janjaweed militia and bring to justice those who have carried out the atrocities, the Council in September said that it would consider taking additional measures, including oil sanctions, against Sudan if necessary.

Describing the resolution as a "fatal blow," Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail characterized the conflict as an uprising by rebels and a dispute among tribes, caused in part by an increase in population, livestock and the encroachment of deserts. On 1 October, the Sudanese government agreed to allow up to 3,500 AU troops to go to Darfur.

The UN is supporting the African Union's efforts to strengthen operations in all parts of Darfur to protect civilians. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the international community to assist the expansion of the AU's mission and emphasized that its strengthened presence requires substantial international resources and logistical support.

Senegal honoured with human rights award

In September, the International League for Human Rights (ILHR) bestowed its annual human rights award on Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. Established in 1941, the ILHR is an independent advocacy group that promotes human rights across the globe.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, in New York, proposes a world summit on Islamic-Christian dialogue.
Photo :Africa Renewal/Ernest Harsch

Receiving the award at a ceremony in New York, President Wade said that he accepted it on behalf of the Senegalese people, who have long fought to enshrine the principles of human rights and democracy. Mr. Wade himself was a long-time opposition leader who attained the presidency in 2000 following democratic elections. He noted that the new Senegalese constitution adopted in 2001 incorporates respect for basic human rights into the country's highest legal instrument. These include recognizing the equality of women and men in the workplace, as well as the right of women to own land and other property. A bill has just been submitted to parliament to formally abolish the death penalty.

Beyond his own country, President Wade said, the continent as a whole must adopt high human rights standards, in the spirit of the New Partnership for Africa's Development. "Africa should be built by respecting human rights." Shortly before the awards ceremony, he announced that his country is organizing a world summit in 2006 on "Islamic-Christian dialogue," to bring together political leaders from around the world to promote tolerance and cross-cultural interchange.

Locusts threaten West African harvests

A bumper harvest was originally expected in West Africa this season, but a substantial portion may be destroyed by swarms of locusts that have deluged North and West Africa, the worst infestation in that region for 15 years. The locusts could not have come at a worse time for the arid nations in the Sahel region, which had endured three years of drought before ample rains came this year.

The good rains created ideal breeding conditions for the locusts. Although the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) began to warn of the impending locust danger earlier in the year, governments responded slowly, and by mid-September some 3-4 mn hectares of land were infested by the locusts. Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Niger are the countries most at risk of heavy locust damage, reports the nine-member Inter-State Committee to Fight Drought in the Sahel. "The maximum losses likely in a scenario where the desert locust situation is not brought under control are estimated at 25 per cent of the overall production in the region."

The FAO has called for $100 mn in international assistance to control the swarms. But by September the countries had received pledges for only a third of the amount, while just 300,000 hectares of the land under siege could be treated.

In Mauritania alone, 1.6 mn hectares have been laid fallow by the swarms. In Mali, officials estimate that the swarms will destroy 1 mn tonnes of its grain crop - about a third of the nation's food supply. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who has declared war on the locusts, warns that they could cause up to $500 mn of damage to agricultural production in his country.

Aided by the wind, locust swarms can travel for up to 200 kilometres a day. A single tonne of locusts (a small proportion of an average swarm) eats as much food as 2,500 people in a day. The locusts multiply rapidly and increase 10-fold from one generation to the next. Swarm sizes range from one square kilometre to hundreds of square kilometres, consisting of several billion locusts.

"Locusts don't respect political boundaries, so it is essential that the countries in the region work closely together to tackle this emergency," says FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. The agency has been assisting 11 countries in the region to fight the swarm invasions.

Zambia declares AIDS 'emergency'

The government of Zambia declared a five-year HIV/AIDS "emergency" in early September. According to the authorities, the move is designed to permit the manufacture of cheaper anti-retroviral medicines (ARVs) to counter the effects of the disease, Reginald Ntomba reports from Lusaka. With one out of every five Zambians aged 15­49 estimated to be HIV-positive, there has been considerable pressure on the government to make ARV therapy more widely available to those living with the disease.

The emergency declaration was required under the terms of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on intellectual property rights, which permits the importation and manufacture of generic medicines in the event of a national health crisis. The Zambian government has agreed that it will not seek to export such generic ARVs to other countries.

Zambia has already begun preparations for the local manufacture of ARVs, with technical assistance from Cuba. According to Minister of Health Brain Chituwo, Cuban specialists are seeking to ensure that the locally produced ARVs are suitable for public distribution.

Anti-AIDS activists have welcomed the move, saying it will help reduce the costs of ARVs, currently at about US$8 per person per month in government hospitals and higher at private clinics. "It's not just having [access]. We need affordable and effective drugs. We need a guarantee that they would be available and cheap," said Mr. Raymond Mwanza of the Network of Zambian People Living with HIV/AIDS.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Africa Renewal that the government wants "to ensure that the poor are not deprived" of access to ARVs. The government is extending its provision of ARVs from provincial and district hospitals to community health centres, the spokesperson said. He also noted that the authorities are planning to allocate additional spending to train more personnel to handle ARVs and provide other treatment for the opportunistic infections associated with HIV/AIDS.