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African Union must whip Burundi into line PDF Print E-mail
By Bernard Mpofu   
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 07:16

ONE of the biggest tragedies in post-colonial Africa has been the failure by its people and leaders alike to call a spade a spade.
President Robert Mugabe is expected to bow out as African Union (AU) chairperson at a time when Burundi has become a regional hotspot that has left children and women living in fear.
Burundi has become another case projecting a contested narrative of ineffective peer review mechanisms in Africa.
Sadly regional blocs are now seen as dictators’ talk shows. For how long should discerning Burundians continue to be harassed, intimidated and tortured for speaking truth to power before regional leaders take the bull by its horns?
Calls for a well-trained AU force will become much louder after Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza threatened to repel African Union (AU) peacekeepers if they are deployed to the country. The AU announced last month that it would send 5 000 troops to protect civilians in the country, even without the government’s consent.
Political upheaval and systematic killings by security forces and armed opposition have left many petrified, after demonstrations broke out last April in response to Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third electoral term. The decimation of civilians escalated after July’s disputed polls which the incumbent won. Since then, Burundi has never known peace. And Africa is watching.
Whether or not the chair of the AU is symbolic is a debate for another day. While alive to the geopolitics of the Great Lakes and attendant risks awaiting AU forces when they set foot in Burundi, one thing that is apparent is Mugabe - who hands over the proverbial baton stick to Chad president Idriss Deby - should be more vocal on the Burundi issue to save lives.
A country can fight until the end of time to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty but human life is and will always be sacred. Mugabe should unequivocally express his impatience with Burundi lest the invisible hand may take up matters and before long, Burundi slides into a failed state.
The unpalatable situation presents an opportunity for contemporary African leaders to re-write history.
If the deployment sails through, it would be the first time the AU has used its power to deploy a force without a country’s consent. Mugabe and other African leaders must stand up and be counted.
Through bickering and developing cold feet Africa is not only denying its people to be part of the history making but depriving them of dignity as well.
As Mugabe bids farewell to Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and the AU secretariat, Nkurunziza who dispatched a special envoy to Harare in an attempt to stall the deployment of AU force should be called to order. He should be held accountable for human life losses and respect the AU Charter, lest the regional body becomes irrelevant. Any contrary development will be a betrayal to millions that call this continent home.

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Ethiopia: Land for Sale? PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 18 January 2016 08:05

Just a few decades ago, Ethiopia was a country defined by its famines, particularly between 1983-1985 when in excess of half a million people starved to death as a consequence of drought, crop failure and a brutal civil war.
Against this backdrop, it is impressive that in recent years, Ethiopia has been experiencing stellar economic growth. The headline statistics are certainly remarkable: the country is creating millionaires faster than any other in Africa; output from farming, Ethiopia’s dominant industry, has tripled in a decade; the capital Addis Ababa is experiencing a massive construction boom; and the last six years have seen the nation’s GDP grow by a staggering 108 percent.
But it is not all positive news, because for all the good figures there are still plenty of bad ones.
Around 90 percent of the population of 87 million still suffers from numerous deprivations, ranging from insufficient access to education to inadequate health care; average incomes are still well below $1500 a year; and millions of people still face chronic food shortages.
And while there are a number of positive and genuine reasons for the growth spurt - business and legislative reforms, more professional governance, the achievements of a thriving service sector - many critics say that the growth seen in agriculture, which accounts for almost half of Ethiopia’s economic activity and a great deal of its recent success, is actually being driven by an out of control ‘land grab', as  multinational companies and private speculators vie to lease millions of acres of the country’s most fertile territory from the government at bargain basement prices.
At the ministry of agriculture in Addis Ababa, this land-lease programme is often described as a "win-win" because it brings in new technologies and employment and, supposedly, makes it easier to improve health care, education and other services in rural areas.
"Ethiopia needs to develop to fight poverty, increase food supplies and improve livelihoods and is doing so in a sustainable way," said one official.
But according to a host of NGO’s and policy advocates, including Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute, the true consequences of the land grabs are almost all negative. They say that in order to make such huge areas available for foreign investors to grow foodstuffs and bio-fuels for export - and in direct contravention of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law - the authorities are displacing hundreds of thousands of indigenous peoples, abusing their human rights, destroying their traditions, trashing the environment, and making them more dependent on food aid than ever before.
"The benefits for the local populations are very little," said renowned Ethiopian sociologist Dessalegn Rahmato. "They’ve taken away their land. They’ve taken away their natural resource, because these investors are clearing the land, destroying the forest, cutting down the trees. The government claims that one of the aims of this investment was to enable local areas to benefit by investing in infrastructure, social services … but these benefits are not included in the contract. It's only left up to the magnanimity of the investor."
And those investors, he continued, are simply not interested in anything other than serving their own needs: "They can grow any crop they want, when they want it, they can sell in any market they want, whether it’s a global market or a local market. In fact most of them are not interested in the local markets.”
He cited as an example a massive Saudi-owned plantation in the fertile Gambella region of south west Ethiopia, a prime target area for investors: "They have 10,000 hectares and they are producing rice. This rice is going to be exported to the Middle East, to Saudi Arabia and other places. The local people in that area don’t eat rice."
But the most controversial element of the government’s programme is known as 'villagisation' - the displacement of people from land they have occupied for generations and their subsequent resettlement in artificial communities.
In Gambella, where two ethnic groups, the Anuaks and the Nuers, predominate, it has meant tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon a traditional way of life. One such is Moot, an Anuak farmer who now lives in a government village far from his home.
"When investors showed up, we were told to pack up our things and to go to the village. If we had decided not to go, they would have destroyed our crops, our houses and our belongings. We couldn't even claim compensation because the government decided that those lands belonged to the investors. We were scared … if you get upset and say that someone stole your land, you are put in prison. If you complain about being arrested, they will kill you. It's not our land anymore; we have been deprived of our rights."
Despite growing internal opposition and international criticism, the Ethiopian government shows no sign of scaling the programme back. According to the Oakland Institute, since 2008, an area the size of France has already been handed over to foreign corporations. Over the next few years an area twice that size is thought to be earmarked for leasing to investors.

(Al Jazeera)

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A tale of no competition II PDF Print E-mail
By Mekonnen Megerssa   
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 06:41

After reading your piece appeared on your Society page of your January 3, 2016 edition, I wanted to write this letter. As a customer of the service provider, I am a victim whereas as a citizen, I wish and demand things within the telecom industry to improve.
Your article headlined ‘A Tale of no Competition’, did raise the concern of the majority of ethio-telecom’s customers including me. As clearly put in the article, the monopoly of the sector by one operator takes the lion’s share of the blame I also believe. I understand the fact that ethio-telecom is one of the giant state owned companies which generates more money for the state. That is one factor for the government not to liberalize the sector I think. The ‘sensitivity’ of the sector is another reason that seems to make the sector unthinkable to be opened for competition.
I am not sure whether the second factor can be a fair reason not to liberalize the sector. But regarding the first one, I argue it cannot be a reason.  To have a look at researches conducted on the area is enough. Researches that ethio-telecom officials are well aware of clearly show how much money the country could generate from the sector by simply liberalizing the sector.
Some researchers predict that the country can gain more than ten folds simply from tax if it liberalizes its telecom sector. However, the government has been resistant to do so. Hence, one thing remains inevitable. It is the hefty problem we customers are encountered each day.
Last week, I recharged my account a balance of 50 ETB and gave a call for a friend. The total call history was 42 seconds. When I try another call after about five minutes, I was asked to recharge it gain. What I did during the five minutes was just to use an internet. I did not even download any video or so. I have no idea how this can be explained. I wonder if the operator can explain this.
I was also informed recently that ethio-telecom officials had to meet disappointed customers two weeks ago particularly those working on internet cafés. The meeting, which was held in Elilly International Hotel, was meant to apologize subscribers over a mistakenly collected charge.  Many were really disappointed over the unusual and skyrocketed charging. Indeed, it was another headache to the internet café owners who have remained upset over the poor quality services of 3G/4G networks in the capital. Some were even on the verge of quitting the business following an alarming increase in monthly charges for the service they get. Fortunately, it was not an increase in charging. Ethio-telecom confessed that it was a mistake. The officials did also apologize the ‘inconvenience’ and promised to refund the money from the customers. Ethio-telecom collected millions of extra birr which resulted in a failure of its billing system. Those with complaints are told to call 994 and claim their money.
Personally, I appreciate the fact that ethio-telecom admitted its failure and prepared itself to return the money it collected mistakenly. This is a bit uncommon culture in our public services. But admitting failures and asking for apologies alone is not enough. The bigger picture- offering quality service with reasonable price- should in no way be forgotten.
Banks have also been among the victims of being unable to satisfy their customers because of the poor quality services from ethio-telecom. When one wants to go to a bank, he/she goes with 50/50 possibility of accessing his/her own money. “Sorry, there is no network’ is the one thing that comes to the minds of customers while thinking about collecting their own money from their bank. In addition to the internal system failures, the poor service from ethio-telecom is at the forefront of the blames. The banks have been trying to minimize their own internal problems by procuring new servers and other inputs. But they have not yet done with the external problem which is coming from the sole telecom operator of the country.
The inconvenience with ATM machines has also been common in which customers cannot rely on it. Though customers may have a share in the blame as they sometimes misuse their ATMs, the majority of the complaints are laid at the feet of ethio – telecom. All these problems are caused by the billing system problem.
There is an inspirational statement from your article that reads “bad service equals unhappy customer and unhappy customer equals a customer that moves on to bigger things. It is that simple,” I really wish. But as a telecom service user in Ethiopia, unhappy customer does not equal a customer that moves on. It equals a customer who is desperate but has nowhere to go. That is what is happening.
How long can we afford to tolerate such an ‘inconvenience’? The more this ‘inconvenience’ occurs, the more we lose trust over the billing. Addressing the quality of the service is also something which no one wants to tolerate anymore. One of the biggest projects in the history of the country’s telecom industry, the 1.6 Bln USD Telecom Expansion Project, is already put into commercial usage. This, I believe, has to minimize the ‘inconveniences’.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 13 January 2016 06:41
 
Eight lessons from the Paris climate change conference PDF Print E-mail
By Alex Morales   
Monday, 28 December 2015 08:10

It took years of careful planning by the United Nations and the 195 countries involved to reach the historic deal on climate change agreed in Paris, France.
With so many parties involved in highly technical and political discussions about how to limit emissions from fuels that drive their economies, it’s remarkable anything is ever agreed.
The last time envoys attempted such a sweeping deal, the meeting in Copenhagen in 2009 dissolved in finger pointing over who should do what to combat global warming.
Here are the eight lessons the UN and key delegates involved in brokering the Paris deal learned from Copenhagen that led to the success this year:
1. Make it voluntary
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was a legally binding treaty setting limits for emissions of greenhouse gases but only for industrial nations. After signing the deal, the US backed out because developing nations had no obligations, leaving Kyoto covering just 37 mostly European nations and 12 per cent of global emissions.
The Paris deal reaped pledges from 186 nations by making the system essentially voluntary. That meant more were willing to sign up, even the U.S.
The new approach has proved a “game-changer,” Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
2. Prepare the ground
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his team made more than 100 official visits and held more than 400 bilateral meetings with 140 different countries over the past two years. Half of those meetings were at the level of presidents and prime ministers.
“I’m impressed with Fabius’s leadership,” said International Emissions Trading Association chief executive Dirk Forrister, a climate adviser in US president Bill Clinton’s administration.
“His sheer presence and seriousness and experience helped to provide some discipline.”
3. The big players need to agree
It’s a deal uniting 195 countries, but the US and China are the most important since they account for 35 per cent of emissions. The two countries didn’t coordinate positions in Copenhagen, where China stood with Brazil, India and South Africa in wanting to preserve distinctions in the way the talks deal with rich and poor nations.
In 2009, President Barack Obama had to force his way into a meeting of that bloc to have his voice heard. This time, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping came to an agreement in November 2014, spurring other developing nations to join in on taking action.
“The United States has invested enormously in a better dialog with China and the other major economies,” said Global Green Growth Institute director-general Yvo de Boer, who as UN climate chief in 2009 oversaw the failed talks.
4. Choreography counts
Almost 150 heads of state and government attended the December 1 opening of the summit in the biggest single-day gathering of world leaders in history. Their job? To provide the political momentum and then get out of the way. In Copenhagen, more than 100 leaders came at the end of the conference, paralysing the work of lower-level envoys who are experts in the forensics of treaty negotiation.
“All the negotiators had to babysit the ministers and at the same time their heads of state, so they didn’t have any time to spare for the actual negotiations,” Japanese envoy Kuni Shimada said of the 2009 meeting.
5. Atmospherics matter
Logistical snafus in Copenhagen helped poison the atmosphere of the talks. There were long lines to accredit and pass through security, leaving many negotiators standing in the cold while it snowed. The French ensured the little things worked. The food was a notch above previous meetings, with pastries and bottles of Mouton Cadet reserve wine. Water stations were ubiquitous, and the toilets were clean. Shuttle buses ran like clockwork and public transport was free. During the final days, daybeds came in handy for tired delegates shuffling between round-the-clock sessions.
6. Learn from past approaches
France used the tactics that worked at previous climate conferences. They copied a formula from the meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010 by using pairs of ministers from developed and developing countries to help work through the thorniest topics. They held open informal meetings open to all negotiators called “indabas,” named for a traditional gathering of village elders that South Africa first used with great success in Durban in 2011. And they brought on board Claudia Salerno, one of the envoys who helped sink the Copenhagen deal, to work on a part of the text.
“Engaging former critics is what good diplomacy is all about,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton adviser.
7. Transparency is essential
In Copenhagen, the Danish presidency that ran the meeting picked a group of countries to work on an accord. The countries left out lost trust in the process, accusing the hosts of drawing up a “secret text.” France was careful to include everyone at each stage; logistically difficult but politically necessary.
“When we’ve seen the presidency straying from the right path, we’ve immediately told them, and they’ve listened and corrected,” said Salerno from Venezuela. In Copenhagen, she called the Danish efforts “a coup d’etat” on the UN charter.
8. Involve business
Companies were given a portal to register their own efforts to slash emissions, making them far more supportive than in Copenhagen. More than 2400 companies and investors have posted pledges so far. Ultimately, it’s business that will have to deliver many of the emissions cuts and technological solutions to climate change, so involving industry made reaching a deal seem possible or even desirable.
“In Copenhagen business was more bad cop than good cop,” said Ikea Group chief sustainability officer Steve Howard. “Now it’s more good cop than bad cop”g

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What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned PDF Print E-mail
By Naomi Klein   
Thursday, 17 December 2015 05:48

Whose security gets protected by any means necessary? Whose security is casually sacrificed, despite the means to do so much better? Those are the questions at the heart of the climate crisis, and the answers are the reason climate summits so often end in acrimony and tears.
The French government’s decision to ban protests, marches and other “outdoor activities” during the Paris climate summit is disturbing on many levels. The one that preoccupies me most has to do with the way it reflects the fundamental inequity of the climate crisis itself – and that core question of whose security is ultimately valued in our lopsided world.
Here is the first thing to understand. The people facing the worst impacts of climate change have virtually no voice in western debates about whether to do anything serious to prevent catastrophic global warming. Huge climate summits like the one coming up in Paris are rare exceptions. For just two weeks every few years, the voices of the people who are getting hit first and worst get a little bit of space to be heard at the place where fateful decisions are made. That’s why Pacific islanders and Inuit hunters and low-income people of colour from places like New Orleans travel for thousands of miles to attend. The expense is enormous, in both dollars and carbon, but being at the summit is a precious chance to speak about climate change in moral terms and to put a human face to this unfolding catastrophe.
The next thing to understand is that even in these rare moments, frontline voices do not have enough of a platform in the official climate meetings, in which the microphone is dominated by governments and large, well-funded green groups. The voices of ordinary people are primarily heard in grassroots gatherings parallel to the summit, as well as in marches and protests, which in turn attract media coverage. Now the French government has decided to take away the loudest of these megaphones, claiming that securing marches would compromise its ability to secure the official summit zone where politicians will meet.
Some say this is all fair game against the backdrop of terror. But a UN climate summit is not like a meeting of the G8 or the World Trade Organisation, where the powerful meet and the powerless try to crash their party. Parallel “civil society” events are not an addendum to, or distractions from, the main event. They are integral to the process. Which is why the French government should never have been allowed to decide which parts of the summit it would cancel and which it would still hold.
Rather, after the horrific attacks of 13 November, it needed to determine whether it had the will and capacity to host the whole summit – with full participation from civil society, including in the streets. If it could not, it should have delayed and asked another country to step in. Instead the Hollande government has made a series of decisions that reflect a very particular set of values and priorities about who and what will get the full security protection of the state. Yes to world leaders, football matches and Christmas markets; no to climate marches and protests pointing out that the negotiations, with the current level of emission targets, endanger the lives and livelihoods of millions if not billions of people.
And who knows where this will end? Should we expect the UN to arbitrarily revoke the credentials of half the civil society participants? Those most likely to make trouble inside the fortressed summit? I would not be at all surprised.
It is worth thinking about what the decision to cancel marches and protests means in real, as well as symbolic, terms. Climate change is a moral crisis because every time governments of wealthy nations fail to act, it sends a message that we in the global north are putting our immediate comfort and economic security ahead of the suffering and survival of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on Earth. The decision to ban the most important spaces where the voices of climate-impacted people would have been heard is a dramatic expression of this profoundly unethical abuse of power: once again, a wealthy western country is putting security for elites ahead of the interests of those fighting for survival. Once again, the message is: our security is non-negotiable, yours is up for grabs.
One further thought. I write these words from Stockholm, where I have been doing a series of climate-related public events. When I arrived, the press was having a field day with a tweet sent by Sweden’s environment minister, Åsa Romson. Shortly after news broke of the attacks in Paris, she tweeted her outrage and sadness at the loss of life. Then she tweeted that she thought it would be bad news for the climate summit, a thought that occurred to everyone I know who is in any way connected to this environmental moment. Yet she was pilloried for her supposed insensitivity – how could she be thinking about climate change at a time of such carnage?
The reaction was revealing, since it took for granted the notion that climate change is a minor issue, a cause without real casualties, frivolous even. Especially when serious issues like war and terrorism are taking centre stage. It made me think about something the writer Rebecca Solnit wrote not long ago: “climate change is violence.”
It is. Some of the violence is grindingly slow: rising seas that gradually erase whole nations, and droughts that kill many thousands. Some of the violence is terrifyingly fast: storms with names such as Katrina and Haiyan that steal thousands of lives in a single roiling event. When governments and corporations knowingly fail to act to prevent catastrophic warming, that is an act of violence. It is a violence so large, so global and inflicted against so many temporalities simultaneously (ancient cultures, present lives, future potential) that there is not yet a word capable of containing its monstrousness. And using acts of violence to silence the voices of those who are most vulnerable to climate violence is yet more violence.
In explaining why forthcoming football matches would go on as scheduled, France’s secretary of state for sport said: “Life must go on.” Indeed it must. That’s why I joined the climate justice movement. Because when governments and corporations fail to act in a way that reflects the value of all of life on Earth, they must be protested.

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