African debt, Afghan voter violence, and post-Brexit Britain: The Cheat Sheet

African debt, Afghan voter violence, and post-Brexit Britain: The Cheat Sheet

Mixed messages on FGM

Female Genital Mutilation, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, is a ritual in many societies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. It can lead to chronic pain, menstrual problems, cysts and some potentially life-threatening infections, among other complications. FGM rates among African children have shown “huge and significant decline” over the last two decades, a study by BMJ Global Health announced this week. East Africa has seen the biggest drop, from 71 percent in 1995 to eight percent in 2016. In North Africa, prevalence fell from nearly 60 percent in 1990 to 14 percent in 2015, and in West Africa rates dropped from 74 percent in 1996 to about 25 percent in 2017. But while campaigners welcomed the news, some advised caution saying FGM also affects teenagers and women not analysed in the study, meaning the overall numbers could still be far higher. And In February, the UN warned that the number of women predicted to be mutilated each year could rise from here to 4.6 million by 2030.

 

 

Conflict  South Sudan peace deal: ‘Whose power are they sharing anyway?’

Conflict South Sudan peace deal: ‘Whose power are they sharing anyway?’

More than four million South Sudanese, a third of the country’s population, have been forced to flee their homes during the last five years. Without an effort to include their views – not just those of the country’s political elite – lasting peace will be difficult to achieve.

The signing in September of a new peace agreement between the government of President Salva Kiir, the main rebel leader Riek Machar, and other opposition forces has been called a milestone.

But while it is a welcome development, many among South Sudan’s 2.5 million refugees and 1.8 million internally displaced are deeply frustrated about the process and feel increasingly left behind.

Displaced people are among those most affected by the ongoing crisis, yet, very often, they feel the least included in the decisions that impact their lives.

Through distinct but similar research, our organizations, the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), interviewed more than 200 South Sudanese civilians over the past 10 months, most of them displaced in South Sudan, Uganda, and Ethiopia.

Many of those we met blamed their leaders for prioritising rent-seeking over peace, and for digging in rather than seeking compromises.

“Our leaders are not after peace, but after positions,” said one displaced woman in Wau in northwestern South Sudan.

One of the most commonly voiced contentions was that the leadership was more focused on power-sharing and self-enrichment than on addressing the root causes of violence, like local tensions, governance failures, and corruption.

Many people, for example, said they resented the plan for five vice-presidents. As a refugee in Uganda asked: “whose power are they sharing anyway?”

‘They have interests’

While the new Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) had not yet been signed at the time of our research (between September 2017 and July 2018), respondents were highly critical of the peace process. That effort was led first by the East African regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and then by member states Sudan and Uganda.

Many people expressed frustration with both the mediation process and the South Sudanese political leadership participating in the talks.

“Our leaders are not after peace, but after positions.”

Refugees in Ethiopia, for example, strongly accused IGAD of bias, pointing to the exclusion of Machar in the first phase of the talks. Respondents elsewhere blamed IGAD for the collapse of the original deal signed in 2015, saying it had failed to follow through on implementation and punish those hindering the process.

Regional interests were seen as trumping conflict resolution initiatives; questions were raised about Uganda’s dual role as both peace mediator and party to the conflict when it sent troops to South Sudan after the outbreak of violence in 2013.

One refugee in Uganda commented: “IGAD has issues with neutrality and confidence among actors. Some IGAD countries are involved in the war in South Sudan. They have interests.”

Those we interviewed also complained about a lack of access to information and an inability to voice their views. Many felt disconnected from the elite-driven peace process, which they said lacked significant citizen participation.

A small number of refugee representatives were invited to attend portions of the High-Level Revitalization Forum, in which the new deal was brokered, but they were limited to observer status.

Some felt represented through civil society organisations or politicians – refugees in Ethiopia, for example, expressed strong support for former – and future – vice-president Machar – but others noted the shortcomings in the legitimacy or leverage of these delegates.

Because so little information filtered down to ordinary South Sudanese, rumours dominated local discussions, people told us, filling the information vacuum with unverified, word-of-mouth accounts that further muddied the picture.

Many of the people we interviewed called for a wider dialogue but said this should ideally take place after the security situation had improved and with more inclusive conditions than the existing National Dialogue.

The National Dialogue was announced by President Kiir in December 2016 and consisted of a series of consultations in South Sudan and – to a limited extent – neighbouring countries. The process was controversial from the start, seen both as a tool of the Kiir government and a competitor to the IGAD-led peace efforts.

Going home

While some displaced South Sudanese said they might try to go home if and when a peace deal was signed, the majority were apprehensive and wanted to see more concrete signs of progress before making risky returns.

Respondents mentioned several failed peace agreements and their lack of implementation. Many said the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement – which ushered in South Sudan’s independence in 2011 – was the only accord implemented successfully.

“This time round, IGAD must learn from experience,” one IDP recommended. “They should try to put in place everything it takes to protect the agreement, and those who try to go against it must be punished.”

The current peace agreement, however, has no built-in sanction mechanisms and keeps several provisions that were problematic in the past, including the oft-criticised monitoring bodies from the 2015 deal.

The signing of the new agreement may be a milestone event, but what does it really mean for the millions of people still displaced?

The clear outcome of our research is that the only way people will feel confident about the peace process is if those in charge commit to implementing all the provisions of the new agreement, including those on security, government reform, and accountability.

Displaced citizens must be properly informed about the peace deal and more closely connected to its implementation and monitoring.

This starts with better communication – disseminating the provisions of the peace agreement to people who are vulnerable and displaced – but should ultimately lead to a new nationwide dialogue that includes all ordinary citizens in planning South Sudan’s future.

Only the feeling of being involved will end the sense of alienation and allow those most affected by the war to start imagining a more positive future, which is the surest way to engage them in the political process and in turn reduce the risk of renewed conflict.

Empowering and Powering Women

Empowering and Powering Women

Advancing the full participation of women and girls in the political, economic, and social realms of their countries is a key goal of U.S. foreign policy[i]. As such, promoting gender equality and female empowerment is a critical component of Power Africa. Power Africa seeks to support projects, programs and policies that intentionally strive to reduce gender inequalities and promote effective engagement of both men and women in sub-Saharan Africa.

A Gender Integrated Approach

The discourse around gender and energy often focuses on women as underserved end-users. Power Africa strives to look beyond this vision, seeing women as vital actors within the energy sector at large. It is Power Africa’s expectation that women be represented as policy makers within national and regional governments, as executives of private sector partners, as managers within power sector utilities, as employees of generation plants and transmission and distribution systems, as entrepreneurism within nascent renewable energy enterprises, and finally as customers of electricity services. By taking a sector-wide approach to gender integration, Power Africa aims to meet the energy needs of the underserved, while creating opportunities for women throughout the energy value chain.

Women in African Power

Launched by Power Africa, Women in African Power is a network aimed at promoting the participation and elevating the presence of women in Africa’s energy sector. Women in African Power is made up of a diverse group of women leaders and emerging leaders, representing government, private sector, civil society, and academia. The network provides a regional platform for networking, information exchange, mentorship, and exposure to new business opportunities.

Ilhan Omar, a candidate for State Representative for Minnesota

Ilhan Omar, a candidate for State Representative for Minnesota

Although the U.S. did not elect its first female president Tuesday night, one woman still made history.

Former refugee Ilhan Omar, who proudly wears the hijab, became America’s first Somali-American Muslim woman legislator after she claimed a strong victory in the Minnesota House race.

The 34-year-old moved to the U.S. at the age of 12, after four years living in a Kenyan refugee camp following her escape from the Somali civil war, the Star Tribune reports. As well as her political duties, she is director of policy at Women Organizing Women Network—a group that aims to empower all women, particularly first and second generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.