uganda_child_soldiers
Fighting between the M23 Rebel Group and the Democratic Republic of Congo government has contributed to the ongoing violent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC.) However, a group of 1,400 M23 rebels fighting in eastern Congo along the Ugandan border, surrendered last week to the Ugandan military. The group surrendered after the Congolese FARDC (Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo) forces, working alongside the United Nation Intervention Brigade, forced the M23 rebels to wave the white flag.

Upon initial screening, 46 children were discovered among the M23 rebel fighters. In fact, the Associate External Relations Officer for the UNHCR Mbarara, sub-office, Lucy Beck explained that upon screening, the children were found to be civilians. Ms. Beck urged the importance of bringing these innocent, orphaned soldiers to safety, away from war conditions and no longer subject them to further forced fighting. She explained, “They are all unaccompanied minors and as such need special attention and protection.” The 46 children are being given refugee services.

Upon surrendering, the group was transported to the Kasese district in Uganda and is currently held under military watch. Rumors have circulated concerning the desire of the Congolese officials for the Ugandan government to hand over Sultani Makenga, the leader of the M23 rebels. However, Ofwono Opondo, a Ugandan government spokesman said he is not aware the DRC is seeking out this option. Opondo further explained that Uganda will not be handing over the remaining confined fighters until a peace deal between the M23 rebels and the Congolese government is signed.

Last week, both the M23 Rebel group and the DRC government came together intending to sign the desired peace agreement. Unfortunately, the DRC government ended up calling off the signing due to a particular disagreement concerning the terms and conditions on which to sign.

At this point, handing over the remaining surrendered fighters from military confinement to refugee status is an event that will not be discussed until a peace treaty is signed. Lucy Beck explained, “as an organization, our duty is to the asylum-seekers and refugees we serve. For this reason we can’t discuss individual cases (Sultani Makenga)—even to confirm or deny whether someone has filed an application with us. I am sure you can understand this is for the protection of the individuals themselves.”

With that said, the influx of refugees into Uganda is already very high. There are currently 236,000 Congolese refugees in Uganda, and that number is growing. Although it is not expected that the surrendered M23 rebels be handed over to the United Nations, it is an issue that concerns the refugee systems in Uganda.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: New Vision, Nam News Network,
Photo: Yes I Care

ugandaschools
One of the nonprofit leaders in global health education, Child Family Health International, announced it will extend its educational programs to Uganda, starting in 2014.

Since 1992, Child Family Health International  has worked at the grassroots level to promote global health by addressing community-specific needs. The program places health profession students along native community physicians in developing countries to better understand the reality of global health.  As of now, Child Family Health International has programs in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, India, Mexico and South Africa. The organization is known for its approach of developing innovative ways to provide quality healthcare in impoverished, resource-poor communities.

Child Family Health International’s Executive Director, Dr. Jessica Evert, explained the unique nature of the program site in Uganda. “We are partnering with a self-identified ‘activated community’ that is working at the grassroots level to address multifaceted interactions between poverty, ill health, lack of education and the need for empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa.”  These programs in Uganda focus on nutrition, sustainable agriculture and HIV and women’s/children’s health.

A recent study of the organization’s impacts, featured in American Association of Medical College’s Journal of Academic Medicine, shows improvement in understanding of culture, public health, community medicine and the overall struggle in achieving global health. This small, yet unique, program, tackles the issue head on and through the efforts of education, gives aid to communities and people in need.

– Sonia Aviv 
Sources: All AfricaChild Family Health InternationalWorld Health Organization
Photo: Global Highered

Global_Citizen_Festival_2013
Music is a powerful medium that spreads messages cross borders, cultures, and language barriers. Music is something people absolutely love and over which they get passionate. In addition to music’s utility of the auditory sense, live music provides for engagement of all the senses. What better environment to raise consciousness about an important cause, than when the audience is voluntarily, and ultimately thoroughly, engaged in the message being sent to them?

The cause to which I am referring is Global Poverty Project, an international education and advocacy humanitarian organization working to end global poverty. The Global Poverty Project is an Australian-based organization led by Hugh Evans–a man who has become a significant voice for the movement.

Global Citizen is an awareness raising online platform, which allows users to earn points by sharing information. In turn, users earn points, and can use their points to bid on live entertainment events, such as Global Citizen Festival.

The Global Citizen Festival takes place in Central Park in New York City. The 2nd Global Citizen Festival took place on September 28, 2013. The Global Citizens Tickets initiative motivated most of the concertgoers to earn their tickets by raising awareness about global poverty.

The concert is presented by Cotton on Foundation, an organization which has notably built the best performing schools in Uganda and has contributed significantly to educational needs in Africa.

According to the Global Citizen Festival website, more progress has been made over the past thirteen years than ever before. Amazingly, the end of poverty is within reach. The Global Poverty Project is based on four main goals: education, health, women’s equality, and global partnerships. The project understands change can only occur if world leaders are notified and asked to support these goals.

According to the site, 57 million children are denied basic schooling services. The goal is to provide schooling by 2015. In the health sector, the main goal is to have 1 million quality community health workers by 2015. The project’s women equality goal is to recognize women’s and girls’ equality as a priority and take measures to support that equality. Goals involving global partnership emphasize gathering support from public and private organizations in a commitment to end global poverty by 2030.

The 2nd annual Global Citizen Festival was a success. Well-known artists John Mayer, Kings of Leon, Alicia Keys, and Stevie Wonder headlined the five-and-a-half hour concert. Notably, this year, the project campaigned for policy changes in the core areas of education, women’s equality, and reproductive health.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: Global Citizen, New York Times, Forbes
Photo: NY Daily News

obama_power_africa
Eighty-five percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa does not have access to electricity. In July 2013, President Barack Obama announced the Power Africa five-year initiative as a way of doubling access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.

Power Africa is a partnership between the U.S. government, international and African partners, as well as the private sector. The initiative will begin in six priority countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania. Additionally, Power Africa will partner with Uganda and Mozambique on responsible oil and gas resources management.

Over the next five years, the U.S. government will commit over $7 billion to the effort through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), and the U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF).

 

[big_box left=”of people” bellow=”in sub-Saharan Africa, do not have electricity.”]85%[/big_box]

The private sector has committed $9 billion to date. Some examples include General Electric, Heirs Holding, Symbion Power, Aldwych International, Harith General Partners, Husk Power Systems, and The African Finance Corporation.

Through these partnerships, Power Africa will take a comprehensive approach to providing accessible power to Africa. The initiative will include policy and regulatory best practices, pre-feasibility support, capacity building, long-term financing, political insurance, guarantees, credit enhancements and technical assistance.

Power Africa has already seen success in Nigeria. In September, the Government of Nigeria (GON) announced the liberation of the power sector. Through support from the Power Africa initiative, the power companies were handed over to the private sector. The transfer occurred from the presidential handover of the Licenses and Share Certificates to the new owners of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) successor generation and distribution companies. Power Africa will continue to work with the GON to ensure a seamless transfer of management in efforts to guarantee Nigerian households access to power. Additionally, Power Africa is encouraging the GON to implement measures of sustainability through adequate transmission, gas availability, and a cost reflective tariff.

Access to electrical power is essential for sustainable economic growth and development. At least 20 million new households and commercial entities will gain access to electricity through Power Africa efforts. However, sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030.  Only with greater public and private sector investments can the promise of Power Africa be realized.

– Caressa Kruth

Sources: USAID, White House, African Development Bank Group
Photo: Breitbart

Uganda High School Contraception Women Reproductive Rights
In an effort to reduce the number of women who die from maternal complications, Uganda’s government is considering a plan to provide contraception to every Ugandan women between the ages of 14 and 18.

In Uganda, an estimated 16 women die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. For every woman who dies, an additional 15 women develop complications, such as fistulas. These statistics make it unlikely that Uganda will achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent by the 2015 deadline.

During a meeting organized by the Ugandan health ministry earlier this month, Sarah Opendi, the state minister for primary health care, said it was “unethical” to allow Uganda’s female citizens to continue to die from easily preventable complications

Among the most fatal of these complications are hemorrhaging, high blood pressure, and contraction of infectious diseases due to weakened immune systems. However, many young women also die from self-induced abortions.

“You don’t know what some of these girls go through,” Opendi said. “When they can’t confide in anyone and are desperate to get the fetus out they will do anything.”

Afraid to confide in their parents and usually impregnated by classmates who are also unable to support a child,  many girls try to terminate their own pregnancies, and often die in the process.

To address this problem, the Ugandan government plans to set up youth centers in schools and hospitals, where young girls can receive proper counseling. The government is likely to also provide condoms and contraceptive pills.

John Cooper, the executive director of Uganda Family Planning Consortium, believes that every woman should have a child by choice, not chance. Currently, of the Ugandan women who get pregnant, half of the pregnancies are unwanted.

“Now, we can’t want to reduce the numbers of women who dies while giving birth and not want to provide women with contraception that can reduce their fertility,” said Cooper.

The Ugandan minister must first convince several critics before the government’s plan to provide contraception to every woman between 14 and 18 is implemented. But this may be the country’s only option. Uganda’s population currently stands at over 34 million, and the country’s fertility rate is 6.7 percent. Moreover, women in rural areas lacking medical resources may produce twice as many children.

If the movement to provide contraception passes, the government must turn to its next issue in the fight to lower maternal mortality and limit population: the need to allocate more funding and resources to Uganda’s impoverished rural regions.

– Scarlet Shelton

Sources: New Vision, Index Mundi, all Africa
Photo: Books For Africa

Defection_flyers_LRA_weakened
The Lord’s Resistance Army is steadily weakening due to the growing weariness and disillusionment of its combatants, many of whom want to defect, according to a new report by The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, a US-based advocacy group.

The factions are scattered across an area of central Africa about the size of California, and, despite LRA leader Joseph Kony’s integration of high-frequency radios, communication between factions is difficult. Morale is at a new low; at least 31 Ugandan LRA combatants, which is at least 15 percent of the LRA’s core Ugandan fighting force, have defected since the beginning of 2012.

Months spent in remote rainforest villages have left the soldiers with little energy and enthusiasm, and the army’s new venture into new forms of crime, such as harvesting elephant ivory, have left many disenchanted and guilt-ridden. Recently, the army has also almost entirely failed to end conflicts with decisive victories leading to further weariness.

“The large majority of people in the LRA were forcibly conscripted, and most, including many Ugandans, want to defect,” the report says.

Pressure from the Ugandan, the US military in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are all contributing to the weakening of the LRA. Campaigns such as the “Come Home” campaign, a collaboration between the Ugandan and US militaries that uses helicopters to canvas sensitive areas with dropped leaflets and loudspeaker messages encouraging soldiers to defect, have been particularly effective. The authors suggest, however, that these campaigns should be more widespread and better able to target areas where the LRA are actually operating.

While the report admits that the rebel group will not be dismantled any time soon, it outlines the steps that can be taken by the Ugandan government, Congolese government, US government, African Union, and all involved peacekeepers and donors to best ensure the LRA’s ultimate demise. It is assumed by the initiative that the most effective way to weaken and ultimately wipeout the LRA is to encourage as many soldiers as possible to defect.

One of the suggestions listed in the report is for the Ugandan government to implement a “re-integration program” for defected soldiers to assimilate back into their communities. Often, it is extremely difficult for former members of the LRA to integrate themselves back into their old lives while facing the challenges of “rebuilding their livelihoods, overcoming trauma and community stigmatization with little support.” Often, the Ugandan government will force the returned soldiers to join the UPDF, which they had spent so many months fighting against. For obvious reasons, the report encourages the government to halt this activity.

“There is a need to continue to encourage and persuade the LRA members to defect. Let them abandon the rebellion and come back home. They are victims of circumstances,” retired bishop Baker Ochola, a member of Acholi Religious Peace Initiative (ALPI), told IRIN. “Let them leave LRA to Kony and his people who started it… Kony will remain alone and will not have support.”

– Kathryn Cassibry
Sources: IRIN, Red Pepper, The Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative

Health_Child_Uganda
In Uganda, nearly one in every four newly born child dies. The mortality rates of children under five remain high. The life expectancy of an average Ugandan is only 54 years. These prominent conflicts the people of Uganda face make it clear that a need for higher health standards and public health need to be raised significantly in order to improve the quality of life for the average citizen, as well as to save lives.

Health Child is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising these standards and impacting the people of Uganda in a positive way. HC’s main objectives are decreasing mortality rates in women and children, lowering poverty rates of local communities, and empowering those without a voice or a strong social status. Education, civic duty, and participation are all ideals that are valued in the HC organization and are represented through the programs they host.

One of the most important ways that HC holds the fabric of the organization together is through the implementation of Information and Communication Technologies, otherwise known as ICTs. Giving out mobile phones allows professionals to remind mothers and children of important health appointments, as well as inform them of tips and tools they can implement to make healthy decisions.

The child protection programs of HC go about ensuring public health of Ugandan children in many ways. First, drama and theater programs funded by HC educate local communities on the issues facing children. In addition, HC funds school education and debates on child’s rights. Finally, the organization ensures that religious institutions are places where families can gather and discuss community issues.

Health Child, with the help of the Ugandan Government, generous donors and sponsors, and other organizations, brings hope to the people of Uganda that a better quality of life is attainable. Helping to raise the health standards of those most vulnerable, HC soon hopes to eradicate the issues most pressing to Uganda.

– William Norris

Sources: Health Child, UNICEF
Photo: The Guardian

drc_opt
In a traditionally volatile region, violence has once again broken out. In the province of North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two rebel groups have been engaging in fighting with the Congolese armed forces. M23, the most active of the rebel groups operating in the DRC, launched an assault on the army stationed around the city of Goma on July 14th. Prior to that though, the Allied Democratic Forces engaged the armed forces on July 11th. Caught in the crossfire of these separate engagements are tens of thousands of civilians, forced to flee as fighting erupted.

Many of these refugees fled across the border into Uganda where transit centers are quickly filling. In the first few days of the conflict 66,000 Congolese refugees crossed the border. And that was before violence erupted between M23 and the national forces. The situation is even more difficult in Uganda as the country is already playing host to more than 200,000 refugees – 60% of whom originate from the DRC – before this latest round of violence.

The UN Refugee Agency has an annual operating budget of $93.8 million for Uganda, but less than half of this has so far been funded. With the sudden influx of refugees from both Ugandan conflicts, a large portion of the extra burden is falling on Uganda. With transit centers near the borders rapidly filling, the Ugandan Office of the Prime Minister pledged to begin registering refugees and relocating them to longer term refugee camps, where they will be supplied with plots of land to farm. This process, however, is time-consuming, and over-congestion in the transit camps, and the subsequent risk of disease as livestock and people live together in close quarters, has become a primary concern.

With the rebels, particularly M23 around Goma, refusing to back down, UN intervention may soon be seen. UN peacekeepers in the DRC, MONUSCO, had set a deadline of August 1st for rebel troops to hand in their weapons and demobilize. Leaders of the rebel group however dismissed the ultimatum as irrelevant. As a result, a UN intervention brigade, comprised of 3000 troops from Malawi, South Africa, and Tanzania – part of the 20,000 strong peacekeeping force – may soon engage rebel troops in an attempt to establish a “security zone” around the city of Goma.

– David M. Wilson
Sources: UNHCR, Times Live, IRIN News
Sources: Alissa Everett

LRA2_opt
The Lord’s Resistance Army is a rebel group led by Joseph Kony that was formed in 1989 in Northern Uganda to fight the Ugandan government. The LRA is widely regarded as one of the most violent and brutal groups in the world as it regularly, murders, rapes and plunders villages. At the very height of the group’s power, 2 million people in northern Uganda were displaced.

The Lord’s Resistance Army began as a religious movement led by Alice Lakwena. Lakwena claimed the Holy Spirit was leading her to overthrow the Ugandan government. At the time, popular resentment of the government helped to intensify support for her Holy Spirit Movement. However, soon the government was able to depose of Lakwena and push back the rebel group into the bush.

However, the movement did not end with Lakwena. A man named Joseph Kony, who claimed to be Lakwena’s cousin, revitalized the group and unleashed a new reign of terror. Kony rechristened the group as the Lord’s Resistance Army. Claiming to follow the 10 commandments, Kony’s LRA gained a cult-like following and pursued its original goal of overthrowing the Ugandan government. However, Kony quickly began to lose support for his rebel group so he was forced to resort to abducting thousands of children to serve as soldiers.

The LRA has become notorious for utilizing child soldiers. Rebels often disguise themselves as Ugandan military forces and attack villagers. The LRA has slaughtered thousands. Others they mutilate to serve as warnings to the government and villages. Any captives, many of which are children, are violently indoctrinated and forced into slavery as soldiers, cooks, or sex slaves. To keep captives from escaping, the LRA often forces them to kill their own family members. Those who do not do so are killed off.

Today the LRA continues to dwindle in size due to military pressure and defection.

The UN Security Council has condemned the LRA repeatedly. In 2005, the International Criminal Court also issued arrest warrants for the LRA’s top leaders for crimes against humanity, including Joseph Kony. Many attempts have been made to reach a peace agreement between the LRA and the Ugandan government. However, Joseph Kony has avoided such meetings each time. Thus today the Ugandan government continues to battle the LRA. In October 2011, the 100 U.S. military advisors from Army Special Forces were deployed to Uganda with the intention of  providing training and assistance to fight the LRA.

Currently, the LRA remains one of the most elusive and least understood rebel groups in the world. Yet its crimes hardly go unnoticed. However, with increasing foreign pressure and foreign aid, the LRA faces a bleaker future.

– Grace Zhao

Sources: LRA Crisis tracker, FAS, Department of State, Enough Project
Photo: TCON

conflicts_in_congo
Thousands of refugees flee from the DR Congo to Uganda after Congolese Government forces (FARDC) and the M23 Islamic rebellion movement, collide in dispute. More than 100 armed men wearing women’s clothing entered the Democratic Republic of the Congo from Rwanda, launching an attack close to the provincial capital of Goma.

In addition to this conflict, elsewhere fighting has displaced thousands more after the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group, launched a surprise attack on the Congolese town of Kamango. Authorities report that Congolese troops have retaken the town, but they worry that a mass movement of people will allow rebels to further infiltrate nearby areas and worsen the conflict.

According to aid agencies, an estimate 66,000 refugees poured into Uganda following these attacks. Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UNHCR, said that “people literally fled for their lives,” bringing nothing with them as they tried to reach the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

Refugees fleeing from Kamango and nearby areas entered Uganda through the district of Bundibugyo, where they had to take shelter under shop verandas or on school grounds. The Red Cross estimates that 2,000 of the refugees are pregnant women, and at least five of them gave birth while on the run.

The agency is working with Ugandan police to transport hundreds of people from six reception centers to a transit camp where they can register and receive necessary services. Many of the refugees are in immediate need of emergency aid in the form of food, shelter or medicine. The facility is already being overburdened as the Red Cross works to accommodate increasing numbers of Congolese citizens.

International assistance remains of the utmost importance as fighting rages on between government forces and ADF rebels in Kamango and the Congolese army and M23 rebels in Goma. In addition to the UNHCR and the Red Cross, other agencies working to relieve the humanitarian crisis include the World Food Programme, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam and the Lutheran World Foundation.

– Katie Bandera

Sources: UN, The Guardian, VOA News
Photo: Africana Connections