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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

heifer_opt
Heifer International’s Uganda Domestic Biogas Program has drastically changed the lives of many Ugandans. The instillation of the biogas units (12,000 over five years) is not only bringing jobs, revenue, and efficiency to the people of Uganda, it also cutting down on pollution.

The biogas program works with readily available resources to provide Ugandans with essentials to improve quality of life. The units convert animal manure into clean and cheaper energy. This energy can be used as electricity for lighting and cooking. Not only is this a cleaner option than using kerosene lamps and burning charcoal and wood, it is also much cheaper. Households are now able to save the money they would have spent on firewood and charcoal, as well as healthcare expenses they may have been forced to pay from contracting illnesses related to breathing in unclean air.

This program teaches masonry skills and provides jobs to men and women. These masonry skills are transferrable to future jobs and have even attracted many young people. The energy has also afforded new business options for Ugandans small business owners.

The biogas program also benefits environment as it stops deforestation by reducing the need for wood and charcoal. It also cuts down on harmful burning fumes. Bio-slurry, which is a byproduct of the process, can also be uses as a fertilizer as it is much cheaper and more effective than other options on the market. Bio-slurry is organic and has resulted in higher crop yields and better-enriched soil than can continue producing crops in future years. Some households have even been able to sell excess bio-slurry to neighbors and colleagues to gain extra income.

Uganda is one of six African countries in the Africa Biogas Partnership Program (ABPP). Including Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Uganda, and Senegal, the ABPP’s goal is to fund 70,000 biogas units across these countries by the end of 2013 to bring much-needed revenue to people.

– Sarah C. Morris 

Sources: Tanzanian Domestic Biogas Programme, Electrify Africa Act
Photo: The Global Journal

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

Can GMOs End Global Hunger?
While genetically modified (GM) foods have become a hot topic in the United States, they have received enormous attention in Africa.

At the same time that the United States has begun to debate mandatory labels for GM foods, scientists, farmers, and international organizations in Africa are pressuring governments to relax restrictions on GM technology.

This disparity in opinions towards GM crops mirrors the similar disparity of interests between the developed and developing world.

Despite the U.S.’s concern that GM crops will require more pesticides which contaminate and harm the environment, international relief organizations argue that GM crops can potentially alleviate plant diseases, the effects of climate change, and other grave threats to food production that African farmers may face.

In countries like Uganda, most people are farmers living off of their own crops and thus are more vulnerable to invasive pests and weather changes than Americans who shop in supermarkets and are more distanced from their food production.

The banana provides one example of a way that GM crops can help Uganda farmers and consumers. In the past year, “bacterial wilt disease has been cutting banana yields from 30 to 50 percent in Uganda.” When one considers that Ugandans consume up to one pound of bananas each day, it’s clear that this decrease in crop output means disastrous consequences for the Ugandans’ diet.

Recently, the National Agricultural Research Organization genetically engineered a bacteria-resistant version of the banana by breeding the fruit with pepper genes. Unless the Ugandan government passes a law that allows for use of GM crops, however, the disease-resistant banana hybrid will remain in the lab, untouched.

Though GM foods do have some clear benefits, they also come with disadvantages that prevent Ugandan farmers from fully supporting the GM law. Many Ugandans practice organic farming that rejects the use of pesticides and fertilizers because they can consequently damage other organisms like bees and fish that are important national exports.

GMOs can improve developing nations’ economies and prevent chronic hunger, but they may harm the environment and cultural traditions of these community farms in the process. This conflict of interest has many Ugandan farmers—and farmers around the world who have a stake in GM crop production—on edge, as they anxiously wait to see whether the futuristic potential of GM foods will be harnessed or rejected.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Source: NPR, FAO, International Society for Horticultural Science, National Banana Research Program
Photo: Tumblr

poverty in uganda
Poverty in Uganda remains a pressing issue. About 67 percent of Ugandans are either poor or highly vulnerable to poverty according to the 2012 expenditure review for Uganda by the Directorate of Social Protection in the gender ministry.

 

Top Facts on Poverty in Uganda

 

Based on an analysis of the 1989-90 Household Budget Survey, the poverty assessment for Uganda was divided along two lines. The first category of poverty was defined by a level that represented the spending needed for a daily consumption of 2,200 calories in addition to some non-food spending. Ugandans falling below this line were categorized as “poor.” The second level of poverty was set at a line that represented the bare minimum for adequate food intake. Those who fell below even that line were labeled the “poorest.” According to these definitions, 55 percent of Ugandans are considered poor. The rest of that 67 percent of at-risk or poor Ugandans fall somewhere in the core “poorest” category.

Ninety-two percent of the poor live in rural areas even though 89 percent of the population is actually classified as rural. Not only is poverty more widespread in rural areas, it is also more severe. Thus, poverty-related indicators – including household size, dependency ratio and illiteracy – are higher for rural Uganda.

Because of poverty in Uganda, life expectancy for men and women is one of the lowest in the world at an average of 59 years. AIDS has become a key contributor to death and illness amongst young children, consistently driving the infant and child mortality rate higher. Malaria has been found to be the primary killer among adults admitted to hospitals. Additionally, diarrhea, pneumonia and anemia are almost as prevalent as AIDS as reported causes of death. With a per-capita income of under $170, Uganda is regarded as one of the most impoverished countries in the world. These grim facts are a testament of the destruction brought about by the political turmoil and economic decline characteristics of over ten years of despotic leadership.

Uganda’s small revenue has made it extremely difficult to directly target its impoverished human capital. Nevertheless, social protection mechanisms are central to uplifting the poor and allowing them to achieve full productivity potential. Recognizing this, the government has attempted to re-prioritize its expenditures in favor of the social sectors and rural infrastructure. Some newer areas of focus include government development of family planning programs and promotion of literacy and education. Yet, development of social indicators is still lagging, particularly for rural women who work longer hours than men.

Despite the seemingly enormous magnitude of poverty in Uganda, some economic progress has occurred in recent years. For example, the government has implemented a far-reaching economic reform agenda that has transformed Uganda into one of the most liberal economies of Sub-Saharan Africa. This entails the liberalization of the exchange and trade regime, the endorsement of a new investment code and the liberalization of the agricultural market. With these factors in play, the government is readying the way for future economic growth. In fact, aggregate real per capital GDP actually grew substantially between 1987 and 1991 whereas previously it had been in steady decline.

It is true that the economic situation in Uganda  still seems bleak and poverty remains rampant. Yet, as indicated by past examples, economic reform coupled with increased focus on social affairs can bring increased hope for the poor of Uganda.

– Grace Zhao

Source: The World BankNew VisionUNICEF
Photo: OB

Obama Electrify Africa
According to the International Energy Agency, all developing nations lack adequate access to electricity. This amounts to 1.3 billion people living in the dark worldwide. According to the same source, an investment of $1 trillion USD would be needed to remedy this. Currently, poverty and hunger take center stage. Food is of more use to a starving child than is a night light, but Westerners often take for granted how valuable the power of light can be to a community in poverty.

Not only does electricity make lives easier on a personal level, it helps to mechanize farming operations, which can be a great boost to a company’s agricultural productivity. Natural disasters often become less deadly when people are warned about them ahead of time, which can be accomplished with electric monitoring systems. Socially, populations are less marginalized with improved means of communication and information.

President Barack Obama said during his recent trip to South Africa, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by, the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs, and it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy.” President Obama then pledged almost $7 billion USD to help provide electricity for Africa.

The White House stated that The Export-Import Bank will carry most of the financial weight of the program, donating $5 billion, and the U.S. Oversees Private Investment Corporation will provide another $1.5 billion.

The funds will go toward preventing the frequent blackouts that plague the Sub-Saharan part of the continent, as well as helping the 85% percent of people in the region without electricity gain access to it. Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Mozambique will be the first countries to benefit from the program as it is developed at preliminary stages.

The investment is a great step toward solving the problem, but in all, Africa alone will need $300 billion to achieve universal electricity by 2030. The Alliance for Rural Electrification, a non-government organization, is another ally in combating this issue. As champions of universal electrification, ARE focuses on renewable energy such as solar, which much of Africa is a strong candidate for. This is especially relevant for areas that are geographically isolated where extending the reach of an existing power grid is not feasible.

– Samantha Mauney

Source: ARE, Scientific American, CNN
Photo: Business Insider

 child-sponsorship-works-borgen-project-compassion-international_opt
When people ask how to help the poor, child sponsorship often is suggested. Indeed, for a small amount of money each month, organizations allow individuals to sponsor a child and help to provide education, food, and clothing for them. In return, the sponsors get a picture of the child and quarterly or annual updates from the organization regarding their child.  It has long seemed like an easy way to make an impact. The question many people ask, however, is does it really work? One development economist decided he was going to find out.

It seemed no one had ever been interested in finding the answer despite the fact that 9 million children are sponsored worldwide and more than $5 billion dollars per year is invested in child sponsorship programs. For organizations, obviously the stakes were high. If they allowed researchers to study the effectiveness of their programs, what would they do if they came back ineffective? After several years, one organization decided to allow themselves to be studied under one condition: anonymity.

The study initially looked at individuals in Uganda, studying 809 individuals including 188 who were sponsored as children. The results from the first study were any economist’s dream. The data clearly showed large and statistically significant impacts on the educational outcomes of sponsored children. It appeared the program was actually working! To solidify the results, the study was conducted in six other countries: Uganda, Guatemala, the Philippines, India, Kenya and Bolivia. Data was obtained on 10,144 individuals and the results were consistent with the first study. 27 to 40% more sponsored children complete secondary school and 50 to 80% more complete a college education. In addition to effects on education, the study found that sponsored children were also more likely to gain meaningful employment.

As a result of the study, the sponsorship organization removed the anonymity clause. Compassion International was the organization that allowed its program to be scrutinized; the results were clear that child sponsorship works. It helps lift kids and families out of poverty and provides them with hope. For more information about child sponsorship, visit Compassion International at www.compassion.com.

– Amanda Kloeppel
Sources: Christianity Today, Compassion International

china_drug_pharmacist_global_poverty_international_aid_borgen_opt
China’s reputation as a producer and exporter of low-quality, counterfeit goods like shoes, clothing and jewelry make it a likely target for global medical experts looking to assign blame for the tremendous increase in counterfeit medications in Africa. 

Doctors, pharmaceutical companies and NGOs with an eye on Africa rejoiced when China came out with a cure for malaria in the form of artemisinin a few years ago, believing this medical marvel would be instrumental in alleviating the woes of global poverty and high mortality rates in the developing world.

After the initial excitement died down, however, disparaged global medical experts began to realize the obstacles that still lay before them in the form of global drug counterfeiting. Maverick manufacturers around the world have begun to view the African malaria problem as a free-for-all chance to make some money by selling placebo pills labeled as artemisinin to suffering patients who are unable to tell the difference.

In Uganda and Tanzania, the two countries with the highest malaria death rates in the world, the widespread, faulty drug regulation and corrupted business practices have allowed an influx of counterfeit drugs to enter the market alongside the true, lifesaving doses of artemisinin. Oxford University’s Wellcome Trust, a group that researches and spreads awareness about the counterfeit malaria drug problem, estimates that one-third of malaria drugs in Uganda are fake or of poor quality.

This alarmingly high rate is cause for concern, especially since medical workers in Uganda and Tanzania are often aware that they may be selling counterfeit drugs but can “do little to tell which are real and which won’t work.” Fake pills can even bear the same inscriptions as the drugs they counterfeit but contain no real medication, thus duping even the local pharmacists that are dispensing them.

So, whose job is it to make sure those suffering from malaria in Africa are getting the drugs they need? Many are looking towards global aid organizations to step in and make sure that the billions of dollars they are putting into malaria pills are being spent on authentic drugs.

Others are looking to China itself to fix what it may have started, and to use this as a chance to redeem themselves in spite of their reputation as a global counterfeiting hub. Discovering the cure for malaria has been one of the country’s crowning medical achievements, and malaria-focused aid groups around the world lament that “the intriguing tale of the drug’s invention in China and its eventual emergence as a first-line treatment is getting lost in the deadly battle against fakes and counterfeits.”

Deciding to take action against the counterfeit market could be China’s chance to reverse its reputation and settle into a role as a key global player.

– Alexandra Bruschi

Sources: The Atlantic, The Guardian
Photo: Study in China