NewsBrief, 10-14 October 2012

Mauritanian president survives accidental shooting

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is receiving treatment at a French military hospital following an accidental shooting near the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. Before flying to Paris, Abdel Aziz appeared on national television from his hospital bed in Nouakchott after undergoing surgery to remove a bullet. He assured his countrymen that the operation had been a success and appealed for calm. Abdel Aziz's communications minister said the president was "slightly wounded" when soldiers opened fire on the night of 13 October after failing to recognise the presidential convoy. Speaking to reporters at the Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa, Foreign Minister Hamadi Ould Hamadi said the President "is exercising the full range of his powers," and the government is functioning normally. [...] There is no particular problem which requires any particular arrangements," he said. Abdel Aziz was elected President in 2009 after seizing power in a military coup the year before. Opposition leaders have called for his resignation, accusing him of mismanagement and failure to comply with the terms of the Dakar Accord that led to the 2009 elections. Abdel Aziz has also drawn threats from Islamists angered by his military campaign against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

UN Security Council adopts Mali resolution

The UN Security Council gave ECOWAS 45 days to propose a "detailed and actionable" plan for a military intervention in Mali. Separately, the UN Secretary-General announced the appointment of former Italian premier Romano Prodi as UN special envoy to the Sahel. The 15 Security Council members adopted Resolution 2071 on 12 October, paving the way for the proposed 3 000 troop regional force to help Mali retake northern regions controlled by Islamist militants. The resolution, drafted by France, expresses concern over reported human rights abuses in the north and urges rebel groups to cut ties with terrorist organisations. Security Council members said they are ready to respond positively to Mali's request for international assistance, but a second resolution would be needed to authorise an actual intervention. Resolution 2071 calls on UN member states and regional and international organisations to provide assistance and training to Mali's armed forces. Officials from the African Union, ECOWAS, the EU and the UN are scheduled to meet on 19 October in Bamako to assess the situation and develop a comprehensive strategy.

UN experts say Ivorian exiles reached out to Islamists

UN experts say exiled supporters of former Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo tried to recruit Islamists occupying northern Mali into a campaign to overthrow the current government in Côte d'Ivoire and destabilise the entire West African sub-region. The allegations are made in a report from the UN Group of Experts on Côte d'Ivoire that was leaked to media organisations. The report also accused Gbagbo loyalists of reaching out to members of the military junta that overthrew Mali's elected government in March. Key allies of the ousted Ivorian president dismissed the claims as "malicious lies" and part of a "pro-Gbagbo eradication programme." The UN experts also said the Ivorian exiles have established training camps in Liberia and a "strategic command" in Ghana, from which they plan and finance attacks in Côte d'Ivoire. That allegation drew an immediate response from Accra, which said it took "strong exception" to the contents and the leakage of the report and would launch an investigation into the matter.

Ghana: Former first lady becomes presidential candidate

Former First Lady Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings has become Ghana's first female presidential contender after winning the nomination of the opposition National Democratic Party (NDP). The announcement came just days after Agyeman-Rawlings formally resigned from the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), the party founded by her husband. The newly formed NDP unanimously endorsed the 63-year-old women's rights advocate as its flag-bearer during the party's convention on 13 October. "I stand before you today because I chose to become bolder and braver," she said in a speech broadcast over the radio. Jerry Rawlings, a former military ruler who served as Ghana's elected president from 1993 to 2001, stood by his wife as she accepted the nomination and praised the NDP for showing vision. Agyeman-Rawlings will challenge incumbent John Mahama, who became president following the death of former President John Atta-Mills in July. The election is scheduled for 7 December.

West African leaders attend Francophone Summit

The leaders of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Senegal and Togo joined more than a dozen heads of state and government at the 14th Francophonie Summit, held from 12-14 October in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Under the theme "Environmental and economic stakes in the face of global governance," the summit sought to examine the role of the French language in global affairs and to promote political and economic co-operation between francophone countries. An integrated policy shall help promote the use of French in international settings. Francophonie Secretary-General and former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf called for greater African representation in international governance, particularly on the UN Security Council. French President François Hollande stressed the importance of respect for human rights, against the backdrop of security crises in northern Mali and eastern DRC. The final declaration of the summit included resolutions on the consolidation of peace in the francophone world, good governance in the extractive industries, a call for the international community to combat piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and two specific resolutions on the situation in Mali and the DRC. Senegal will host the next Francophonie Summit in 2014.

UN mission chiefs call for improved co-operation on security

The heads of UN missions in the sub-region said improving co-operation at the local, regional and international levels is critical to addressing ongoing security concerns in West Africa. The message came from the 24th High-Level Meeting of Heads of UN Peace Missions in West Africa, held on 8 October in Dakar. The meeting was convened by the Dakar-based UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and attended by the heads of the UN Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI), the UN Integrated Peace-Building Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS), the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the UN Integrated Peace-Building Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL). Participants discussed matters ranging from the security and humanitarian crisis in northern Mali to piracy in the Gulf of Guinea. They urged UNOCI and UNMIL to continue working together to address border tensions between Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia. Other items on the agenda included efforts to restore constitutional rule in Guinea-Bissau and the need to ensure that upcoming elections in Sierra Leone are free and fair.

CILSS announces elevated food prices in second quarter

Market watchers reported that prices for basic foodstuffs in the Sahel and West Africa continued to rise in the second quarter. The West-African Market Information Systems Network (WAMIS-NET) and CILSS released their regional food markets bulletin covering the period from April to June. While conditions varied from country to country, the bulletin noted a generally difficult situation at the start of the lean season, with food prices reaching unexpected levels. The elevated prices stemmed from the poor performance of the 2011/2012 agricultural season due to insufficient rainfall in many areas. West Africa produced 52.9 million tonnes of cereals in the 2011/2012 season, a 7% decrease from 56.7 million tonnes in the 2010/2011 season and a 4% decrease from the average production over the past five years. The bulletin also describes steps taken by governments in response, including the sale of subsidised food products, increased importation of rice and other grains and the provision of subsidised fertiliser and improved seeds to agricultural producers.

EJF: Pirate fishing accounts for one third of catch in West Africa

A new report by environmental activists exposed the extent of pirate fishing that threatens the livelihoods of fishing communities in West Africa. According to the report "Pirate fishing exposed," by the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), West African waters have the highest levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the world, representing over a third of the region's catch. The group says it received more than 250 reports of pirate fishing activities by industrial vessels during a two-year investigation in southern Sierra Leone. Beyond overfishing and fishing in exclusion zones, the report said suspect vessels engaged in brazen acts such as attacking local fishers, using banned equipment, concealing identification markings, bribing enforcement officers and refusing to pay fines. The report said 90% of the vessels documented by EJF were accredited to sell their catch in the EU.

Sierra Leone taps regional expertise in electricity and water regulation

Experts from at least eight ECOWAS countries attended a two-day workshop on the formation of an Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission in Sierra Leone. The Ministry of Energy and Water Resources organised the seminar in collaboration with the ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA). Sierra Leone is in the process of setting up a government agency to oversee the water and electricity sectors, and the workshop provided an opportunity to draw from the experiences of ECOWAS countries with established regulatory systems. Minister of Energy and Water Resources, Oluniyi Robin-Coker said the new regulator would address imperfections in the utilities markets and help create an enabling environment for private investment in service delivery. As the regional regulator for electricity, ERERA works to develop West Africa's electricity market with the goal of ensuring reliable and affordable access across all 15 ECOWAS member countries.

AfricaRice launches tool to identify rice weeds

Experts at the Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice) unveiled a new high-tech tool in the campaign to increase rice production and improve farmer livelihoods. The interactive tool allows users to identify nearly 200 species of weeds in lowland rice in East and West Africa. It is built on a comprehensive database that can be accessed online and offline through computers and smartphones: The tool is the product of a three-year project by AfricaRice and the Centre for International Co-operation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), with support from the EU's Africa, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) Science and Technology Programme. AfricaRice weed scientist Jonne Rodenburg said rice weeds are to blame for approximately USD 1.5 billion in production losses each year. "Weeds are perhaps the most important constraint in rice production, so this is a valuable resource for all those involved in research, training and management of rice weeds in sub-Saharan Africa," he said.


Humanitarian Exchange: The crisis in the Sahel

The September issue of Humanitarian Exchage magazine includes a special feature on the food and nutritional crisis in the Sahel. The magazine, published by the Humanitarian Practice Network of  the UK Overseas Development Institute (ODI), takes an indepth look at both acute and chronic food insecurity in the region. Regional and international humanitarian practitioners contribute to the collection of articles covering the causes of the current crisis, its impacts and the international response. Jean-Nicolas Marti, the head of the ICRC delegation for Niger and Mali, discusses the challenges of establishing safe passage for humanitarian aid to the occupied northern regions. Ousmane Niang, Véronique Mistycki and Soukeynatou Fall, of UNICEF Niger, examine the efficacy of social safety net pilot programmes aimed at changing behaviour and reducing vulnerability. In the lead article, Peter Gubbels of Groundswell International writes that the cyclical nature of droughts and other shocks has created a "resilience deficit" in the region. With the most vulnerable still struggling to recover from the 2005 and 2010 food crises, their capacity to cope with the current crisis is diminished. While governments, aid workers and donors have recognised the need to focus on building resilience, Gubbels argues that the current international aid architecture is ill-suited to the task. He calls for a "new drumbeat in the Sahel," that better integrates humanitarian and development interventions.

Francophonie and global governance: African perspectives

To coincide with the 14th Francophonie Summit, the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs have published a collection of works touching on the group's activities and ambitions. "Francophonie and global governance: African perspectives" is a synopsis of the proceedings at the "African Perspectives" conference held in May 2012 in preparation for the summit, which gathers leaders of the world's 75 francophone countries. The book includes the key papers and presentations from the May conference, which covered cultural, economic and political affairs as well as the main theme of the Kinshasa summit: environmental and economic stakes in the face of global governance. The OIF said the purpose of the book is to contribute to the development of a modern Francophonie that serves as a "major actor in the emergence and consolidation of a supportive, responsible and democratic global governance."

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