NewsBrief, 22-28 October 2012

"Raging floods" cost lives, homes and livelihoods

Severe flooding is currently threatening the safety and livelihoods of millions of people across West Africa. The number of people impacted by flooding in Chad has risen sharply, according to the latest estimates from humanitarian agencies. At least 20 people have been killed and 700 000 affected, up from 445 000 people affected in September. Some 255 720 hectares of cropland and 94 211 houses have been damaged in what the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) calls the worst flooding to hit the country in decades. Benin, Niger and Nigeria also have experienced serious flooding since the start of the rainy season. In a special report on the "year of raging floods," West Africa Insight magazine describes the situation in Nigeria, where 23 out of 36 states have been struck in "the worst natural disaster that the country has experienced in living memory." The flooding has killed more than 500 people and forced more than a million to take shelter with relatives or in temporary camps. President Goodluck Jonathan has declared the 2012 floods a national disaster. With river basins spanning national borders and the frequency and severity of flooding events seemingly on the rise, the magazine underscores the need for improved regional co-operation in flood mitigation and river basin management.

Guinea-Bissau arrests accused counter-coup leader

Authorities in Guinea-Bissau say they have thwarted an attempted counter-coup and arrested its leader. The military detained Captain Pansau N'Tchama, along with at least two other suspects, in connection with a 21 October attack on an army barracks that left seven people dead, including six of the attackers. N'Tchama was a bodyguard for the head of the army under former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior, who was ousted in a military coup earlier this year. Authorities said N'Tchama had recently returned to Guinea-Bissau from Portugal and launched the attack in an effort to overthrow the transitional government and restore Gomes Júnior. They accused former colonial ruler Portugal of backing the plot. Gomes Júnior was the front-runner in the presidential election that was interrupted by the military coup on 12 April. He was arrested but later released and sent into exile. The interim government said it will seek to extradite Gomes Júnior from Portugal.

Benin: President's niece, doctor accused in poison plot

Authorities in Benin have arrested three people and are seeking a fourth in connection with an alleged plot to poison President Boni Yayi. State prosecutor Justin Gbènaméto said the President's niece, his personal doctor and a former trade minister could face charges of criminal conspiracy and attempted assassination of the head of state. According to Gbènaméto, the mastermind of the plot is a Beninese cotton magnate motivated by anger over losing lucrative business contracts. The prosecutor said the businessman offered to pay his co-conspirators USD 2 million each for replacing Yayi's regular pain medication with poison. The poisoning was allegedly supposed to have taken place on 17 October while the President was visiting Brussels. The plot was revealed when the President's niece told family members who then alerted the President.

AU lifts Mali suspension as rebels get reinforcements

The African Union (AU) reinstated Mali's membership, suspended following the military coup in March. The AU also appointed former Burundi President Pierre Buyoya as its High Representative for Mali and the Sahel. The developments come as the AU is working with ECOWAS, the UN and other international actors to devise a strategy to help Mali retake its northern regions from Islamist rebels. Media outlets this week reported that foreign fighters are flowing into northern Mali in anticipation of the international intervention. Speaking from exile in Bamako, the elected mayor of Gao told the BBC that the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) is also recruiting unemployed students from Koranic schools. ECOWAS has proposed deploying a 3 000-member regional force to bolster Mali's army. French and American diplomats held talks in Paris and worked to persuade a reluctant Algeria to back the mission. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to meet President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on 30 October in Algier. A French defence official said France plans to send two surveillance drones to the West African region.

Côte d'Ivoire re-launches political dialogue to foster reconciliation

The head of UN Operations in Côte d'Ivoire (ONUCI) welcomed the resumption of reconciliation efforts between political factions in the country. Prime Minister Jeannot Kouadio-Ahoussou and opposition leaders convened the first meeting of the "permanent dialogue framework" on 25 October, days after President Alassane Ouattara met with representatives of two western regions, strongholds of former President Laurent Gbagbo. An ONUCI spokesperson said the parties engaged in frank discussions aimed at healing divisions in Ivorian society after more than a decade of conflict. The reconciliation process seeks to address issues including land, security and rule of law, reintegration of refugees and former fighters, justice and human rights. President Ouattara has expressed commitment to national reconciliation, but his government has faced accusations of selective prosecution of atrocities committed during post-election clashes last year. Just this week, rights groups said the security crackdown following recent attacks on police and army posts has led to abuses including arbitrary arrests and torture.

Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia address border tensions

The leaders of Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia held a mini-summit aimed at easing tensions over security along their shared border. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf travelled to Abidjan for a one-day consultation with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara. The leaders signed a communiqué calling for the reactivation of the Joint Liberian-Ivorian Commission and other steps to promoting peace and friendship between the two countries. They also agreed to share information on security, economic and cultural matters. The meeting comes on the heels of a UN report said that Ivoirian rebels have established recruitment and training bases on the Liberian side of the frontier. The Liberian government strongly denied the charges. Nevertheless, President Sirleaf assured her Ivoiran counterpart that she has beefed up security along the border, with increased patrols and continuous surveillance. The UN report also indicated that the Ivorian rebels have set up a command centre in Ghana from which they plan attacks in Côte d'Ivoire. Ghana is investigating the allegations and said it will not play host to any activities to destabilise its neighbour.

ECOWAS signs co-operation agreement with China

A new agreement between ECOWAS and China aims to deepen economic and technical co-operation between the two parties. ECOWAS Commission Vice-President Toga Gayewea McIntosh signed a framework agreement with China's Vice-Minister of Commerce, Li Jinzao, who visited ECOWAS headquarters with a 35-member delegation. The agreement seeks to invigorate ECOWAS-China trade and encourage greater investment in the areas of agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, manufacturing, construction and financial services. Building on the outcomes of 2006 China-Africa Summit in Beijing, McIntosh said the agreement should help the sub-region gain access to some of the USD 20 billion in credit that China has pledged for infrastructure and other development projects on the continent. McIntosh mentioned the need to complete the Trans-African Highway between Dakar and Lagos. The 2 000-kilometre road would connect nine of the 15 ECOWAS countries, helping to facilitate trade and travel throughout the sub-region.

CILSS, Red Cross forge partnership on food security

CILSS and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have agreed to work together toward increasing food security in West Africa. The two organisations signed a memorandum of understanding on the sidelines of the 8th Pan African Conference, which brought together Red Cross Red Crescent leaders from 53 African countries from 19-22 October in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The partnership aims to boost economic and social development through initiatives that emphasise food security, poverty reduction, climate change and disaster risk reduction. CILSS Executive Secretary Prof. Alhousseini Bretaudeau said the agreement will help to develop national and regional capacity in food security and nutrition. "It will help us identify food insecurity earlier and enable earlier interventions," he said. During the conference, Prof. Bretaudeau also took part in a panel discussion on the strengthening of humanitarian diplomacy, stressing the need to expand partnerships in humanitarian action and development. The IFRC also signed a similar agreement with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

ECOWAS adopts plan to improve elections

West African elections officials have agreed to an Action Plan to improve electoral processes toward the end of strengthening democracy in the sub-region. The ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions in West Africa (ECONEC) announced the plan following its 3rd Annual General Meeting, held on 24 October in Abuja. The Action Plan seeks to improve the legal and institutional environment for the conduct of credible elections. It aims to improve the general management and capacity of Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) and enhance their role in resolving post-election problems and disputes. In a keynote address to the meeting, ECOWAS Commission Vice President Toga Gayewea McIntosh said EMBs must exhibit independence, professionalism and fairness to protect the integrity of elections and foster stability in the sub-region. "As the principal arbiters in electoral processes, EMBs can decide the fate of a nation between war and peace," McIntosh said. 

UEMOA educators discuss baccalaureate standards

UEMOA is moving forward with plans to harmonise higher education standards across the eight member nations. The Council of Ministers of Higher Education and officials in charge of examinations held a five-day workshop from 15-19 October in Cotonou. The objective of the meeting was to share experiences and prepare a methodological guide for the harmonisation of the baccalaureate curriculum throughout the Union and in line with international standards. Participants identified French, history, geography, mathematics and life and earth sciences as key subjects in a pilot phase of the reforms. Authorities said the reform process will improve the overall quality of secondary education to better prepare students for university studies. Additionally, the new standards will promote student mobility within the Union and lend greater international recognition and credibility to the diploma. Benin was chosen to host the meeting in recognition of the work it has already conducted in the area of education reform.

Article in French:


Doing Business 2013:
Smarter regulations for small and medium-size enterprises

West African countries are making steady progress in improving the regulatory environment for private sector development, according to the latest "Doing Business" report from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank. The 2013 report is the 10th edition of the "Doing Business" series, which analyses government policies impacting businesses in various aspects, including start-up and taxation. It tracks regulatory reforms taken in 185 economies between June 2011 and June 2012. During that period, 28 out of 46 governments in sub-Saharan Africa implemented business-friendly reforms. Of the 50 countries deemed that have made the most improvement since 2005, 17 are in sub-Saharan Africa, including 10 from the West Africa sub-region: Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria and Togo. In a statement, the World Bank said Africa's progress is encouraging, but leaders must do more to build a robust and competitive private sector. Overall sub-Saharan African countries earned an average ranking of 140 out of 185 economies for the ease of doing business.

Report in English:

Africa Can Help Feed Africa:
Removing barriers to regional trade in food staples

With recent crises including the current one in the Sahel and the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa, the continent is typically seen as beset with chronic food insecurity. Yet a new report from the World Bank argues that Africa has the capacity to feed itself, and the key to unlocking this potential is regional trade. While vast tracks of land remain uncultivated, only 5% of cereals imported by African countries come from other African countries. Beyond enhancing food security and averting future crises, the report suggests that lifting barriers to intra-African trade in food staples would create jobs and earn African countries USD 20 billion in annual revenues. These barriers include unpredictable trade policies but also poor roads and high transport costs. The Bank says improving food distribution networks would benefit both poor farmers and poor consumers, who often pay more for food than wealthy consumers shopping in supermarkets.

Report in English:

More info in French:

West Africa's common external tariff and individual WTO commitments:
No insurmountable incompatibilities

Recognising the benefits of regional trade, West African countries are taking steps to further integrate their economies to boost trade in food and other goods. Once such measure is the introduction of a Common External Tariff (CET) for the ECOWAS zone. This article from the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) discusses the contradictions between the CET and the WTO commitments of individual ECOWAS member states and outlines routes for resolving them. For instance, the proposed 35% CET is higher than the bound tariffs of some countries. In the case of agricultural products, all ECOWAS countries have bound tariffs above the proposed CET level with the exception of Côte d'Ivoire and Senegal, which have bound tariffs of 14.9% and 29.8% respectively. The author argues that such difficulties can be overcome by countries modifying their schedules of commitments or compensating for increased tariffs on some goods by lowering tariffs on others.

Article in English:

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