NewsBrief, 29 October - 4 November 2012

Mediators hold talks with Mali militants

Regional mediators have reportedly held talks with Islamists militants who control parts of northern Mali. A representative of Ansar Dine told reporters that the group sent delegations to Algeria and Burkina Faso for talks aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The Burkina Faso government confirmed that the Islamists would meet with President Blaise Compaoré, who serves as the ECOWAS mediator in the crisis. Media reports said Ansar Dine has signalled a willingness to heed international demands to cut ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The negotiations are taking place as regional and international stakeholders hammer out plans for a possible ECOWAS military intervention to help the Malian army put down the rebellion. An official with a separate militant group, Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), said the group will attack the Malian capital, Bamako, if a regional force is deployed. ECOWAS has scheduled an extraordinary summit to discuss the crisis on 11 November. Meanwhile, aid agencies painted a dire picture of the humanitarian situation in northern Mali. The UN Refugee Agency said there are approximately 240 000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the country, nearly 60% more than previously thought. The Belgian aid agency Doctors of the World reported "alarming levels" of malnutrition among young children in northern Mali.

New flood warning for Niger

Nigeriens who have faced widespread flooding this rainy season have been told to prepare for even more inundations. Dozens of people have been killed by the flooding, and more than 500 000 have been driven from their homes. The flooding has also taken a toll on the country's agriculture. According to the Federation of Rice Producer Cooperatives, more than 14 000 tons of rice paddies have been destroyed by floods since July. The Niger Basin Authority is now predicting further floods from mid-November as the River Niger swells with runoff from neighbouring countries. Humanitarian agencies Oxfam and Acted say this represents a perilous situation with many displaced people returning to their homes on the river banks at risk of further harm and exposure. Across the sub-region, millions of people have been affected by some of the worst flooding to hit the region in decades.

Mauritania opposition calls for elections

Mauritanian opposition leaders called for early elections to end a "constitutional vacuum" created by the President's prolonged absence from the country. More than a week after his initial scheduled return, President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz continues to recuperate in a Paris hospital where he was treated for a gunshot wound. The President's son told the Associated Press that Abdel Aziz is recovering well and will return to Mauritania soon. The Coordination of the Democratic Opposition (CDO), an umbrella group for opposition parties, has demanded more information called for an investigation into the 13 October shooting. Thousands of opposition supporters protested in Nouakchott on 1 November, demanding that the army refrain from any involvement in the country's politics. Abdel Aziz, who first came to power in a military coup, was wounded when soldiers opened fire on the presidential convoy in what the government says was an accident.

UEMOA launches information system for agriculture markets

Experts in agriculture and information technology gathered in Ouagadougou for the launch of the UEMOA Regional Agricultural Information System. Heads of market information systems (MIS) in agriculture and livestock discussed the challenges of inadequate transparency in regional food markets. The three-day consultation resulted in a roadmap for the operationalisation of the information system in the eight UEMOA member states. A key component of the Union's agricultural policy, the network has the objective of enhancing food security through the promotion of robust regional markets. By providing reliable statistics and other market information, the system is expected to help stabilise prices and promote trade in agricultural products. With a majority of West Africans dependent at least in part on agriculture and livestock, better functioning markets have the potential to significantly enhance their incomes and livelihoods.


Ghana leads on sustainable energy

Policymakers, diplomats and other stakeholders gathered in Accra to set a regional framework for sustainable energy development in the sub-region. More than 300 people took part in the High-Level Energy Forum Towards Sustainable Energy for All in West Africa from 29-31 October. The meet was convened to elaborate a regional response to the UN Sustainable Energy For All (SE4ALL) Initiative, which sets targets for the increased use of modern and renewable energy by 2030. ECOWAS energy ministers adopted resolutions addressing renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. West African leaders have adopted a regional energy policy that aims to increase access to energy, raise the proportion of renewable energy sources and provide universal access to safe, clean and sustainable cooking fuel. Host country Ghana set an example by launching the world's first National Action Plan for the achievement of SE4ALL objectives and setting a target date of 2020, ten years earlier than the UN target.      


ECOWAS moves to improve mediation capacity

The ECOWAS Commission is urging widespread support for a new initiative to promote peace and stability in the sub-region. The Commission announced it is in the process of establishing a Mediation Facilitation Division (MFD) within the ECOWAS Political Affairs Directorate. Authorities held a three-day needs assessment workshop from 30 October - 1 November in Lagos, discussing the technical and financial requirements for the initiative and outlining a strategy to mobilise the resources. Speaking at the opening of the event, ECOWAS Director of Political Affairs Abdel-Fatau Musah said the new division will promote stability through "preventative diplomacy" to stop disagreements from boiling over into conflict. In a statement the Commission acknowledged that civil unrest has often taken ECOWAS's attention away from its main objective - economic development and integration. Musah said the MFD would benefit not only member state governments but also civil society organisations, which will gain access to a Mediation Resource Centre that will organise conferences and seminars and provided mediation training.


CILSS urges continued focus on the Sahel

Regional food security experts urged stakeholders to maintain focus on the food security situation in the Sahel. With a generally favourable outlook for the 2012-2013 agricultural season, memories of the dismal 2011-2012 campaign may be receding, but CILSS warns that this would be a serious mistake. In a statement, the Committee said some areas continue to suffer from drought or flooding, as well as a latent locust threat. It called attention to the conflux of factors undermining food and nutritional security for vulnerable populations, particularly in northern Mali. "CILSS strongly encourages actors (governments, farmers organisations, development partners) to initiate, encourage and support actions for resilience to food insecurity for the populations of these areas," the statement said. CILSS put particular emphasis on the need to improve management of water resources and develop off-season crops.


Burkina Faso: Farmers and herders hold dialogue

The government of Burkina Faso has brought farmers and herders to the negotiation table in an effort to reverse a disturbing trend. Violent confrontations between farmers and pastoralists competing for land have increased in the north and east of the country. More than 50 people have been killed in 4 000 incidents over the past four years. The IRIN news agency reports that the Ministry of animal resources has taken notice and has begun holding workshops to bring the two sides together for constructive dialogue. The sedentary farmers and transhumant herders learn about land use regulations and exchange views on the sustainable use of natural resources. For now there is plenty of pasture following the rainy season, but there are indications that tensions could rise. Tens of thousands of Malian pastoralists have crossed into Burkina Faso in recent months to escape fighting, and more could arrive if the situation in Mali does not improve.


Ivoirian, Liberian fisheries among most vulnerable

Côte d'Ivoire and Liberia were listed among the five countries with the most vulnerable coral reef fisheries. A study from the Wildlife Conservation Society said the two country's fisheries are likely to collapse if no action is taken. Coral reefs are prised for the biodiversity but they are expected to experience serious decline in the face of climate change and other disturbances. Researchers examined 27 coastal countries and ranked them according to indicators including fisheries management, food security and climate change adaptation strategy. Liberia ranked second in vulnerability, behind only Indonesia. The study said Liberia is highly dependent on its coral reef fisheries to supply its human protein needs and has the lowest capacity to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change. Côte d'Ivoire was listed as the fourth most vulnerable country, after Kenya. The study pointed to the need for countries to build adaptive capacity and promote alternative sources of protein.


Ghana removed from financial risk list

Ghana financial sector has received a clean bill of health from international monitors combatting money laundering and terrorist financing. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) listed Ghana among high-risk countries in February, saying that its weak legal and institutional frameworks provided an opportunity for foul play in financial transactions. The country's removal from the blacklist comes after negotiations with the FATF and the adoption of robust legislation against money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes. Among the initiatives was the establishment of the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) to monitor financial transactions and report suspicious activity to investigating bodies in Ghana and abroad. The Chief Executive Officer of the FIC, Samuel Thompson Essel, welcomed the latest development, saying that the blacklisting had caused considerable harm to the financial sector with many international financial institutions reluctant to conduct business with Ghanaian banks.



Closer ties with the diaspora: Panorama of migrants' skills

African migrants provide important financial support to their families and communities, but with growing numbers of highly-skilled migrant workers it is often argued that the diaspora communities could do more to help develop their countries of origin. In order to take full advantage of these skills, this joint publication from the French Development Agency (AFD) and the OECD argues that more complete information is needed on diaspora communities. Divided into six global regions, the book presents a detailed profile of the modern migrant as well as the history and current trends in global migration. The section on sub-Saharan Africa features country notes on 34 countries, including 14 in the West African sub-region. Statistics include the countries of origin and destination, age, sex, education level and labour market participation. Interestingly, the book includes information on the children of migrants as well as aspiring migrants who have not yet left their home countries. The AFD and OECD hope the book will help close the information gap and serve as a tool for policymakers seeking to harness the potential of the diaspora.

Making Justice Count: Assessing the impact and legacy of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Sierra Leone and Liberia

The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) represents a number of firsts in international justice. It was among the first of the UN-backed "hybrid courts" involving both national and international legal structures and personnel. The conviction of former Liberian President Charles Taylor was the first for a former head of state in an international venue. Ten years after its formation and with its work coming to the end, this report attempts to convey the attitudes of ordinary people in Liberia and Sierra Leone toward the Court. Nearly 3 000 people from all walks of life were surveyed in the weeks following Taylor's conviction. Overall, respondents expressed favourable views of the Court. Nearly all respondents were aware of the Court, its work and its objectives and said that it had contributed to establishing peace and the rule of law. The study's authors attribute these results to the Court's extensive community outreach activities. Nearly half of those surveyed said they had participated in some form of outreach from, including listening to radio programmes.

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