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Kenya blames Al shabaab for a deadly attack in Mandera County

Three people were killed and three others wounded in a suspected Islamic extremist attack in Kenya’s Mandera County, which borders Somalia, officials said Friday. Four gunmen shot dead two civilians and a policeman at a bank in Elwak, Northeastern Regional Security Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said. Saleh said three people were wounded before the gunmen drove […]

US drops terror reward for senior Al-Shabab leader

Gucci Purses and Watermelons: Dreaming of Better Future for Kenya's Hungry North

NAIROBI — 

Kenya can escape the “Groundhog Day” of recurrent hunger crises by investing in irrigated farming and leather tanneries in its arid lands, experts said on Friday, as poor spring rains have failed to relieve biting drought.

With 2.6 million people across Kenya short of food due to consecutive failed rains, aid agencies have been slaughtering herders’ weakened livestock in northern Kenya and distributing the meat to hungry families.

“Their skins could actually have been part of large tanneries,” said Sid Chatterjee, the United Nations resident coordinator in Kenya, describing a small tannery he visited in northern Turkana County, which has been hard-hit by drought.

He saw goat skins processed into world-class soft leather, increasing their value ten-fold.

“If I had gone and bought that same purse in a Gucci store in Rome, I would probably have not known (it was from Turkana), such was the quality,” he said. “I can see the huge potential of Kenya.”

Five major droughts

Chatterjee was speaking at a forum on resilience to discuss ways of ending the region’s food crises.

A record-breaking 26.5 million people are going hungry across the Horn of Africa due to poor rains and conflict, with many on the move in search of grazing, water and work.

The long-awaited spring rains were delayed and erratic, with parts of Kenya receiving less than 40 percent of normal rainfall, the country’s meteorological department said.

Five major droughts have hit Kenya since 2006, said the Kenya Red Cross Society’s (KRCS) operations manager James Mwangi, with 2 to 4 million people needing emergency aid each time.

“For me as a humanitarian worker, it becomes increasingly disturbing to go back to the same households to deliver food assistance or other forms of assistance every time,” he said.

No time to rebuild assets

With droughts every two years, families do not have time to rebuild the assets, like livestock and savings, needed to see them through emergencies, he said.

KRCS has set up more than 20 resilience projects in the wake of a devastating 2011 drought, largely focused on using drip irrigation to grow grass for livestock and food for people in lands where rain failures regularly decimate nomads’ herds.

“We can’t just remain relief based organizations,” said KRCS’s general secretary Abbas Gullet. “We want to address the root causes of these humanitarian crises.”

KRCS has dug boreholes to create dams, lined with tarpaulin to prevent evaporation and seepage, which have produced food during the current drought.

“In the middle of nowhere, people are farming,” Gullet said, describing fields of watermelon, onions and kale.

Projects have worked in India

If such projects are scaled up, they could have a massive impact, experts said, pointing to the success of the agricultural Green Revolution in boosting harvests in India.

“We need to be investing in prevention,” said Mamadou Biteye, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Africa managing director, adding every dollar spent on resilience saves $4.5 that would have been spent on disaster response.

In Turkana, underground lakes the size of the U.S. state of Delaware were discovered in 2013 but excitement waned when it was found the water was too salty to use without desalination.

“The opportunity is there,” said Chatterjee, calling for greater government and private sector investment in Kenya’s drought-stricken northern counties. “By focusing our action on a few counties … getting the resilience model going, we’ll be able to change the game.”

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Pessimism About CAR Peace Deal Widespread

BANGUI — 

A new peace deal between the Bangui government and 13 major rebel groups in the Central African Republic is being met with criticism and skepticism domestically.

The agreement signed Monday in Rome promised an immediate cease-fire in exchange for political representation for the rebels.

The new accord followed a series of peace deals signed by armed groups in the CAR during 2014 and 2015. All fell apart.

“As one of the armed group representatives said, ‘We have signed a good paper,’ ” said Igor Acko, the U.S. Institute of Peace’s national program specialist in Bangui. “But the only worry is that it can remain just a ‘good paper.’ “

Acko received word of the new deal while in Bambari in central CAR, and said he went directly to members of the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic, one of the country’s major armed groups. The militia members told him they were not aware of the deal or its contents.

“So they are waiting for their representative to come back, and they will ask about the content, and they will think [decide] if they fully follow or they don’t,” Acko said.

Battle in Bria

Just hours after the accord was signed, fighting broke out in Bria, the country’s center of diamond mining, nearly 600 kilometers from the capital. The town’s mayor said more than 100 people were killed, and the medical charity Doctors Without Borders said 43 wounded people required hospital treatment.

With dozens of houses burned to the ground in Bria, more than 40,000 people are displaced and are relying on humanitarian assistance. Across the country, more than 100,000 people have been displaced since last month, when violence increased.

Since cycles of inter-religious and intercommunal violence began in 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have been uprooted from their homes in CAR, a former French colony that is one of the world’s poorest nations.

Lewis Mudge, who does research on the Central African Repulic for Human Rights Watch, said the fighting in Bria does not bode well for the accord signed in Rome. He noted that the previous deals all collapsed very quickly.

Members of civil society in CAR are most concerned about the new deal’s failure to discuss issues of justice and accountability arising from the conflict. Some are concerned this could be a first step toward granting amnesty to the rebels, which would be seen as an affront to the victims of months of escalating violence.

Need for justice is ‘clear’

Mathias Barthelemy Marouba, who runs the Central African Human Rights Observatory, said his group does not oppose a peace deal, but does not see the Rome accord as a substitute for justice.

“Those who committed these reprehensible acts must be brought to justice,” Marouba said. “That’s clear.”

The new deal calls for establishment of a truth-and-reconciliation commission, but that assurance failed to sway Mudge of Human Rights Watch.

“Truth telling is all nice and good, but it can never come in the place of free and fair trials that hold perpetrators accountable,” he said. “If we can stop the fighting, that’s a very good thing, but I’m not convinced that this deal is putting accountability first.”

The only way to break CAR’s cycles of violence, Mudge said, is to “finally hold some of these individuals to account.”

Marouba criticized U.N. peacekeeping forces in the country for not taking more aggressive action against rebel groups.

“Why aren’t they protecting the civilian population?” he asked. “They have all the means to neutralize these bandits. Why haven’t they done that?”

On the streets of Bangui, maintenance worker Kevin Vreka, 35, agreed, and said the U.N. force, known as MINUSCA, should be doing much more to stop the rebels’ violent tactics.

U.N. peacekeepers “are there to secure the country,” Vreka said. “They are in the countryside, but they do nothing. The United Nations, what did it come to Bangui to do? They do nothing … except harass our women!”

‘Nothing is going to change’

Carlos Bunju, a translator for a Chinese company in the capital, does not expect the peace deal to accomplish anything.

“Whatever they do, nothing is going to change,” Bunju said. “Because some people, some armed groups, they want some part in the government, but other people, they’re not going to allow them. They’re going to fight over and over.”

The armed groups are battling over CAR’s natural resources, Bunju said: “That’s all they want. They don’t see the people. And even though they come and we allow them to be a part of the government, I don’t think there’s going to be any change. If they love this country, they’re not going to fight anymore.”

Iloua Banoua, 58, a tailor, had not heard about the new accord either, but for him, it’s simple: “We want peace. We don’t want violence. Peace is the purity of each country; without it, we can’t live.”

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US Drops Reward Offer for Former al-Shabab Leader.

The U.S. State Department has withdrawn its reward offer for Mukhtar Robow, a former leader of the Somali militant group al-Shabab. In June 2012, the State Department offered up to $5 million for information on Robow that brought him “to justice.” At the time, Robow was still considered a top leader of al-Shabab, having served …

GUNMEN KILL 3 IN SUSPECTED EXTREMIST ATTACK IN KENYA’S NORTH

Three people were killed and three others wounded in a suspected Islamic extremist attack in Kenya’s Mandera County, which borders Somalia, officials said Friday. Four gunmen shot dead two civilians and a policeman at a bank in Elwak, Northeastern Regional Security Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said. Saleh said three people were wounded before the gunmen drove …

US soon to have permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia

The United States ambassador to Somalia says the U.S. once again will have a permanent diplomatic presence in the country after it opens offices in Mogadishu later this year. The U.S. embassy was closed in 1991 as the Horn of Africa nation slid into decades of chaos. Former Secretary of State John Kerryduring a 2015 visit said the …

US Drops Reward Offer for Former al-Shabab Leader

The U.S. State Department has withdrawn its reward offer for Mukhtar Robow, a former leader of the Somali militant group al-Shabab.In June 2012, the State Department offered up to $5 million for information on Robow that brought him “to justice.” At th…

Kenyan Court Says Polling Station Results Final

NAIROBI, KENYA — 

A Kenyan appellate court, dismissing a complaint by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, ruled Friday that presidential election results announced at the polling station level are final.

“The lowest voting unit and the first level of the declaration of presidential election results is the polling station,” said Justice William Ouko of the Kenyan Court of Appeal. “The declaration form containing those results is the primary document, and other forms subsequent to it are only tallies of the original and final result as recorded at the polling station.”

In April, the Kenyan High Court made a similar ruling, but the electoral commission asked the appeals court to overrule the judgment. The electoral commission questioned the integrity of its officers in charge of polling station returns.

Ouko dismissed that argument, calling it “hypocritical” for the commission to doubt its workers.

Disputes over the outcome marred Kenya’s last two presidential elections. The 2007 dispute triggered intercommunal fighting that killed more than 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more from their homes.

‘Cure the mischief’

Felix Odhiambo, Kenya country director of the nonprofit Electoral Law and Governance Institute in Africa, said Friday’s ruling discourages tampering with election results.

“It will cure the mischief that has been identified in the past, where the electoral commission unilaterally alters and changes the election results at the national tallying center, and most fundamentally it gives credence to the finality and sanctity of the vote,” Odhaimbo said.

Ouko called on the electoral commission to hold a credible election in line with the country’s Constitution.

“The responsibility of the appellant to deliver a credible and acceptable election in accordance with the Constitution is so great, awesome, and it must approach and execute it with absolute fitness, probity and integrity,” he said.

Kenya is scheduled to hold a general election August 8. President Uhuru Kenyatta is running for a second term against challengers who include former Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

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'Digital Democracy' Turns Average Citizens into Influencers in Africa

LONDON — 

From cashless payments to smartphone apps offering everything from taxis to take-out food – Africa’s digital revolution is gathering pace as average citizens take an active role in public discourse.

“You’re seeing a lot of the people changing the way they live their lives,” says Maria Sarungi, founder of the #ChangeTanzania platform. “And also creating for themselves wealth, jobs, opportunities. But also to engage politically on a very different level.”

Sarungi’s #ChangeTanzania platform began as a social media hashtag but ballooned into an online social movement with an app and website listing dozens of petitions and initiatives ranging from demands for security cameras at bus stops to a community beach clean.

“Before [it] used to be people sitting on the streets just talking a lot about politics,” says Sarungi. “But today they have become influencers. With the social media platforms, your voice can be amplified.”

In Uganda, the website Yogera, or ‘speak out,’ offers a platform for citizens to scrutinize government, complain about poor service or blow the whistle on corruption.

Kenya’s Mzalendo website styles itself as the ‘Eye on the Kenyan Parliament,’ profiling politicians, scrutinizing expenses and highlighting citizens’ rights.

But the new platforms for political engagement also risk a backlash.

“We are seeing governments trying to control as much as they can the virtual space,” says Sarungi.

The founder of whistleblowing website Jamii Forums last year fell afoul of Tanzania’s Cybercrimes Act and was charged with failing to disclose users’ data.

“We are not against the government, nor judges, nor the police forces,” says Maxence Melo, co-founder of Jamii Forums. “What we are against is the Cyber Crimes Act, which seems to oppress the people.”

Melo’s trial is due to take place next month.

Meanwhile, authorities in Cameroon cut off internet access for millions of people earlier this year following anti-government protests in English-speaking regions on the country. The French campaign group Internet without Borders warns that African governments are increasingly using internet blackouts to stifle political opposition.

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