Category Archives: East Africa

Q&A: Outgoing MSF chief reflects on a rapidly changing South Sudan

JUBA, South Sudan — After 11 years of working on and off in South Sudan, Liz Harding, the country’s head of mission for Médecins Sans Frontières says she wishes she could have done more.

Médecins Sans Frontières doctors and clinical officers hold their daily meeting in Agok, South Sudan. Photo by: MSF South Sudan

“I always feel like we should have gone into that place quicker or been more responsive or should have seen that coming,” the British native told Devex. Ultimately, Harding says you have to “work with the information you have at the end of the day.”

After 14 months at the helm of one of MSF’s largest operations worldwide, Harding is handing over the reins. In her only one-on-one interview on the record, Harding speaks exclusively with Devex about the challenges she’s faced and insights she’s gained working in one of the world’s most challenging aid environments.

South Sudan is MSF’s second largest operation globally, having spent 84.5 million euros ($98 million) in 2016, following the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s 107 million euros expenditure. The South Sudan mission employed the largest number of staff — with 3,923 people, including expats and nationals — for the organization last year.

A seasoned aid worker, Harding has worked with MSF in Ethiopia, Somalia, India, the Philippines, and Myanmar, and says South Sudan stands out due to its complex and dynamic context, one where the “need is so much in your face.”

In this exit interview, she opens up about her experience coming to South Sudan as a nurse in 2006, one year after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that put the country on track toward independence — and what’s it’s been like watching the young nation spiral into war.

What’s going through your mind now that you’re leaving?

It’s quite a separation. This has been so much a part of my life for two years that it’s hard to leave the work and our staff. I also know that I need to be fresh and have a rest and someone else can take over for now. My heart wants to stay but my brain’s saying, no you need to rest.

How do you know when it’s the right time to leave a job like this?

It’s always quite hard to gage how long you should stay. I don’t want to leave with bad feelings or feeling too stressed and you kind of have to feel ok when you leave and not push it too far. I want to continue with MSF, and so this is my lifestyle and you also have to be a little bit sensible as well.

How does an organization like MSF evolve in a conflict zone with restricted access and attacks against humanitarians?

You just have to respond to changing situations. For example, right before I came in 2015, our hospital in Leer, in Unity State, was looted and we had to evacuate. Then we went back trying to set up some secondary health care and it all went wrong again. The sad thing is that it’s not safe for us to open a hospital again in Leer, so we’ve had to use a much more community approach. This means that we have our national staff out in different areas around Leer and Mayendit counties, providing basic nutrition and health care. They provide the care for where the population actually is and they can move if the people move or due to insecurity.

It means that those who feel safe in certain areas don’t have to go to an unsafe place to get health care. The painful thing is that we can’t do it with secondary health — overnight, in-patient care. With secondary health you need a fixed location and it’s a bigger operation, and it’s just not safe right now to be able to set up that kind of facility. You can’t do what the population needs, but you still remain engaged with them in providing some basic health care. It’s hard choices.

How do you keep up with the changing pace?

Our [MSF] independence is not just a nice philosophy; it’s actually the way we do things, so we have the privilege as well to be able to respond when we want, to places where we think it’s important for us to be there. I know other organizations don’t necessarily have that privilege and I think that’s the key to making us effective. It’s about always thinking: What is the situation today that the population needs? Even if you just planned a beautiful intervention, things can change overnight, and you have to be willing to change your approach and your priorities and just keep always on your toes.

How does South Sudan compare to other places you’ve worked?

This is a very dynamic context both from a security and context point of view, but also from a medical point of view. It’s a country that has so many endemic tropical diseases and not just cholera, but you have ups and downs of kala-azar and malaria. Initially when I was here as a nurse and I’d just finished my diploma in tropical nursing at the London school, you’d see everything that you’d been taught.

Then there’s the logistics required to get the operation going. The fact that you have to fly most things in, and there’s many months a year when it’s all wet. So for example, when we had to open up the cholera treatment center in Lankien and the cholera treatment unit in Pieri, that was at a time when we were fortunate that the rain hadn’t come too much. Imagine having to do that in the middle of a big rain when you can’t actually get anything in when things aren’t land-able.

How do you combat the logistical challenges?

You try to always have some prepositioning in the projects so you can always have a way to respond. A lot of it is trying to plan ahead, so knowing that it will be malaria season and making sure you have enough drugs in the country and that you’re always prepared. We know roughly times of year when the diseases should happen, but if you have displacement on top of that, you have added complications and suddenly you have things like cholera. We had this in Bentiu. It started last October but didn’t finish until halfway through the dry season, which is unusual for cholera. Sometimes due to the situation it changes the dynamics and you can have certain diseases when you wouldn’t actually expect them.

What is the biggest challenge you face here?

Having to react all the time to changing either context or diseases or population movements. It just becomes part of your regular work life, and you think, “OK this is happening in this project so we need to send more stuff in.” Even now we’re looking at the dry season and we’re looking to see how much stuff we can actually preposition in the projects to be prepared for the next rains when they come. It’s a constant challenge, but it’s the most amazing people and you can really see the effect of what you do every day.

What’s one story or moment that has greatly impacted you?

When I was a nurse in Leer in 2007, if I think now of some of those staff I was working with at the time. Some are in the internally displaced person’s camp in Bentiu and they’ve been there for three and a half years and still aren’t sure when they can go home. Having met them again in Bentiu, nine years later and having talked to them about what they’ve been through and what it’s like to live in the camp and the things they’ve seen, they can’t go back to a normal life. They’ve all lost so greatly and that’s really impacted me a lot, because it’s people that I knew from previous, more stable times and then met them again in different circumstances. Our staff is amazing the way they cope and adapt. It puts our adaption to shame.

How do you feel watching the country go from what it was after independence to what it’s become now?

It’s really hard, particularly knowing that there was so much hope at one time, and it’s tough to deal with. But the toughness I deal with is nothing compared to the toughness our population and our patients and our staff have to deal with. I just feel that we still have a big job to do in this country making it a little better for the population and our patients, and that helps. With the way that we’re able to do things in areas that we’ve been working in for a couple of decades, that also helps us to remain here. Of course you have your days of huge frustrations as in why am I doing this, but overall it’s actually quite positive and I’ve really enjoyed my time here.

MSF has said “we’re doctors, not politicians.” Is it hard walking that line in such a charged context and how do you balance your public responses?

We try to tell the story of what it’s really like, particularly for our patients on the ground. It’s telling their story — whether it’s in a cholera outbreak or if they’ve just been displaced and had to walk three days to the protection of civilian site. Those are the stories that we really need to focus on as they’re quite often not told as much.

In general, we stay away from the politics, but it’s a very hard line to walk as you also don’t want to dilute what’s happening and you don’t just want to brush over the politics either. Whether it’s politics, context, or natural disasters, there are always as many causes to the situations where we find our patients in. It’s very hard to say who did what to whom. In this country, it’s particularly complex and that’s why, personally for me, I stick more with what’s actually happened. For example they’ve just been displaced and they’re in an area and there’s no services and no health care, no food, children are getting malnourished — these kinds of stories have a really big benefit.

What advice would you give another head of a mission in a similar context?

Be as reactive as possible. Plan for what you know might happen and then day-to-day prioritize as much as you can. Set priorities, as in “these are the things I really want to respond to.” So for example, displacement due to conflict is one of the top things on our list and keeping that in mind is important.

On a pure human side, make sure that you take your time off because some days you can feel like you’ve done a week’s work in a day. Take the calmer days when they happen, as it’s not crazy every single day, but is most days. I always tried to take a day off a week and I managed most of the time. If something can wait for Monday morning it can wait till Monday morning.

Tension in South Sudan capital after bid to disarm detained ex-army chief

NAIROBI (Reuters) South Sudan’s government has sought to disarm the bodyguards of detained former army chief Paul Malong on fears he might escape and launch a rebellion, his wife said on Saturday, highlighting tensions within the leadership.

SUDAN-SSUDAN-ECONOMY-OIL-SUMMIT

Salva Kiir


Malong – the man who has led President Salva Kiir’s campaign against rebels – has been under house arrest since May after Kiir sacked him following a string of military resignations by senior generals alleging abuses and ethnic bias.

Malong had initially fled the capital Juba with a convoy of vehicles for his home state of Aweil following his dismissal – raising fears he might join opposition forces, before returning to the capital.
On Saturday, his wife Lucy Ayak told Reuters security officials arrived at their home late on Friday with “specific orders” from Kiir.

“They came carrying the order from the president and told General Malong that they had been ordered to disarm his bodyguards,” she said, adding that they also tried to take his phone and said his family members would not be allowed to visit.

“The government is thinking that General Malong might take the country back to war. The tension is still high … we do not know if they might come back and arrest him by force if he resists.”

Residents in Juba told Reuters heavily-armed soldiers have blocked the main road leading to his house.

Media outlets from Juba also reported that a senior commander in the army who is allied with Malong has also defected with the aim of launching a rebellion.

President Kiir’s press secretary Ateny Wek Ateny declined to comment, saying the “issue was purely an army matter”.
South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into civil war in 2013 after Kiir fired his deputy Riek Machar.

The conflict, largely fought along ethnic lines, has pitched parts of the oil-producing country into severe hunger, paralyzed public services and forced a quarter of the population – three million people – to flee their homes.

– REUTERS-

Uganda: MPs Plot to Counter Age Limit Bill

At least eight legislators from ruling party, opposition and independents Wednesday vowed to block any attempts by their colleagues to have the 75-year presidential age limit cap lifted.

allAfrica

ug mps

Ugandan Parliament

This comes after over 245 National Resistance Movement (NRM) MPs and NRM-leaning independents on Tuesday agreed to table a private members bill seeking to amend Article 102(b), which provides that for a person vying for the seat of president, ought to be between 35 and 75 years.

At a press conference held at parliament today, the MPs including Wilfred Niwagaba (Ndorwa East) Barnabas Tinkasimire (Buyaga West), Felix Okot Ogong (Dokolo south), Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Betty Nambooze (Mukono County North), John Baptist Nambeshe (Manjiya County), Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central) and Moses Kasibante (Rubaga North) were angry that their colleagues’ move would plunge the country into disaster if not countered.

According to the legislators, they are in the process of ensuring that the debate on the age limit lifting is blocked in addition to making sure speaker of parliament does not preside over the matter.

“This thing called age limit will not be lifted. We are disturbed the blackmail is put on all NRM MPs including myself. I would go home, get a hoe to cultivate for basic survival than take a single coin to betray Ugandans, I took oath,” Tinkasimiire said.

The group argued that it was shameful that all Ugandan MPs have to walk the walk of shame because of the actions of some of their colleagues; after they took oath to uphold Constitution.

“I am so surprised that leaders and MPs that I respect have decided to betray Ugandans to amend the Constitution that we all respect and we have sworn to defend it and protect it,” Okot Ogong said.

Niwagaba, also shadow attorney general urged Ugandans to resist the removal of the presidential age limits as it has been with the amendment of Article 26 concerning acquisition of land so that the two constitutional amendments can be thrown out.

“It’s quite a sad story that people who have been elected and have sworn to uphold the constitution have decided to rape the constitution.”

“Either we stop calling it the Constitution of the republic of Uganda and call it the Constitution of NRM and Museveni, fold our hands and let the country go to the dogs as it surely will unless citizens resist this or all of us take the mantle and challenge to stop this business of people raping our constitution,” Niwagaba said.

Nambeshe noted that it was it was disturbing to see that when articles affect individuals in the Constitution they are amended, adding that this was time to test the constitution.

“Why would an Article like 102(b) of removal of presidential age limit never been tested and tried be allowed to happen? Whenever an article will affect an individual in Uganda here so must it be removed?” Nambeshe said.

“Who are they trying to hoodwink when they set the nomination fees for the president at Shs 50m? Which young person graduating from university, who does not even have the entandikwa (startup capital) going to get Shs 50m to raise as nomination fees to stand as president,” Tinkasimire said.

Nambooze called on all Ugandans to rally join in the fight against the removal of age limits adding that all political parties and leadership need to come up. Kampala Central MP, Muhammad Nsereko called for the isolation and detesting of all members of parliament lobbying for the lifting of the presidential age limit, and also President Museveni who is always ducking on the matter.

Nsereko said it is time to talk about privileges a retiring leader of the nation should have.

“We should be talking about what privileges will he [Museveni] get. How many medical check- ups will he go for, will he be entitled to use the presidential airforce plane or not, will he be writing novels and calling grand children to read for them some stories?”

“These are the things to be talking about. Leave a legacy. You have been quoting Mwalimu Nyerere, Nyerere, Nyerere, but why don’t you quote and live by his path?” Nsereko said.

Via allafrica.com

Interview: Expert calls for use of diplomacy to resolve South Sudan conflict

A South Sudanese expert Tuesday said the United States should explore use of persuasion and diplomacy toward the war-torn country’s leaders, instead of sanctions which could scuttle ongoing peace efforts.

XINHUANET

Image result for jacob chol

President Salva (centre) and rebel leader Machar (left from front) walk on a red carpet at Addis as James Wani Iga (extreme left) accompanies them

“Sanctions don’t have any major impact on these leaders that have been sanctioned in South Sudan. They just send sort of chilling, personal reflections to those leaders, because most of (leaders) them don’t travel, have no money in the U.S they have money here,” said Jacob Chol, professor of politics at Juba university.

He was reacting to the Sept. 6 sanctions including asset freeze and travel ban imposed by the U.S Department of the Treasury on three former and current South Sudan leaders on pretext of obstructing peace and stability in the country.

The affected individuals include the minister of information Michael Makuei, South Sudan army (SPLA) deputy chief of staff Malek Reuben and former SPLA chief of staff Paul Malong.

“Sanctions will embolden the leaders now and make them stronger. What is important besides, sanctions are persuasion and diplomacy,” said Chol, adding that most of these leaders don’t actually have credit cards.

The political science don also cautioned that the U.S. administration’s recent sanctions should have included members of the armed opposition (SPLA-in opposition) allied to former First Vice President Riek Machar.

“The U.S. should be careful on whom to sanction, if they want to be very fair they have to look on both sides of the war so that the government does not look like it is being targeted by the U.S.,” he disclosed.

Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Undersecretary Bak Valentino called the U.S. sanctions unjust and unfair since they excluded rebel officials.

Chol further said there is need for leadership transition to be included in the high level peace deal revitalization forum launched in July, by the East African bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

“If the region does not become very neutral and honest enough to resolve conflict, it will go on forever. This State should be helped to save it from collapse,” he added.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to fighting that pitted mostly Dinka ethnic soldiers loyal to Kiir against Machar’s Nuer ethnic group.

The 2015 peace agreement to end the violence was again violated in July 2016 when the rival factions resumed fighting in the capital forcing Machar to flee into exile.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions that have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

via xinhuanet.com

At least 300 Burundian refugees willingly return home from Tanzania

Dodoma – The UN refugee agency has started repatriating hundreds of Burundian refugees back home from neighbouring Tanzania.

The New York Times

iStock

Emmanuel Maganga, government commissioner for the Kigoma region in northwestern Tanzania, said 300 refugees returned home on Thursday using public transport.

At least 12 000 Burundian refugees have signed up for voluntary repatriation. Maganga said the initial agreement with the UN officials says 300 Burundians will be repatriated every week.

More than 240 000 Burundian refugees are sheltering in Tanzania. Most of them fled political violence in 2015 after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a disputed third term that he ultimately won.

Tanzania’s government has been putting pressure on UNHCR to facilitate the repatriation of those refugees who want to return home.

Burundi’s government says the country is now peaceful.

Angola: Agency Confirms Angola Ruling Party’s Poll Victory

The National Electoral Commission (CNE) Wednesday confirmed the victory of the ruling MPLA party in Angola’s August 23 General Election.

TheEastAfrican

Angola's National Electoral Commission (CNE)

Angola’s National Electoral Commission (CNE) chief Andre da Silva Neto. ARNALDO VIEIRA | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

CNE chief Andre da Silva Neto announced that the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola won with 61.07 per cent vote and 150 MPs.

Consequently, the MPLA flag-bearer and former Defence minister João Lourenço, is expected to be sworn-in on September 21, marking the end of Jose Eduardo dos Santos’s 38-year presidency.

The Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) came second with 26.7 per cent of the votes cast and 51 MPs.

The Board Convergence for Angolan Salvation- Electoral Coalition (Casa-Ce) was the third with 9.4 per cent and 16 MPs.

Were illegal

Fourth was the Social Renovation Party (PRS), with 1.45 per cent of the vote and two MPs, followed by the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) with 0.93 per cent and a single MP, then the National Patriotic Alliance (APN) with 0.51 per cent and no MP.

Four political parties on Sunday disputed the MPLA victory, according to the provisional results, and vowed to unite to challenge the poll outcome.

The parties said in a statement that the provisional results were illegal and unconstitutional.

However, CNE spokesperson Júlia Ferreira dismissed the opposition claims as unfounded, untimely and illegitimate.

End of the war

She promised a more careful analysis of the claims.

The August 23 election was Angola’s fourth since it gained independence from Portugal in 1975 and the third since the end of the war in 2002.

MPLA has dominated the Angolan politics since independence.

It won the elections in 1992, 2008 and 2012, with a parliamentary majority.

In 2012, MPLA secured 74 per cent of the vote against Unita’s 18 per cent. Casa-Ce emerged third with 6 per cent vote.

Kenya: Court Declines to Suspend New Poll Team

A lobby group has moved to court to challenge recent staff changes by the electoral body ahead of the repeat presidential election.

By Charles Lotara

twitter_color-128@chaleyofficial

ksc

The Kenya’s Supreme Court

The case has been filed by Kenya Independent Commissions Workers Union.

In an urgent application filed at the Employment And Labour Relations Court, the lobby argued that the changes are likely to lead to suspension or termination of employment, which is not based on any investigations, report or finding, determining their alleged illegal conduct.

The lobby argues that in the appointment of the new team, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) implied culpability on the part of the replaced employees.

CHEBUKATI

“The affected employees have legitimate expectation to be accorded good and reasonable working conditions including a good working environment,” lobby in court papers.

The court however declined to suspend the newly formed team and instead directed the organisation to serve the respondents and return for a hearing on September 20.

The lobby argues that the action by the IEBC Chairperson Wafula Chebukati, which has triggered an avalanche of accusations and condemnation of the affected employees, amounts to a breach of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court on September 1 nullified the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta on grounds that the elections were not conducted in accordance to the Constitution and the applicable principles.

The Supreme Court in its judgment also ordered the IEBC, “to organise and conduct a fresh Presidential Election in strict conformity with the Constitution and the applicable laws within 60 days.”

NEW TEAM

In an attempt to ensure the elections are credible, the IEBC chair on September 5, in naming his new team, went for the “safe” staff in the secretariat and county returning officers, the second highest position after the CEO Ezra Chiloba-led team in Nairobi.

To man the crucial ICT team, and who will report to him directly, Mr Chebukati picked Kitui County Returning Officer Albert Gogo to replace Mr James Muhati.