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Category Archives: African News

China-built railway linking Ethiopia and Djibouti officially opens for business

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Following a few months of testing on the Ethiopian side, the China-funded and built railway linking Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa with the strategic Red Sea port of Djibouti was officially inaugurated in Djibouti on Tuesday.

The new 750km railway line turns a week-long drive through a winding pot-hole filled road into a smooth 12-hour ride to the coast. The project, backed by $4 billion of Chinese investment, is expected to be a boon for the economies of both African nations. Landlocked Ethiopia, one of the fastest growing markets in the world, gets access to the sea, while the tiny country of Djibouti gets easier access to 94 million Ethiopian customers.

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Last October, Xu Shaoshi, head of China’s top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, gave a speech at the railway’s inauguration ceremony in Addis Ababa acting as Chinese President Xi Jinping’s official envoy. Xu hailed the project as “a railway of Sino-African friendship in the 21st century.”

It replaces an old diesel railroad line started by the French in 1894 that had fallen into disuse and disrepair after years of war and famine. It also marks the second time that China has built a trans-national railway through Africa. The last one was the Tazara Railway connecting Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam with Zambia’s Kapiri Mposhi in the 1970s.

We likely won’t have to wait 40 years for another one. South China Morning Pot reports that this could be just the first stage in an ambitious trans-African track that would link the Red Sea with the Atlantic Ocean.

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In the meantime, the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway serves to signify China’s continued investment on the African continent. Perhaps no where is this investment more evident than in the burgeoning manufacturing powerhouse of Ethiopia. In 2016, $20 billion of Chinese investment poured into the country which is fast trying to change its global image from a country filled with drought and famine to one that is filled instead with factories and railways — recently attracting no less than Ivanka Trump’s shoe manufacturer to move shop from China to Addis Ababa.

Furthermore, according to AFK Insider, Ethiopian Airlines is in the process of adding a direct flight to Chengdu, its fifth non-stop flight to a Chinese city, and Ethiopia is working on launching a civilian satellite into orbit with the help of China.

Meanwhile, the tiny East African country of Djibouti is home to China’s first overseas military outpost, a naval base that Beijing insists is only a logistics hub for China’s naval and trade presence in the Gulf of Aden.

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Matt Bonini contributed to this story

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Posted by on February 11, 2017 in African News

 

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Nigeria: Enhancing the Transport System

Photo: Ben Parker/IRINPhoto: Ben Parker/IRIN

By John Iwori -allAfrica.com

Enhancing the transport system in the country will help in addressing the current burden on roads.

There is no doubt that water transport remains a veritable avenue to reduce the present over reliance on road transport across the country. Presently the movement of persons, goods and service is more on the roads that criss-cross the country.

For a country with enormous inland waterways, about 8,600km, roughly 60 per cent is unused, which is an anomaly. The longest inland waterways are the Niger River and its tributary, the Benue River, which are largely unused. The most used, especially by larger powered boats and for commerce, are in the Niger Delta and all along the coast from Lagos Lagoon to Cross River.

Rail, another channel of transportation has also been neglected over time. As of 2003, Nigeria’s rail system had 3,557 kilometers of track, 19 kilometers of which were dual gauge and the remainder, standard gauge.

The country has two major rail lines: one connects Lagos on the Bight of Benin and Nguru in the northern state of Yobe; the other connects Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta and Maiduguri in the northeastern state of Borno. However the rail system is not optimally used, until the present administration which is trying to rejuvenate the rail system. Much as being done in this sub sector should have been extended to the nation’s vast waterways.

Already, the over-dependence on the road transport across Nigeria has impacted negatively on her socio-economic development. It is on record that 40 to 80 percent income of Nigerian workers are spent on transportation, with road being the dominant mode of commuting.

Again, 50 to 60 percent cost of freight is consumed by road transportation. Pathetically, most of the roads are poorly maintained and are often cited as a cause for the country’s high rate of traffic fatalities as trucks compete for space with other road users.

Besides, the roads easily get bad as the weight of vehicular movement weigh heavily on the state of the roads. The huge cost aside, it takes time and skill to get the roads network back to shape.

Review of Policy That this has contributed to the high cost of roads maintenance across Nigeria is to say the least. This partly explained why stakeholders in the transport industry have continued to pick holes in Nigerian transport policy. They often use different forum to draw the attention of the federal government to the ills in the policy just as they demand for a review to meet the demands of the present realities.

A transport expert, Professor Bamidele Badejo, said for Nigerians to see the desires changes in the transport industry something tangible need to be done. He did not only picked holes in the Nigeria’s transport policy, but also enumerated strategies for effective public transport management in the country.

A senior lecturer and former Lagos State Commissioner of Transportation, Badejo linked bad leadership to an absence of a national transport policy, which he said, forms the cardinal challenge facing the country’s transport sector in the last 100 years of her existence.

In an inaugural lecture titled “Transporting the Future Today: Portrait of Nigeria” delivered at Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State., he said over the years the transport industry in the country had witnessed several missed opportunities, especially its potentially as an engine of growth and development. He added that Nigeria has not innovated nor invented the right approach towards tapping the full benefits of transport sector.

It is clear that carrying out a critical review of the transport industry to give water transport its right position in the scheme of things will help in arresting the present over dependence on road transport. Doing so will entail putting certain measures in place so that the desired change and impact can be felt by the citizenry. It is imperative for the authorities to put right policies in place and implement them strictly.

The relevant government agencies must also enact regulations that will guide operators in water transport. By the provisions of the laws establishing it, the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) has a responsibility to put rules and regulations to sanitise water transport. Besides putting the regulations in place, it must ensure its enforcement. This is the way to ensure there is efficiency in water transport in the country.

In apparent response to this challenge, NIWA has said it has concluded plans to launch an inland waterways code for its use and regulation.

Speaking the just concluded 2014 stakeholders’ conference on the economic use of the Onitsha River Port, NIWA’s Managing Director, Hajiya Inna Maryam Ciroma said that the code is long overdue adding that work has commenced on it. Ciroma said that code will also serve as a guide, law on the use of the waterways for operators.

She explained that the need to regulate the use of the nation’s waterways cannot be overemphasized considering the security challenges that have been facing the nation in recent times.

Stakeholders have made it clear that its workability depends on several layers of approval before the code come on stream. It must be noted that aside the approvals that NIWA is waiting to get, the authority will also have to carry its relevant agencies along in the entire process. The code when finally approved will stem the indiscriminate use of the waters and checkmate the excesses of illegal dredgers.

They averred that the code will not only bring about safety on the waterways, it will regulate the use of all river crafts and vessels operation within the land waterways in Nigeria.

Those who spoke to THISDAY said apart from rules and regulation on the use of the waterways, it will also contain penalties for violation as it ill deal with the issue of overloading, not wearing of live jackets.

Last Words It is also vital that all relevant stakeholders are sensitized before the code is put into operation as every necessary step need to be taken to ensure that everything about the code is put in proper perspective. Against the backdrop that there is a nexus between a visionary leadership and comprehensive national transport policy, there is need for a roadmap to salvage Nigeria from the current dysfunction of the transport sector.

Nigeria cannot make progress without improved transportation system. Also, the sector cannot advance without a well-planned public transportation system for which water transportation is a key component. It is germane the relevant government agencies address the questions begging for questions in the transport industry. This is one of the reasons why many stakeholders in the transport industry have opined that as Nigerians would be deciding political leadership in 2015, transport “must be one of the key issues of the electorate’ must demand.

According to them, the paradigm must change to accord it with the national aspiration demanding a better country. We canvass that transport – and in this context, efficient and effective national transportation agenda – must become one of the issues that the electorate should demand from the country’s political leadership in the next election. Going forward, Nigeria’s transport and mobility quagmire must be effectively settled and in doing this water transport must be given a priority so that Nigerians can more viable options in moving from one place to another with ease.

There should be a comprehensive transport policy to take care of the vast waterways, the rail system and the aviation sector for the country to move forward.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in African News

 

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Akon Launches “Akon Lighting Africa” To Bring Electricity To One Million African Households

AKON-WITH-PRESIDENT-Blaise-Compaoré

Akon With President Blaise Compaoré of Burkina Faso

Akon is stepping away from music to focus on supplying one million African households with electricity by the end of 2014.  Akon’s initiative “Akon Lighting Africa” aims to address the fact that more than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, as well as more than 85% of those living in rural areas lack access.

Akon’s company, Akon Corp., is working with GIVE1 Project and Solektra International, member of ADS Group (Africa Development Solutions Group), in order to create replicable, scalable and cost-effective energy solutions.

So far Akon has met with leaders from Senegal, Mali, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Congo and the Ivory Coast and on February 10, 2014, Akon and his delegation, which included Samba Bathily, Solektra International, Thione Niang, Give 1 Project, Wang Lin, CJI, Khadidiatou Thiam, Akon Corp. and Dr. Julius W. Garvey, Akon Corp. began an ambitious tour of nine (9) African nations to engage in dialogue about the project.

“We are extremely pleased by the overwhelmingly positive response of government leaders to embrace a public-private partnership that aims to address access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. This initiative is given further validity and momentum based on the support of these nations and their executives and advisors,” said Akon.

Akon has partnered with Azuri Technologies to support the installation of solar equipment in households, which will in turn allow children to have access to electricity that will improve their quality of education.

To learn more about the “Akon Lighting Africa” initiative please visit www.akonlightingafrica.com.

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2014 in African News

 

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Angry farmers hit the streets over GMO

By Myjoyonline.com

 Human beings like all other living things grow; therefore must die.

By: Alex Dzumador

Some farmers drawn from across the country are demonstrating in Accra against the passage of the Plant Breeders Bill, which is being debated in Parliament today.

The demonstration, organized by the Coalition for Farmers Rights an advocacy group against Genetically Modified Organisms  (GMO) started at the Obra Spot at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle in Accra.

The demonstrators have been shouting No GMO! No GMO! as they marched through the principal streets of Accra, Joy News’ Anna Agyapong reported.

According to her, majority of the protestors are wearing dreadlocks and brandishing placards with the inscription “GMO is poison.”

“Mahama say no to GMO”, “Say no to GMO.”
Some of the protestors said the country must not yield to the pressure to introduce GMO into the country.

“We are doomed if this bill is passed,” one of the demonstrators said adding, “we will be under colonialism if this bill is passed.”

Another angry protestor said there will be dire repercussions if this bill is passed into law.

“We are going to have farmers in Ghana, who cannot reproduce their seeds unless they go to buy it from abroad.

“The advent of lifestyle diseases, low sperm count, female infertility are on the increase,” he alleged.

Meanwhile, Joy News’ Parliamentary correspondent, Elton John Brobbey said the Plant Breeders Bill is currently at the consideration stage.

The Speaker of Parliament, Edward Doe Adjaho has however, issued a directive for Parliament’s Committee to consult more on the merits and demerits of the GMO before the process is taken any further.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2014 in African News

 

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Kenya to generate over half of its electricity through solar power by 2016

Government invests $1.2bn jointly with private companies to build solar power plants across the country
Masinga hydroelectric power plant at the Masinga dam in Kenya

Masinga hydroelectric power plant. Kenya gets most of its power from hydroelectricity, but there are hopes solar will contribute more. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

Kenya has identified nine sites to build solar power plants that could provide more than half the country’s electricity by 2016.

Construction of the plants, expected to cost $1.2bn (£73m), is set to begin this year and initial design stages are almost complete. The partnership between government and private companies will see the state contributing about 50% of the cost.

Cliff Owiti, a senior administrator at the Kenya Renewable EnergyAssociation, said the move will protect the environment and bring down electricity costs. “We hope that when the entire project is completed by 2016, more than 50% of Kenya’s energy production will consist of solar. Already we are witnessing solar investments in Kenya such as a factory that was opened here in 2011 that manufactures solar energy panels.”

He said that over $500m had already been invested in solar projects in Kenya. “The costs related with hydro electricity are very high, considering they are influenced by the low water levels in major supply dams. With high investments in solar, we will witness almost no blackouts and power charges will reduce because electricity will be in high supply.”

Germano Mwabu, an economics professor at the University of Nairobi, said the solar plan could have a dramatic impact on energy prices. “When the project is complete and solar is in good use, electricity costs could go down by as much as 80%.”

The country is also planning the construction of what will be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest windfarm, near Lake Turkana, which is set to be operational by 2015.

Kenya ranks 22nd in Africa for the amount of electricity it generates, and 46th in the world in the generation of solar energy. But it could rank third for solar in the next four years, according to figures from the Energy Regulatory Commission, a government agency.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2014 in African News

 

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Genetically Modified Seeds And Ghana; The Debate

By Ghanaian Chronicle

 FRIENDSHIP CAN BE THE ART OF DISTANT BUT LOVE IS THE ART OF NEAREST

By: akoaso,HH Germany

Ghana is at the cross roads, debating the introduction of genetically modified crops (commonly referred to as GM crops) into the country. Public debates are generally good if conducted in an atmosphere of civility and with the intention of arriving at evidence-based decisions.

The ongoing debate on genetically modified crops is not unusual and the literature on the diffusion of innovations is replete with examples of individuals, groups and or organizations rising up against the introduction of new ideas or technologies.

Historical antecedents to debates on new ideas dates back to ancient times and they were all resolved by evidence-based science. Let us recall debates about the flat earth vrs the spherical earth and the sun revolving around the earth vrs the earth revolving around the sun debates. Some people lost their lives but eventually, the new theories proved to be right that the earth is round and that it revolves around the sun. These are evidence based conclusions.

Ghanaians should, therefore, conduct the current debate not on emotions or ideological inclinations but with available empirical and science-based-evidence.

From what I have heard on the radio and read in the newspapers, it appears that there is lack of information about GM crops and the proponents have failed to put up   convincing arguments for the introduction of the GM crops into Ghana.

The scale seems to be tilting in favour of those who oppose the introduction, in spite of the fact that, the premise for their opposition, although sound it may seem, is not based on available facts and evidence. They   have sought to use the media and the streets to shape public opinion and   I would like to contribute to the debate by briefly summarizing the facts about GM crops as we know them today.

Farming became the main occupation of mankind after transitioning from hunting to a sedentary lifestyle.  Since then, farmers in livestock or crops have sought to improve upon their practices and adapt to the environment.

This has been done through purposive selection of crops or animals with the best and preferred characteristics for further replanting. Thus, farmers have since time immemorial   kept seeds with a preferred character for replanting or reproduction.

This technique of maintaining and improving particular preferred characteristics of a crop or animal became known in modern times as breeding after Mendel proved scientifically that  characters are carried from parental genes to their offspring.  Breeding, simplified is the manipulation of genetic material for desired results/traits/character. And the trait which is the character of interest to the breeder/farmer could be colour, height, yield etc.

Scientists have improved upon this technique and tried crossing closely related genetic material, or   cloning, and by radiation all with the intention of speeding up the breeding techniques used by farmers.

The techniques used by scientists, although shortening the generation of new materials, still took a relatively long time, several years in some cases. They were also limited to using closely related genetic material (relatives).  Genetic engineering is the latest technique in the science of breeding and by far the most sophisticated which allows the introduction of genes from related and unrelated species to another, which the other techniques were unable to do.

It is also a much faster process than all the other techniques as scientists are now able to isolate the gene responsible for a particular character and   introduce it directly into the genetic material of another crop. It also has an advantage of dealing with several traits at a time and from a wide range of resources.

Genetically engineered crops commonly called genetically modified (GM)   are therefore a product of a breeding technique, nothing more than that. It is a process where the genetic material of an organism is manipulated by adding a specific useful and preferred gene. It is just another form of gene manipulation breeding.

Why then the debate and controversy?
To begin with, the introduction of GM crops like the introduction of the hybrids in India in the 60s has also received its fair share of resistance to innovations for three main reasons: The first was the fear of bacteria. The first genetically modified crop (tobacco) was encoded with an insecticidal protein from the bacteria called Bacillus thuringiensis . Since then, other procedures have evolved that use a naturally soil occurring bacteria called Agrobacterium tumefaciens as a vector in the transfer of genes.

Knowledge in the use of bacteria in the process spread and got stuck and the fear associated with the organism took hold of the campaign against the use of GM crops. It no longer mattered whether the bacteria were useful or harmful.  The second source of concern that has taken more of an ideological path is the source of the GM products.

The products have been developed with funding from large multinational corporations and any push for its introduction is seen as a reflection of corporate interests and that these organizations are more interested in their profits rather than the welfare of the poor, especially, in developing countries. The third group of concerns relate to environmental contamination of the newly created plant or animal products.

I also suspect that, popularization and association of the terms such as engineering and genetic to the breeding technique may also have something to do with the resistance. Sometimes, names do matter! Genetic engineering has been, in all respects,   an extension of what human beings have been doing for tens of thousands of years breeding new plants or animals.

What are the facts?
In today’s world and with the advancement in techniques, genetic material used in   crops originate from plants although some bacteria could be used as vectors, in a number of cases the genes are transferred directly without a vector. The GM crops currently on the market are aimed at protecting the crop against the incidence of pests, diseases and   higher yields.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) food from these crops have by far higher standards of evaluation before they are released than crops bred through conventional breeding techniques.

For example, all GM crops are screened against allergenicity, whereas crops bred through conventional techniques may not. The regulations and conventions covering the release of GM materials are much stricter to ensure safety for human consumption.

Thirty years along the line, since the release of the first GM materials and without any reported adverse side effects on humans, and considering the strict protocol for their release, it is safe to assume that the products are safe. Indeed GM crops are being used to feed animals, cattle and chicken in Brazil, Europe and the US and for all you know, some of these animal products have already found their way to Ghana.

On the cost side, it is important to weigh the benefits as well. It is not a one size fits all as the products vary. Some GM materials on the market are for shelf life enhancement thus reducing post-harvest losses, insect resistance, weed or herbicide resistance, higher yields, and improvement in the nutritive value etc.

Available evidence shows that the purchase and use of GM seeds lead to   overall lower production costs and higher benefits. For example,   a farmer using a weed resistant GM seed will spend less on weeding. Savings can therefore be made on weeding. Moreover, the yield is likely to be higher due to lower weed infestation.

The net benefit is a higher yield and income which   more than offset the initial investment made in the purchase of the seed. So the fact that a farmer purchases seed does not automatically lead to loss in income.

Ghanaian farmers are already used to purchasing seeds, from seed yams from the local market (visit Kintampo market during yam planting period) to the purchase of improved maize, cowpea seeds and cassava planting materials from agrochemical companies. The introduction of GM crops will not be the first time that Ghanaian farmers will be purchasing seeds.

Farmers have thus become used to buying seeds and the introduction and sale of GM seeds will not make any difference. It is true that some farmers still keep and replant seeds but that should not be generalized to cover the entire farming population. Indeed denying others who would like to make investments in their farming practices and improve their living conditions the chance to purchase GM seeds because others will not, is a discriminatory practice, and their rights should also be protected.  Farmers should be given the choice to decide on their own free will whether to make investments in purchasing seeds or not.

The arguments on the use of farmers own seed is also no longer tenable as GM seeds can be replanted.   The producers of GM materials conceived an idea to introduce what they called terminator gene into GM crops to protect their intellectual property rights. The terminator gene would have prevented replanting but was never used.  Therefore, it is possible to replant the seeds; although it is advisable to purchase new seeds each planting season as replanted seeds may lose their vigor.

The concern about multinational/national corporations and their profit intentions is also perplexing. These corporations have operated in the developed and developing countries for years since the introduction of agro-chemicals and improved seeds into farming. They produce all the agro-chemicals that are sold in the developed and developing world and have been making profits all along. They invest and patent the intellectual property on their agro-chemicals just as they patent the seeds they produce and will produce.

Why don’t we complain about those agro-chemicals being produced by them but the seeds?  I can only surmise that the answer lies somewhere else other than their involvement in GM seeds.  Sometimes, the concerns for the cost of the products to the poor, which is genuine, tend to be dwarfed by ideological aversion for multinational corporations in general, which begs the question what is the alternative?

Shouldn’t we debate on how to make the products accessible at an affordable cost rather than where it came from?  Today, the cost of agro-chemicals and hybrid seeds produced by these multi-nationals has become far cheaper, and one of the reasons is mass utilization, which effectively reduces overhead costs and thereby making the product affordable to users. So resisting the adoption of GM crops by large number of farmers effectively lead to higher cost for those who have the resources to purchase, it is not the reverse.

On the environment, there are fears that the introduction of GM crops may damage the natural habitats and wildlife and also transfer genes from cultivated species to their wild relatives and inadvertent suppression of immune systems in animals etc.

These fears, although they have some merit, it should be noted that all new crops have environmental effects and these hazards are not limited to GM crops. Crops bred through conventional means could also pose environmental risks. Agriculture of any kind impacts the environment.

There were indeed instances of environmental breaches in the US during the initial introduction of GM crops and these led to tighter regulations. What is required are the safety regulations which guide their release and use rather than a ban.

It is, therefore, important that the environmental effects of genetically modified plants just like the health and nutritional aspects be evaluated and continues to be monitored using science-based evidence to prevent un-anticipated effects on the environment and humans.

Whilst the debate is going on, Ghana is behind Burkina Faso and more than 28 other countries who have adopted the GM technology. To date more than 17 million farmers on close to 160 million hectares of land are using GM crops, globally. Countries such as Brazil and India, for example, initially positioned themselves as producers of non-GM crops.

They have since then seen the light and made a u-turn and are now major players in GM products and benefiting from their decision to adopt. It is a truism in diffusion science that early adopters reap most of the benefits of the innovation.

Ghana is one of those countries yet to move in this direction. The key reason for the adoption of GM materials by these countries is the welfare of the poor and benefits the practice brings to them and the country and not the reverse.

Any observer of the Ghanaian farming scene knows the difference between those who use improved seeds and those who replant their seeds. Mostly the poor replant and it is advisable to move them out of this practice. The poor, therefore, stand to lose. In Burkina Faso today, GM seeds (cotton) are being planted by the poor and their lives are being improved.

In conclusion, I would like to remind readers of a similar scenario enacted in the late 1950s when India and Pakistan at the verge of famine sought to introduce hybrid wheat and rice into their farming systems. The same arguments about health, cost (multinationals) and the environment were raised.

The governments of the two countries mustered the political will and imported tons of improved hybrids and crop yields shot up from 1 ton per hectare to an average of 5 tons per hectare through what has become known as the green revolution . India was not only able to produce enough for the country but became a net exporter with benefits to the poor and the country. Sub Saharan Africa stood by and watched these countries reap the benefits.

Today, yield levels for most crops in Africa are where India was 50 years ago. It seems that public attention has been focused on the risk side more out of ignorance, emotions and ideologies rather than sound judgment of the benefits of the technique and innovations.

Concerns over health and environmental threats are valid and has led to very strict regulations and protocols being put in place by countries and international bodies such as the FAO and WHO, and we should be thankful to those who pointed them out.

What is required is the strict compliance, monitoring and enforcement of the guidelines and protocols for GM seeds and foods and not a ban. Ghana should not be left behind this time around and can no longer afford to ignore science and innovation in farming.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in African News

 

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Modern Day Slavery: Lake Volta, Ghana

By Lindsay Boyle

A Child Working On Lake Volta. Photo Taken By Eric Peasah

A Child Working On Lake Volta. Photo Taken By Eric Peasah

In Ghana, European-built slave forts and castles scatter along the coast — most notably those at Elmina and Cape Coast — and serve as reminders of the central role the country played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade more than 200 years ago.
Slavery has a different name today — human trafficking — but it still flourishes in Ghana: the 2013 Trafficking in Humans Report identified it as a source, transit and destination country for the practice. And, last year, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection said69.8 percent of Ghana’s human trafficking is internal.

Along the shores of Lake Volta, the world’s largest man-made lake by surface area, children are the victims.

A trip to the Volta Region in eastern Ghana reveals children as young as 4 and rarely older than 13 starting their 15-hour workdays as early as 4 a.m. and ending well after dark, seven days a week. While girls de-scale fish and perform other domestic chores, boys mend, cast and hoist nets.

At the command of their masters — many of whom used to be slaves themselves — they dive underwater to unhook nets even when they can’t swim, knowing the alternative is taking a beating. Several of the children say they know others who’ve drowned. Others contract illnesses such as bilharzia, which can lead to bloody diarrhea and abdominal pain, from the parasite-infested lake.

Although work has primed their young muscles, distended stomachs show their malnutrition.

But, most of their parents don’t know the realities of life on Lake Volta. Believing their children will attend school and work in the evenings, parents sell their children for as little as $20 a year. Some parents can’t afford to feed their children, while others believe their kids are staying with relatives, unaware that the relatives sold the children to fishermen.

Stacy Omorefe, cofounder of counter-trafficking NGO City of Refuge Ministries (CORM), said some NGOs have estimated that 7,000 – 10,000 children work along the lake — a number she thinks is low.

“No one can really give you an exact figure,” said Eric Peasah, founder of Right To Be Free and former field manager of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) counter-trafficking project. “But, I can say that, when you go on the lake and cruise for one hour, you can meet not less than 20 different canoes, and each one of them might have at least one child or two children in it.”

That wasn’t always the case. Four or five decades ago, Peasah explained, fishermen brought children or nephews who’d already finished middle school to learn the trade and carry on the family practice. But, he said, many of the teenagers eventually rebelled, not wanting to become fishermen.

“Some of the group along the line started taking younger boys from their villages to go and help them,” he said. “They had these young, young kids who are very submissive and obedient. They do what they’re asked to do.”

Prosecution

Ghana’s 2005 Human Trafficking Act criminalizes the practice on the lake, and treaties such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child — ratified by Ghana in 1990, before any other country — discourage child labor and human trafficking. But, resolving the issue is more complicated than merely arresting and jailing those who are violating the law.

“We want to prosecute,” Peasah said. “But, the question is, how do you prosecute without much evidence? You need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this child was given out, was sold…and the people you need to (get) the evidence from are people within the family.”

Children, not knowing any better, sometimes say the fishermen are their fathers or relatives, which compounds the problem.

“Some of the kids we found, they don’t even know where they’re from, their last name,” explained Johnbull Omorefe, cofounder of CORM.

According to Peasah, only those who partake in extreme and obvious trafficking are successfully convicted.

Besides, according to Victoria Natsu, Head of the Human Trafficking Secretariat in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection,“it’s not in the best interest of Ghana, the children and the family themselves to have parents being prosecuted.”

Rescue

Although an Anti Human Trafficking Unit was established within the Ghana Police Service in 2006, large-scale rescues pose another problem.

“We have a lot of shelters around, but we don’t have shelters,” Peasah began. “For example, if police go and do police raid — we’ve done that before — and we have hundreds of children, where do you take them? Nowhere.”

Most NGO shelters are at capacity, including CORM’s Children’s Village, where almost 40 children — most rescued from Lake Volta — stay in two dormitories.

At the village, the children attend the on-site Faith Roots International Academy, receiving tutoring if necessary. In their free time, they take part in bible studies and a number of recreational activities, including football, art and other camps in the summer. Lessons on life skills such as budgeting prepare them to live successfully on their own.

“We really try to take a holistic approach to our restoration process,” Stacy said.

While the children are free to come and go as they’d like — get married, attend university or do whatever else — none have left permanently, yet. Stacy said it’s possible that some never will.

“This is their home,” Johnbull said.
In Peasah’s opinion, though, permanent shelters aren’t the answer.

“I personally don’t believe in long-term institutionalizing of children, victims,” Peasah said. “Those who run the orphanage, or whatever they are running, until children move, you can’t bring more.”

And, when just one child is rescued from the lake, his or her siblings are still in danger of being trafficked. Peasah suggested organizations should support the parents and reintegrate children into their homes, instead.

During his work with IOM — which has helped rescue and reintegrate more than 730 children since its inception in 2002 — only five or six families didn’t want their child back initially. Even those situations were resolved when both parties agreed upon an appropriate caretaker.

“If you have money to take care of this child, support him in his environment and then build him up,” he said.

His current organization, Right To Be Free (RTBF), uses the “5 R System,” which was developed during his time at IOM. After researching the situation, workers rescue the children fishermen have agreed to release, often in exchange for a micro-grant, new supplies or the opportunity to learn a new trade.

At the Rehabilitation Center in Accra, the children receive medical, psychological and educational services for three months. Afterward, measures are taken to reunite and safely reintegrate the children with their families, where RTBF monitors and supports them for more than two years.

“When you rehabilitate (the children) and you give the mother some help, the facilities open,” he said.

Peasah suggested if all counter-trafficking NGOs worked together to improve and use an existing government shelter as a temporary rehabilitation facility, money could be freed up to help more victims directly. But, he added, many NGOs don’t want to give up their shelters.

Education

CORM does more than just shelter children, though.

Since they were met with anger during their very first rescue attempt, Johnbull and Stacy have been holding meetings and workshops within Lake Volta communities, educating fishermen and other residents about the law and the practices of trafficking and child labor — a process they call “intervention.” They also educate “sending communities” — places where parents are likely to sell their children — about what really happens to children sent to work at the lake.

For Johnbull, a pastor, it’s about building relationships and trust and showing love, rather than being superior and condescending. CORM never pays for the release of a child. Already, he said, he’s seen change.

“Some of the slave masters are now supporting us, helping us. (They) convince people on the ground to let the kids go,” he said. “That is something really good, something we’re really happy about.”

According to Natsu, the government is also working to create awareness so parents and fishermen will know trafficking is not proper. Because, she said, even though the age of the children has changed since the practice began, some parents still consider the children’s work on the lake part of a natural ‘socialization process.’

“Today we are talking of modern day slavery,” she said. “What we are saying is even if you want your children to be part of the process, let them have their education, their good health. Let them do all that children are supposed to do.

“Let them grow to the level where they could fit into the job, then start to train them.”

As part of a five-year national anti-trafficking action plan — drafted this year by the Human Trafficking Management Board — government officials visit relevant regions, explaining trafficking and the fundamental rights of children to residents in terms of Ghanaian law.

Anti-trafficking TV and radio programs broadcasted throughout the country reach an even larger audience.

Prevention

But, the problem is not only fueled by lack of awareness — it’s also fueled by poverty.

“If you look at everything, it revolves around single moms,” Johnbull said. “So, let’s go back to the root: what can we do to prevent it?”

For CORM, the answer lies in operations called 7 Continents and Save A Child Water.

The former, located in the Tema New Town district of Greater Accra, employs about 10 single mothers who learn to make bags, jewelry and other similar items that are then sold in places such as the United States and France. The women are paid on a monthly basis, which is common in Ghana.

Save A Child Water filters, packages and sells clean drinking water in Ghana, and only employs single mothers. A message inscribed on each water sachet, including the words, “children are not for sale,” helps spread the word about the issue. Fifty percent of profits go toward rescuing and supporting children and reconnecting them with their families.

In Peasah’s opinion, helping fishermen find alternative fishing methods is important as well. Some organizations, he said, provide micro-grants to fishermen and parents alike so they can improve or start up their own businesses.

As of last year, for example, IOM had given micro-business assistance to almost 1,000 parents, guardians and fishermen.

The government, too, recognizes that preventing trafficking means alleviating poverty.

“It’s vulnerability that creates most of these problems for us,” Natsu said. “The first point of protection should be the family and the community.”

Programs such as Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP),for example, provide cash and health insurance to qualifying extremely poor households across Ghana, as long as their children are not in labor or trafficking and are enrolled and kept in school.

Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) and the Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP) also encourage parents to send their children to school.

But, although Natsu said the government provides free school uniforms and supplies in the poorest communities, a January GhanaWeb feature suggested some communities neither receive those things nor have adequate facilities or teachers. Plus, there iswidespread agreement that FCUBE — established in 1996 with a promise of free primary and junior high school for all by 2005 — has still not been fully implemented.

Regardless, Natsu said the programs have resulted in increased enrollment.

Soon, she added, a child protection policy that UNICEF and the Department of Children are developing specifically for Ghana will focus on both families and communities.

“If the community and family are involved,” she said, “it is our prayer that we should be able to protect children more than we are doing today.”

Countless counter-trafficking organizations work in Ghana, includingPartners in Community Development Programme (PACODEP), Touch A Life, Free the Slaves, Challenging Heights and many others. Some are new, some are old and all have varying approaches.

But, Peasah said, vast areas of the lake are still mostly untouched by NGOs or otherwise.

“Most of us who have been on the ground for a long time working on trafficking issues, internally and externally, we work as a team,” he said. “I believe that we cannot do it all. We need each other.”

City of Refuge Ministries Children’s Village: A Brief History
Stacy and Johnbull Omorefe met in Ghana in 2001, married in 2002 and launched a non-profit organization called City of Refuge Ministries in the United States in 2006. It wasn’t until they read aNew York Times article detailing rampant child trafficking on Lake Volta, though, that they knew what they wanted their organization to tackle.

They flew back to Ghana in 2007, enduring a sometimes road-less, 17-hour drive before arriving at the lake.

“That trip was the one that changed everything,” Johnbull said. “(The children) were young when they came, but now they are 16, 18 years old and they can’t read, write. All they know is fishing.”

Johnbull himself grew up on the streets of Nigeria without parents or guidance.

“I wept,” he said. “I’ve never felt that way before in all of my life. It reminded me of my childhood, how I grew up.”

City of Refuge Ministries’ work in Ghana started in an apartment in Tema with less than 10 children. Now, an entire children’s village sits in a clearing behind a military camp in Doryumu, Greater Accra, a dirt path through farmland the sole way back to the main road.

Ground was broken early in 2011, but already the village boasts the Omorefe’s home, a volunteer house, a guest house, two dormitories plus one that’s in progress, a school, a basketball court, a playground area and more. The whole place is a story of collaboration.

“Everything you see here…we didn’t have the money,” Johnbull said. “Everything has come as a surprise from God.”

When they learned a private Christian school in Tema was passing students on to the next grade even when they couldn’t write their own names, the Omorefes decided to build their own school. The chief of Shai Hills, when he heard about their plan, offered the land in Doryumu in exchange for free education for one needy child from each of the eight local clans.

Y – Generation Against Poverty Australia agreed to fund the Faith Roots International Academy. U.S. citizen Autumn Buzzell, first the principal and now the director of education, helps run the school and develop curriculum. A paid staff of Ghanaians teaches the classes.

The 43 children staying at the village — six of which are Stacy and Johnbull’s — plus almost 180 children from around the area attend the school, which tries to cap classes out at 20 students. Sponsorships from people and organizations around the world support the children staying at the village, as well as about 40 of the community children.

Although there were just seven classrooms when the school opened in 2011, there’s now a classroom for each grade level from preschool through junior high school 2 (8th grade), as well as a computer lab and an office in the works.

“The expansion has been really great,” Stacy said, “but we’re already outgrowing this building.”

She said they hope to eventually have two classrooms for each grade and to build a separate junior and senior high school facility. Other plans include building a clinic, looking into sustenance farming and completing a third dormitory that will hold almost 40 boys — the girls will stay in the two existing dorms.

“The vision is there, the dream is there,” Johnbull said. “We take life just a day at a time.”

According to Stacy, there’s also a plan to establish other City of Refuge sites in places such as northern Ghana or Nigeria that will reach out to the needs of the area.

“We see City of Refuge, this place, being a model for additional campuses like this,” she said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

A Child Working On Lake Volta: Photo Taken By Eric Peasah
 
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Posted by on December 18, 2013 in African News

 

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