Young men with machetes manning road blocks is usually a bad sign. In Nigeria’s North Eastern city of Maiduguri, for years tormented by the Boko Haram insurgency, it actually signifies progress.
Rather than the military’s Joint Task Force (JTF), it is these volunteer vigilantes dubbed “Civilian JTF” that are largely credited with pacifying the city over the past year. Whereas the often blundering and brutal JTF regarded everyone in Maiduguri as a potential Salafist, the community-rooted volunteers - officially the Borno Youth Association for Peace and Justice -actually know who Boko Haram members are. They are the eyes and ears of the security forces watching for infiltration and, though the best of their weapons are antique single-shot “Dane” guns, or the odd shotgun, they are often the first responders to trouble.
“Before, the community was afraid. If you opened your mouth against Boko Haram, that night they would kill you. But Borno State youth are tired of it,” Civilian JTF secretary and second-in-command, Abba Tijjani Sadiq, told IRIN. “God lifted us up. No matter you come with a gun, we will pursue you. For now there are no Boko Haram in Maiduguri.”
Borno was the birthplace of Jama'atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda'awati wal-Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad), better known as Boko Haram. It was founded in 2002 by cleric Mohamed Yusuf and grew into a popular grassroots movement based on its strict adherence to conservative Islamic values and rejection of the political corruption and venality that has come to epitomise Nigeria. The execution of Yusuf and a number of his lieutenants in 2009 while in police custody won Boko Haram sympathy, but that popularity has soured as the death toll has soared in the shootings and bombings by the militants of their perceived enemies - the majority of them Muslims. The supposed support from the community was one reason the JTF meted out such indiscriminate punishment.
“The army took us as the enemy and vice-versa. We didn’t see them as here to protect us,” explained school headmaster Suleiman Ali. “[If there was a Boko Haram attack] they don’t come on time, they arrest whoever they see, or open fire, or burn shops and houses in revenge… The boys [Boko Haram] used to come and hide among us in the community. But later on we saw that couldn’t work. You hide them, then later on they can come into your house and kill your father. People were pressed to the wall, we needed to stand, to protect ourselves.”
He sees Borno’s insecurity as “a failure of government and ourselves” and celebrates the new-found “spirit of self-sufficiency” animating the civilian JTF. What began in just one of the city’s 14 wards in June last year has snowballed. “Everybody is a civilian JTF. Whenever we hear gunshots we pick up our axes and cutlasses [machetes] and go and see what’s wrong.”
Source: Irin News
Africa, already the world's second most populous continent with more than 1 billion people, is experiencing a demographic shift unprecedented in it scale and swiftness, according to Generation 2030 Africa, a new report released by UNICEF on the continent's child demographics.
Consider this: on current trends, in the next 35 years, 1.8 billion babies will be born in Africa; the continent's under-18 population will increase by two thirds to reach almost 1 billion; and Africa's overall population will double in size, reaching 2.4 billion. By 2050, Africa is projected to be home to one in every four of the world's inhabitants, and almost 40 per cent of its children under 18 years.
The continent's demographic surge is overwhelmingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, and fuelled by high fertility and declining mortality. Although falling, fertility rates remain high: on average, each African woman of reproductive age (15-49 years) will have 4.5 children in 2015 – far above the global average of 2.5. The fertility rate for Africa's adolescent girls is double the global average.
Although Africa currently accounts for more than half of the global total of under-five deaths and faces the challenge of accelerating progress in saving children's lives, it has made notable progress in reducing child deaths since 1990, and particularly since 2000 and in Eastern and Southern Africa.
Africa's burgeoning population presents an unprecedented opportunity and several challenges. The opportunity lies in the potential for a so-called demographic dividend of sustained rapid economic growth in the coming decades.
President Barack Obama has said the US will help establish a peacekeeping force in Africa.
Obama said Wednesday the US would set up a rapid response force to support United Nations and African Union peacekeeping missions.
"We will join with six countries that have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers," he told reporters at the conclusion of a three-day Summit of 50 African nations in Washington.
"We're going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in this effort because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa," Obama added.
Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda are to be the six countries involved in the effort, he said.
Obama did not specify how the new peacekeeping plan would relate to existing African Union missions.
He said the US was working with Africans to develop an "early warning and response network" to identify emerging crises.
Source: AP, AFP, Reuters, DPA
With preparations underway for the United Nations to take over from an African Union-led peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (CAR), the Security Council today requested Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to review what was done and how it could be done better in future transitions.
The request was made during the Council's open debate on regional partnership and its evolution in UN peacekeeping, which focused on the Organization's relevant cooperation with African regional groups, as well as with entities under the auspices of the European Union (EU).
The Council expressed its determination "to take effective steps to further enhance the relationship between the United Nations and regional and subregional organizations, in particular the African Union," according to a resolution adopted by the body's 15 members.
The meeting, the second held this year on this topic, comes about one year after the African Union-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) was transitioned to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
In the resolution, the Council highlighted the need to develop regional and subregional organizations' abilities to deploy peacekeeping forces rapidly to support UN 'blue helmets'. In this context, Council members asked the UN chief to initiate, in cooperation with the AU, a lessons learned exercise and to produce specific recommendations by 31 December.
The Council also called for the development of a list of needed capacities and recommendations that would help the AU develop its military, police, technical, logistical and administrative capacities.
Addressing the Council, Mr. Ban said the UN is "in a race against time for the re-hatting" of the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic, known as MISCA, to create the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission, known as MINUSCA.
The new UN Mission will initially comprise up to 10,000 military personnel, including 240 military observers and 200 staff officers, as well as 1,800 police personnel. The CAR has been embroiled in fighting currently fuelled by inter-communal retaliatory attacks between anti-balaka and Séléka rebels, after the latter were ousted from power in January 2014. An estimated 2.2 million people are in need of humanitarian aid as a result.
Given the great need and the slower than expected support for the Mission, Mr. Ban underscored that "we - the UN, the AU and the EU, together with other key partners - need to do better."
He stressed that the international community must use existing mechanisms and capacity more effectively and predictably, and to stop looking at different tools in isolation and only through the lens of the relevant organizations.
"Instead, we should see how we can bring them together in a way that will finally allow the international community to respond much more quickly," Mr. Ban added.
Source: All Africa
In a guest column for AllAfrica, E. Gyimah Boadi of Ghana's Center for Democratic Development says the vast majority of Africans who prefer democracy over authoritarian regimes deserve to be heard at the forthcoming U.S.-Africa Summit convened by President Barack Obama.
The child kidnappings by Boko Haram have done a great deal for Africa's critics and its strongmen. Legitimate concerns about security in some areas - Nigeria's northern villages, South Sudan and the Central African Republic - can lead to the assertion that Africa is not ready for democracy.
The notion that strong authoritarian governments create the best protection against perceived African instability, both political and economic, will likely be expressed once again at the United States-Africa Summit, to be convened on August 5 and 6.
But that is not what African people say. Majorities endorse freedom, not authoritarian governments - and those majorities deserve to be heard as their leaders and the President Obama shape America's evolving African engagement.
Seven out of ten Africans prefer democracy to other political regimes, and the proportion of deeply committed democrats - those who also reject authoritarian alternatives - has risen steadily over the past decade, according to Afrobarometer, a network of researchers who have surveyed African opinion since 1999.
Of course, the state of democracy shows great variety across Africa. Fewer than half of all adults profess to prefer democracy in Madagascar (38 percent) and Swaziland (46 percent), where open elections have been repeatedly disputed, postponed, or never held at all. By contrast, almost everyone expresses support for democracy in Senegal (88 percent) and Zambia (90 percent), where recent elections have led to peaceful turnovers of national leaders.
In countries like Ghana, Senegal, Zambia and Mauritius, citizens' endorsements of democracy as the best kind of government are matched by high levels of satisfaction with their own governments' performances. These consolidated democracies deserve high levels of American aid, trade and investment.
The United States should also encourage such countries to continue improving the accountability of leaders to their people, in order to sustain people's beliefs that they can influence their own development by voting in fair elections and campaigning for the services and rights they need.
Several other countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Togo, and Cameroon show severe "democratic deficits". People in these countries share democratic aspirations with their more liberal neighbors, but their judgment of the state of governance is far lower: they demand more democracy than they are getting.
This makes it likely that ruling elites in these countries will continue to face popular pressures for improved democratic governance. Failure to meet these popular demands can produce social discontent that more radical forces can exploit, as we have seen most recently in Mali and Nigeria.
The implications for Western policies towards Africa are clear. Helping to strengthen democratic institutions is consistent with popular aspirations, and d emocracy is an essential part of African aspirations and the continent's future development.
Capitulating to the continent's dictators and strongmen - whether justified as a needed concession to security, or a pragmatic emphasis on "development first" - may create the deep dissatisfaction with governments experienced in Mali and in North African countries such as Egypt and Tunisia during the Arab Spring.
The accountability of leaders in such countries would be further undermined if strategic U.S. interventions are too narrowly focused on short-term geo-political and economic considerations, and ultimately supportive of autocratic regimes. Such moves would be contrary to the popular desire for democratic governance.
The forthcoming summit offers a unique opportunity for dialogue, engagement, and consensus on Africa's development and relations with the U.S. While economic and strategic issues are certainly important, this is not a moment when democratic change should be relegated to a lesser status. The opinions of average Africans sharply emphasize the importance of governments accountable to the people on the continent.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently said: "This is a moment of great opportunity for Africans. It is also a moment of decision." Let U.S. policy support governments and aid spending that increase citizens' participation in the most important decisions of their future.
E. Gyimah-Boadi is the executive director of Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), in Accra, Ghana, and of Afrobarometer, a survey project tracking public opinion on democratic and economic reforms in 34 African countries. He is also a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Ghana, Legon. He received his PhD from the University of California, Davis.
Source: All Africa