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Somalia at a critical juncture, as federal, state leaders, meet to break election impasse

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Somalia continues to suffer chronic humanitarian crises, with recurring cycles of floods and drought, compounded in 2020 by desert locusts and COVID-19. Photo: UNSOM

With elections slated for November delayed due to COVID-19, Somalia is at a critical juncture, the top United Nations official in the country told the Security Council on Thursday, pressing federal and state leaders to agree on voting modalities, and bolster the capacity of forces which are meant to assume full control of national security, next year.

“We understand that there are strongly held divergent views among the leaders and political tensions are high in this pre-electoral period”, said James Swan, Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).  “Yet, it is precisely during such moments that it is most necessary for the nation’s leaders to engage in dialogue.” 

He described the current dilemma to ambassadors, whereby Parliament must be elected through universal direct suffrage, according to the Provisional Federal Constitution. 

However, the Constitution also stipulates that Parliamentary elections must be held every four years – meaning that elections are due by the end of this coming November.  It is impossible to satisfy both of these requirements, he said. Broad agreement is needed.

Leaders convene

In an effort to reach a compromise, Somali leaders convened in Dhusamareeb this week, he said, commending President Mohamed Abdillahi Mohamed “Farmajo” and the presidents of the Federal member states of Galmudug, Hirshabelle and South West for their participation.  “It is incumbent on Somalia’s leaders to rise to this moment in history and pursue agreement in the national interest”, he asserted.

Upsurge in al-Shabaab attacks

On the security front, he described a “worrying upsurge” in al-Shabaab attacks, particularly in Mogadishu, drawing attention to the 16 August assault on the Elite Hotel and an unquestionable need for “hard security” operations to counter the group. 

Indeed, Somalia is to take the lead on its security matters in 2021, he said, and while Federal authorities have completed a concept note for updating the transition plan, force generation has faced setbacks in meeting 2020 projections, owing to COVID-19.

Floods, drought, locust swarms compound pressures

On the humanitarian front, he described recurring cycles of floods and drought, compounded by desert locusts and COVID-19, stressing that more than 5 million people – one third of Somalia’s population — still require aid, and that the $1 billion Humanitarian Appeal is funded at around 50 per cent. 

He expressed hope that the new Government and Prime Minister, once appointed, will accelerate the reform agenda for national development.

“Progress in Somalia requires a long-term commitment to governance, justice, respect for human rights, and inclusion of women, youth, and minorities to build the nation”, he said.

He also raised objections, in line with other senior UN rights officials, to a bill introduced in Parliament titled, “The Law on Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes”, which would violate protections against child marriage and forced marriage, as well as international human rights commitments to which Somalia is party.

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Rights experts call for end to violence against women in Tigray conflict

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photo: © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

Experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have called for urgent action to end violence against women and girls caught in the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia. 

In a statement issued on Friday, they expressed grave concern about the widespread sexual and gender-based violence attributed to Ethiopian, Eritrean, Tigray and Amhara forces, as well as allied militia. 

These incidents constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, according to the experts. 

‘A deliberate strategy’ 

“They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors’ parties to the conflict,” they said. 

“These brutal acts have devastating physical and psychological impacts on the victims, which are exacerbated by the lack of access to assistance, support and redress for survivors.” 

The UN continues to voice alarm over the war in Tigray, which began just over a year ago.  Last month, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, noted that the conflict has been marked by “extreme brutality”

Cases under-reported 

The rights experts said although the exact prevalence of gender-based violence is unknown, estimates are shocking. 

From November 2020 through June of this year, some 2,204 survivors reported sexual violence to health facilities across the Tigray region.

Furthermore, one of the one-stop centres reported that the majority of victims, or 90 per cent, were underage girls, and estimated that visits have quadrupled since the conflict began.  

However, the experts said these figures are an underestimation of the true extent of gender-based violence being committed.  Cases are severely under-reported due to fear, stigma and inability to access health or support centres. 

“Despite the humanitarian situation, proper access to facilities is vital to ensure adequate care, for instance for women and girls at risk of developing life-threatening infections, or to allow for abortion for women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape,” they stressed. 

Displaced women vulnerable 

The experts reported that the violence occurred in both rural and urban areas, in the victims’ homes or in places where they were sheltering.  

In some cases, women and girls were raped because of their perceived or actual political affiliation, to pressure them to reveal the whereabouts of their male relatives, or as acts of revenge. 

“Internally displaced women and girls in Ethiopia, and Eritrean refugee women and girls living in the Tigray region, have been particularly exposed to sexual violence. Eritrean women and girls, specifically, have been seriously affected by the conflict and doubly victimized,” the experts said.  

“In addition to the grave consequences of sexual violence, most victims have also been harmed in other ways by the conflict including by having close relatives killed.” 

Respect and protect 

The UN experts reminded parties to the conflict of their duty to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their control. 

They also urged the sides to implement recommendations contained in a joint report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Office and its UN counterpart. 

Those recommendations include taking immediate measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence, providing redress to victims, facilitating immediate access to health care, and ensuring independent and impartial investigation of all incidences of sexual violence. 

Role of UN experts 

The 14 experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

They monitor specific country situations or thematic issues, such as violence against women, discrimination against women and girls, and the rights of internally displaced persons. 

The experts are independent of the UN and serve in their individual capacity.  As such, they are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization. 

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Africa Today

New Project to Support the Emergence of a Digital Economy in Djibouti

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The World Bank today approved a US$10 million credit from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s program for the poorest countries, in support of Djibouti’s efforts to accelerate the digital transformation and build a more inclusive digital economy.

While Djibouti has made significant inroads in becoming a digital hub in regional connectivity and data markets, many Djiboutians do not fully benefit from the country’s connectivity infrastructure. The new Digital Foundations Project aims to ensure that more citizens and businesses have access to quality and affordable internet by developing an enabling environment for the gradual introduction of competition and private-sector investment in information and communication technology (ICT), and by fostering the uptake of digital skills and services. The project is aligned with the new Country Partnership Framework and Djibouti’s Vision 2035, which recognize the role of ICT in economic growth.

Accelerating digital transformation in Djibouti is an urgent necessity for post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, Djibouti’s Minister of Economy and Finance in charge of Industry. “Stimulating economic growth, innovation and job creation through technology is an opportunity that will benefit present and future generations.

The new financing will strengthen the capacity of the public sector, specifically the Ministry of Communication, with responsibility for Posts and Telecommunications, the Delegate Ministry in charge of Digital Economy and Innovation and the Multi-sectoral Regulatory Authority of Djibouti, to promote digital economy and market competition. It will provide support to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), while boosting Djibouti’s resilience to external shocks, including disaster response and climate monitoring.

COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of digital technologies,” said Boubacar-Sid Barry, World Bank Resident Representative in Djibouti. “With this new project, the Bank supports Djibouti in its efforts to address vulnerabilities and create a favorable environment for the development of an inclusive and safe digital economy.

The project will also support the development of digital skills programs for entrepreneurs and the integration of basic digital skills into school and university curricula. It is anticipated that the project will benefit all segments of Djibouti’s economy and society, including the public and private sectors, women, youth and underserved rural populations. Citizen engagement will be an essential component of the program.

According to Eric Dunand and Tim Kelly, co-Task Team Leaders, “The project will help Djibouti to harness its digital potential. A high-performing digital economy in Djibouti, based on a well-developed ICT sector, will have many benefits. Wider use of digital technologies will help the government improve service delivery, offer youth more job opportunities, and entrepreneurs, more business prospects in diversified economic sectors.

The World Bank’s portfolio in Djibouti consists of 14 projects totaling US$258 million in financing from IDA. The portfolio is focused on education, health, social safety nets, energy, rural community development, urban poverty reduction, the modernization of public administration, governance, and private sector development with an emphasis on women and youth.

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Violence in Cameroon, impacting over 700,000 children shut out of school

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Kidnappings and harassment of students and teachers are forcing schools to close in Cameroon. © Education Cannot Wait/Daniel Beloumou

Over 700,000 children have been impacted by school closures due to often brutal violence in Cameroon, according to an analysis released by the UN humanitarian arm, OCHA, on Thursday. 

Two out of three schools are closed in the North-West and South-West regions of the country. On 24 November, four children and one teacher were killed in an attack in Ekondo Titi, in the South-West. 

Lockdown 

A recent lockdown imposed by a non-State armed group, from 15 September to 2 October, limited access to basic services including health and education. 

During the period, OCHA reported a series of attacks in the North-West. 

Eight students were kidnapped, and a girl’s fingers were chopped off after she tried to attend school. Five public school principals were also kidnapped, including one who was then killed. 

All schools and community learning spaces were closed, except for some schools in a few urban areas which operated at less than 60 per cent capacity. 

The lockdown and insecurity also forced UN agencies and aid organisations to temporarily suspend the delivery of aid. During that time, about 200,000 people did not receive food.  

Multiple crisis 

Nine out of ten regions of the country continue to be impacted by one of three humanitarian crises: the crisis in the North-West and South-West, conflict in the Far North, and a refugee crisis, with people fleeing the Central African Republic.  

Because of these combined crises, over one million children need urgent education support.  

To answer some of these needs, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the UN global fund for education in emergencies and crises, is working closely with UN agencies, the Norwegian Refugee Council and other civil society partners. 

ECW is contributing $25 million over three years and calling for other donors to fill the gap, which is estimated at $50 million. 

When fully funded, the programme will provide approximately 250,000 children and adolescents with access to safe and protective learning environments in the most-affected areas. 

Visit 

Just this week, the Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, and the Director of Education Cannot Wait, Yasmine Sherif, had a joint visit to the country. 

In a statement, Ms. Sherif said the situation “is among the most complex humanitarian crises in the world today.” 

“Children and youth are having to flee their homes and schools, are threatened with violence and kidnapping, and being forced into early childhood marriage and recruited into armed groups,” Ms. Sherif recalled. 

Jan Egeland argued that “putting a schoolbag on your back shouldn’t make you a target”, but unfortunately children in Cameroon “risk their lives every day just showing up for school.” 

“Cameroon’s education mega-emergency needs international attention, not deadly silence by the outside world,” Mr. Egeland declared.  

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