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‘We want justice for these girls’: The Kenyan helpline for victims of gender violence

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Kenyan market vendors practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. World Bank/Sambrian Mbaabu

Around four million girls worldwide suffer female genital mutilation every year. Although it is forbidden in Kenya, COVID-19 has led some families to revive itthe traditional practice, and a UN-supported phone helpline for victims of gender-based violence in the country has seen a big rise in calls since the pandemic hit.

Somewhere in Kenya, an early morning in July: A woman organizes a once-in-a-lifetime “ceremony” for her 11-year-old niece: The girl’s genitals will be cut off as part of her cultural transition into adulthood.

All schools in the country have been closed for months. No classmate will notice the girl’s absence, no teacher will be aware and report the case to the police. The school community cannot protect the girl now.

During the ceremony, the fresh wound starts bleeding heavily. The procedure was performed by a local “cutter,” and there is no anaesthesia and no painkillers. The bleeding doesn’t stop, and, eventually, the family has no choice but to take the girl to the nearest hospital. 

‘I don’t want to see people suffering’

A few hours later, a telephone rings in an office in Nairobi. The phone is connected to the number 1195, the national helpline for gender-based violence. One of the girl’s relatives has called in to report the incident anonymously — she does not want to be considered as a family troublemaker.

“What we want is justice for these girls,” says “Steve,” one of 31 staff in the call centre. (Counsellors interviewed for this article use pseudonyms to protect their anonymity.) After receiving the call, Steve and his colleagues respond immediately. The police are dispatched to search for the mother and aunt, and a safe home is arranged for the girl once she is released from the hospital.

The helpline is staffed 24 hours a day by trained counsellors who stay on the line with callers until help arrives, whether in the form of the police, an ambulance, a village elder, a child protection officer. Counsellors arrange for health care, security, and legal aid. They also spend long hours on the phone, giving psychosocial support to callers in need.

Female genital mutilation or FGM is just one of the reasons people call the hotline. Others include assault, rape, child neglect and defilement, child marriage. The list goes on. “So many cases go unreported,” Steve says. Asked why he works at the call centre, he says simply, “I don’t want to see people suffering”. 

Some calls will break your heart

COVID-19 has aggravated the situation: “Women have been violated like never before,” says Fanis Lisiagali, who heads the 1195 helpline. “We’ve seen women committing suicide, we have heard of women being killed. Both men and women are seriously depressed.” 

Indeed, the number of cases handled by the hotline rose from 86 in February to over 1,100 in June of this year. Cases dropped in July, but the total number of calls is four times higher than during the same period last year. Not all of the callers are women. Around one third of the callers who report psychological violence from their spouses and families are men, saying they have been harassed or abused for failing to provide for the family. 

Sitting at their desks, a half-dozen tele-counsellors are equipped with masks and gloves and are separated by acrylic glass walls. Aside from Swahili and English, they speak other local languages, from Kikuyu to Luhya to Kalenjin; the aim is for callers from everywhere in Kenya to have someone to talk to. 

“You find that psychological problems come up during things people go through every day,” says another counsellor, “June.” In 2009 she became a caregiver with another organization for sexually abused girls and, five years later, she joined the helpline staff.

Some calls will break the heart of even the most experienced counsellor, says June. Earlier this year, she took a call from an 18-year-old woman who had been cast out by her father and then endured an abusive marriage. When she became pregnant and gave birth, her husband rejected her, claiming the baby was crying too much and that it couldn’t possibly be his. Having been disowned for a second time, the woman’s desperation became unbearable. She threw the baby into a pit latrine and ran away. The girl walked into a rescue centre and called the GBV helpline. 

“At first the girl was too shocked to speak. When she finally opened up, what I heard made me completely numb,” says June. She sent the caller to a psychiatrist and his attestation prevented her from being imprisoned. June is still in contact with the young woman, and is helping her build a future. “My job gives me an opportunity to give back to society,” she says. “I cannot always help, but sometimes I have a chance to help in a little way.”

A beacon of hope

The helpline is a beacon especially now during the pandemic. Many rescue centres have to turn away survivors of gender-based violence, as they do not have the resources necessary to quarantine new arrivals for COVID-19.

The helpline was established in 2010 by an organization called Healthcare Assistance Kenya, with the support of UN Women, which is still the NGO’s main partner. It is now also supported by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund. 

“COVID-19 exacerbates the already horrifying levels of sexual and gender-based violence in Kenya,” says Anna Mutavati, UN Women Country Representative. “But the helpline is saving lives. While services like 1195 are fundamental, we need to tackle society’s underlying causes that perpetuate these gross human rights violations and wider gender inequality.”

During the COVID-19 crisis, the helpline has proven its worth and needs to be strengthened, says Healthcare Assistance Kenya director Fanis Lisiagali. “In the coming years,” she says, “I would like to see the helpline known to all communities in all counties throughout Kenya, so that anybody who needs it has a place to turn to”. 

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Africa

Nigeria- Ghana Trade War: Where to from here

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Several months after a series of bilateral talks between the Nigerian government and authorities in Ghana aimed toward addressing the nearly a decade-long controversy that led to the closure of Nigerian traders’ shops in Ghana, the problems have not been resolved. Hundreds of shops belonging to Nigerian traders are still under lock and key; while most of the owners are stranded. A number of them said they beg to feed, as many of them remain reluctant to return to Nigeria despite a window created by the Nigerian government to facilitate their safe return.

What has happened so far?

President Muhammadu Buhari stunned Nigeria’s neighbors when he unexpectedly closed the country’s land borders to goods trade, saying the time had come to crush contraband trade. The land borders with neighboring Benin, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger were closed to goods in August 2019, with partial openings and closings for people prompted by the coronavirus pandemic throughout 2020.

The center of the lingering controversy was a $1 million levy imposed on Nigerian traders and other foreign investors to pay Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) before the shops would be opened. The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities had triggered a debate in Nigeria and within the African sub-region, which many considered as a breach of ECOWAS’ trade protocols.

However, on 19 June 2020, armed men entered the compound of the Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, and destroyed buildings under construction. Nigeria’s foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama described the vandalism as “outrageous and criminal” and urged the Ghanaian authorities to make sure that they protect Nigerian diplomatic buildings. Nigerian residents in Ghana held a demonstration calling for Nigerian government to take action. Although a piece posted on the Nigerian High Commission website in Ghana places responsibility on a businessperson who had previously claimed he owned the land where the building was being built, Nigerians living in Ghana still took to the streets to protest for their protection. The Ghanaian foreign ministry also promised that security had been “beefed up”.

Flashback on bilateral talks

The Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, had last year summoned Ghana’s Chargé d’Affaires to Nigeria, Ms. Iva Denoo, with whom he discussed the closure of the Nigerian-owned shops in Accra with a view to addressing the problem. Onyeama described the action taken by the Ghanaian authorities as politically motivated. However, his Ghanaian counterpart, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, countered his allegation, insisting that the crackdown was on illegal foreign retail businesses in Ghana.

Botchwey, described in a tweet by Onyeama, tagging Ghana’s policy on retail business as a politically motivated move as ‘most unfortunate. She said the Ghanaian government did not target any particular nationality in the exercise. “Countries sometimes take tough decisions in order to enforce their laws, just as Nigeria took a decision to shut its borders to stop smuggling, despite its impact on ECOWAS member countries,” she had said.

Is Ghana innocent?

While it’s easier to quickly point a finger at Nigeria as the aggressor, given it’s the bigger country who opted to shut its borders, therefore creating a ripple effect in the smaller economies, Ghana also has laws that clash with ECOWAS protocol, which ensures the free movement of the community’s citizens, as well as free and fair trade. The 2013 Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act (GIPC) is one such Act. It prioritizes the interests of Ghanaian traders and business owners by designating certain only its citizens, whereby foreigners wanting to set up shop in Ghana must have a minimum equity capital of $10,000, run enterprises. That alone limits the number of foreigners – particularly from the poorer surrounding West African countries – who can successfully work in Ghana.

Where to from here

While tariffs can result in individual ‘winners’, a full trade war, protectionism, and a reversal of decades of globalization would damage economies across the board, hitting emerging markets particularly hard. COVID-19 has arguably pushed many countries towards concentrating on themselves, as many economies have been negatively affected in an exceedingly shocking manner. Although few expect to see the kinds of tensions witnessed in the 1980s when Nigeria expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana.

Key takeaways

  • Nigeria border closure weakened trade across West Africa
  • A full trade war and globalization reversal will benefit nobody
  • Nigerian traders have suffered the most; Ghanaians also faces pain
  • Traders have seen big losses.
  • Demolition of Nigerian High Commission building in Accra.

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Africa

H.E. President John Mahama Appointed As AU High Representative for Somalia

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The Chairperson of the Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, has announced the appointment of H.E John Dramani Mahama, former President of the Republic of Ghana, as his High Representative to Somalia.

As the High Representative for Somalia’s political track, President Mahama will work with the Somali stakeholders, to reach a mutually acceptable compromise towards an all-encompassing resolution for the holding of Somali elections in the shortest possible time.

In fulfilling his mandate, the High Representative will be supported by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to ensure that the mediation efforts and the peace support operation work together seamlessly.

The Chairperson of the Commission calls on the Somali stakeholders to negotiate in good faith, and to put the interests of Somalia and the well-being of the Somali people above all else in the search for an inclusive settlement to the electoral crisis.

This should usher in a democratically elected government with the legitimacy and mandate to resolve the remaining outstanding political and constitutional issues that are posing a threat to the stability of the country and the region as a whole.

The Chairperson of the Commission also encourages all the Somali stakeholders and the international community to extend every support to the High Representative, who will arrive the country in the coming days.

Ambassador Abukar Arman, a former Somalia special envoy to the United States and a foreign policy analyst says there have previously been interventions from neighbors have not brought Somalia the promised peace.

It is clear that no Somali can pursue a political career in his own country without first getting Ethiopia’s blessings. Already, Ethiopia has installed a number of its staunch cohorts in the current government and (along with Kenya) has been handpicking virtually all of the new regional governors, mayors and so forth.

In October 2010, the African Union appointed Jerry John Rawlings as the AU High Representative for Somalia to “mobilize the continent and the rest of the international community to fully assume its responsibilities and contribute more actively to the quest for peace, security and reconciliation in Somalia.”

That however, Ambassador Arman says the former Ghana president and AU Special Representative for Somalia is now assuming his new post with significant diplomatic capital, mainly resulting from the credible work of his fellow countryman, former president, and Special Envoy to Somalia, Jerry John Rawlings.

“On the other hand, he would be carrying the hefty political burden that comes with the so-called African Solutions for African Problems and its cash-gulping record. The concept is taken hostage by African sloganeers and foreign elements eager to advance zero-sum interests,” he wrote me in an emailed message.

Make no mistake, Somalia is held in a nasty headlock by a neighbourhood tag-team unmistakably motivated by zero-sum objective. It is their so-called African solution (not so much of the extremist group al-Shabaab) that is setting the Horn on fire.

According to AFP news report, Mogadishu had been on edge since February, when President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s term ended before elections were held, and protesters took to the streets against his rule. But a resolution in April to extend his mandate by two years split the country’s fragile security forces along all-important clan lines.

Soldiers loyal to influential opposition leaders began pouring into the capital. The fighting drove tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and divided the city, with government forces losing some key neighborhoods to opposition units.

Under pressure to ease the tension, Mohamed abandoned his mandate extension and instructed his prime minister to arrange fresh elections and bring together rivals for talks. Indirect elections were supposed to have been held by February under a deal reached between the government and Somalia’s five regional states the previous September.

But that agreement collapsed as the president and the leaders of two states, Puntland and Jubaland, squabbled over the terms. Months of UN-backed talks failed to broker consensus between the feuding sides.

In early May, Mohamed re-launched talks with his opponents over the holding of fresh elections, and agreed to return to the terms of the September accord.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has invited the regional leaders to a round of negotiations on May 20 in the hope of resolving the protracted feud and charting a path to a vote. In the meanwhile, the international community has threatened sanctions if elections are not held soon.

Somalia remains the epicenter of global geopolitical and geo-economic competition. Some of the major ones are in a cut-throat competition that further complicates the Somalia conundrum. With its longest coastline, bordering Ethiopia to the west, Kenya to the southwest and the Gulf of Eden, Somalia has attracted many foreign countries to the region in East Africa.

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Peacebuilding in Northern Mozambique’s Insurgency: Ways Forward

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Terrorism

Abstract: Cabo Delgado, once heartland of the Mozambican national liberation struggle, is turning into an epicenter of conflict and instability, which threatens neighboring countries and regional stability. Armed conflict with Jihadist extremists is exacerbated by privatized security forces and a lack of tangible regional solidarity and security coordination.

Large offshore gas deposits act as an additional driver of conflict while peacebuilding initiatives are still at the very beginning. Extremists aligned with ISIS are emplacing an ecosystem for transnational illegal activity- just as the major gas project development can bring real peace dividends to the impoverished province. In view of escalating violence, it is time for the international response to shift gears and invest in peacebuilding besides counter-insurgency assistance and security sector reforms, including for regulating the activity of private military and security companies. In a new paradigm of partnership with the government, joined-up cooperation, including withfuture gas customers across the Indian Ocean could buttress the response to the escalating violence.

Conflict Trajectory- Armed violence has steadily escalated in Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique since 2017. In the last two years, the Jihadist insurgency of  “Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jama” (ASWJ) has gained momentum beyond rural areas. In August 2020, insurgents took control of Mocimboa da Praia town on the northern coast. The complex attack on 25 March against the densely populated city of Palma targeted a staging area for the large offshore gas development project[1]. As a result, the leading energy firm involved in the gas project, Total Company of France, stopped operations and withdrew its personnel from the area. Experts estimate that currently some 60% of sub-districts in the province are no longer under effective government control. The humanitarian fallout from the fighting is catastrophic:700,000 persons are displaced and around a quarter of the provincial population. The fighting has caused2,800 casualties so far, reportedly more than half of them civilians, according to ACLED humanitarian statistics.

Government Response-The government struggled to keep the insurgency at bay after initial denial of the problem. In 2020, the government took steps to reorganize its security posture in Cabo Delgado and created a joint task force against the terrorists. Mozambique and Tanzania concluded an agreement to form a joint defense and security committee in mid-January 2021 for the purpose of intelligence sharing and coordination.

There has also been a growing readiness to accept foreign military advisers and trainers, while local militia groups were used in parallel. The US and former colonial power Portugal have recently agreed to provide trainers for Mozambican forces. The EU has stepped up planning for a possible EU Military Mission to assist the government, after the SADC neighboring states fielded a recent assessment.

However, Mozambique has been adamant against foreign troop deployments, in keeping with its non-aligned tradition and to safeguard national sovereignty. The SADC regional block started to deliberate about a joint security response in late 2020. However, the recent SADC troika summit meeting on 8-9 April devoted to regional security challenges remained inconclusive.

Reforms in Mozambique’s security sector have been incomplete since the end of the civil war 1977-1992, which has debilitated the army in front line roles against violent extremists. Anti-terror legislation was adopted only in 2018 when the insurgency already began to make itself strongly felt. Security governance is further complicated by Mozambique’s reliance on private military and security firms (PMCs/ PSCs), including from Russia and South Africa (Wagner Group, Dyck Advisory Group/DAG) which failed to rout the Jihadists. In northern Mozambique, these para-military actions have drawn strong criticism from human rights organizations such as Amnesty International. There is testimony accusing security company employees of indiscriminate violence.

Significance of Transnational Extremist Threat- Already in July 2019, the ASWJ insurgents pledged allegiance to the ISIS branch in Central Africa ISCAP which operates in Congo DRC. Their fighting strength is believed to be around 2,000 in Cabo Delgado province. ASWJ publicly committed to applying Sharia Law as agents of a “government of God”, like ISIS in the Middle East and the Al Shabab militia in Somalia. ASWJ has also accused the ruling FRELIMO Party in Mozambique of corruption. In March 2021, the U.S. imposed sanctions against leaders of ISIS-ISCAP and counterparts in ASWJ as terrorists.

Counter-terrorist experts believe that ASWJ which is also locally known as ‘Al Shabab’ (‘Ansar al-Sunna’ or simply as ‘mashababos’)has mostly homegrown origins. However, there are indications that at least some of the leading ASWJ cadres are in fact from Tanzania. Polarization between Mwani and Makonde ethnic groups in provincial sub-districts of Mozambique also plays a role in the violence.

There are growing concerns that the insurgency could spill over into neighboring provinces of Mozambique, especially Nampula and Niassa. Experts have pointed out that there is a risk of expanded territorial control and  illicit revenue streams (from timber, precious stones, and heroin smuggling). This might give the insurgents access to more sophisticated arms. The illegal gold mining business is supposedly bankrolling the insurgency against government control measures.

Spillover into Tanzania across the shared border has already occurred. Security analysts are pointing to an expansion trend of ISIS and Jihadist violence in Africa as their new frontier. Cabo Delgado could replicate the violence in the Sahel region and add a trans-continental dimension to extremism by expanding to the Indian Ocean seaboard. In this view, ASWJ- ISCAP could pose a critical threat to the more developed economies in neighboring South Africa and Tanzania as well as for international shipping and trade.

Hydrocarbon Pull Factor in Mozambique’s Insurgency-Cabo Delgado province is a majority Muslim area in Mozambique with a history of government neglect and under-development. Youth unemployment is staggeringly high as well as the levels of illiteracy among youth. The province has also emerged as a national hotspot for COVID-19 infections, due to IDP movements and the influx of persons from across the border in Tanzania where virus controls have been lax.

By contrast, the 20bn USD offshore LNG gas project in the province represents  the largest private investment in Africa’s energy sector. Totalenergy firm of Franceaims to produce 13 bn tons of LNG gas annually from 2024. Despite the recent setback, Total has stated that the project remains on track.

The lucrative hydrocarbons development and expected funds flows act as an additional driver of extremist violence, competing with the reach of government authorities. Some sub-contractors might end up paying protection money to the Jihadists, although control of gas wells is not realistic for AWSJ.

Configuring Peacebuilding against Violence in Cabo Delgado-  Militarized responses to the insurgency have proven ineffective so far and only made matters worse. Therefore a concerted and multi-dimensional effort is needed to engage in peacebuilding, dialogue and civilian-led security sector reform development with provincial focus. President Filipe Nyusi’s new Agency for Integrated Development of the North (ADIN) is a welcome step towards participatory development planning and giving populations more of a voice in their socio-economic future.

Within the ambit of civilian peacebuilding, there is a need for inclusiveness in Mozambique’s security governance. It is important to ensure control over the private military and security firms in the counter-terrorist campaign. Normative frameworks for private military and security companies in warfare, e.g. the ICoC Voluntary Code of Conduct and the 2008 Montreux Document governing state use of mercenaries, should be localized for the situation in Cabo Delgado. In addition, focused deradicalization and extremist prevention actions specifically targeting youth are required. Specialist counter-terrorist skills training is a critical element in reforming the Mozambican security forces.

Despite generous EU development assistance to the country, the insurgency has so far received little attention in Europe, where Mozambique and Cabo Delgado province are perceived through the lens of humanitarian concerns after successive cyclones, or as an exotic tourist destination. The situation in Cabo Delgado was discussed in the European Parliament in September 2020. Cabo Delgado also featured in a parliamentary hearing in Berlin later that year about current levels of German engagement in conflict-affected areas of Africa. Given the high stakes of the insurgency which is no longer just a side show on the African continent’s conflict map, leading European states might come together to pool their expertise and assist the Government of Mozambique in peacebuilding. A mapping of peace constituencies in Cabo Delgado province is a critical first step, as well as assessing the social media landscape with youth and young women. Comparative insights are available from youth counter- radicalism programs in Tanzania and work with women as peacebuilders by German political foundations in Mozambique, as well as support and expertise from UNDP with Japanese funding commitments for peace support in 2020.

Coordination of these inputs and conflict sensitive implementation alongside the humanitarian relief effort in the Triple Nexus (humanitarian, stabilization and development dimensions) are overdue. Through the established and experienced UN country team, modalities can be found to move from business as usual to shaping the international response in a more focused and impactful way, strengthening local dialogue efforts from Mozambique’s Civil Society, faith leaders and advocacy umbrella groups formed in Cabo Delgado.  

In the medium term, innovative development cooperation centered around the expected gas flows from Mozambique to emerging markets in Asia across the Indian Ocean holds promise for scaling up the development response. It is possible to establish structured ‘reverse trades’ of skills training and technology transfers for learning together in the global energy transition through 2050 for decisively  improving the situation in Cabo Delgado.


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