Saturday, May 22, 2010

African ingenuity: Who would have thought to use a jerrican as a boombox! That’s just beyond mad genius

Here is the most enjoyable video ever publicised at Uganda Watch. I found it online at AfriGadget's blogpost [ http://bit.ly/cRp8VK ] 20 May 2010 entitled "Genius strikes again: kids in village build radio from scrap parts".

Note the video's caption:
"Kids builds a working radio from scraps in a day
My brother Caleb, and my nephews Ronald and Jesse built a radio from spare parts in one day for their boys quarters club house. All without instructions or guidance. Just through the pure process of trial and error. What else could these kids build with a soldering iron and a few lines of code. Wish I had the money to buy them some starter kits"
Hat tip: Erik Hersman's tweet at 6:06 AM May 20th via Twitter for iPhone
[ http://twitter.com/whiteafrican/statuses/14359833374 ]

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Friday, May 21, 2010

African ingenuity: Who would have thought to use a jerrican as a boombox! That’s just beyond mad genius

Click here for full story, republished due to technical problems.

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UN chief Ban Ki-Moon & Ugandan President Museveni to play football on Uganda’s war victims day, 30 May 2010

What a great fun idea. Let's hope this report is true.

Secretary General, Uganda President to play football
From Afrik.com by Geof Maggaun - Friday, 21 May 2010:
Ugandans are eagerly waiting for a football match in which UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon is expected to play on the same pitch with Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni.

According to the organizers of the match, which is meant to honour war victims in Uganda, Ki-moon and Museveni will play in different teams made up of war victims from northern Uganda.

The match is being organized by a non government organization called Uganda victims foundation. The chairman of the foundation, Santos, John Labeja said ’’UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon will be playing in a football game at Nelson Mandela stadium on the eve of a review conference for the ICC scheduled to take place in Uganda starting on May 31st. Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni will also be playing in a game that will last 60 minutes.’’

According to him the football game will be a highlight that will mark Uganda’s war victims day, which falls on Sunday, 30th May 2010. The day is meant to remember those harassed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in northern Uganda. He said most of them still remain traumatized.

LRA rebles fought Uganda government troops from 1987 up to 2006 when they were flushed from Uganda and they escaped to southern Sudan. They killed many people and harassed others by beating and cutting off parts of their bodies’’

They accepted to talk peace and participated in peace talks until 2008 when the talks were concluded but their leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the final peace agreement.

His refusal prompted an attack from Ugandan, southern Sudan and Democratic republic of Congo’s troops at the rebels base in Garamba forest in Congo.Since then the rebels have been attacking people in Central African republic and western Congo villages.

A Ugandan football team adminstrator, Dan Mukasa said,’’ We are eagerly waiting for the match. It is interesting to see people of high profile playing football with war victims. I am sure the stadium will fill to capacity.’’

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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Asharq Al-Awsat talks to SPLM Sec Gen Pagan Amum

Sources from the South Sudan army revealed that elements from the guerrilla Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda received joint training and armament with other militias affiliated to Arab tribes in order to re-launch attacks against South Sudan, which might secede from Sudan early next year via the referendum. South Sudan army sources added that the training process was sponsored by elements in Khartoum.

Asharq Al-Awsat talks to SPLM Sec Gen Pagan Amum
From Asharq Al-Awsat - Saturday, 08 May 2010
By Mustafa Sirri
London, Asharq Al-Awsat - The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which rules in the south of Sudan, has warned against tampering with the Referendum on Self Determination that is scheduled to take place early next year. It also rejected that the south is accountable for Sudan’s foreign debts estimated at 34 billion dollars and expressed its belief that that money was mainly used to kill southerners.

Sources from the South Sudan army revealed that elements from the guerrilla Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda received joint training and armament with other militias affiliated to Arab tribes in order to re-launch attacks against South Sudan, which might secede from Sudan early next year via the referendum. South Sudan army sources added that the training process was sponsored by elements in Khartoum.

Amum indicated that the Sudanese currency presently in circulation had been funded by the National Congress Party and the SPLM and argued that over the past two years, the Governor of the Central Bank has acted as if the north and the government of Khartoum are the sole owners of the Sudanese pound. He added that the Central Bank Governor had stated that the currency would remain in circulation after the referendum, even if the south secedes, and that is unacceptable. “If the south secedes, South Sudan might be compelled to abandon the Sudanese pound and use hard currency instead,” Amum said. Amum stated that dealing in foreign currencies in the south might offer more advantages than the conditions set by the Central Bank Governor. Amum said, “The set conditions are unjust. Mechanisms and agreements would have to be created to tackle such problems.”

Amum said that the priority of the new government of Southern Sudan is to prepare for the referendum and added that the President of the Government of South Sudan [Silva Kiir] had stated that well-known parties had been working on delaying the referendum and that these parties call for Sudanese unity whilst being the first to harm that unity. “They are still around and are still trying to create problems and will ultimately harm Sudan. It is pointless that they call for Sudan's unity because they insist on adopting policies that treat southerners as second-class citizens.” Amum referred to the fact that Silva Kiir had reiterated that the SPLM called for a new Sudan that upholds justice, equality, freedom and mutual respect. Amum then launched a fierce attack on the National Congress Party, saying that it had proposed a project that does not encourage coexistence in one country. He added, “For that reason, the movement's leader called upon southerners to vote for their complete freedom away from opportunists and tyrants who are harming the south.”

Amum maintained that the unity of Sudan could only be realized through adopting a pan-nationalist project for building a multi-opinionated, multi-ethnic, multi-cultured and multi-religious Sudanese nation based on mutual respect. Amum said, “If the National Congress Party insists on implementing a program for building the Islamic republic then southerners will have no choice but to vote for secession. If the National Congress Party insists on imposing its policies of oppression and racial discrimination then southerners must secede, and if the National Congress Party continues to plunder the wealth of the south and unjustly divide oil revenues in the absence of transparency, then southerners will have to break free from those tyrants.”

Secretary General of the SPLM, Pagan Amum, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the movement protested against the statement made by Saber Mohammed al-Hassan, the Governor of the Bank of Sudan, in which he stated that the rescheduling of [the payment of] Sudan’s foreign debts, estimated at 34 billion dollars, should be settled before the Referendum of Self Determination is held. Amum added, “The National Congress Party should be held accountable for that amount of money that it used to kill southerners mercilessly during the civil war.” He also maintained that there was no logical link between the debts and the self-determination referendum. “Who incurred those debts? Where did the money go? What investments were they used for? These debts are stained with blood and have nothing to do with the practice of the right to self determination in the upcoming referendum.”

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

SPECIAL REPORT: Child soldiers & Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA)

Children who become soldiers
From the SID Forum
By Saskia Baas*
April 27, 2010:
Over the past few years, the use of children as soldiers in armed conflict has become a source of immense moral outrage among rights activists as well as the general public. In 2005, the UN Security Council officially condemned the use of child-soldiers by parties to armed conflict and organisations such as Unicef and Save the Children have launched big campaigns to raise awareness on the tragic fate of children who become soldiers during civil wars in Africa, Asia and South America. Horrendous stories have surfaced of children who were abducted, drugged and turned into killing machines during the bloody civil wars in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. These stories form a legitimate ground for wide condemnation, indeed.

However, although the “child-soldier” is often depicted as a helpless victim of the evildoings of other (adult) actors, this is a simplification that does not do justice to the complex reality of a civil war. During the civil war in South Sudan (1983-2005) the recruitment of children under the age of eighteen was common practice in the largest rebel movement: the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The stories of these children – many of whom are by now adults and youngsters – challenge the image of childsoldiers as helpless victims, with no choice or opinion of their own.

Meet Tricia, who joined the SPLA when she was ten years old. When the government army had killed her father, she decided she wanted to fight back: “I became angry. I walked to a town where the SPLA was stationed and I said to them that I want to be a soldier. I took training for two years. I was still small and I was struggling even to carry the gun.” After she completed her training, the army leadership decided she was too young to fight and sent her to a refugee camp in Kenya to go to school. But after a year, she walked back to Sudan to join the army again: “My heart didn’t want to stay in the school. I wanted to fight. Every day in the school, my mind was thinking about going back to the army. This was because of what happened to my father. I was still angry.”

Another soldier, Moses, joined the rebels’ side when he was twelve years old. His home area became very insecure as a result of the war. He explains that he joined the rebels after an attack on his village by the enemy: “When the enemy came, they were killing people and taking the women and cows. They put fire in the house. My father was killed and three men in my sister’s house. I was afraid, I ran away. In the forest, I found soldiers and I joined them.” Although the life of a soldier exposes children to extremely threatening circumstances, it is often overlooked that they were facing the same, or even worse threats in their home communities. Civil war creates extreme insecurities, and becoming a soldier can be a form of seeking relative protection.

Yet, life for children in the army was also harsh and dangerous. There was seldom enough food, and many soldiers died of hunger, malaria or diarrhoea. On the frontlines, soldiers saw their friends die in front of them and many got injured. Simon tells us how he got injured: “When I was sixteen, I got shot in my leg. It had to be amputated and I now use an artificial leg. After that, I could not go back to battle. I stayed in the liberated areas, but still in uniform.” Philip also got injured when he was sixteen “When we started to fight, I felt bad about it. The war made everything worse. People died, got hurt and fled. I got injured in my leg. I had to go to the hospital far from the battles. I had to stay behind in the barracks since then.”

In the SPLA, it was not common for young children to be sent to the frontlines to fight, although there were exceptions to that rule. Many children who wanted to become soldiers were turned down altogether and sent to refugee camps, like what happened to Tricia. Generally, children who were taken into the army were given lighter tasks in the barracks. Yet, some young soldiers recalled how eager they were to go to the frontlines, like Jacob: “I was twelve when I joined the SPLA. I had to join the army, because I needed to protect myself. After the training, I was feeling strong. But the commanders thought I was still too young to fight, so I had to stay in the barracks with them. When I was thirteen, I didn’t want to wait anymore, and they let me go to battle. They saw I was ready for it.”

When possible, the SPLA organised classes for its soldiers in the barracks, mainly during ceasefires. Children were also sent to refugee camps or to safe areas for periods of time to attend school. Daniel explains how he was selected for education: “I joined the SPLA when I was fourteen years old. Then, our commander came to the barracks and they said to me “you are still young, you go to school”. Twenty were selected like that. I went to Kenya and finished my primary and secondary school there.” While life in the ranks of the army was extremely challenging for children, the life they had left behind was often not much better. Those who remained civilians throughout the war were subjected to attacks by the army, disease and famine. In 2005, the SPLA signed a peace agreement with the Sudanese government, putting an end to twenty years of a devastating civil war.

Directly after the peace, rights groups pressured the SPLA to release all soldiers who were then under the age of eighteen. Unicef committed itself to help them reintegrate into civilian life, and received funds to do so, but never managed to get projects going. None of the young soldiers ever received any form of support from Unicef. They had to depend on their families, like Daniel, who was sixteen when the peace was signed: “After the peace, I travelled to where my uncle lives. I was released from the army to go to school and I like it. I am in class 7 now. When I finish my education, I want to teach my people how to plant crops and how to take care of them. I don’t want a job in the army.”

Since the peace, the SPLA is an official army, and its remaining soldiers started receiving salaries. Tricia is now twenty-two years old and earning about $200 a month, which makes her more than well-off for Sudanese standards. She talks about her future: “I am now in the military intelligence. I also want to continue my education. I am going to ask for permission to go to school. But after I finish, I will come back to my job. I want to stay in the army. The army is my life.”

Jacob is now thirty years old, and stationed in South Sudan’s capital Juba where he is performing a civilian task. He hopes to find a way to continue his education, but this is difficult: “The problem is that I am too old for the regular schools here. I’ve been in the army for 16 years now. I am a soldier, and I feel that I have to be in the army. It is a job, somehow. All my experience is in the army. I won’t match in any other place. I belong in the army.” He is also now receiving a salary and is saving up for the dowry, as he is planning to get married and start a family.

The image of a child-soldier as a helpless victim who is abducted and forced, is based on only one part of reality and requires nuance. Although the image works well for those organisations seeking to raise funds for their projects, it does not provide room for children who became soldiers in an attempt to shape their destinies. Civil wars expose people to horrendous experiences and make children specifically vulnerable. Under these threatening circumstances, becoming a fighter may be a perfectly rational way to seek protection, even for children. However, that should not diminish our moral outrage. If anything, it should redirect our indignation towards states and leaders who instigate these wars, and those who look away and fail to act.

*Saskia Baas is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, completing a dissertation on armed opposition movements in Sudan and has done extensive field work in Sudan in 2008 – 2009, interviewing around 80 rebels. Names in the article are not the respondents’ real names.

Related article on the SID forum: Forgotten… by Jan Pronk

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