February 2014

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Photo: U.S. State Department

Assistant Secretary Linda Thomas-Greenfield and U.S. Ambassador James Entwistle with Kano youth NGO leaders.

Washington, DC — Today, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), passed H.R. 2548, the Electrify Africa Act, as amended, which will improve access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, through a comprehensive U.S. government approach to electricity projects in the region, at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer.

[A summary of today’s Committee action, including adopted amendments, is available HERE.]

Last year, Chairman Royce, joined by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the Committee’s Ranking Member, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Africa, introduced the Electrify Africa Act (H.R. 2548). The bipartisan legislation would establish a U.S. strategy to support affordable, reliable electricity in sub-Saharan Africa in order to improve economic growth, health and education in Africa, while helping job creation in the United States through greater exports.

Chairman Royce on the legislation’s passage: “Today’s important legislation offers a market-based, strategic framework to bring affordable and reliable energy to many of the 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who currently have none. With nearly one billion consumers, the African continent has great economic potential.

“The Electrify Africa Act mandates a clear and comprehensive U.S. policy, so that the private sector can proceed with the certainty it needs to generate electricity in Africa – at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer. We need to be engaged. Where the United States has left a void for economic investment in Africa, China has stepped in to direct nearly $2 billion towards energy projects on the continent. If the United States wishes to tap into this potential consumer base, we must act now.”

H.R. 2548, as amended:

· requires that the Administration create a comprehensive strategy to help increase electricity in sub-Saharan Africa;

· encourages the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to use existing tools such as loan guarantees, partnerships and grants to increase electricity in sub-Saharan Africa;

· directs the Treasury Department to persuade the World Bank and African Development Bank to increase electrification investments in sub-Saharan Africa; and

· instructs the Overseas Private Investment Corporation to prioritize electrical sector investments in sub-Saharan Africa.

Information about H.R. 2548, including the introduced bill text, the amendment in the nature of a substitute offered by Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel, and a section-by-section summary are available HERE.

African countries ‘dealing’ with gays the best way they know how – further criminalization

A trend is forming from African nations – which already criminalize same sex acts, albeit, through laws inherited from colonial masters – to further put in place legislation that amplify, further criminalize and increase punishment for same sex acts

When India’s Supreme Court – in a surprising ruling – upheld a 150 year old ban on same sex acts among consensual adults, the world reacted with shock at how, in just under four years – it was in 2009 that the High Court decriminalized consensual same sex acts – the law can change easily against homosexual persons.

Unfortunately, as the world – and by large, the global LGBTI, and to some extent, the sex work community – focused on the ruling, there is a worrying trend in the African continent as countries formulate new laws or amplify existing ones to further criminalize same sex persons.

In five countries around the world, same sex sexual conduct carries the death penalty while across the Commonwealth – with most African countries being members – penalties for homosexuality include jail sentences, flogging or death. According to the Human Dignity Trust (HDT), half a dozen Commonwealth countries specify life imprisonment.

38 African countries criminalize homosexuality . This criminalization stems from imported British laws in place in the late nineteenth century that, at that time, outlawed homosexual acts. Despite a 1967 Sexual Offences Act in England and Wales that repealed its own legislation and until the 1980s before Scotland and Northern Ireland did the same, these laws originally imposed during colonial times remain largely in place in these African, even in a post-independence era.

Of these 38, 10 have taken the extraordinary step of targeting LGBTI persons by strengthening existing sexual offences laws, or formulating ‘moral’ Bills that outlaw all forms non-heterosexual conduct or create anti-homosexuality specific laws. Here are some of them.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC)

The DRC has joined the league of African nations proposing for ‘preserve African cultural values’ by outlawing non-heterosexual practices from pornography to zoophilia to homosexuality. Recently, the National Assembly Member Steve Mbikayi, sponsored a Bill in Parliament which, he insists is meant to avoid “moral depravity” and protect the Congolese youth from “western morals.” The bill is necessary in order to “preserve African values,” which, he insists, “have never tolerated romantic relationships between persons of the same sex.” The bill ‘complements’ a 2010 proposed legislation, Sexual Practices Against Nature Bill, that was presented before Parliament aiming to criminalise homosexuality and zoophilia as sexual practices ‘against nature.’ Section 2 of the proposed Bill singles out zoophilia (sex with animals) and homosexuality as sexual practices against nature. It also criminalises any activities that directly or indirectly aim to promoting the rights LGBTI persons, therefore, in accordance with section 174h3 of the Bill, “all publications, posters, pamphlets, (or) films highlighting or likely to arouse or encourage sexual practices against nature are forbidden within the territory of the DRC (Section 174h3)” and “all associations that promote or defend sexual relations against nature are forbidden within the territory of the DRC.”

NIGERIA

In May 2013, Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed a Law that further criminalised homosexuality by punishing those who try to enter same-sex marriages with a possible 14 years prison term. The bill, Prohibition of Same Sex Act, which passed through the Senate – Nigeria’s highest chamber – in December 2011 also punishes those “witnessing” or “abetting” same sex relationships with custodial sentences of at least eight years, and groups that advocate for LGBT rights were also penalised by the new bill. The bill – which was awaiting President Jonathan’s Goodluck signature to make it into law – re-emerged this December when reports said the Nigerian Senate ‘unanimously’ passed a harmonised Conference Committee report banning same sex marriage in Nigeria. It is also reported pressure is mounting on Goodluck to sign the Bill with Senate President, David Mark calling on him to sign the Bill into law. “We have been under series of attack from different quarters. I think we believe in this Bill. The earlier we sign it into law, the better. We (Nigeria) have many shortcomings, we don’t one to add this one (same sex marriage) to it,” Mark is reported to have said.

ZIMBABWE

Since 1995, the Zimbabwe government has carried out campaigns against both homosexual men and women. However, in 2006, the Government – under President Robert Mugabe whose own anti-gay public speeches are described as fiery and explicit (at one point, he called for the beheading of gays) – passed laws that criminalize any actions perceived as homosexual. It is now a criminal offense for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss. The “sexual deviancy” law is one of 15 additions to Zimbabwe’s Criminal Code. The sections involving gays and lesbians are part of an overhaul of the country’s sodomy laws. Before then, laws against sodomy were limited to sexual activity, and the revised law now states that sodomy is any “act involving contact between two males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act.” In the run-up to the last elections, there was concern from LGBTI activists that following the re-election of Mugabe, who pledged during campaign rallies to impose tighter anti-gay legislation and called for gays to be jailed or beheaded, things might turn worse. Mugabe in his campaigns had been promising tougher measures against LGBTI people, including long prison sentences, and at one point called for beheading gays.

BOTSWANA

In November 2013, the Botswana Government was harshly criticized by human rights, sex workers rights and LGBTI groups after a new national policy draft HIV “Strategies to Address Key Populations” was said to provide for the police and immigration authorities to “arrest” local MSM and sex workers and “deport and evoke permits” of foreigners – with the authorities “even availing themselves over weekends” to enforce the crackdown. The policy was an HIV survey of MSM, female sex workers (FSW), and people who inject drugs (PWID) in the country and these provisions were part of the recommendations of the policy. Despite the Botswana Government refuting this, Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA), said the government did the ‘totally unexpected and deviated from the study findings by taking punitive, discriminatory, homophobic and xenophobic measures.’ However, the most surprising thing is that the Employment Act of Botswana has prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2010 even though same-sex sexual acts remain illegal.

MALAWI

In November 2012, it was reported that President Joyce Banda had suspended all laws that criminalized homosexuality. This was after Malawi’s justice minister said the government would review anti-gay legislation “in view of the sentiments from the general public and in response to public opinion regarding certain laws.” Surprising, the government later denied issuing the statement thus the laws that criminalise same sex acts remain in place.

LIBERIA

Lawmakers in Liberia introduced two bills in 2012 that would strengthen existing anti-gay provisions in the criminal code. One of the bill, prohibiting and criminalizing same-sex marriages, was unanimously passed in the Senate but has yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives. Another bill in the House of Representatives is much broader, and includes a provision banning the “promotion” of gay sex. The bill has yet to be voted on.

CAMEROON

Often said to be the only country in the world that ‘actively’ persecutes homosexual people, Cameroon occupies a unique place as the only country that has arrested more real or perceived gay persons than any other African nation. In addition to sustained media outings – of as many people as 50 – the justice system has jailed persons suspected of same sex acts. Further, a national association has now decided to mark the 21 of August as a national anti-gay, promising a homophobic parade through the streets of the capital in a bid to push for enactment of stricter anti-gay laws. Several human rights and LGBT groups criticized plans by Cameroon to increase the penalties for consensual same-sex sexual acts under the law to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of 2 million francs CFA (£2660 GBP or $ 4104 USD).

GAMBIA

Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh said in 2008 that laws “stricter than those in Iran” against homosexuals would soon be introduced and vowed to “cut off the head” of any homosexual caught in the country. He further gave homosexuals 24 hours to leave the country. “Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence,” he told a gathering of world leaders. “It is becoming an epidemic and we Muslims and Africans will fight to end this behavior.” Jammeh even went further and ordered the director of the Gambia Immigration Department to “weed bad elements in society.” He further advised army chiefs to monitor the activities of their men and deal with soldiers practicing lesbianism in the military.

UGANDA

Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill was a private member’s bill by MP David Bahati in 2009 causing worldwide condemnation. Provision of the bill include the death penalty for same sex acts in certain circumstances. People who are caught or suspected of homosexual activity would be forced to undergo HIV tests; Ugandans who engage in same-sex sexual relations outside Uganda will likewise fall under the jurisdiction of this law, and may be extradited and charged with a felony. It also provided anyone who is aware of a person who is gay to report them within 24 hours lest they face imprisonment. After much international pressure, the Bill was shelved and is awaiting a committee report that some optimists say may have ‘watered it down.’ It has been reported that the members of the Ugandan Parliament are looking to hold debate behind closed doors due to what one legislator said was the ‘sensitive nature of the bill.’

Denis Nzioka is a LGBTI rights activist based in Nairobi, Kenya

Cairo — – The newly-chosen cabinet ministers will be sworn in before the president on Saturday, said Ibrahim Mahlab, Egypt’s Prime Minister-designate.

Mahlab resumed talks on Friday with ministerial candidates to finalise the new formation by Friday’s end.

The new cabinet formation is almost complete, Mahlab told journalists on Thursday.

The cabinet will adopt a new philosophy in the upcoming period to communicate with the street, said the Middle East News Agency (MENA).

The former cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, resigned last Monday. Former Housing Minister Mahlab was asked to form the new cabinet.

Mahlab has decided to keep Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi and Transport Minister Ibrahim al-Demiri in their posts, reported MENA.

Several ministers will continue in their posts as well, such as Interior Minister, Defence Minister, Planning and International Cooperation Minister, Endowments Minister, Antiquities Minister, Local Development Minister, Communications and Information Technology Minister, Youth and Sports Minister.

Other ministers who will remain in post include Education Minister, Oil Minister, Tourism Minister, Transition Justice Minister, Trade and Investment Minister, Agriculture Minister, and Environment Minister.

Nairobi — While calm appears restored in most parts of the Rift Valley that were left shell-shocked on Thursday night following the explosion of an astronomical body, the identity of the phenomenon is still shrouded in mystery.

The object shone bright in the dark sky before exploding.

People scampered for safety at the sight of the body and the subsequent explosion with reports of wailing and panic reported across the more than three counties where the astronomical body was seen.
Facebook and other social network platforms were abuzz soon after the extraterrestrial incident.

The panic was felt from Kuresoi to Uasin Gishu and the areas in between while on the networks, people were making wild and educated guesses. Speculation was that the astronomical body was either a meteorite or a comet.

“I saw it. It was big and spectacular,” said Mike Kimani, a resident of Kericho.

There were reports that the body left some destruction on its trail.

“It has burnt a house in Kibaraa village,” said Ezra Kipchirchir.

Efforts to obtain opinion from experts drew a blank with scholars arguing they did not observe the phenomenon and hence could not verify the identity of the body.

“It is possible such a star was observed but I do not have the details at the moment,” said Professor Paul Baki of the University of Nairobi.

He however said the institution would conduct investigations on establishing more details regarding the sighting.

The last time a meteor was sighted and reported in Kenya was in 2011 when an 11 kilogramme was seen by locals falling in a spinning motion from the skies before landing in a cornfield in Kilimambogo area.

Police and Military retrieved the extraterrestrial rock which landed with a loud bang on that morning.

Bangui — Zannah Bassar, a Muslim woman living in the Central African Republic (CAR) capital, Bangui, has a simple message for the international community – she wants to be evacuated.

“I was born in this district,” she told IRIN this week, “but my home has been wrecked. I’ve been sleeping in the street for the past month and I want to send an SOS. I want to go somewhere else.”

Bassar and about 3,200 fellow Muslims are trapped in a kilometer-long district of Bangui known as PK12. Half a dozen other Muslims IRIN interviewed in the same district this week all said they wanted to leave.

“The people in PK12 have a deep desire to get out of there,” said Jacques Seurt, head of mission for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in CAR, which has stopped chartering rescue flights out of the country for lack of funding.

“They are under constant threat from the anti-balaka as are other Muslims in the west of the country.”

The country’s Muslims have been the target of reprisal attacks because the Seleka rebel alliance that toppled the government in March 2013 was predominantly made up of Muslims and committed widespread atrocities in many parts of the country.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on 25 February that “more than 15,000 people in 18 locations are surrounded by armed groups across the west of the CAR… and at high risk of attack,” adding that most of these people are Muslim.

“Areas we are particularly worried about include the PK12 neighbourhood in Bangui and the towns of Boda, Bouar and Bossangoa,” a spokesman said.

Anti-balaka have been firing grenades at PK12 from surrounding hills and infiltrating the area, wounding several people, said Peter Neussl of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

On 19 February, UNHCR reported, the anti-balaka attacked a convoy of people trying to escape from PK12. All 21 men in the convoy were killed, leaving 119 children and 19 women, who fled to a nearby village.

Security has improved in Bangui since December when around 1,000 people were killed there in a few days, but attacks are still happening almost daily. On 22 February three Muslims were dragged from a taxi and shot dead at an anti-balaka road block, two days later five men were killed in the PK5 district and on 26 February four Muslim children were kidnapped (an OCHA worker helped negotiate their release two days later).

Options for relocation

Until recently a high proportion of the Muslims in CAR were Chadians, or of Chadian descent. In the past two months Chad’s government has been organizing large convoys, escorted by the Chadian army, to evacuate its citizens from CAR, but on 20 February, after the attack on the convoy from PK12, N’djamena announced an end to these operations and declared that 99 percent of its citizens that wanted to leave CAR had left.

Many Muslims interviewed by IRIN at PK12, Bouar and Bossangoa in the past two weeks said they want to go to Chad, as they have relatives there, but this option is becoming more difficult, and aid agencies are under increasing pressure to find other options.

Up to now aid agencies’ involvement in evacuations from CAR has mainly been limited to work by IOM, which has chartered flights for around 5,000 third country nationals, and UNHCR, which has assisted some refugees with travel.

OCHA is now considering plans for moving populations within the country.

Facilitating a division of the country on religious (and largely ethnic) lines will be controversial for aid workers. Amnesty International said last month that nobody wanted a debate on the issue.

But some officials feel it can no longer be ignored.

“We shall be judged by the effectiveness of our actions, not the elegance of our principles,” a senior aid worker said confidentially. “We don’t want to be complicit with ethnic cleansing but nor do we want any share of the blame for ethnic extermination.”

Peter Neussl explained current thinking: “We want to give people options for relocation. We are exploring possibilities inside Bangui of moving people to places that would be easier to protect.”

Transferring people within Bangui would be easier logistically, he said, as it is hard to find trucks and drivers who will take the risk of driving Muslims long distances through hostile territory, even with an armed escort.

Apart from the ill-fated convoy from PK12, other trucks have also come under fire or had grenades thrown at them in CAR in recent weeks. Five people were killed in one such incident and more than 20 in another, while the anti-balaka attacked a convoy of 89 vehicles on 16 February, wounding 12 civilians, although the attack was beaten off by the escort of peacekeepers.

“In the long term, people want to live in their home areas in security,” Neussl said, “but as a mid-term solution we are considering moving Muslims from PK12 to safer towns outside Bangui. We would have to be very careful about the possible impact of such transfers on the host population.”

Neussl emphasized that relocation should be a last resort.

UN Secretary-General Special Representative in CAR Boubacar Gaye told IRIN: “The secretary-general made very clear before the [Security] Council this week that we should do our utmost to stop the exodus of the Muslim population, and this is also the understanding of [CAR’s] Madam President Samba-Panza.

“Security is the first priority. The option of moving people under the international community’s escort is an option, one of the planning options.”

He stressed that any such move must be fully coordinated with the national authorities and fully explained, and that it would be “very dangerous for the future of the country to have all the Muslims in one part of the country and a de facto partition”, as this would be “sowing the seeds for future confrontation”.

The exodus of most Muslim traders and cattle herders from western CAR is already having serious economic effects, with meat and other products now scarce in the markets and concerns that supplies will deteriorate further.

Views from northwestern CAR

The UN’s senior humanitarian official Valerie Amos canvassed people’s views about relocation during her visit last week to Bossangoa, a town about 350km north of Bangui where some 1,200 Muslims are living in and around a school, l’Ecole de Liberté.

The town’s imam Ismail Nahi told Amos: “If there were peace and security all the Muslims would come back… but the Christians have made it clear they don’t want to live with Muslims in this country. Wherever they find Muslims they will kill them and cut them into little pieces.”

A women’s group leader, Kadjidja Hassan, said people did not want to go to Chad because they had been in CAR a long time, but she added that they have now been in the camp for five months, and: “Muslims have been attacked in all the villages around Bossangoa. A Muslim can’t move more than one kilometre from this site. We’re all crammed in here, and our husbands can’t do anything. How can we live in Bossangoa?”

With Chadian African Union troops providing security, there have been almost no killings of Muslims in Bossangoa in the past two months, but nearly all the camp dwellers IRIN spoke to said they needed more security, although not all said they wanted to leave.

A group of men accused the district administrator (prefect), who was with the visiting delegation, of distributing weapons to the anti-balaka and said that if she were removed from her post they could stay on in Bossangoa. The prefect denied the accusations.

The typical view from most people seemed to be that unless they have security, by which they appeared to mean free movement outside their little ghetto, they would prefer to leave Bossangoa.

Although aid agencies are providing water and basic rations, living conditions are worsening, as the supplies that many people brought to the camp when they abandoned their shops are now finished.

IRIN interviewed Muslims at a site around a mosque in Bouar, near Cameroon, on 14 February. The “camp president” there said many at the site wanted to stay in the area but most other interviewees said they wanted to leave, as did most of the Muslims interviewed at a displacement site in Baoro, 50km away.

At both sites Muslims said they could not walk around the town as the anti-balaka would kill them.

The Muslims’ attitude may have changed in Bouar since the French military mission (Operation Sangaris) deployed about 300 men to the area on 15 February.

The situation at Bossangoa, Bouar and PK12 is not replicated everywhere in western CAR. UNHCR said on 25 February that “in some towns like Paoua (near the Chadian border) and in some quarters of Bangui, communities continue living and working together, although atrocities are frequently committed.”

So far there has been much less communal violence in the centre and east of the country where the Muslim population is larger. Nationally the proportion of Muslims was estimated at around 15 percent, but it is now lower.

More police needed

International security forces are to be reinforced in CAR, with 1,000 European Union peacekeepers due to be deployed soon. International Crisis Group analyst Thierry Vircoulon argues that more police, rather than troops, should be the priority.

The government is currently deploying only about 150 gendarmes (with donor funding) and even they man checkpoints alongside the anti-balaka, while the international police forces are well below the mandated level.

Winning public support in the battle against the anti-balaka may be a long process, as they are seen by many of the population as liberators after their fight against the largely Muslim Seleka rebels.

Most of the international security forces have tended to avoid confronting the anti-balaka, who can cause major disruption, and have closed down the airport on several occasions.

On 25 February IRIN passed the corpse of a Muslim man that had been lying at a crossroads in Bangui for several hours. A group of youths standing nearby said they had killed the Muslim with rocks and machetes because he had crossed a “red line”.

Peacekeeper patrols had passed the spot several times that morning but the youths were still at their checkpoint.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]