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Gone! Omar al-Bashir and his failed identity politics4 minutes read

Ethnicity and religion have been the driving force of Sudan’s politics, until now

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Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they gather in a street in central Khartoum on April 11, 2019, immediatly after one of Africa's longest-serving presidents was toppled by the army. - Organisers of protests for the ouster of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir rejected his toppling by the army Thursday as a "coup conducted by the regime" and vowed to keep up their campaign. (Photo by AHMED MUSTAFA / AFP)

Ethnicity and religion have framed Sudan’s politics since its independence in 1959. The country’s two civil wars have been understood as conflicts between the predominantly Arab, Muslim North and the largely African, Christian South.

President Gaafar Nimeiry deepened the crisis when in 1983 he decreed sharia would be national law. President Omar al-Bashir cemented the divide with his own aggressively Islamist policies which included harbouring Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. His patent objective was to create an Arab Islamist state but it was met with an equally direct response from the South; a fight for their independence.

The narrative of a Christian South being persecuted by a Muslim north was set and the international community helped to amplify it. The US, facilitated by the bipartisan, congressional “Sudan Caucus”, was especially active in keeping the peace process on the global agenda.  A peace agreement was eventually signed with the backing of President George W. Bush, an evangelical Christian himself.

South Sudan’s independence did not bring an end to the ethno-religious troubles of the country. Atrocities committed in Darfur again received significant international media attention with Hollywood stars like George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt shining a light on the issue.

Declaration of war

The coin has two faces and the other side of this one is economic.

Decades of corruption, sanctions, economic ineptness, loss of oil income to South Sudan and the final nail, IMF austerity prescriptions, left Sudan’s economy in tatters.

With 80% of the oil going to South Sudan in 2011, al-Bashir was adamant about retaining the remaining 20%, which lies in South Kordofan, one of three contested regions along with Darfur and the Blue Nile.

Faced with the certain secession of the south, a defiant al-Bashir declared in 2010, “If South Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution, and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity…Sharia and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language.”

This was clearly not to be countenanced by people already engaged in armed struggle for their cultural, religious and economic freedom.

Kamal Kambal, of Nuba Mountains Solidarity Abroad, responded by saying “this is the reason why the southerners want to break away.” He reiterated that the Nuba (of South Kordofan) had been fighting side by side with the south “to prevent the imposition of sharia law and Arabic culture”.

“For us, this statement is a declaration of war,” Kambal concludes.

By the time protests broke out in December 2018, al-Bashir’s ethno-religious incitement was a well-established tactic that he must have credited, at least partially, for keeping him in power all those years. So after failing to repress the protests with teargas and live ammunition, Omar al-Bashir pulled out a familiar weapon, ethno-religious division.

‘We are all Darfur!’

In late December a group of 32 Darfurian men were arrested, tortured, and paraded on state media as a Mossad-trained terror cell. Bashir accused the men of planning to bomb the protests they had apparently instigated. No doubt expecting that the well-worn trope of the hyper-aggressive, dangerous and anti-Islamic Darfurian would do its work.

It did not. The Darfurian men were all identified by their university mates as fellow students and the protests took up a new chant, “You racist egomaniac, we are all Darfur!”

This latest uprising against Sudan’s political establishment has been more Sudanese, in the truest sense, than any other before. The protests first began in the countryside, not in Khartoum. They have not been confined to middle class professionals and unemployed students.

Reports emerged of tea sellers in Khartoum – typically women at the bottom of the societal rung – sharing their daily earnings to defray each woman’s losses as they took turns to attend the protests. People’s transportation costs were crowdfunded online to allow them attend marches and sit-ins.

Images of the protests have shown Sudanese – Arab, Afro-Arab, Arabised Afro, African, Muslim, Christian, Civilian, Military, Men, Women – standing side by side; and on the same side of the country’s historic moment irrespective of their differences.

On Thursday April 11, they won. Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule came to an end.

It is only the first victory though. The road to true revolution will be long and perhaps winding but the Sudanese people, together, have begun that journey.

In the end, under the right (or wrong) conditions, people will revolt and longstanding tricks will lose their hold as they did under al-Bashir.

All politicians under-serving their people, should take note.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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Flooding can happen anywhere

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Over the past few years, mother nature has changed its ways, because we changed ours. Homes and businesses have been affected by a combination of factors like increased rainfall and the resulting overflow from rivers, especially in coastal areas.

Even for those residents in flood-susceptible areas or riverine communities, marshy lowlands, the method and character of angry cloudburst during a flood, is problematic and fraught with imponderables that are difficult to predict.

At least 25,000 people have died annually since the 80s in Africa from flood with 11 million more affected.

Last year, floods in East Africa provoked massive flooding, landslides, and overflow of several dams across Rwanda, Kenya, Somalia, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda. In recent times, Tanzania has spent over US$2 billion annually to manage flood. Landslides from flood took tolls in West Pokot, Kenya where 54 people died.

In Cunene Province of South Angola, Heavy rains submerged homes and damaged properties worth billions.

Mozambique lost assets and properties to 2013 floods estimated to cost over a tenth of its GDP to the tune of US$500m.

Nigeria experienced one of its worst floods in a century in 2012 – properties worth about US$10 billion were destroyed. Borno State in North-Eastern Nigeria had its worst flood in 7 years displacing over 20,000 people.

In 2019, flash floods happened in Tunisia and Algeria as well.

How ready is your community?

Homes may flood from prolonged rain over a long period of time. Internal issues like sewage leak, plumbing failure or extreme weather conditions, water-control structures like dams or levees may fall apart with devastating consequences.

Communities must pursue building approaches to withstand flood and erect structures above flood levels. In building homes and facilities, barriers should be created to prevent the ingress of floodwater into homes with high points using hard-wearing bricks or concrete or sandbags.

Encouraging tree planting across wetlands could create a wooded bulwark to break the speed of floods, check river overflow and arrest deforestation.

Farming or agrarian communities prone to flood may, with the assistance of local authorities, build flood storage reservoirs to hold back floodwater, collect excess rain and runoffs. Such reservoirs may be channelled to farms for irrigation purposes.

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Op-Ed

The role of Diaspora Nigerians in national economic development

In the USA, Nigerians are the most educated ethnic group with the highest percentage of Bachelors’ degree holders

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The role of Diaspora Nigerians in national economic development

Emigration or immigration is what happens from time to time. This is when a person decides to leave their country to live permanently in another country for reasons that are not far-fetched. Some could be for economic reasons, wanting a better life or simply running away from conflicts which can be outright war or religious.

It is a fact that millions of Nigerians emigrate to other parts of the world. These migrants and their descendants make up the Nigerian Diaspora. This population range between 5 million and 15 million according to figures from official quarters.

Nigerians can be found in the United Kingdom with Peckham referred to as little Lagos, the USA, Ireland, especially in Dublin, South Africa, India, Malaysia etc. It is even a serious joke that there’s hardly any place on the planet you cannot find a Nigerian and till now I see that as a problem.

These migrants, as observed, are at a high cost to the development of Nigeria, especially when it borders on professionals like doctors, scientists, lecturers which the country is in dire need of. Unfortunately, some of Nigeria’s brightest professionals constitute the class of people leaving the country on a daily basis for other countries that provide better facilities and services for their people.

In the USA, Nigerians are the most educated ethnic group with the highest percentage of Bachelors’ degree holders and have an average honourable income of $94,000 (2010 US census). We cannot also ignore the fact that Nigerians in the Diaspora also contribute largely to the economy with $12bn remitted by them in 2012 (World Bank), which is positive to our economy.

There is, therefore, a need to put in place structures and policies that will encourage some of those that have emigrated to return and use their acquired expertise to help in the development of the country.

But to have those in the Diaspora come back, especially the professionals, facilities must be provided in our hospitals, universities, government institutions and we must also apply meritocracy in appointments. Aside from that, there should be improvement in the remuneration of specialised functions while we beef up security nationwide.

The Nigerian in Diaspora Organisation is a body recognised by the Federal Government as an umbrella body of Nigerian citizens in the Diaspora with a vision to harness the skills and expertise of Nigerians with the view to providing them for the development of the country.

The Nigerian government has to take advantage of this body in making some appointments in government agencies and institutions. The appointment of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Director of the World Bank, is one that easily comes to mind. Her impact as Minister of Finance and coordinating minister of the economy under the Jonathan administration cannot be underestimated. The structures she put in place to check “ghost” workers as well as the Treasury Single Account have, in no small measure, minimised corruption.

Also, the impact of Dr. Akin Adesina, a former agricultural economist at the Rockefeller Foundation, who became the Minister of Agriculture, was also positive, as he returned to use his expertise to develop the country.

Another well-known case is the success of Singapore linked to Lee Kuan Yew. Lee studied Law in Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, UK. In 1950, he was admitted to the English Bar but instead of practising there, he returned to Singapore and became the first Prime Minister from 1959 to 1990. He transformed Singapore from one of the poorest countries in the world in the 60’s to one of the most advanced today. He built a country based on the rule of law with an efficient government structure and continuously fights against corruption and insecurity.

Unfortunately, we cannot say this of Nigeria, reasons being the structures, policies, establishments are not in place to attract and facilitate integration.

We can identify Nigerians and award scholarships to them in specific institutions with the clause of returning home to help in the country development in various fields. However, the government on the other part must ensure adequate facilities are in place for their return.

The ease of doing business has significantly improved and there is a need to legalise the whistle-blower policy as part of our anti-corruption drive.

Competence and honesty must be introduced in making appointments to critical government positions. All these will ensure we appoint the best Nigerians both home and abroad, leading to good governance and increased investors’ confidence in our economy.

We have no other country but Nigeria; we have the human and abundant natural resources to make the country an economic power. But we must enthrone meritocracy and honesty as our way of life and shun ethnicity and religious animosity. The journey has just begun and we must all join hands in making this country great, again.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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Op-Ed

Period poverty: The fault in our blood

In Kenya alone, almost 50 per cent of school-going girls do not have access to sanitary products

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Period poverty: The fault in our blood
Photo credit: youthsdigest.com

A family of 8 has just been admitted in Mafalala health centre, Mozambique. They all woke up to what seemed like food poisoning. It was not merely food poisoning. It was the eldest daughter, who inadvertently introduced microbes and bacterial toxins into the food due to poor hygiene – poor hygiene from period poverty.

In a nutshell, ‘Period poverty’ refers to lacking access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, decent toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management due to financial constraints.

While many may be lucky enough to probably take this for granted, one in ten girls miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary products. Some stay away because there aren’t safe, private toilets to use at school.

In Kenya alone, almost 50 per cent of school-going girls do not have access to sanitary products.

WHO states that, each year, 600 million people (1 out of 10 persons around the world) become ill after consuming contaminated food. Among all these people, 420,000 die, including 125,000 children under the age of 5.

Women and girls’ health may be put at risk, as they are forced to use dirty rags which can cause infection. Risks can be greater if the women or girl has undergone female genital mutilation.

READ: Somalia marks 16 Days of activism against gender-based violence

In Maradi, Zinder and other parts of Niger Republic, study carried out for menstruating women and girls between 15 and 45 show that they observe nutritional and religious restrictions.

With men and boys less concerned about the management of menstruation among women, there is low awareness on menstrual health management which is more prevalent among nomadic women (96%) compared to sedentary women (49%).

There are many other health risks linked with the current practices of many girls during their menstrual cycles, especially in the rural or poor neighbourhoods.

Most times, girls are unaware of the availability of sanitary pads. They often resort to using pieces of mattress, chicken feathers, dry leaves, and newspapers to meet their needs and to attend school during their periods. The outcome is mostly offensive, repulsive and discomforting to the girls yet fertile for disease-causing organisms.

Some girls would employ plastic bowls because conveniences are far-flung from their residences; some dig holes at home and sit on them intermittently for the period of their menstruation!

UNICEF’s investigation found 54% of Kenyan girls reported challenges with accessing menstrual hygiene products. The research also highlighted that one in ten adolescent girls admitted to having transactional sex for pads in Kenya’s Kibera slums.

READ: Victims accuse Solomon Folorunsho of Benin-based IDP camp of abuse

Period poverty: The fault in our blood
Photo credit: Daily Post

In villages where sanitary pads are not available and girls do not have transport – many times unable to afford a bus fare – these taboo issues become so repeated they get nearly normalised.

With most of these women constantly handling dishes or domestic necessities of the family, the likelihood of introducing disease-causing organisms to water, fruits, vegetables or food is high.

Before pads became commonplace, women historically placed in all sorts during menses. Tampons were prevalent at a point, but leaving a tampon in for too long could lead to infections and sometimes cause life-threatening toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

TSS is typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. Menstrual hygiene is so vital that it should be part of the primary school curriculum across Africa. Boys, too, should know about it.

A team of wonderful women called the Numwa Mothers Sewing group sew inexpensive sanitary pads for schools in Zimbabwe. Canada and Australia recently ended tampon tax. Sanitary products in India have become 100% tax-free, while Scotland now offers free sanitary products to low-income families.

For keeping more Tanzanian girls in school with her enlightenment and investment in Menstrual Hygiene, entrepreneur Lucy Odiwa won the World Bank’s first SDGs and Her competition in 2018.

READ: Morocco’s health minister urges doctors to prioritise patient care

Options available to the girl child are; frequently changed tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are usually sterilised and reusable. They will no longer have to miss days in the week every month, while classes are on.

Little girls who are yet to start earning livelihood do not have to pay for a natural process which they have little or no control over. We must do better by pushing for progressive policies to end period poverty in Africa. We can do better.

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not reflect News Central’s editorial stance.

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