‘INVEST IN OUR GIRLS,’ SAYS LIBERIA’S ‘MA ELLEN,’ IF AFRICA IS TO RISE
Jun. 16 (GIN) – In an open letter dated June 16 – the International Day of the African Child – Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf warned there would be no “Africa Rising” without a serious “investment in our girls.”
The key cornerstone to addressing some of the world's most pressing challenges is through providing a quality education to all children, especially girls, the former World Bank official known as “Ma Ellen” declared.
“To not invest in and prioritize girls' education, we as African leaders are telling our women that we do not care,” she said. “As one of those women, I will not accept this and I urge all our leaders to invest in our children's future. Investing in girls' education is not only a moral imperative, it is a smart investment.”
The Liberian leader noted that Africa had the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of girls not in school and in sub-Saharan Africa nearly four out of five poor rural girls are not completing primary school.
“It is unacceptable that in 2014 -- less than a year away from the deadline set by the international community to get all children into school -- 30 million girls in Africa are denied their basic human right to a quality education. At current rates, the poorest girls in sub-Saharan Africa will only achieve universal primary completion in 2086.”
“Ensuring that every child goes to school, stays in school and learns something of value while there will require firm commitments and action by governments to invest in education and prioritize the education of its girls,” the West African president declared.
While Africa's economy has grown at more than 5% annually -- some of the highest economic growth in the world -- leading many to use the phrase of "Africa Rising" -- a country's economic growth does not always lead to development or improvement for its poorest citizens,” she pointed out.
“To truly rise as a nation by building an equitable, sustainable and peaceful society, governments must ensure that spending on education is prioritized and used well.
The Day of the African Child has been celebrated on June 16 every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity. It honors those who participated in the Soweto Uprising in 1976 on that day. It also raises awareness of the continuing need for improvement of the education provided to African children.
A 10 day call to action can be found at #10DaysToAct, sponsored by Plan International.
FORMER AFRICAN LEADERS CALL FOR LEGALIZING LOW-LEVEL DRUGS
Jun. 16 (GIN) – Citing a new report, two former African presidents are calling for the decriminalization of minor drug offenses, saying that trafficking, consumption and production is undermining development in West Africa and feeding corruption.
The report by a panel of African experts had harsh words for current policies which, they said, fuels corruption in a region where the cocaine trade alone is estimated at $1.25 billion a year – a figure which dwarfs the combined budget of several countries.
“We call on West African governments to reform drug laws and policies and decriminalize low-level and non-violent drug offences," Olusegun Obasanjo, the commission chairman and former president of Nigeria, told reporters in Dakar, Senegal, last week. He was joined by leaders from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Togo, Mauritania, Nigeria, Cape Verde and Mali.
According to the West Africa Commission on Drugs, "West Africa is no longer just a transit zone for drugs arriving from South America and ending up in Europe but has become a significant zone of consumption and production.
"The glaring absence of treatment facilities for drug users fuels the spread of disease and exposes an entire generation, users and non-users alike, to growing public health risks."
"Most governments' reaction to simply criminalize drug use without thinking about prevention or access to treatment has not just led to overcrowded jails, but also worsened health and social problems," said Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the U.N., who commissioned the study.
The report blamed the widespread criminalization of drug use for bloating the prison population.
Inmates are rarely reformed and in many cases end up more criminalized or sick as a result of their time inside, said the report, entitled "Not Just in Transit - Drugs, the State and Society in West Africa."
The policy paper is the result of 18 months of research and consultations with the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, and several regional and national organizations.
Contributors included Senegalese psychiatrist Idrissa Ba, retired Sierra Leonean judge Justice Bankole-Thompson, Pedro Pires, a former president of Cape Verde.
Governments are urged to avoid a "militarization of drug policy" which, says the report, has been ineffective in Latin America.
"We caution that West Africa must not become a new front line in the failed 'war on drugs', which has neither reduced drug consumption nor put traffickers out of business," the report said. w/pix of K.Annan, center, and O. Obasanjo, right.
A MANDELA REVIVAL APPEARS IN BOOKS AND FILMS
Jun 16 (GIN) – Since the Long Walk to Freedom, the book and the movie, the life of Nelson Mandela continues to inspire a generation of writers and filmmakers.
Now, on the heels of “Madiba A to Z,” a book by Danny Schechter in the U.S. and “Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me,” a film by Khalo Matabane of South Africa, a just-completed personal memoir is about to hit the shelves, penned by Madiba’s assistant of 19 years.
The tell-all first-person chronicle is already raising eyebrows with its revelations of inside family squabbles including the questionable treatment of his last wife, Graca Machel, by the Mandela children.
"My book was not written as a definitive account - to say 'this is Madiba',” cautioned Zelda la Grange in an interview with South Africa’s Sunday Times. “It's just my experience.”
In one incident highlighted in her book “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela,” a bereaved Mrs. Machel had to obtain accreditation to attend her husband’s funeral and was allocated only four seats and one for herself at the service for her side of the family.
When Mandela was too ill to speak, the former secretary alleged, his family allowed strangers to visit him; while excluding life-long friends.
La Grange further claimed that she too was denied access to Mandela in the hospital. She said she was told that after 19 years of service, she was no longer an employee.
La Grange, 43, began as a government typist in 1993. A white Afrikaner, she grew up in segregated South Africa, supporting the regime and the rules of apartheid. Her conservative family referred to the imprisoned Nelson Mandela as “a terrorist.” Yet just a few years after his release and the end of apartheid, she would be traveling the world as one of Mandela’s three private secretaries.
Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu wrote for the book: “President Nelson Mandela’s choice of the young Afrikaner typist Zelda la Grange as his most trusted aide embodied his commitment to reconciliation in South Africa. She repaid his trust with loyalty and integrity. I have the highest regard for her.”
Morgan Freeman of the film Invictus wrote: “Zelda la Grange has a singular perspective on Nelson Mandela, having served as his longtime personal aide, confidante and close friend... Her story of their journey together demonstrates how a man who transformed an entire nation had the power to transform the life of one extraordinary woman.”
In 2002 she left government and became a full-time employee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
"Zelda la Grange" - one of the top trending topics on social network Twitter in South Africa – has already drawn a torrent of criticism including this from Sandiso Gcwabe: "Zelda La Grange wld be that woman everyone hates in the village coz she talks abt other people's problems at every occasion.. Dear Zelda La Grange, every black family has family problems but they are meant to remain just that,” and a response: “Is the backlash fair to Zelda La Grange?” asked Ray Mahlaka. “I don't think so. Already forming your opinion from an excerpt. At least read the book.” Good Morning Mr. Mandela will be available later this month from its publisher, Viking, in bookstores and online through Amazon.
AFRICA’S LAST MONARCH RISKS LOSS OF TRADE DEAL WITH U.S.
Jun. 16 (GIN) – The perks of being King Mswati III may be the last straw for a U.S. trade deal that gives developing countries the rich benefit of duty-free access to U.S. markets.
Swaziland is edging toward suspension from the US preferential trade agreement known as AGOA (African Growth and Opportunities Act) because of the King’s failure to enact democratic reforms. Loss of U.S. markets could cost thousands of workers their jobs in a country where unemployment now tops 40 percent.
Under AGOA, African governments must show progress in enhancing democracy and human rights and upholding fair labor practices.
Among his many perks, including marriage with 15 virgins, each receiving a palace, the King can raise his annual household budget at will. This year it was increased by more than 10% to $61 million. His personal fortune is estimated at about $200 million.
The small kingdom surrounded by South Africa is one of the poorest nations in southern Africa, with more than 60% of the population of 1.2 million living on less than $1 a day.
Swaziland’s credentials for AGOA were recently questioned because the country practices “Tinkhundla” – a non-political party system where positions are filled on merit, not popular votes. Further, AGOA requires minimal government interference in the economy but in Swaziland, the government controls the price of bread, sugar, fuel and owns big companies, land, livestock and farms.
A stinging open letter to King Mswati signed by Nobel Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, universities and NGOs, scolded the King for "disregarding legal procedures and basic human rights" and warned of "lasting damage to your country's standing with potential international investors and ....economic and political isolation," if there was not change and dialogue.
The U.S. Dept. of Labor faults the kingdom for failing to provide free education after grade five. “Children engage in the worst forms of child labor,” the Department wrote in a recent report, “picking cotton, cutting sugar cane, using dangerous tools, carrying heavy loads and applying pesticides.”
Lobbying is reportedly underway in the U.S. by the AFL labor federation to “delist” Swaziland because of its violations of labor rights.
Other countries once suspended from AGOA include Guinea, Madagascar and Niger. All have since been restored.
"Government is playing politics with our lives," Angela Dlamini, a garment worker at the Matsapha Industrial Estate near the commercial city of Manzini, told the IRIN news agency.
"I have two children, aged two and five. We live in a one room flat with a toilet and a water tap in the yard. My family helps me feed and clothe my children, because I earn so little. But we will starve without my job," she said. Dlamini earns about $75 a month from her factory job.
"If we are to continue working we must be paid more," Thab'sile Magongo, a seamstress at a Matsapha factory, told IRIN.
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