NewsBrief, 23-29 May 2012

Mali rebel factions unite in declaration of Islamist state

Efforts to restore Mali's territorial integrity suffered a setback, as two rebel factions announced that they would join forces and create an Islamist state in the north of the country. The Tuareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and al-Qeada-linked Ansar Dine militants said they had reached an agreement after weeks of negotiations. The deal "will also see the merging of our two forces and the appointment of an executive authority for the Azawad state", a rebel spokesman told the Reuters News Agency. The transitional government in Bamako immediately rejected the claim of independence, a position that was backed up by ECOWAS. Meanwhile, Interim President Dioncounda Traoré travelled to Paris for additional medical tests following a 21 May attack by protesters angry over his appointment to head a 12-month transition to civilian rule. Some 50 people have been arrested in connection with the attack.

Bissau coup leaders hand over to civilian government

Six weeks after staging a coup in the middle of presidential elections, the military junta in Guinea-Bissau has returned power to a civilian government. Under a deal brokered by ECOWAS, the soldiers agreed to return to their barracks once a transition government was in place. Interim President Manuel Serifo Nhamadjo announced the formation of a 27-member cabinet headed by transition Prime Minister Rui Duarte Barros. Controversially, the government includes one member of the former military junta (in the position of defence chief) and none of the officials ousted in the April coup. The new cabinet says it will reform the civil service and security forces and establish a new electoral commission to revise electoral laws. ECOWAS has deployed 600 peacekeepers to the country to help maintain order during the 12-month transition process.

West African ministers to meet over food crisis response

Ministers and technical experts from across the region will gather 4-5 June in Lomé to assess the response to the ongoing food and nutrition crisis in West Africa. The meeting, co-organised by the ECOWAS and UEMOA Commissions, will bring together agriculture, trade and regional integration ministers from member countries, Chad and Mauritania. Technical and financial partners are also invited to share their views during the 4 June experts' meeting and the 5 June ministerial meeting. Participants will discuss existing interventions and explore options for additional measures to assist those in need of food and humanitarian aid. The meeting will also seek to improve coordination among stakeholders and under West African leadership, in line with the tenets of the Charter for Food Crisis Prevention and Management adopted by the 17 countries in November 2011. The experts and ministers meeting is an outgrowth of the April meeting of the Food Crisis Prevention Network (RPCA) at the OECD Headquarters in Paris, during which regional actors called for a high-level meeting to allow for decisive, co-ordinated action.

Land rights at centre of deadly clashes near Mali-Burkina border

At least 30 people were killed in clashes between Malian farmers and nomadic herdsmen from Burkina Faso. The governor of the northern Burkina region, Boukary Kalil Bara, said the official death told could be much higher. The violence erupted 22 May in the town of Sari in northern Mali, about 15km from the Burkina border. Under Mali's former President Amadou Toumani Touré, the ethnic Fulani nomads were permitted to enter Mali via special corridors in order to graze their herds. The ethnic Dogon farmers opposed the arrangement, complaining that the livestock often cause damage to their crops. The long-simmering tensions appear to have boiled over since the double crisis in Mali, where Tuareg and Islamist rebels have declared a separate state of Azawad in the north and a military coup opened up a power vacuum in Bamako. Bara said most of the victims were herdsman from Burkina Faso, and about 1 000 others have fled the area for fear of further violence.

Ghana meeting explores women's role in agricultural investment strategy

Regional actors examined the role of women in achieving food sovereignty during a four-day workshop in Ghana's capital, Accra. The meeting attracted agricultural experts and political leaders from across ECOWAS region. Participants discussed the roles women play across the value chain for three strategically important crops - cassava, maize and rice - as well as in the production and processing of livestock, meat and fish products. The meeting addressed the challenges faced by all farmers, and women in particular, gaining access to farming equipment, credit and other key agricultural inputs. While the majority of small-scale farmers in West Africa are women, agricultural policies have not always taken into account the special challenges they face. The aim Accra meeting was to to seek ways to mainstream gender concerns into the Regional Agriculture Investment Plan (RAIP), the implementation blueprint for the region's common agricultural policy (ECOWAP), adopted in 2005. The ECOWAP seeks to ensure food security in the region by boosting food production and intra-regional trade in agricultural products.

AGRHYMET forecasts normal to slightly higher rainfall in 2012

Experts predicted normal to slightly higher rainfall totals for most of the West Africa region during the 2012 growing season. Hydrologists and agro-meteorologists from the CILSS/ECOWAS countries gathered 7 to 22 May at the AGRHYMET Regional Centre in Niamey to assess climatic data and weather patterns. The forecast takes into account sea surface temperatures, wind conditions as well as data from meteorological centres around the world. From the beginning to the end of the growing season, experts expect normal to slightly higher precipitation from Chad to eastern Mali as well as in the northern parts of Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo. A normal tendency to deficit is anticipated in the Western Sahel. While conditions vary from place to place, the forecast signals an increased likelihood of late rains in many areas. Nevertheless, flows appear to be stable in most of the region's river basins. In a statement following the meeting, AGRHYMET said the available data on sea temperatures were mixed and not highly pronounced, and the projections are likely to change over the course of the growing season. Updates will be released in June and July.

Chadian President addresses Pan-African Parliament

Chad's President Idriss Déby Into called for the African Union's Pan-African Parliament (PAP) to be transformed into a full-fledged legislative body. Currently, the PAP plays an oversight and advisory role in AU initiatives but does not have the power to pass binding legislation. "A parliament such as the PAP will remain toothless as long as it does not have legislative powers", Déby said, addressing the opening of the 7th Ordinary Session of the Parliament, where he was the guest of honour. The President of the second PAP, Chadian Moussa Idriss Ndélé, also addressed the session, highlighting the Parliament's progress in the eight years since its creation. Ndélé said the PAP is committed to supporting ECOWAS efforts to restore constitutional rule in Mali and Guinea-Bissau. The 7th Ordinary Session was the final assembly of the second PAP. The body was due to elect a new president and four vice presidents to lead the third parliament.

Ghana, Senegal to benefit from World Bank agricultural technology programme

Ghana and Senegal are to benefit from a new World Bank programme to promote access to agricultural technology. The Bank's Board of Executive Directors approved USD 120 million in financing for the second phase of the West African Agricultural Productivity Programme. The project seeks boost food production by supporting technology exchanges and advancing regional cooperation in technology development and dissemination. In a statement, the project team leader Abdoulaye Touré said the World Bank is working with ECOWAS to realise the full potential of West African agriculture. "The program will help Senegal and Ghana boost agricultural production to cope with the increasing demand for food in the region," Touré said. About 20% of food consumed in ECOWAS countries is imported from outside the region. With the region's population projected to grow from 320 million in 2011 to 500 million in 2030, the Bank said there is an urgent need to boost agricultural production for food security and poverty reduction.

Togolese Navy thwarts pirate attack in Gulf of Guinea

Togo's defence ministry says navy forces fought off an attack by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea. The Panamanian-flagged "Mongolia" tanker came under attack 19 May about 16 km from the port of Lomé. The Togolese navy managed to push back the pirates, but one member of the military and one member of the ship's crew were hurt in the shooting. Authorities are asking fishing vessels and merchant ships operating in Togolese waters to be on the look out and share information on any suspicious ships encountered at sea. Piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has been on the rise in recent years with regional governments lacking the equipment and capacity to counter the threat. The International Maritime Bureau said that there were 19 attacks off the Gulf of Guinea during the first quarter of this year. Two vessels have been hijacked and 42 crewmembers taken hostage. The IMB said attacks off Nigeria reached 10 in the first quarter the same number reported for the whole of 2011.

ECOWAS marks 37th anniversary with focus on trade

ECOWAS marked its 37th year of existence on 28 May by highlighting one of its main reasons for being. Underlining the bloc's keen focus on intra-regional trade, the theme of this year's celebration was "Free Movement: A Vehicle For Boosting Trade In The ECOWAS Region." ECOWAS officials and other supporters used creative means to spread the message, including a trade fair, a photo exhibition, sporting events and all-night musical concerts. Similarly, "Boosting intra-African Trade" was the theme of the 49th African Union Day festivities just three days prior. Both the AU and ECOWAS have identified regional trade as a potential engine for economic growth, job creation and poverty reduction. Yet trade among African countries remains relatively low, partly due to the high costs of moving goods over poor transport networks.


African Economic Outlook 2012

The 11th edition of the African Economic Outlook offers an optimistic forecast for growth on the continent while raising concerns about those left behind. Published jointly by the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the AEO was launched 28 May in Arusha, Tanzania. The Arab Spring uprisings undermined Africa's economic growth in 2011, cutting GDP growth to 3.4% compared to 5% in 2010. The AEO predicts a solid resurgence in the next two years with growth expected to accelerate to 4.5% in 2012 and 4.8% in 2013. Growth, however, has not been inclusive, and the AEO highlights one of the main areas of concern: the urgent need to generate adequate employment for the huge and growing youth population. Young people aged 15 to 24 represent 60% of the region's unemployed, and the report warns that the figure will grow unless policymakers put job creation and human capital development at the top of their agenda. Besides the macroeconomic outlook and the special study on promotion of youth employment, the 2012 AEO includes in-depth country notes covering economic, social and political developments in 53 African countries.

Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future

Despite having an abundance of land and water resources, sub-Saharan Africa is the most food insecure region of the world, with a quarter of its people suffering from malnutrition. In its first Africa Human Development Report, the UNDP focuses on food insecurity, the forces that contribute to it and its links to the human development deficit on the continent. Resulting from widespread consultation with policymakers, researchers and development practitioners, the Africa HDR identifies misguided policies, weak institutions and failing markets as the root causes of food insecurity in the region. The robust economic growth of the past decade, however, offers new cause for optimism that Africa can address chronic hunger and set itself on a path to sustainable human development. Using the 2005 food crisis in Niger as an example, the report illustrates how food availability is not the only determinant of food security. It calls for action in four key policy areas: the sustainable increase of agricultural productivity; effective interventions to improve nutrition; building resilience at the community and household levels; and empowering the rural poor, women in particular, to enhance their own food security.

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