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TIME for ACTION

According to the UK Disasters Emergency Committee 16 million people in East Africa are on the brink of starvation and urgently need food, water and medical treatment. This is not just down to civil war in South Sudan and Somalia but also to three consecutive years without rain causing rivers to dry up. In turn this means that animals have died, herds have become depleted and families have lost their store of wealth. With no food security people are forced to scramble around looking for food and searching for safe water. Record numbers of children and older people could be at risk of an early death unless help is given at once. So the international community needs to act now before it is too late. But sadly the world seems to be coming immune to disasters, especially in Africa. The last time Somalia experienced famine was in 2011 when a quarter of a million people died.

AFRICAN LEADERS ON CRUISE CONTROL

Where are the people at the top in Africa today with dynamism and drive and a determination to see things through to completion? For many projects are started on the continent but then there is often no follow through. Governments have constructed roads but have failed to create an economy round them; hundreds of thousands of classrooms have been built in a surge of primary education expansion, and millions more African children go to school, but the quality of education has declined. Health centres have been erected in record numbers, but they have not enough doctors and nurses and lack medicines; the continent still has a huge energy deficit and even though a record number of dams have been built in the last 15 years power cannot be distributed because the infrastructure is antiquated. Meanwhile there is the scourge of corruption. According to the findings of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa chaired by Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa, African countries lose between US$50bn and US$60bn per year through illicit financial flows. Then throw in nepotism. This locks the most talented people out of public life whilst appallingly poor leadership compounds the problem. And too many countries still have dictators for life. It is said that hope springs eternal but after 60 years of independence in Africa this rare commodity is still wanting. No wonder, therefore, that so many people are prepared to risk life and limb in an attempt to leave.

TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX 2016

More countries declined than improved in this year's results, showing the urgent need for committed action to thwart corruption. Of the 176 countries surveyed more than 2/3rds fall below the mid-point in the league table. Top countries are Denmark and New Zealand with scores of 9.0/10. In third place if Finland with 8.9 ahead of Sweden with 8.8 and Switzerland with 8.6. These are followed by Norway with 8.5, Singapore with 8.4, Netherlands with 8.3, Canada with 8.2 and Germany, Luxembourg and UK all with 9.1. Australia scores 7.9, Iceland 7.8, Belgium and Hong Kong 7.7, Austria 7.5, US 7.4, Ireland 7.3 and Japan 7.2. Top country in Latin America is Uruguay in 21st place with 7.1 with Bahamas top in the Caribbean with 6.6. UAE, top country in the Middle-East, also scores 6.6. Top country in Africa is again Botswana but its score this time has gone down from 6.3 to 6.0 - a worrying trend. Only Cape Verde 5.9, Mauritius 5.4, Rwanda 5.4 and Namibia 5.2 score above half marks in Africa. China and India share 79th position with 4.0, both improved scores over 2015. Russia is 131st with 2.9 along with Ukraine. At the bottom sit Somalia with 1.0 followed by South Sudan with 1.1, North Korea with 1.2, Syria 1.3, Yemen, Sudan and Libya with 1.4, Afghanistan 1.5, Guinea-Bissau 1.6 and Venezuela and Iraq with 1.7.

JAMMEH GAMBLE FAILS IN THE GAMBIA

In power since 1994 Yahya Jammeh was seeking a fifth term as president and, according to him only Allah could stop him. In 2011 he won with 72% of the vote over Ousainou Darboe, leader of the main opposition party United Democratic Party UDP), with 27%. This time round the UDP candidate, and his only opponent, is Adama Barrow. This is because Ousainou Darboe who is still party leader is serving a three year jail term after being arrested whilst demonstrating peacefully for electoral and political reforms last April. According to Human Rights Watch Jammeh managed to silence the opposition and many UDP supporters are languishing in jail with their leader. In Gambia they use an unique system for voting where a marble is put into a small hole in a metal drum bearing the symbol and photo of the voter's favoured candidate. The clear glass marble strikes a bicycle bell indicating to the polling staff that a vote has been cast.

After the polls closed it was found that Barrow had come out top of the poll with 45.5% of the votes cast. Jammeh finished with 36.7% and a third candidate, Mama Kandeh won 17.8%. After the result was announced, and Jammeh had conceded, people took to the streets of the capital Banjul to dance the night away to celebrate the end of 22 years of oppression. However, the electoral commission later amended the result when it emerged that ballots in one area were added incorrectly swelling Barrow's total. So the final official result read Barrow 43.3%, Jammeh 39.6% and Kandeh 17.1%. But then Jammeh changed his mind and refused to concede defeat accusing the electoral commission of refusing to investigate gross irregularities in some areas.

He then appealed to the Supreme Court but as this body only has one current judge this decision could not be made until May. The UN and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) were quick to condemn any thought of Jammeh hanging on. He tried declaring a 90-day state of emergency. Meanwhile a Nigerian naval vessel was patrolling off the coast of Gambia and Senegal was readying its forces for invasion. Notwithstanding Jammeh's insistence of staying on in power Barrow was inaugurated as president of Gambia on January 19 in the Gambian embassy in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Next day Senegal delivered an ultimatum to Jammeh asking him to leave office by noon on January 20 or face invasion. With foreign troops in the country and the good counsel of President Alpha Conde and Mauritanian leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz prevailing Jammeh finally relinquished power in an early morning televised address on January 21. He then boarded a plane for Equatorial Guinea. But not before he had drained US$11,000,000 from the treasury and arranged for two Rolls Royces and a Bentley to go with him.

SOUTH SUDAN

There was great hope and expectation in 2011 when South Sudan gained independence. The picture looks very different now. Despite the signing of a peace agreement in August 2015, the fighting has spread across the country, with the speed and scale of devastation shocking independent observers. Since the start of 2014, 1.9 million people have been displaced within South Sudan and another 1.3 million have fled to neighbouring nations. The UN Mission has been unable to safeguard civilians, especially women and girls, from violence, and South Sudan has become one of the most dangerous places in the world. Meanwhile dereliction of duty by the government has led to a man-made famine where an estimated 5 million of the populace are presently food insecure. And what have we heard from the African Union? Nothing. How can this continental body stand on the sidelines and let this violence and misery continue if it wants respect and support from the international community? As with the South Sudanese government a shocking abrogation of its responsibilities. A hard-fought battle for independence was never meant to be like this.

NAMIBIA 15TH AND SOUTH AFRICA 16TH IN WORLD AS GENDER GAP SHOWS SIGNS OF CLOSING.

Since 2006, the World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report has tracked progress towards ending gender inequality by measuring women's and men's educational attainment, health and survival, economic participation, and political empowerment. In the latest report for 2015 Iceland comes out on top followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden. In 5th place comes Ireland followed by Philippines, Switzerland, Slovenia, New Zealand and Germany. And then some unusual candidates make an appearance - Nicaragua is 11th, Namibia 15th, South Africa 16th. The UK is 17th with Bolivia at 21st ahead of US in 24th place. Kenya is 40th, Tanzania is 41st, Botswana is 45th, Uganda is 47th and Lesotho is 50th. Goes to show that a country's income level is not always a predictor of equality. Some rich nations like Japan, South Korea and Kuwait rank in the bottom third whilst Philippines, Nicaragua, Namibia and South Africa are in the top 20. Could top scores in good governance be next for these three last-named countries? Pigs might fly!

AFRICA IN 2017

With the continuing weakness in commodity prices African economies have again been exposed to the hard facts of economic survival. And after the tag of 'Africa Rising' perhaps the soubriquet 'Africa Reeling' should now apply with national budgets under pressure. But Africa is perhaps reeling from other issues too. Over the last 10 years although the Ibrahim Index of African Governance highlighted progress in areas like health, education gender rights and infrastructure, governance has markedly declined when it comes to safety, the rule of law and welfare provision. Indeed a World Bank report in March, 2016 claimed that there are more poor people today on the continent than in 1990.

Until recently strong economic growth may have been a camouflage for good governance. But now the harsh reality is beginning to expose a grim and unforgiving year for the continent. The headlines tell a story of death and destruction in places like South Sudan and D R C, of backward steps in governance in Burundi and Ethiopia and of greedy and incompetent rulers who are prepared to sacrifice their country's future to enrich themselves like in Angola and South Africa.

Above all Africans are crying out for good governance, for able people with integrity who are prepared to launch their countries on to a staircase to progress. But sadly this is still wanting in so many countries. And things may well have to get worse before they get better. Once again then for Africans it is still a case of paradise postponed.

WORSE THAN APARTHEID

In a recent speech, Jackson Mthembu, ANC chief whip, said 'the party leadership of Jacob Zuma had become worse than its apartheid predecessors and the time had come to make changes'. Murky corruption charges and gross mismanagement of the economy are piling up on this president's watch.

TIME TO HOLD FECKLESS GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TO ACCOUNT?

In the UK all schools are inspected by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and a failing school can be placed in special measures if it is judged inadequate by inspectors. With additional support from local authorities the school is then re-appraised from time to time until it is no longer deemed to be failing. In pursuit of this goal sometimes the head and members of the teaching staff can be dismissed if they are deemed not to be up to the job. Perhaps in 2017 it is time to bring this discipline in for failing governments across the globe. For why should so many wayward leaders in developing countries be allowed to gorge themselves on state funds whilst failing to lay the foundations for their people to advance? And the next secretary-general of the UN, former prime minister of Portugal Antonio Guterres, should consider such an idea when he takes office in the new year.

For the UN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS 2030 see GLOBALISATION and scroll down. Seems there should have been 18 instead of 17.

TOWARDS A MORE DYNAMIC UNITED NATIONS

According to Dag Hammarskjold, the second United Nations (UN) secretary-general, the UN was not set up to take the world to heaven but to save it from hell. And in the 70 year since 1945, with just a few worrying moments, this has certainly been the case. However, although no third world war has broken out in the intervening years there have been numerous occasions when countries have turned in on themselves leading, in many instances, to mass genocide. And the UN has stood by unable or unwilling to intervene. This cannot any longer be acceptable for civil war all too often is calamitous leading to mass destruction and killings which push peoples over borders into neighbouring countries which then have to deal with the problem.

Syria is a case in point. When the Arab Spring was unleashed in 2011 opposition to President Bashar Al-Assad mounted and the country soon found itself with a dictator who would stop at nothing to stay in power. Since then many towns and cities have become devastated battlegrounds where innocent men, women and children have had to withstand cluster bombs, chemical weapons, massacres and rape on an apocalyptic scale with an estimated 300,000 losing their lives. At the same time, out of a population of 20,000,000, 4,800,000 have fled to neighbouring countries whilst 8,000,000 have been internally displaced creating the worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. And now Russia has entered the mix and with its air power bombs indiscriminately creating nothing short of Armageddon in cities like Aleppo.

Civil wars like this cannot be tolerated any longer and a solution needs to be urgently sought.

Although the UN has created some solid institutions like the International Court of Justice it has now become dated and dysfunctional. This can be seen in the use of the veto by Russia which all too often stifles moves towards peace in countries like Syria where the UN should be able to step in as an arbiter of conflict. This also undermines the the UN's credibility. So it is now time for change.

This is easier said than done, of course, in an organisation where, in matters regarding peace and security in nations, the veto in the UN Security Council by any of the Permanent Members (China, Russia, US, UK, France) means that intervention is difficult if at all. So a way round this situation needs to be found. One way to do this would be to continue to allow Security Council members the use the veto but, if any do and then the UN General Assembly votes by a 2/3rds majority to null that veto, then the UN can intervene in the affairs of a country enduring civil war.

If this had been in place in 2011 a sizeable UN force calling on both sides to lay down their arms may have made a difference in Syria. And in the intervening ceasefire a government of national unity could have been set up at the insistence of the UN. And any party unwilling to accept such a proposal would have been isolated and forced out.

NO WINNER AGAIN OF MO IBRAHIM PRIZE FOR AFRICAN LEADERSHIP

Since its launch in 2006 there has only ever been 5 recipients of the Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. And again in 2016 there is no former African leader deemed to be deserving enough. The award recognises and celebrates African executive leaders who have developed their countries and strengthened democracy and human rights for the shared benefit of their people, paving the way for sustainable and equitable prosperity. In order to win this coveted prize a former African executive head of state or government must have left office in the last three years, have been democratically elected, served the constitutional mandated term and demonstrated exceptional leadership. The Prize is US$5,000,000 over 10 years with US$200,000 per year for life thereafter. Previous winners of the Prize - 2007 Joaquim Chissano (Mozambique); 2008 Festus Mogae (Botswana), Pedro Pires (Cape Verde Islands) and Hiflkepunye Pohamba (Namibia). Nelson Mandela was an honorary winner in 2007.

PANAMA PAPERS

The leaked papers made public by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in early April connects thousands of prominent figures to secretive offshore companies in 21 tax havens around the world, and reveal the opaque workings of the offshore finance industry. The documents focus on the Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, with its 210,000 clients, and has led to allegations that the firm aided public officials and multinational corporations to avoid taxes. Mossack Fonseca deny this.
According to Craig Fagan, Senior Policy Co-ordinator at Transparency International, 'this is just the tip of the iceberg and you can be certain that there are many other law firms in places like even London, Hong Kong, Miami and New York that are operating similar structures.'
At the same time Oxfam claims there is at least US$18 trillion hidden in tax havens across the globe with two-thirds of this offshore wealth hidden in European Union related tax havens. The charity also suggests that between US$100bn - US$160bn is lost to developing countries every year through tax dodging by multinationals.
In a timely exercise the UK government is due to hold an anti-corruption summit on May 12 which will bring together world leaders, business and civil society to try to agree a package of measures to expose and tackle corruption.

 
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