Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Foxes guarding the henhouse in Darfur -- Much hairdo about nothing

A truly Orwellian story from the genocide-torn Darfur. Upon visiting the area last week, UN Human Rights Commissionner Louise Arbour was told by refugees that Arab militiamen responsible for atrocities in Sudan's Darfur region are now guarding camps for the displaced. Arbour added that "They claim to see former Janjaweed... recycled into the police," referring the the Janjaweed militias who are widely accused of committing genocide and of being armed by the Sudanese government. "There is a widespread belief they are being protected by their very oppressors."

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File this in the 'haven't we heard this one before' file. According The Monitor, a Ugandan army spokesman claims that the vicious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels are disbanding. The Kampala daily writes, that the military spokesman, Maj. Shaban Bantariza, told The Monitor on Monday the rebels had been ordered to resettle in their homes if they so wished. "They have orders to go to Uganda and those who wish can also go back to their homes," Bantariza said by telephone. He did not say who issued the orders.

The LRA war in the north of Uganda is one of the most savage conflicts in the world today. About 1.5 million people have been internally displaced from their homes and are living on food hand-outs from humanitarian organisations. Unicef estimates 12,000 children have been abducted in the barbaric war.

As much as I'd love to believe that the nightmare in northern Uganda is nearing an end, history has shown the danger of being overconfident against such truly despicable, but hideously resilient, band like the LRA.

And if the war wasn't bad enough, it's also compromising the country's well-known success against AIDS. World Vision claims AIDS is killing three times more people in northern Uganda than the ongoing violence there.

"World Vision found that HIV/AIDS was the leading cause for death, constituting 69 percent of deaths in the Gulu area, three times higher than direct killings during military confrontation," the aid agency said.

World Vision noted that although the national HIV/AIDS prevalence rates for Uganda were estimated at 6.2 percent and declining, the rates in war-affected areas such as Gulu were 11.9 percent, almost double the national average. Gulu is the district most affected by the conflict.

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The UN's IRIN service notes that war has also hindered the fight against AIDS in Côte d'Ivoire. The country's UNAIDS coordinator said only 2,300 people living with AIDS benefited from life-enhancing ARV treatment in Cote d'Ivoire at present, even though donor financing existed to provide the drugs at a subsidised price to many more. He said the authorities currently knew of 12,000 people in the country who were in urgent need of the drugs, which improve the health of people living with AIDS and can extend their life. But he added that the disruption of medical services caused by two years of civil war has meant the Ivorian health authorities could no longer reach all those living with AIDS. The conflict had led to irresponsible sexual behaviour and drug abuse which was compounding the spread of the disease.

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Nigeria is infamous for being one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It also has a reputation for being one of the most violent countries not at war. Its north is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism abused for political purposes. Even others who live in West Africa, a notoriously unstable region, view Nigeria as a country that simply doesn't work.

So it's natural that one of the big flaps in Nigeria has to do with... hair.

Officials of the NFA, Nigeria's soccer federation, are clashing with players who wear hair braids, dreadlocks and earrings.

Many of Nigeria's top footballers, including their captain Jay-Jay Okocha and top striker Nwankwo Kanu, have their hair braided, notes the BBC.

A football administrator claimed that players with unorthodox hairstyles should be suspended or banned and went so far as to tell those refereeing the Youth Championships to remove offending players even if they are the best players on the field.

It's hardly unprecendented. A few years ago, Guinean dictator Gen. Lansana Conté ordered his country's national teamers to visit the barber. [Incidentally, Conté is almost never seen in public anymore and when he's photographed, it's always with a skullcap.]

Why such a fuss?

As if you didn't know...

"Our youths are now taking after our great football stars... don't forget that in the developing world that the braiding of hair and ear-rings have a sense of homosexuality," claimed an official from the information ministry.

Some Nigerian bureaucrats have a reeeeeeally active imagination. Or else too little to do.

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