Hundreds Dead in Ghana Infrastructure Failure

 municipal workers cleaning massive open sewers. accra, ghana, photo by z/Flickr

municipal workers cleaning massive open sewers. accra, ghana, photo by z/Flickr

GHANA, Accra - In a similar pattern to other African capitals, Accra has snowballed to four million residents, doubling in size within the last 20-years. This growth means that Ghana's capital has a growing population that increasingly puts pressure on a city that still relies on a colonial-era drain and sewage system that covers only 15% of the city.

The weak system of open sewers and water streams leading out of the city are further impeded by the massive amounts of trash that have collected in them over the years. Due to this congested network, heavy rains and tropical storms in the area cause massive, widespread flooding across the capital that in turn results in casualties, ruined infrastructure and new disasters.

Earlier this month, a flood in Accra caused many people to take cover at a gas station. However, their refuge was foiled by the horribly poor infrastructure in the country as torrential rains seeped into the underground fuel tanks, and once accidentally lit, resulted in over 200 deaths.

After such a horrible accident, President John Mahama chose the next day to credit the disaster to zoning and gutters filled with debris, instead of bringing more of the weight onto political leadership. The government's track record is hard to ignore, though, as millions have been poured into the country over the years specifically for infrastructure, yet little is to be shown for it. There was the Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project, worth $160 million, that was supposed to remove trash from the waterway and restore it to its pristine original state. Years later, mounds of debris remain and the lagoon continues to flood whenever it rains.

In a bizarre, similar scenario, the Ghanaian government promised the people a $595 million Drainage Alleviation Project, funded through the US' Import-Export Bank. The project would include storm drains, trash collection systems and a waste water treatment plant. The government launched the life-changing project with a grand ceremony in 2013, but as it turns out, they had not even applied for the loan yet.

Based on the millions of dollars of funding that have made it to the country, alongside the promises of the country's leadership, Ghanaians are left wondering what has happened to the proposed projects. Deaths and destruction from an issue that could be mitigated by proper drainage is inexcusable, and a clear display of leaders' lack of resolve and dedication to the country's water and sanitation systems.

Egyptian Policeman Receives Life Sentence for Raping Disabled Girl in Police Station

 egyptian trial, photo by middle east voices

egyptian trial, photo by middle east voices

CAIRO, Egypt - According to the activist Engy Ghozlan of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights (ECWR), nearly 200,000 rapes occur annually in Egypt. This figure was presented in response to a 2008 U.N. report which quoted Egypt's Interior Ministry's figure which was significantly less. (Source: ECWR).

As in many countries rapes in Egypt are one of the most under-reported crimes, and until recently, many perpetrators weren't brought to trial because of lack of interests or cultural biases which blamed the woman for allowing herself to be raped.

In August 2014, a 17-year-old mentally disabled teenage girl walked into the Imbaba Police Station in Cairo's low-income neighbourhood of Imbaba to report her abduction by two men earlier that day. Instead of receiving just consideration of her charges, or even for the police to initiate an investigation, Khaled Abdel-Rahman Mohamed, the policeman on duty, inexplicably locked the teenager a cell.

Other female prisoners confirmed the testimony of the girl in which she stated that she was subsequently taken forcibly from the cell by Mohamed ostensibly for further questioning. It is alleged that he dragged her by her hair and raped her in the corner of the station. Two women in an adjacent jail cell watched the assault through a crack in the cell door. A camera also bore silent witness to the girl's ordeal and was crucial to proving the guilt of the officer.

Egyptian law permits rapists to be sentenced to death for the rape of any female under the age of 18; however, on 7 June 2015 the court sentenced Mohamed to life in prison.

Lighting a Continent the World Views as Dark

 solar power, photo by louise falcon

solar power, photo by louise falcon

“And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven give light upon the earth: and it was so.” ~ Genesis 1:15 KJV

Location: USA Conquest Space Station Time: Unknown Year: 2050

Mae finishes the day’s responsibilities at the worktable. Opened books and magazines lie around her makeshift office. One magazine, The Economist, sits open on the article, “The Dark Continent,” with a satellite photograph of Africa at night. She glances at the magazine and remembers the last holiday spent with her family in California. They were watching the news in the living room. The quirky news anchor provides an update on Akon’s Solar Academy. She remembers the scene because her father cracks a joke:

“They can shine a million lights on that continent and those people will still be Black as coal.”

Her family interjects with laughter while her father changes the channel to Storage Wars.

Mae smiles at the memory, wishing that she spend time with her family on the next holiday. However, the current mission forces her to work in the space station until all assignments are completed. Thus, to occupy her time, she leisurely reads and rereads old magazines and books until she can repeat every story verbatim.

When the space station team gathers for Sunday dinners, she entertains them by retelling the stories with funky hand gestures and silly voices. She looks at The Economist again, except this time; she stares at the satellite picture. Something about the image sparks her interest. Several years ago she watched that news special, but she wonders if the continent looks any different. Alvin, a space station team member, works with satellite imaging so perhaps he possesses recent pictures of the mysterious continent.

With nothing else to do for the rest of the day, she travels to Alvin’s workstation to ask for the images.

“Hey Alvin”

“Hello Mae. How can I help you?”

“Have you done any recent satellite imaging on Africa?”

“Yes I have. I actually just completed a project for the Solar Academy.”

“Really? What progress have they made?”

“Well-“

“Hey Alvin! Can you come here for a sec?”

“Yes sir! I am coming now,” responds Alvin, and then he turns back to Mae, “I am uploading the images as well as the information about the company including history, progress, and goals. Please take your time.”

Alvin leaves to help their colleague then Mae sits in his seat to examine the documents. She instantly notices that the satellite image of Africa differs from the image in the magazine. Hundreds and hundreds of white dots spread across the continent, indicating the lights. Mae clicks through the documents then pauses on an article with pictures of people. The article describes the family life within the communities near the Solar Academy. When she studies the accompanying pictures, to her surprise, she sees neither the stereotypical faces of joy nor sadness found in her magazines. She rather sees normal people posing for a picture like her family on a regular sunny day. She sees their homes in the background with children toys and cars and lawns. They look different, but normal. Until that point, Mae never knew anything about Africa. Her knowledge about the continent remained in the dark, yet the lights on the satellite images show her that the continent was never in the dark. Instead, she was.

Poet & Literary Critic: @Chrycka_Harper

Top EU Diplomat Expelled on Orders from Gambia President Jammeh

president yahya jammeh on vote campaign, photo courtesy flickr source afp seyllou

BANJUL, Gambia - After being expelled under orders that left Brussels “astonished,” the European Union (EU) representative to Gambia left the country within the 72-hour deadline by boarding a Brussels Airlines flight back to the EU headquarters.

Agnès Guillaud, the European Union's chargée d’affaires in Banjul, received her expulsion orders on Friday, 5 June 2015 and was asked to leave Gambia within a strict 72-hour deadline.

The Gambia’s president, Yahyah Jammeh, expelled the European Union’s top diplomat to his country without "much explanation" an EU spokeswoman said. In response, the EU summoned the Gambian ambassador on Saturday for clarification of the expulsion.

A clear explanation has yet to be released publicly, but what is certain is that the expulsion comes at a time of tension between the EU and the Gambia on issues of international human rights.

Last December the EU blocked over $12 million in aid to the Gambia, citing its “poor human rights record” as justification for the withdrawal. With the expulsion Guillaud, on top of the recent report released by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stating that LGBT people must receive civil rights protections equal to those of any other citizen, to the suppression of free speech, and the unjustified execution of prisoners; Jammeh's government has become for all intents and purposes a dictatorship.

EU officials found the expulsion completely unjustified. "There appears to be no justification for the decision by the Gambian authorities. We are astonished by this announcement which came with no explanations," an EU spokeswoman said.

This expulsion comes in a wave of many anti-western political moves led by Jammeh who in 2013 withdrew his country from the British Commonwealth, with officials saying that the institution represented nothing more than “prolonged colonialism.”

The President has also received international criticism for his claim that he has a herbal remedy that can cure AIDS and his 2012 statements in which he vowed to execute dozens of prisoners in his jails during an “anti-crime” crackdown. In addition to President Jammeh's human rights abuses in terms of due process, he has openly expressed anti-homosexuality rhetoric which is an increasing phenomenon amongst many African leaders.

On 16 May 2015, the White House released a statement by U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in which she stated that the U.S. stands in solidarity the LGBT community and specifically accused President Jammeh of "unconscionable comments.....which underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love. We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia. We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens - and arbitrary detention at the government's hands." (Source: The White House)

In response to these accusations, Jammeh's office issued the following statement, “The National Security Advisor should instead address racism, abuses and impunity in America where lately innocent and unarmed African-Americans, for example, are being regularly shot by white police officers with impunity rather than prescribe human rights to Gambians who have a long history of civilization.” 

There is no proof that the expulsion had anything to do with Jammeh's hard-line positions dedicated to his so called "preservation of social norms", or the fact that Gambia has increasingly come under fire because of its gross human rights abuses, but it remains to be seen if the government will retract the order for the expulsion of Guillaud, or continue to forge a path that will further encourage sanctions and a decrease in international aid.

Contributing Editor: @AustinBryan
LinkedIn: Austin Drake Bryan

Buhari's First Challenge: Military Mass Killings

 nigerian soldiers riding in lorry, photo courtesy of dammex1

nigerian soldiers riding in lorry, photo courtesy of dammex1

NIGERIA - Amongst the feeling of hope and a fresh start in the air from President Muhammadu Buhari's inauguration, Nigeria was slammed this week with a report from Amnesty International that claims the Nigerian military is tied to over 8,000 deaths in the country.

The research for the report has been conducted since 2009, in alignment with the rise of the Boko Haram insurgency. While the rise in violence by the military was driven by Boko Haram, the report finds that the majority of those 8,000 deaths have nothing to do with Boko Haram members.

This process was started through widespread rounding up of boys and young men, over 20,000 of them, based on often unreliable informants and poor intelligence. The report states that one could be arrested based on the word of a single unidentified informant. Upon arrest, the thousands of prisoners were placed in detention centers where they were commonly cramped into overcrowded cells in abysmal condition.

Many died from starvation, dehydration, suffocation and preventable diseases, as the prisoners were kept from adequate water, food and basic hygiene and sanitation. In one case, a detention center survivor told Amnesty, they were denied water for two days and 300 inmates died. In these dire situations, they were often forced to drink urine.

Those who were able to survive these terrifying living standards were still at risk of the brutal treatment by the military commanders, which included extrajudicial killings, torture, electrocution, and a myriad of other horrifying tactics. On March 14, 2014, after a Boko Haram attack on the Giwa barracks (and detention center), the military killed at least 640 men and boys who were imprisoned there. Satellite analysis has confirmed the presence of multiple mass graves in the area shortly after this date.

More worrisome is that this system of detainment and mass murder was widely known through all levels of the Nigerian military, including senior officials, Chief of Army staff and Chief of Defense Staff who regularly received reports of military activity in these regions of war-torn Northern Nigeria.

As stated in Amnesty's report, "A high ranking military officer...further said: '...people were not strong enough to stand...They keep them to die. They are deliberately starved. The effect is devastating. You have massive deaths. I believe close to 5,000 [in total] have died like that. It increased after the state of emergency.'" This behavior indicates that the Nigerian military's strategy to fight Boko Haram included murdering thousands of boys and young men without giving them fair trials or even the slightest confirmation that they were tied to the terrorist organization. Through this tactic, they managed to make the Boko Haram insurgency more detrimental to their country and its citizens.

Since the report has surfaced, the Nigerian military has rejected the findings as "concocted and biased," and even called Amnesty International an "irritant" in a Premium Times' article. Regardless of their response, the international community is up in arms over the findings and it is increasingly evident that new President Muhammadu Buhari must address these atrocities as soon as possible. If he wants to keep his promises of tackling human rights violations, it is imperative that he holds those who are guilty accountable and pave a new, morally upright pathway forward. The future of the country depends on it.

The entire report can be found here. 

Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols
LinkedIn: Jessamy Nichols

United States Leads in Stealing Africa's Doctors

 Pediatric doctors at Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea

Pediatric doctors at Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea

The United States is stealing the world’s doctors — and from the very places that need doctors the most. Dubbed the “international brain drain,” the United States leads the way in attracting international doctors, especially those from Africa.

The United States, with its high salaries, attracts more international doctors every year than Britain, Canada and Australia combined. However, for every 1000 people, Africa has only 2.3 health care workers, while the United States has almost 25. Doctors emigrating in droves from developing countries for “greener pastures” are making an already critical health worker shortage ever more dire.

But this brain drain is not new. In countries like Ghana, some 61% of doctors produced in the country between 1986 and 1994 had already left the country by 1999. The financial loss from emigration like this has been extremely detrimental. The loss from this period of emigration in Ghana alone is estimated at over 5.9 million dollars.

Foreign MDs
Foreign MDs

Not surprising, foreign medical doctors make up a substantial proportion of the doctors workforce in some of the most affluent countries in the world. More than 34% of doctors practicing in New Zealand were from overseas in 2000.  And according to a 2010 report in the Economie Internationale other developed countries have extremely high proportions of foreign doctors, including the United-Kingdom with 31%, the United-States with 26%, and Australia and Canada with more than 20%.

This is in part the result of initiatives like the 1994 U.S. legislation proposed to allow foreign doctors on student visas access to stay in the U.S. if they agreed to work in some of the poorest places in the United States. Since then, over 8,500 African doctors have left Africa and gained jobs at American hospitals that were in short supply.

A sneaky initiative. It looks great from the outside from its ability to give African medical students the chance to work in the U.S. for higher wages but it does nothing but continue to keep those living in “periphery” countries ever more dependent on “core” countries.

This is described by most scholars as the dependency theory — an economic model that became popular in the 1960s as a critic of the way the United States, along with many western countries, exploits those in the “periphery” for their own gain.

Poor countries provide resources, in the form of raw materials, cheap labor, and a market to those countries in the core. While wealthy countries in the core perpetuate their dependence in every way possible — through control of the media, economic politics, banks and finance insinuations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, educational initiatives, cultural exploitation, and even sporting events like the World Cup.

Indeed, this exploitation is clearly exemplified by the emigration policies facilitating the exodus of medical doctors from Africa over the past decade. Of the 12 African countries producing the most medical graduates, 8 have seen a 50% increase from 2002 - 2011 in all graduates appearing in the U.S. physician workforce. Cameroon, Sudan, and Ethiopia each had over a 100% increase since 2002.

These policies in place, that are sucking up some of Africa’s greatest doctors, are just further methods of perpetuating the poorest country’s dependence on the wealthiest.

It becomes clear then that while the United States benefits, Africa only appears to benefit. The U.S. gains excess doctors, while Africa looses the few it barely has.

While the United Sates grows its ratio of 2.45 doctors for every 1000 people, countries like Mozambique see a decrease in the already alarming rate of .04 doctors for every 1000 people.

Health professionals around the world agree that human resources is the most key component to solving problems in global health. But it is often one of the most neglected components, with much more emphasis focused on managing disease outbreaks and not the people actually preventing diseases.

Oliver Bakewel, of the International Migration Institute, agrees with this logic in writing that “development practice has commonly seen a reduction in migration as either an (implicit or explicit) aim of intervention or an indicator of a programme’s success" in an 2007 report.

However some scholars at the World Bank disagree with the notion that migration is inversely proportional to success in African development. A 2014 article in The Atlantic headlined "Why the brain drain can actually benefit African countries," outlined their findings that suggest "one additional migrant creates about 2,100 dollars a year in additional exports for his/her country of origin.”

However, this argument does not look closely enough at the brain drain for specifically medical doctors.

The brain drain intersects more than just the medial field — it cross cuts every highly skilled profession. But the effects of the brain drain on the status of health care in Africa is much more harmful than that of the brain drain of — for example — African professors. The average increase of 2,100 dollars in exports will do nothing to solve the critical and immediate lack of medical doctors in almost every African country.

The time is here more than ever for the international community to play a more proactive role in addressing the international medical brain drain. Affluent countries like the United States should be held accountable for exploiting Africa for its doctors, while international policies should be put in place to help African governments increase wages for health workers and retain their much needed doctors.

Contributing Editor: @AustinBryan
LinkedIn: Austin Drake Bryan

LGBT Progress Overshadowed by Abuses

 United Nations general assembly hall

United Nations general assembly hall

NEW YORK - The second report ever released by the United Nations on protecting LGBT rights was published today by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report outlines steps for governments to take in stopping LGBT discrimination.

There are 80 countries in the world today that criminalize consensual same-sex relations. The punishments vary, including prison sentences, torture, and the death penalty.

The report represents the gradual progress being made by governments in protecting LGBT people around the world. Since the first report released in 2011, 14 countries have adopted or strengthened laws that protect LGBT rights. These changes often extended protection of sexual orientation, gender identity and introduced legal protections for intersex persons.

But it is clear that the progress is overshadowed by abuse. The report states that “since 2011, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more injured in brutal, violent attacks” because of their LGBT identity.

This violence is in part fueled by anti-LGBT rhetoric issued by regional, national, and international leaders.

In May the president of Gambia, Yahya Jammeh at a rally said that he would “slit the throats of gay men” in the West African nation. In 2014, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, said that gay people were “disgusting” after being asked if he personally disliked homosexuals in a BBC interview.

Even in 2012, the Nobel peace prize winner and president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, defended the current law that criminalizes homosexual acts by saying, “We like ourselves just the way we are.”

Although these leaders have not changed their opinion on supporting legislation that criminalizes LGBT persons, the UN report published today is meant to outline international obligations that leaders like these have in protecting their LGBT citizens.

The report outlined five standards and obligations that every state has in protecting the human rights of LGBT persons.

The report calls on countries to protect LGBT individuals from violence, torture and ill-treatment. This includes condemning “conversion” therapy for LGBT persons, forced and otherwise involuntary sterilization and treatment performed on intersex children.

The report also demands states to “decriminalize homosexuality and to repeal other laws used to punish individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

States also have the “obligation to address discrimination against children and young persons who identify or are perceived as LGBT or intersex.” This means that states are obligated to protect children in schools from harassment, bullying, and in addition to protecting all LGBT people from lack of access to health information and services.

The report also outlined the obligation that countries have to “protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly and to take part in the conduct of public affairs.” This means that states must protect the rights of LGBT persons and LGBT allies to assemble and advocate for their rights.

In much of the world these standards and obligations are not followed and support for LGBT rights is often cited as a western construct meant to destroy autonomy and “traditional cultural values” that exist in sovereign nations.

However the United Nations has made it clear once again that this view is not acceptable.

The report states that “All human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protection of international human rights law.”

Contributing Editor: @AustinBryan
LinkedIn: Austin Drake Bryan