- A new theory about hunger charges that traders in the global commodity markets are making billions from speculating on food while causing food prices to yo-yo and inflate. Changes to "hedging" rules in the mid-90s caused foods to be turned into "derivatives" that could be bought and sold among traders that had nothing to do with agriculture, while the 2006 sub-prime disaster in the US caused billions of dollars to be moved into safe commodities, especially foods. Some suggest that the food markets are now heavily distorted by investment banks, to the detriment of the world's poor. In light of the recent demonstrations across northern Africa, experts are advising policymakers to better control food prices and have released a new guide on how to properly do that.
- A new report suggests that electronics company Apple is polluting and poisoning the environment, despite their claims of environmental stewardship. The report was put out by a Chinese activist group IPE.
- The United States Institute of Peace has released a report on gender in conflict, that discusses masculinity concerns in conflict and peacebuilding. The report suggests that the narrow approach to gender (which is often synonymous with women) fails to include masculinity issues in analysis, having important consequences on policy interventions. Women may be combatants or direct participants in sexual violence, though this is often overlooked.
- Human Rights Watch's annual report was released on Monday, and was particularly critical of Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General, for failing to speak out more forcefully against human rights abuses. The report suggests that Ban sometimes went out of his way to portray repressive governments in a positive light and that this has filtered down through the system and made people reticent to speak out on abuses in places like Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. This year again, I speak my concerns that the report does not address western countries, aside from the US, who are also guilty of human rights abuses but often go unpunished and unnoticed.
- More than 2,000 business, government, civil society and academia leaders met in Switzerland to discuss a wide array of issues, including the rise of India and China as global powers, anxieties about European debt, austerity, joblessness, the risk of runaway inflation in fast-growing economies, and the failings of the global economic system (such as poverty and inequality), at the 41st World Economic Forum. The meeting is said to be protected by tight security of some 4,000 troops. The head of JP Morgan delivered an angry speech against "banker bashing", complaining that the entire industry is being tarred with the same brush and implying that bankers have become political whipping boys. On Wednesday, police evacuated a building and removed a suspicious object after a group said they had targeted the St. Gallen business school to coincide with the Forum. A small blast thought to be caused by fireworks at the hotel close to the Forum shattered two windows on Thursday; was later claimed by an anonymous poster who said it was directed at the Swiss government officials and senior executives of the Swiss bank UBS staying at the hotel. UN Secretary-General called the world's current economic model an environmental "global suicide pact" that will have disastrous results if not reformed at the forum on Friday.
- The FAO, IFAD, and ILO released a new report on gender dimensions of agricultural and rural development that gives trends and statistics about proportions of women in agriculture versus men. The report argues that women are hampered by persistent gender inequalities.
- A biologist at Colorado State University is developing a plant that can detect explosives. The biologist has done so by engineering the plant's DNA so that it turns white when it comes into contact with certain chemicals found in explosives.
- Sudan Armed Forces announced late Friday that it had killed 13 rebels and lost 8 soldiers in clashes with armed groups in North Darfur. On Sunday, the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) announced that the Sudanese authorities conducted a raid on internally displaced people (IDPs) to search for weapons and other illegal items, that violated the Status of Force Agreement in place and that the UNAMID forces had stepped up their presence in a camp for IDPs in North Darfur in response. UNAMID also confirmed reports of intense fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minnawi in Tabit, though they have been prevented from entering the area by SAF forces invoking security concerns. Provisional results and documents on the referendum vote suggest that their were irregularities, with more than 100% of people registered in seven of the 76 counties in the south voting, but that they were small and unlikely to change the overall results. The ICRC organized a transfer of 31 released soldiers between the Sudanese government and the Justice and Equality Movement. The satellite mapping project launched by human rights activists says images captured during South Sudan's referendum this month confirm reports that Sudanese troops were deployed in strategic areas along the North-South border during the vote. Sudanese President al-Bashir vowed on Tuesday to step down if he ever felt that the people do not want him during a rally in reference to the recent uprisings in other African nations. An independent south Sudan has announced it will consider joining the International Criminal Court (ICC), the body that has indicted Sudan's president for war crimes and genocide. Fighting between the government and rebel groups in North and South Darfur is said to be returning to past patterns of violence, displacing tens of thousands of people. On Thursday, it was reported that Sudan's army had bombed rebel positions in Darfur and later surrounded and threatened to burn down a refugee camp. UN peacekeepers are also said to have been threatened by the forces.
- The Central African Republic voted on Sunday, amid voting delays with around 1.8 million out of 4.8 million registered voters voting. Results are to be announced within 8 days, with either incumbent Bozize (who seized control in 2003), Ange-Felix Patasse (the ex-President ousted by Bozize returning from exile) or Martin Ziguele (a former PM of Patasse) being the top runners. On Monday, the opposition party denounced irregularities and presented a long list of grievances, including alleged fictitious and displaced polling stations and problematic voter rolls. By Wednesday, three of the five candidates in the election were calling on the polls to be annulled.
- The protesting continued in Tunisia, with police using teargas to try and disperse them, as protesters gathered at the PM's office in an effort to remove the government linked to ousted President Ben Ali. On Saturday, the PM pledged to leave Tunisian politics after elections, and that all undemocratic laws would be scrapped in the transition to democracy. On Sunday, the owner of a private TV station and his son were arrested for "grand treason" for allegedly inciting violence and working for ousted leader Ben Ali's return, concerning several rights activists who said the move was a sign that the protests were unnerving authorities. On Monday, the general of the army spoke publicly for the first time since Ben Ali's ousting, pledging to uphold the revolution and urging patience until elections can be held; and the Paris prosecutor's office said it was opening a preliminary investigation to determine Ben Ali's assets in France. On Wednesday, Tunisian authorities asked for international arrest warrants to be issued for Ben Ali and members of his family for possession of expropriated property and transferring foreign currency abroad. Rival protests continued in the capital, with hundreds rallying in favour of the interim government, and another part demonstrating against the government. It is said that "speakers' corners" are now flourishing within the country. By Wednesday, the Minister of Justice announced that nearly 700 people had been arrested during the unrest on suspicions of "sabotage, violence, and looting", while some 74 prisoners are said to have died in the uprising. Authorities had also dissolved an agency which acted as an effective censor of foreign media during the rule of Ben Ali, and suggested that the Interior, Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers would all be replaced as part of the cabinet reshuffle. The reshuffle resulted in the replacement of five key ministers from the Ben Ali government on Friday.
- The fifth round of UN-backed informal talks on the Western Sahara dispute concluded on Sunday, with Morocco and Frente Polisario agreeing to continue the talks in March. Morocco has presented a plan for autonomy while the Polisario's position is that the territory's status should be decided in a referendum on self-determination that includes independence as an option.
- Civil society organizers in Liberia are expressing grave concern over corrupt practices that they say are marring the voter registration process. They fear that the flawed registration process could lead to a chaotic election.
- The extra-judicial killings of three suspected criminals by police that was caught on tape last Wednesday has Kenyan rights groups outraged. Despite denials by the government, many suggest that the police have been systematically executing suspected criminals, with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights saying it received 55 cases of alleged police shootings last year.
- Voter registration problems continued to plague Nigeria this week, with claims that some Direct Data Capture machines used to register were already loaded with over 1,000 names, thumb-prints and pictures before they were even unpacked. Several regions had yet to be supplied with the machines five days into the process, some received medical scanners instead of registration machines, some witnessed protests, some people had fears that HIV/AIDs victims would be rejected by the machines and refused to expose themselves, while other regions had to spend long times registering each person and suggested that the time frame for the registration may need to be extended. On Monday, the army said that gunmen killed a soldier guarding a church in the northeastern part of the country, but did not confirm who was behind the shooting. A new bomb, which allegedly dropped by parachute from an unidentified aircraft, was reportedly found at a primary school in Enugu State on Monday night. On Tuesday, the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission and the commissioners were reviewing the performance of the registration exercise and exploring the possibility of an extension, which is deemed likely. On Wednesday, House Representatives okayed a four week extension on voter registration and members of the late President Yar'Adua's family denounced their membership with the ruling PDP party and moved to the opposition CPC party; while renewed violence in Bauchi killed 10. On Thursday, 14 were killed in new violence in Jos, and 29 armed Fulani herdsmen were arrested.
- Tanzanian MP David Kafulila announced he would table a motion on a vote of no confidence in the government if it pays the firm Dowans over breach of contract. Last year, the ICC ordered Tanzania Electricity Supply Company to pay Dowans TSh 106 billion (some $70 million USD) for the breach. A civilian reader of A Peace of Conflict in Tanzania sent information that there was chaos, threats of demonstration and riots over the concern among the general population.
- ECOWAS's leaders are saying they have little option left in Cote d'Ivoire but to deploy ECOWAS standby force to remove Gbagbo from office and install opposition Ouattara after the disputed Presidential elections. The Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister has urged the UN to sanction the use of force. A new delegation from ECOWAS will meet with US President Obama and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the crisis. On Saturday, the Banque Central des Estats d'Afrique de l'Ouest (Central Bank of West African States), forced an alleged Gbagbo crony to resign his post as governor of the bank under pressure from the region's leaders and instead requested Ouattara nominate a new candidate. On Monday, Ugandan leader Museveni described the UN's recognition of Ouattara's win "simplistic" and called upon an independent investigation, suggesting that the UN had overstepped its role in selecting a winner. On Wednesday, it was reported that Gbagbo had moved to seize local branches of the regional central bank in face of the increasing financial sanctions and that utilities were also seized. A growing number of African nations are said to be backing away from calls for military intervention as African Union leaders are divided about how to continue. Human Rights Watch reported that security forces have carried out torture, rape, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, and that militiamen loyal to Gbagbo are imposing a "reign of terror" against Ouattara supporters, though their research was focused only within Abidjan.
- Uganda's upcoming elections are facing possible crisis, as opposition leaders demanded they be postponed on Tuesday until more than four million newly-registered voters were issued their voting cards. They charged that the official figure of 13.9 million voters on the provisional register don't add up in a country of 32 million where 56% of the population is under 18. The government responded that it would not be possible to postpone the vote and dismissed the case to issue voting cards before the elections. Incumbent Museveni said in an interview with the BBC that he would retire if he lost in the democratic process but that he expected to win by a big majority. Security chiefs have assured Ugandans of peace and stability during the February 18th elections, while 34 observers from the EU Election Observer Mission arrived in the country ahead of the polls. One of Uganda's most prominent gay rights activists was bludgeoned to death in his home on Wednesday, just weeks after winning a court victory over a tabloid that called for homosexuals to be killed. Meanwhile a lesbian being deported back to the country from Britain have been told by a Ugandan MP that she must "repent or reform" when she returns home, sparking fears for the safety of those being deported.
- Anti-government protesters in Egypt clashed with police this week (you can follow the live updates here), inspired by the Tunisian demonstrations. At least 30 had been reported as arrested on Tuesday, but this number was reported as high as 500 by Wednesday and listed as over a thousand by Thursday. A British journalist with the Guardian describes a telling story of the abuse he received at the hands of the police. The President's son and family are said to have fled to London on Tuesday, as some four people died in protests that went well into the night. On Wednesday, it appears Egyptian access to facebook, facebook and live vide streaming site Bambuser were denied in order to prevent activists from using those websites used extensively to coordinate their efforts, while later there were reports that the country had descended into a complete internet and SMS blackout with the possibility of landlines even being cut. Despite the outlawing by authorities on Tuesday of any public gatherings and promise of "immediate" arrest, the protests continued. On Thursday, angry demonstrators torched a police post in Suez, while police are said to have responded by firing rubber-coated bullets, water cannons and teargas. The Egyptian dissident Mohamed ElBaradei warned the President on the fourth day of protests (Friday) that his regime was "on its last legs", while the President announced a curfew in the main cities to run from 6pm to 7am.
- UN investigators are said to have many more women than previously thought who were raped by Congolese soldiers during a New Year's rampage. A senior army commander accused of ordering the rapes was arrested on Friday. Investigators have so far documented at least 67 women, including a teenager and two pregnant women. Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) expressed their concern this week that some 600 nomadic herders in the Northern Congo were being forced to continually flee after being targeted by the FADRC (Congolese Army). The French police handed over Rwandan rebel leader Callixte Mbarushimana to the ICC in the Hague on Tuesday, on charges of rape, murder, torture, and other atrocities committed during a terror campaign against Congolese citizens. On Friday, it was reported that armed men had raped 60 people, men, women and children, in the eastern part of the country in the last ten days.
- The African Union peacekeepers in Somalia apologized for Mogadishu civilian casualties after AU soldiers opened live gunshots on civilians who rushed to help a boy accidentally hit by a vehicle. On Tuesday, at least 4 civilians were said to be wounded when their bus came under fire by the AU forces. At least 10 people, mostly fighters, are said to have been killed in central Somalia on Tuesday in battles between al Shabaab and a pro-government militia. The UN and the AU held a high-level meeting this week to review efforts to achieve peace, security and reconciliation in the country in Ethiopia. At least 10 people, including six civilians, were killed in Mogadishu on Wednesday in street battles between al-Shabaab and Somali government forces and AMISOM as the civil war marks its 20th year. The government canceled an agreement with Saracen International, a private security company linked to Blackwater, to train Somali forces on Thursday.
- Australia is warning of the possibility of a terrorist attack in Ethiopia during the 16th Ordinary Session of the African Heads of State and Government.
- Zimbabwe's Mugabe has threatened to dissolve parliament and prepare the country for elections if the coalition government doesn't come to an agreement on when to hold the poll. PM Tsvangirai has called for elections only when the new constitution is in place, at least a year away. Mugabe has also threatened to revert to the old constitution, that gives him rights as President to dissolve parliament.
- Gabon faces difficulties after opposition parliamentarian Andre Mba Obame declared himself as the country's President on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the government dissolved his National Union party and relinquished him from public duties. Mba Obame took refuge in a UN office citing that he would not leave under the UN responded to his demand for recognition. The AU was deeply concerned about Mr. Obame's announcement and called on the opposition leaders to act responsibility. On Thursday, security forces clashed with anti-government protesters demanding Obame is recognized as President.
- The San of the Botswana Kalahari won an appeal on Thursday allowing the to now drill water wells within the Kalahari Game Reserve, overturning a previous decision. The government had argued that their presence was not compatible with preserving wildlife, even though new wells have been drilled for wildlife and luxury tourist lodges.
- Several debates over the future of democracy in Africa were launched this week. With 20 national votes during 2011, some analysts are concerned that the messy aftermath of Cote d'Ivoire would spark trouble elsewhere. Others talked about the international spread of the Tunisian protests and the role technology is playing in democratic movements.
[continue reading http://apeaceofconflict.com]