Yusuf Kabba remembers clearly the first time he heard about the coronavirus. It was 5am and he was listening to the BBC World Service when it announced news of a novel disease outbreak in Wuhan, China. It was still January, months before the World Health Organisation would declare a pandemic, but already Kabba felt a wave of shock and déjà vu.

As the broadcaster spoke of quarantine, isolation and infection rates, his mind raced back to the last time he’d heard those words: the Ebola outbreak of 2014-16. That epidemic led to over 11,000 deaths in Guinea, Liberia, and his home country of Sierra Leone. It almost killed Kabba himself.

“It brought back flashbacks to the time I became infected with Ebola,” he told African Arguments, almost in tears. That was a deeply traumatising time for the affected communities. Kabba survived but he knows many who did not, including the girl in the bed next to him in the hospital whom he was too weak to help.

Anthony Naileh, in Liberia, was similarly disturbed when he first heard about the coronavirus. He is also an Ebola survivor, having caught it in 2014 from his wife, who in turn got the virus from her nephew, a nurse, who died. When he heard about  a new deadly virus, Naileh started having sleepless nights.

“It reminded us of 2014,” he said. “I was even nervous about going out, and I was worried for my wife and three children.”

Kabba and Naileh were not the only ones reminded of the Ebola epidemic. In their roles as presidents of the Sierra Leone Ebola Survivors Association and Liberia Ebola Survivors Network respectively, they started receiving calls from their thousands of members. Communities for whom the devastation of the Ebola outbreak was still fresh feared what might happen if COVID-19 reached their countries.

Both Kabba and Naileh called urgent meetings at which it was agreed that they would tell all their members to take every possible precaution in terms of following health guidelines and avoiding crowded places.

“I told all my members that we were no longer safe and that we should all stay at home, and not to interact with anyone outside of our family,” Kabba said.

Helping themselves but also helping others 

Alongside protecting themselves, however, the survivors also wanted to help others, drawing on their experience of having caught and survived a virulent disease. Their initial reaction had been to stay at home, but they eventually decided they had a role to play.

Naileh and his membership in Liberia organised a sensitisation programme. Ebola survivors went from house to house across different communities to raise awareness about COVID-19 and to help with contact tracing of probable cases.

“We have been into the various communities using our own stories to tell the people to be safe,” said Naileh, who tells people “do not deny that the virus is real, maintain the health protocols, and take care of yourself”. In Freetown, where survivors have similarly spread the word, Kabba tells people to be hopeful. “They have to stand as conquerors of the virus,” he said.

The survivors associations have also reached out to their states – both of which declared states of emergency and imposed lockdown measures – to offer their contributions in more formal ways. “We the survivors can support the government’s efforts in curbing the coronavirus through social and community mobilisation programmes,” said Kabba. “We have the expertise. There are survivors that are ambulance drivers, healthcare workers and other support staff who could be on the frontlines. We have also done a paramedic preparedness training.”

In Liberia, the Ebola Survivors Network sent a proposal to the government to raise awareness in Lofa County, an area that was particularly vulnerable during the Ebola outbreak. The group wants to organise outreach programmes there and requested state support in terms of transportation, accommodation and food in addition to information materials (flyers, posters, megaphones) to do so.

However, neither group party has received a positive response. “We are a potential resource base, but it’s sadly just impossible without some form of external resources,” said Kabba.

Deserving of government support

For the networks in Sierra Leone and Liberia, the government’s lack of response feels familiar to many of their members.

In Sierra Leone, for instance, the government has given a cash transfer of 250,000 leones ($27) to around 8,000 people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, but Ebola survivors were not included. “We deserve government’s support, but it is not happening,” said Kabba. “A lot don’t understand our vulnerabilities. They include orphans and widows.” Kabba says he raised the survivors concerns with the government but is yet to receive a response.

According to Alpha Sesay, a human right lawyer and advocacy officer at Open Society Foundations, survivors require special support due to their particular economic vulnerabilities. “Ebola survivors continue to deal with life-changing health complications which warrant continuous attention,” he said.

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, Kabba and Naileh continue to worry about the wellbeing of their membership. Lockdowns have added hardships on the communities and cases are continuing to rise. Sierra Leone has 1,547 confirmed cases and Liberia has 917 cases at the latest count. The Ebola survivors continue to pray for a cure.

Source: African Arguments 

Natural gas is a versatile fossil fuel that accounts for about a third of U.S. energy use. Although it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than coal or oil, natural gas is a major contributor to climate change, an urgent global problem. Reducing emissions from the natural gas system is especially challenging because natural gas is used roughly equally for electricity, heating, and industrial applications.

There’s an emerging argument that maybe there could be a direct substitute for fossil natural gas in the form of renewable natural gas (RNG) – a renewable fuel designed to be nearly indistinguishable from fossil natural gas. RNG could be made from biomass or from captured carbon dioxide and electricity.

Based on what’s known about these systems, however, I believe climate benefits might not be as large as advocates claim. This matters because RNG isn’t widely used yet, and decisions about whether to invest in it are being made now, in places like California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Georgia and New York.

As someone who studies sustainability, I research how decisions made now might influence the environment and society in the future. I’m particularly interested in how energy systems contribute to climate change.

Right now, energy is responsible for most of the pollution worldwide that causes climate change. Since energy infrastructure, like power plants and pipelines, lasts a long time, it’s important to consider the climate change emissions that society is committing to with new investments in these systems. At the moment, renewable natural gas is more a proposal than reality, which makes this a great time to ask: What would investing in RNG mean for climate change?

Marketing video from Southern California Gas Co. promoting renewable natural gas as a climate-friendly energy option.
What RNG is and why it matters

Most equipment that uses energy can only use a single kind of fuel, but the fuel might come from different resources. For example, you can’t charge your computer with gasoline, but it can run on electricity generated from coal, natural gas or solar power.

Natural gas is almost pure methane, currently sourced from raw, fossil natural gas produced from deposits deep underground. But methane could come from renewable resources, too.

Two main methane sources could be used to make RNG. First is biogenic methane, produced by bacteria that digest organic materials in manure, landfills and wastewater. Wastewater treatment plants, landfills and dairy farms have captured and used biogenic methane as an energy resource for decades, in a form usually called biogas.

Methane captured from cow manure can be used to produce renewable natural gas, which energy companies are promoting as a replacement for fossil natural gas. AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

Some biogenic methane is generated naturally when organic materials break down without oxygen. Burning it for energy can be beneficial for the climate if doing so prevents methane from escaping to the atmosphere.

In theory, there’s enough of this climate-friendly methane available to replace about 1% of the energy that the current natural gas system provides. The largest share is found at landfills.

The other source for RNG doesn’t exist in practice yet, but could theoretically be a much larger resource than biogenic methane. Often called power-to-gas, this methane would be intentionally manufactured from carbon dioxide and hydrogen using electricity. If all the inputs are climate-neutral – meaning, for example, that the electricity used to create the RNG is generated from resources without greenhouse gas emissions – then the combusted RNG would also be climate-neutral.

Digesters at the Deer Island water treatment plant on Boston Harbor break down sewage sludge, yielding methane gas that helps power the plant. Frank Hebbert/Wikipedia, CC BY

So far, RNG of either type isn’t widely available. Much of the current conversation focuses on whether and how to make it available. For example, SoCalGas in California, CenterPoint Energy in Minnesota and Vermont Gas Systems in Vermonteither offer or have proposed offering RNG to consumers, in the same way that many utilities allow customers to opt in to renewable electricity.

Renewable isn’t always sustainable

If RNG could be a renewable replacement for fossil natural gas, why not move ahead? Consumers have shown that they are willing to buy renewable electricity, so we might expect similar enthusiasm for RNG.

The key issue is that methane isn’t just a fuel – it’s also a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Any methane that is manufactured intentionally, whether from biogenic or other sources, will contribute to climate change if it enters the atmosphere.

And releases will happen, from newly built production systems and existing, leaky transportation and user infrastructure. For example, the moment you smell gas before the pilot light on a stove lights the ring? That’s methane leakage, and it contributes to climate change.

To be clear, RNG is almost certainly better for the climate than fossil natural gas because byproducts of burning RNG won’t contribute to climate change. But doing somewhat better than existing systems is no longer enough to respond to the urgencyof climate change. The world’s primary international body on climate change suggests we need to decarbonize by 2030 to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Renewable natural gas would compete with other energy sources, such as wind power, that do not emit greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
Scant climate benefits

My recent research suggests that for a system large enough to displace a lot of fossil natural gas, RNG is probably not as good for the climate as is publicly claimed. Although RNG has lower climate impact than its fossil counterpart, likely high demand and methane leakage mean that it probably will contribute to climate change. In contrast, renewable sources such as wind and solar energy do not emit climate pollution directly.

What’s more, creating a large RNG system would require building mostly new production infrastructure, since RNG comes from different sources than fossil natural gas. Such investments are both long-term commitments and opportunity costs. They would devote money, political will and infrastructure investments to RNG instead of alternatives that could achieve a zero greenhouse gas emission goal.

When climate change first broke into the political conversationin the late 1980s, investing in long-lived systems with low but non-zero greenhouse gas emissions was still compatible with aggressive climate goals. Now, zero greenhouse gas emissions is the target, and my research suggests that large deployments of RNG likely won’t meet that goal.

Source: The Conversation

Do you expect wider acceptance of Black activism on college campuses?

Will some number of colleges and universities that did not embrace Black student activists previously do so now? Perhaps a few. However, I believe more will work, directly and indirectly, to ensure these students never set a foot on their respective campuses.

According to a recent Pew poll, 60% of whites support the Black Lives Matter movement. That means 40% do not. Certainly, some of those whites opposed or indifferent to Black Lives Matter work in higher education.

And the 60% who do support Black Lives Matter is likely somewhat inflated due to social desirability bias, which is when people give socially acceptable answers to research questions instead of saying how they really feel. In sum, there is good reason for Black Lives Matter student activists, especially those who have a high profile, to have reservations about the degree to which historically and predominantly white colleges and universities truly desire their presence on campus.

Many institutions have not even made a meaningful commitment to make significant anti-racist changes. Some of the anti-racist statements that colleges and universities have made since the torture and execution of George Floyd have been described by some academics as “toothless.”

Could activism actually help students?

Perhaps, at some institutions. There may be a net increase in the number of enthusiastic administrators and admissions counselors. But these might be at places that were considerably further along their way to becoming truly racially diverse, equitable and inclusive – in a word – anti-racist. To the extent that Black student activism is now viewed more favorably on campus, it might also depend on what kind of college we’re talking about, what part of the country it’s located in and the size and demographics of its student body.

How might COVID-19 come into play?

To the extent COVID-19 has increased predominantly white colleges’ and universities’ need for the tuition revenue generated by Black and brown bodies – whether in physical or virtual seats – they may accept a greater number of Black students than is typical for them. Still, while admission counselors are reviewing students’ files, I would expect that many will still view most favorably those Black students who are the least explicit about being racially conscious.

Some Black students may choose to hide their activism because they understand that most whites, including admissions counselors, likely view it in a negative light. In this instance, they would be doing so tactically, solely for the purposes of gaining admittance. Still, I suspect that Black students who are the most committed to Black Lives Matter activism will refuse to hide or downplay their activism.

Lastly, just because colleges might operate fully or largely online in the fall due to COVID-19, does not mean that racism will magically disappear from higher education. Racism is as likely to appear in the virtual classroom – and other parts of college that move online – as it did on the physical campus, so anti-racist activism will likely have to take place in the digital realm as well.

Source: The Conversation

On 25 October 2020, Zanzibaris will have an opportunity to elect the President of Zanzibar, Members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives and local councilors. They will join their Tanzanian brothers and sisters on the mainland in electing the President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Members of the Union Parliament of Tanzania.

Every election is important, but this year’s is critical. For too long, our people have suffered under misrule characterised by corruption, maladministration and sheer incompetence. Over the past five years, a worrying level of repression has crept into politics, eroding our civil and political rights on a steady, day-by-day basis.

25 October represents a potential turning point. Either we choose change and embrace a future of hope and opportunity; or we settle for the status quo and accept a future of autocratic rule with no respect for basic human rights and which condemns our people and their children to a perpetual cycle of poverty.

Many are aware that I have contested the Zanzibar Presidency for the past five elections since the multi-party system was established in 1992. Many ask why I am contesting a sixth election and why I think I will be successful this time round.

This has not been an easy decision. I have reflected deeply on this matter and consulted extensively with the leadership of my party, my family and wise elders whom I greatly respect. I am both confident and happy in my decision to seek my party’s nomination for the Zanzibar Presidency. Here are my reasons for the decision to contest.

Protecting our democracy

The first reason is to protect out multi-party democracy. My colleagues and I in our KAMAHURU movement joined forces with like-minded groups on the mainland and fought incredibly hard to move the country into a multi-party system in 1992. But it now faces its greatest threat. The ruling CCM regime is deliberately violating the principles of democracy and destroying the foundations of our modern state. Given this clear and present danger, I believe I have a responsibility not to step back from the struggle but help our nation navigate this difficult time and protect our hard-won democracy.

Another reason is that I believe we need an experienced captain at this particularly uncertain time. In 1992, my colleagues and I decided to form the Civic United Front (CUF). Its goal was to restore justice to all citizens in Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania. CUF spoke for the people and became a thorn in the flesh of the CCM.

After the 2015 elections, when the CCM realised that the change in Zanzibar was unstoppable, they used the state and its institutions to destabilise and eventually hijack the party. It weakened it by handing it over to their puppets who were directed to dismiss me and my colleagues contrary to the wishes of party members.

Following this, the legitimate leadership of CUF decided to join Zitto Kabwe and ACT Wazalendo. CUF supporters on Zanzibar and the mainland backed this decision wholeheartedly, excited by the potential of being part of the United Republic’s fastest growing political movement. Given this new arrangement, however, our supporters in Zanzibar have indicated that it would be unwise for me to lead people into a new dhow and then abandon them. I have accepted the advice that I should lead a joint effort to bring about change in Zanzibar through ACT Wazalendo. The new dhow requires an experienced captain to navigate Zanzibar through the fierce storms and heavy waves that face it.

Making 2015’s outcome a reality

Over the past five elections, I have had the privilege of carrying the faith of the majority of Zanzibaris despite the CCM disregarding the will of the people and claiming victory. Given the huge turning point we face on 25 October, I cannot abandon the thousands who have entrusted me with their hopes and aspirations. I will honour the faith of our people by leading Zanzibaris to achieve and realise the vision of the Zanzibar they want. It is time for the CCM to realise that nothing can stop the power of the people. The majority’s will must be realised and I am determined to enable that this election.

In 2015, the CCM’s deep state used the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF), other security organs of states, and then Chair of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) Jecha Salim Jecha to annul the election results in Zanzibar. 2020 is our opportunity to right the wrong of 2015 and to ensure that the actual winner of the election becomes the legitimate President of Zanzibar.

Realising the dream of a free, democratic and prosperous Zanzibar has been my life’s work. As President of Zanzibar, I will be determined to reverse the decline in development we have seen year after year. I will have zero tolerance for corruption. I will eliminate the discrimination that has both flourished and been formalised under the current President. I will work tirelessly to realise the rights to higher education, to employment and empower our youth to access opportunity. In our new, democratic Zanzibar, poverty will become history.

Our new government will be powered by a new generation of young leaders who together with wise seniors will pave the way for a better, just and peaceful Zanzibar. As President, I will fight for the dignity and status of our beautiful islands. A legitimate, confident President empowered by the trust of the Zanzibaris will be able to engage with the Tanzanian government on the basis of equality, justice and respect. I will fight for a better union for the people of Zanzibar. October will be the dawn of a just, united and prosperous Zanzibar for all its citizens.

Source: African Arguments 

Panic about a second wave of coronavirus cases is “overblown,” Vice President Mike Pence wrote in June, implying the U.S. has COVID-19 under control. On the other hand, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warns that the U.S. is still firmly within a first wave of cases.

As media broadcast information about daily increases in the number of cases, it’s hard not to wonder which way the country is headed. Have the weeks and months of lockdown really helped? What do the trends in diagnoses and deaths mean for the course of the pandemic? Is the U.S. stuck in a first wave? Through the worst of it? Headed for a second round?

Six months into the pandemic, people are looking for ways to make sense of what’s happening. Talking about waves of disease, with the implication of predictable rises and falls, is part of that. As an epidemiologist, I know that disease waves aren’t scientifically defined. But looking to the history of previous epidemics and other countries’ current COVID-19 outbreaks can be useful.

Characterizing a wave

There’s no strict definition for what is or is not an epidemic wave or phase. A wave implies a rising number of sick individuals, a defined peak, and then a decline. The word “wave” implies a natural pattern of peaks and valleys; it hints that even during a lull, future outbreaks of disease are possible.

Historical outbreaks of infectious diseases offer some models for how the course of a disease like COVID-19 might unfold over time.

Some diseases come in somewhat predictable seasonal waves, with higher transmission rates at some times of the year than at others. Seasonal coronaviruses, like 229E or HKU1, which cause the common cold, have a high point from around December through March, according to research in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Several factors influence whether a particular disease is seasonal in nature. Some pathogens may spread less well with greater humidity. Annual epidemics, like of influenza may occur because of climate or patterns of social mixing – often driven by the school year or people staying inside more during the winter.

It’s possible that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, spreads more efficiently under certain weather conditions. But recent outbreaks in Florida, Arizona, Texas and Southern California suggest that warm or humid weather is not sufficient to stop the spread of the disease. Some scientists model that SARS-CoV-2 will eventually become seasonal like other coronaviruses.

Waves and seasonal dynamics are also affected by levels of immunity in the human population. As more individuals become immune to a pathogen, its spread slows and eventually stops as the virus runs out of new people to infect. The U.S. is nowhere near what epidemiologists call herd immunity in the general population, however; mathematical modelers suggest at least between 43% and 60% of people would need to be immune to SARS-CoV-2 for that to be the case.

Ebb and flow, 150 years of influenza waves

Some of the current talk of coronavirus waves likely stems from comparisons with past epidemics that did show these peaks and troughs of infections.

University of Oxford scholars of evidence-based medicine Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan have summarized past waves in respiratory virus pandemics over the previous 150 years. For example, the 1889-92 influenza outbreak had three distinct waves, which differed in their virulence. The second wave was much more severe, particularly in younger adults.

Three waves of death: weekly combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, United Kingdom, 1918–1919. The waves were broadly the same globally during the pandemic. Taubenberger JK, Morens DM. 1918 Influenza: the Mother of All Pandemics. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006;12(1):15-22., CC BY

The current COVID-19 pandemic is often compared to the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic, which had three distinct waves over the course of a year. The proportion of influenza patients who were severely ill or died was much higher in the last two waves compared to the first. It’s unclear whether being infected earlier on protected individuals during later waves.

More recently, the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, though mild, had two distinct waves; this virus still commonly shows up in seasonal influenza outbreaks. A study of H1N1 influenza in 2009-2010 found that the second wave affected more older people, with underlying conditions.

Insight from the past suggests that discrete waves result as a disease spreads into and out of a population. Different waves can have different features, too, regarding factors like disease severity or which populations are most affected.

What’s happening now in the US

SARS-CoV-2 infections in the U.S. are on the rise. Some of this increase may be driven by more widespread testing now. But the increases felt in many large states – Texas, California, Florida – are a result of more community transmission.

Currently, even with an increase in the number of cases in many parts of the U.S., there has not been a corresponding increase in the number of deaths.

The story from Iran may offer a cautionary note. From a peak of over 3,000 cases confirmed per day in early April, it declined to less than 1,000 by May, from which it has climbed to hover around 2,500 daily confirmed cases as of the end of June. The rise in the number of deaths did not occur until the second half of June. This is likely due to the time lag between when someone is infected and when they die.

Accordingly, U.S. states currently experiencing an uptick in COVID-19 confirmed cases could see a notable increase in deaths within a few weeks. The average age of those infected is getting younger, though, complicating predictions about a death toll.

The U.S. is not yet in a second wave and increasingly it looks like the country may not see one. Instead, the U.S. may sustain a constant first wave that just continues to crest. The political willpower necessary to limit transmission through robust, ongoing lockdown measures seems, unfortunately, to have been snuffed out.

But arguing about whether the U.S. is in a second wave, the first wave, or wave 1.5 ultimately doesn’t matter. Whichever it is, the commonsense actions everyone can currently take to limit the spread of infection remain the same: Staying home when possible, wearing a mask and socially distancing when out, and frequently washing hands will help speed our way beyond this pandemic, regardless of what wave we’re in.

Source: The Conversation 

The leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties signed a final power-sharing agreement this month, but it remains unclear whether the deal will guarantee long-term stability in the country, journalist Samuel Okiror writes for IRIN news.

AFTER MONTHS OF negotiations aimed at ending a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and forced some 4.5 million from their homes since December 2013, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed new power-sharing and cease-fire agreements on August 5.The conflict, coupled with a dire national economy, the difficulty of delivering humanitarian aid to warring areas, and the widespread disruption of livelihoods, has left some 60 percent of the population at risk of not getting enough to eat.

This briefing, drawn from interviews with analysts, rights advocates, aid workers and refugees, assesses whether the new agreements represent a major milestone in ending the civil war or are more likely another false dawn for efforts to forge lasting peace.

What exactly did the parties sign?

The title of the document is a bit of a mouthful: Agreement on Outstanding Issues on Governance and Security Arrangements. Its signature by Kiir, Machar, and, in a last-minute policy U-turn, representatives of several other armed groups (under the umbrella of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance), marks another step towards the signing of a revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS).

The original ARCSS, supposedly a comprehensive peace deal, was inked in 2015 (by fewer signatories) but quickly collapsed. It was derided by some as fundamentally ill-conceived. The main difference between it and the new power-sharing formula is that the envisaged cabinet and parliament have been expanded to include more people.

Other recent steps in resuscitating the ARCSS were the 27 June signing of the Khartoum Declaration – which included a permanent cease-fire (which is largely holding) and a commitment to withdraw troops from urban centres – and a detailed agreement on security arrangements signed on July 6.

Three days after signing the latest power-sharing agreement, the president granted a general amnesty to Machar and other rebel leaders. Another round of talks began in Khartoum on August 13 to tackle some unresolved issues.

What does the deal mean for civilians in need?

More than 6 million people in South Sudan are facing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of acute food insecurity, according to U.N. agencies. “Emergency” is just one level down from the worst situation, famine, which reached some parts of the country in early 2017.

In areas affected by conflict, “it will be difficult for households … to realise a harvest… and the possibility of extreme food insecurity through to January 2019 will remain,” the U.N. agencies warned, pointing in particular to Leer and Mayendit counties in former Unity State, in the Greater Upper Nile region.

Several aid agencies told IRIN they see potential for the latest deal to bring an end to the suffering of millions of civilians, especially if it leads to improved access to areas where it has been too dangerous to deliver assistance.

“When people see aid workers doing their work in safety, they will be better able to conduct their own day to day activities,” said Rosalind Crowther, country director for CARE.

But the country’s 12 million citizens are not a primary consideration for the agreement’s signatories, according to Jok Maduk Jok, a former government minister who is now the executive director of the Sudd Institute, an independent research group.

“Leaders will now work for their entry into public offices, but none of them will think about the people who suffered so gravely from a war that was none of their choosing,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

How Will Power Be Shared?

The latest agreement paves the way for Machar to return to South Sudan as one of five vice presidents under Kiir in a three-year transitional government of national unity, due to be formed within three months of the final peace deal being signed. No date for that key event has been set.

The agreement also provides for a 35-strong cabinet, with 20 ministers drawn from the government, nine from Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition and six from representatives of other opposition groups. The legislative assembly will have 550 lawmakers, 332 from government, and 128 from the opposition.

There has been a reduction in fighting since the Khartoum Declaration was signed, and humanitarian access to several areas has improved.

What Role Did Regional and Global Leaders Play?

Pressure from the likes of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and his Sudanese and Kenyan counterparts Omar al-Bashir and Uhuru Kenyatta, coupled with a 13 July U.N. Security Council arms embargo and extended targeted sanctions, helped drive Kiir and Machar to sign the power-sharing deal.

Daniel Akech Thiong, an independent consultant focused on politics and economics on South Sudan, said the pair were keen not to disappoint their respective backers, Museveni (in the case of Kiir) and al-Bashir (for Machar) “who are themselves motivated by the hope of cashing in during peacetime… [having] seen an economic opportunity to exploit, but which requires the end of the civil war.”

Thiong pointed to the $26 Khartoum receives in fees for every barrel of oil that landlocked South Sudan exports through Sudan, and explained that “South Sudan’s share of the oil wealth will be spent on buying goods from Uganda.”

Is the End of the War Within Sight?

Relief and some jubilation swept across Juba when news of the signing of the new accords reached the South Sudanese capital. But a tweet from Museveni, one of the guarantors of the peace process, immediately put things in perspective. “We are congratulating ourselves over many dead bodies in South Sudan over the last four years,” he wrote.

A reality check was provided on August 10 when Britain, the United States and Norway – the so-called “Troika” that helped end Sudan’s protracted civil war in 2005 and deliver South Sudan’s independence six years later – dismissed the current peace process as a road to nowhere.

“We are concerned that the arrangements agreed to date are not realistic or sustainable,” they said in a joint statement. “The best hope for sustainable peace is a process inclusive of ordinary men and women, civil society, religious leaders, ethnic minorities, and other excluded groups.”

Jok’s assessment echoed some of those concerns. “The threats to this arrangement will most likely come from outside the government, from youth groups, from ethnic communities that were most affected by conflict that are clearly excluded and who will now be waiting for some sort of reparations in the form of money and reconstruction efforts,” he told IRIN.

For Juliette Paauwe, research analyst at the U.S.-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, it will take more than a power-sharing deal between two bitter enemies who have already broken about 10 previous agreements to end the bloodshed.

“Only time will tell if this agreement will last or simply be a brief pause before the killing resumes,” she said. “The people of South Sudan deserve lasting peace with justice, not gestures without substance.”

Could the Conflict, in Fact, Escalate?

Mistrust, rather than reconciliation, still defines the relationship between Kiir and Machar, a fact underlined by the former’s snubbing of the latter’s bid for a handshake at the signing ceremony.

This mistrust “is a major risk factor for relapse to war,” warned Jok.

Thijs Van Laer of International Refugee Rights Initiative, an advocacy group, lamented the absence of any reference to accountability in the agreement.

“Not only does the document fail to reaffirm the urgent need to judge those responsible, but it also further empowers those responsible for atrocities, by giving them positions and resources, and fails to mention how spoilers of the agreement will be sanctioned,” he said.

Van Laer suggested some of those who signed the deal had been pressured to do so and that this makes it more likely they will take up arms again, while other individuals or groups might be tempted to resort to violence “to get a slice of the cake.”

Mike Brand, a U.S.-based conflict and atrocities prevention consultant, pointed to other glaring omissions.

“This new agreement has many unanswered questions and doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying political and security issues that led to conflict in 2013 and 2016, many of which could easily cause the entire process to derail,” he said.

Priscilla Pita, one of 60,000 South Sudanese living in the Imvepi Refugee Settlement in the Ugandan district of Arua, agreed. “It might be a short-lived deal and war breaks out again. We are tired of this war. We can’t continue suffering. We need peace, freedom and joy,” she said.

Fellow refugee John Dada said he feared the latest deal would remain mere “ink and paper.” “But let it be the last chance. If they fail to implement and continue with war, the International Criminal Court should hold them accountable for war crimes.”

However, another refugee, Agnes Poni, was more optimistic. “I see seriousness. I congratulate President Kiir and Machar. They will implement it,” she said.

What Next?

Issues under discussion in the current round of talks include the powers of the president and vice presidents, representation in the judicial authority, as well as revision of the country’s administrative division and the naming of new ministries.

A number of other issues need to be resolved to improve the chances of lasting peace, including: the logistics of organising elections, how to integrate some rebel fighters into a national army and demobilise others, and how a cash-strapped government will fund the enlarged administration and still pay for essential goods and services across the country.

In its statement, the Troika underscored the importance of clarifying “how resources will be used in a transparent and accountable way for the benefit of all South Sudanese… how security will be provided in Juba during the transition period, and how meaningful checks will be placed on executive power.”

Another key challenge will be dealing with armed groups not party to the agreement such as the People’s Democratic Movement and the National Salvation Front.

Kiir and Machar have little to no command and control over various splinter groups within their respective forces, a fact that several analysts pointed to as one of the most considerable obstacles to resolving the conflict.

As Jok put it: the “massive elephant in the room” is “how to translate this elite pact into peace for all communities, overcoming the communal feuds that were made worse by the elite rivalry but not resolved by the peace deal.”

Source: News Deeply 

When women are involved in peace processes – not as an afterthought but as acknowledged experts – there is a greater chance of achieving longer-lasting peace. From Northern Ireland to Yemen, understanding and working with the local community is key, says Irish Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney.

IT IS NOW 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement opened up a new landscape of peace in Northern Ireland. Today, we share our experience in building and sustaining peace with others seeking to end conflict and the terrible suffering that accompanies it. One element of the Northern Ireland peace process of keen interest to peacebuilders is its remarkable focus on cross-community initiatives, and in particular the crucial role that women played throughout the peace process negotiations.

While there is a powerful story to tell about women’s engagement in the Northern Irish peace process, our example is far from perfect. Women were neither institutionally supported nor intentionally involved in the peace process by the main parties in the negotiations. The women of Northern Ireland had to win their seats at the table through their own determined efforts. The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was born across a dinner table in April 1996. It was a grassroots, cross-community initiative that wanted to ensure women were “written into, rather than out of” the peace process. In the space of six weeks it founded a political party and succeeded in gaining two seats for women at the peace table. Those two women drafted language on crucial issues such as integrated housing, mixed schooling, victims and reconciliation that has had a lasting impact on Northern Irish society.

In 2019, it is understood that when women are meaningfully involved in peace processes, there is a far more significant chance of a longer-lasting and more inclusive peace. The fact that we do not always see this understanding translated into action on the ground is both baffling and frustrating. Nowhere is this missed opportunity more evident than in the current peace process underway in Yemen, which remains perhaps the gravest country situation on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council.

The Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition’s expertise was rooted in a firm understanding of the local community. Beyond the formalized network of the coalition, women from all communities and backgrounds at every level of society in Northern Ireland were and continue to be agents for change and peacebuilders in their everyday lives. Likewise, Yemeni women’s groups are working within communities and across political divides. They have called for an immediate cease-fire. They have activated local truce committees for local security. And they have led efforts to restore educational and health facilities.

Similar to the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, Yemeni women’s groups have also advocated for a broadening of the agenda, calling for due attention to be given to gender-aware disarmament, demobilization and the reintegration of female and child soldiers into society.

Integrated schooling was introduced into the Good Friday Agreement because these Northern Irish women knew how much further they had to walk to bring their children safely to school. Similarly in Yemen, knowing the lay of the local land, women have facilitated access for humanitarian deliveries, working to improve the dire situation facing the population.

These groups have much in common, but with one crucial difference: Yemeni women are not at the table. They do not have a formal and recognized voice with which they can influence the peace process. They are not completely excluded, and the work of the Special Envoy of the U.N. Secretary General for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, in creating the Yemeni Women’s Technical Advisory Board is certainly commendable. Yet proximity is not enough. Yemeni women cannot be left on the sidelines, on the outside looking in. These highly qualified women need to be formally involved in all stages of the process.

Following 20 years of sustaining peace in my country, the case study of the women of Northern Ireland remains the exception in peace processes, not the norm. The work of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition continues to inspire many. Its leaders have gone on to share their experiences across the globe, from Colombia, where women played an important role in the peace process, to Syria, where women activists hope they, too, can take their rightful seat at the negotiations table. Recent developments underline for us the importance of maintaining cross-community and cross-generational experience sharing.

We will continue to share the stories of women peacebuilders, but this is not an area where Ireland wants to stand alone. More needs to be done to systematically involve women from the beginning; not as an afterthought and not as a token; not focused solely on women’s issues but seen as equals, experts in their respective areas.

Source: News Deeply 

Shortly after George Floyd’s death, one of my friends texted me that Floyd wasn’t necessarily a bad person, but, pointing to his prior stints in prison, added that “he wasn’t lily-white either.”

Soon thereafter, I read an article in The New York Times written by Chad Sanders in which he noted his agent canceled a meeting with him because he was observing a “Blackout Day” in recognition of the Black men and women who have been brutalized and killed.

In the first example, white represents purity and morality. In the other, black represents nothingness or absence – similar to the use of “black hole” as a metaphor.

These types of linguistic metaphors – pervasive in speech – have been a focus of my research.

There are “brighter days ahead” after “dark times.” We want to be whitelisted and not blacklisted for jobs. Black hats are the bad hackers and white hats the good ones. White lies make stretching the truth okay, while we don’t want to receive a black mark on our records. In picture books, good people, angels and Gods dress in white, but the villains, devils and the Grim Reaper dress in black.

Of course, there are exceptions: We prefer to be “in the black” versus “in the red” in financial statements. But for the most part, the delineation is remarkably consistent.

How do such linguistic metaphors get formed? And do they perpetuate racism?

Processing a complicated world

One theory, proposed by cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, is that metaphors are a cognitive tool allowing people to comprehend what they cannot see, taste, hear, smell or touch. They help people understand difficult, abstract concepts through simpler, more tangible, paradigms.

These metaphors get formed as people gain experience in the physical world. For instance, the abstract concept of power is connected to the concrete concept of height – perhaps because, as children, we saw adults as taller and more powerful. Then, as adults, we continue to implicitly associate height with power. It isn’t just tall buildings or tall people. In multiple studies, participants judged symbols representing people or groups to be more powerful if they simply appeared at a higher position on a page than other symbols.

My research with fellow behavioral scientists Luca Cian and Norbert Schwarz found that vertical position also has an implicit association with emotionality and rationality.

If something is at the top of a page or a screen, we tend to perceive it as more rational, whereas if something is at the bottom, it appears more emotional. One reason may be that we metaphorically tend to connect the heart with emotion and the head with logic, and, in the physical world, our heads are actually higher than our hearts.

Infusing color with meaning

In a similar vein, fresh snow and clean water are white or transparent, whereas sullied water turns brown and then black. It is also bright and relatively safer during the day, but dark and more dangerous at night. While observing all of this, we start forming conceptual metaphors – or subconscious connections – between color and goodness.

Experiments have documented the existence of this relationship.

In one paper, for example, psychologists Brian Meier, Michael Robinson and Gerald Clore showed that the color white is implicitly connected with morality, and the color black with immorality.

In another study, they asked participants to evaluate words as positive or negative. The words were shown in black or white font on a computer screen with a program measuring the speed of the classification.

Participants evaluated words with a positive meaning like “active,” “baby,” “clean” and “kiss” faster when they were shown in a white rather than black font. On the other hand, they classified words with a negative meaning – terms like “crooked,” “diseased,” “foolish” and “ugly” – faster when they appeared in black.

A sample of words used in the experiment by Meier, Robinson and Clore. Aradhna Krishna, CC BY-SA

These studies have been replicated, and the same findings emerge, indicating that they’re not a fluke: The perceptual-conceptual links between color and goodness are ingrained in people.

The race factor

Could something as simple as the color-goodness relationship drive racial prejudice?

In the color-goodness studies above, black and white colors were connected with good and bad. Implicit race bias tests, on the other hand, look for a connection between Black and white faces and goodness.

There is a subtle but important difference here. The implicit bias race test detects prejudice towards Black people. So besides skin color, it also picks up reactions to other differences in appearance – from hair to facial structure – along with any animosity one may have previously harbored. Still, the color-goodness association is clearly a factor in racial prejudice.

Can these conceptual metaphors – so ingrained in our everyday speech – be upended? What if we wrote that something was as pure as the blackest eyes; as rich as the darkest hair; or as sophisticated as a black dress?

What if Gods and heroes were dressed in black and villains in white?

What if, as Muhammad Ali pointed out in a 1971 interview, we had vanilla devil’s food cake and dark-chocolate angel cake?

Metaphors aren’t ironclad. It’s possible to consciously change the way we write, draw, design costumes – and, yes, bake. Over time, perhaps this could gradually erode some of our implicit biases.

Source: The Conversation 

The sound of Public Enemy’s 1989 song “Fight the Power” blared as face-masked protesters in Washington, D.C. broke into a spontaneous rendition of the electric slide dance near the White House.

It was the morning of June 14, and an Instagram user captured the moment, commenting: “If Trump is in the White House this morning he’s being woken up by … a Public Enemy dance party.”

Coming amid widespread protests over police brutality and structural racism in the United States, the song is an apt musical backdrop. It opens with a quote from civil rights activist Thomas “TNT” Todd before going into a sample-laden funk rap track referencing past black protest songs from the Isley Brothers and James Brown.

Demonstrators in other parts of the country similarly used hip-hop as a form of sonic protest. In New York, protesters chanted the hook to Ludacris’s 2001 song “Move B—-” as they were penned in on the Manhattan Bridge by police officers.

Footage of the crowd singing, “Move b—-, get out the way. Get out the way b—-, get out the way” to uniformed officers seemingly got the approval of Ludacris, who reposted a video on his Twitter account accompanied by a raised fist emoji.

No one who has listened to hip-hop since its origins in the 1970sshould be surprised that rap music has become the soundtrack to protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis on May 25 while in police custody.

Hip-hop artists have protested police violence in their music for decades. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, rappers from different corners of the United States described the brutal and discriminatory police tactics they witnessed in their communities.

Most famous perhaps is N.W.A.’s “F— tha Police” from 1988. Fellow Los Angeles rapper Ice T faced backlash after his metal band, Body Count, released “Cop Killer” in 1992.

In the Geto Boys’ “Crooked Officer” from 1993, the Houston rap group bears witness to racial profiling and police violence in the so-called Dirty South, before asserting: “Mr. Officer, crooked officer, I wanna put your ass in a coffin, sir.” In the same year, New York’s KRS-One referenced the racist origins of American policing in “Sound of da Police,” connecting the violent tactics used against enslaved Africans to the NYPD of the late 20th century and referring to an officer as a “wicked overseer.”

Minneapolis goddam?

As a cultural historian who studies connections between race and music, I know that the rich history of protest in Black American music started much earlier than hip-hop. The tradition is as old as Southern blues and continued through jazz and rhythm and blues.

Take, for example, the “Joe Turner Blues,” a song that likely originated in the late 1800s. According to folklorist Alan Lomax, Black residents of the Mississippi Delta used the earliest versions of the song to describe a white sheriff named Joe Turner who sent Black men to chain gangs or to work on building levees.

The lyrics recount a lover’s tale of loss: “They tell me Joe Turner’s come and gone. Got my man and gone.” References to police officers in songs like “Joe Turner Blues” also link that tradition to the songs of enslaved Africans who warned about the slave patrols who combed the South in search of runaways.

As with hip-hop, protest against law enforcement came from communities of color in different parts of the country.

From east Texas, blues musician Texas Alexander describes false accusations of murder and forgery in “Levee Camp Moan Blues.” He laments, “They accused me of forgery; I can’t even write my name” – a statement that indicts both the segregated public school system of Texas and corrupt law enforcement officials.

Soul rebels

In the 1950s and 1960s, jazz musicians contributed to the emerging civil rights canon through songs like Charles Mingus’ “Original Faubus Fables” and Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam.”

Black musicians also made direct references to racial profiling and police brutality. Marvin Gaye tackled police violence on his 1971 album, “What’s Going On.” “Trigger happy policing” is one of the many social problems mentioned in “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” and he demands, “don’t punish me with brutality” on the album’s title track.

Protesters also co-opted seemingly nonpolitical Motown songs as part of their struggle against police brutality. As uprisings against violent police tactics erupted in places like Watts, Detroit and Newark between 1965 and 1967, “Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas became part of the soundtrack for urban protest.

Expressing anti-police sentiment in song is not exclusive to the Black American experience. Texans of Mexican descent have detailed their run-ins with law enforcement in Spanish for centuries through Southwestern corridos – narrative ballad songs.

Like much of the blues played by Black Americans, the corridos that emanated from the Rio Grande Valley in the 19th and early 20th century often described conflicts between Anglo-American law enforcement and Mexican Americans. “El corrido de Gregorio Cortez” recounts an actual event from 1901, when an Anglo-Anerican sheriff shot a man named Romaldo Cortez. His brother Gregorio then shot and killed the sheriff before eluding the Texas Rangers for 10 days.

Gregorio is celebrated as a hero who resisted Anglo-American domination: “They had a shootout and he killed another sheriff. Gregorio Cortez said with his pistol in his hand, ‘Don’t run you cowardly Rangers, from one lone Mexican.’”

New protest songs

Whether emanating from blues or corridos, Mexican and Black American music protested the ways that police buttressed white political, economic and social power. Similarly today, Latino activists point to shared concerns over race and law enforcement in their support for Black Lives Matter.

Meanwhile, recording artists are continuing the tradition of using music to protest police violence in communities of color. Los Angeles rapper YG released a single called “FTP” on June 4, in a nod to N.W.A.‘s “F— tha Police.” And hip-hop producer Terrace Martin likewise dropped a track, “Pig Feet” commenting on the current unrest: “Helicopters over my balcony. If the police can’t harass, they wanna smoke every ounce of me.”

Source: The Conversation 

Many countries in Africa get a bad press for their progress in providing inclusive education. Just two in three children complete primary school on time, while the number of out-of-school children and youth is 97 million and growing. Less is said, however, about the range of tools being deployed to include some of those furthest behind: students with disabilities.

Inequalities in education are always blatant, but the new 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by UNESCO shows that the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse. About 40% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa have not been able to support disadvantaged learners during school closures, including those with disabilities.

Prior to the pandemic, countries in Africa were taking different approaches to inclusion. Most educate children with disabilities in mainstream schools, but have some separate arrangements for learners with severe disabilities. Nearly a quarter, however, have laws calling for children with disabilities to be educated in separate settings.

Many of the countries looking to move from segregated towards inclusive systems face challenges. Among other things, they need to work out how to share specialist resources between schools so all children can benefit. Fortunately, examples of how this can be done are to found across the continent.

Angola and Nigeria, for instance, are looking at transforming special schools into support bases for children with disabilities who are enrolled in mainstream schools. Angola set a target in 2017 of including 30,000 children with special education needs in mainstream schools by 2022.

Kenya also recognises special schools’ pivotal role in the transition towards inclusive education. At present, almost 2,000 primary and secondary mainstream schools provide education for students with special needs.

Malawi tries a twin-track approach. Those with severe disabilities are educated in special schools or special needs centres, while those with mild disabilities are mainstreamed. Special schools at each education level are being transformed into resource centres.

Instead of resource centres, Tanzania is mobilising itinerant teachers offering specialist services. These teachers are trained and managed by Tanzania Society for the Blind and provided with a motorbike. They also perform vision screening, refer children to medical facilities and organise community sensitisation and counselling.

What’s needed

While the political will for change seems clear, there is often a gap between theory and practice. This is where the emphasis between now and 2030 must lie. Throughout Africa, teachers mention that implementing inclusive education is hard because they lack resources.

Take Malawi. While it is increasingly encouraging learners with special needs to enrol in mainstream schools, a lack of facilities forces many to transfer to special schools. In Namibia, the shortage of resource schools in rural areas, a lack of accessible infrastructure and unfavourable attitudes towards disability are just some of the barriers to implementing its inclusive education policy. Similarly, in Tanzania, only half of children with albinism complete primary school. Because they lack support, they often end up being transferred to special schools.

The same story can be found in South Africa. A 1996 law says the right to education of children with special needs is to be fulfilled in mainstream public schools. But it reported to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recently that it had new segregated schools in basic education and a lack of provisions for children with severe intellectual disabilities.

Ghana is another case. It makes provisions for all learners in its education law. Its 2015 inclusive education policy framework envisages transforming special schools into resource centres, while maintaining special units, schools and other institutions for students with severe and profound disabilities. Yet children with disabilities are still required to perform the same tasks within the same time frame as their peers without disabilities, occupy desks placed far from teachers, and are often physically punished by teachers for behavioural challenges, even in inclusive schools in Accra.

While all efforts are commendable, simply laying the groundwork for inclusion in education will not suffice. Implementing the ambitions spelled out in education policies will take a new wave of efforts. The 2020 GEM Report looks at the different steps needed to provide disability-inclusive education, providing ten recommendations for policy makers, teachers and civil society over the next ten years. We hope it will prove a useful resource for countries in the region to move to the next stage.

Source: African Arguments