Thursday, May 24, 2012

Kenyan Police on spot over abuse of refugees in Dadaab

Refugees in Dadaab Camp, Kenya. GUARDIAN
By Human Rights Watch

Police brutality in Dadaab in recent days suggests that the promises by senior police officials to investigate reports of mistreatment are nothing more than hot air. Despite many inquiries and promises of police reform, police in Dadaab respond to attacks by abusing anyone who happens to be nearby. Daniel Bekele, Africa director
(Nairobi) – Kenyan police arbitrarily arrested, detained, and beat refugees following the discovery of explosives and an attack on a police vehicle in the Dadaab refugee camps in mid-May 2012. Senior officials visiting the camps on May 23 should ensure a full and speedy investigation leading to the identification and disciplinary measures against any officer responsible for abuse and the compensation of victims.

“Police brutality in Dadaab in recent days suggests that the promises by senior police officials to investigate reports of mistreatment are nothing more than hot air,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite many inquiries and promises of police reform, police in Dadaab respond to attacks by abusing anyone who happens to be nearby.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed refugee leaders, aid agency staff, and nine victims of two attacks on the Hagadera and Dagahaley camps, two of the five in the Dadaab complex.

On May 11, two improvised explosive devices were discovered by police in Hagadera. That evening, police went house to house in blocks L and N of Hagadera camp indiscriminately beating residents while arresting others.

Six residents – four men and two women – told Human Rights Watch that police came to their homes asking for weapons, explosives, and the men of the house. But the police appeared to make no distinction between men, women, and children, beating and detaining anyone they found, and later requiring bribes of 10,000-15,000 Kenya shillings (US$115-175) in exchange for release.

A 17-year-old girl, who was at home when the police arrived, said: “They beat me with batons on my arms and back and legs. They lifted me outside the house and threw me into a big truck with so many people packed [in].” She was detained for 15 hours during which police, she said, “asked me to admit that I was the one who put the landmine in the road and I said that I have no idea.”

A 50-year-old man said: “They beat me with big sticks and a gun. They pulled me outside the house and threw me into a truck in which many other people were stacked like sacks of maize. They were beating and arresting people for six hours.”

Refugee leaders said at least 70 people were detained in Hagadera on the night of May 11, including three female minors. Aid agencies told Human Rights Watch that the figure was probably higher. The provincial police officer, Leo Nyongesa, contacted by Human Rights Watch on May 21, claimed no knowledge of the detentions and denied reports of police abuse.

One Hagadera refugee leader who requested anonymity said, “We are ready to cooperate with the police to improve the security but the police cannot be trusted since they beat everyone indiscriminately and unprofessionally.”

On May 15 an improvised explosive device went off under a police car near the market in Dagahaley camp, killing one police officer and injuring two others. According to four witnesses, police reacted by attacking residents in the market.

One man told Human Rights Watch: “I was closing my shop when three policemen stopped me and started slapping me with no question[s]. Theyentered the shop and searched inside. One of them was with me outside holding my hands crossed. I was horrified. People were running for their safety. They hit me with batons several times on the arms and shoulders.”

A female merchant in the market said that police beat her and destroyed her vegetables. Both witnesses said that police looted shops in Dagahaley market following the blast.

Abdifatah Ahmed Ismail, refugee chairman of Dagahaley camp, called the police reaction “deliberate robbery.” He said that “What the police did in Dagahaley was the same as what they did in Ifo [another camp in Dadaab] in December: looting the shops and business centers in the pretext of searching for explosives.”

Nyongesa told Human Rights Watch that a high-level delegation including the national police commissioner, Mathew Iteere, is scheduled to visit Dadaab on May 23 to assess the situation. He claimed to have no knowledge of recent police abuses, although he acknowledged that there had been problems in Dadaab in the past.

Human Rights Watch called on the Kenyan authorities to offer compensation to victims of abuse or looting.

In December 2011, following widespread police abuses against refugees, the police promised to investigate.

In response to earlier allegations about police misconduct in Dadaab in 2010, in October 2010, the Ministry of State for Internal Security established a team to investigate abuse. The team consisted of a representative of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims; two women representatives, one from the Dadaab area and one from a national women’s organization; a youth representative from Dadaab; and a representative of the Refugee Consortium of Kenya.

The team conducted an investigation and drafted a report, which was submitted to the Ministry of State for Internal Security, but never made public. The ministry did not respond to repeated requests from Human Rights Watch in 2011 for a copy. A member of the team told Human Rights Watch that the team found significant evidence of human rights abuses by members of the security forces, but that the ministry did not take any action to hold those responsible to account. Since then, no public statement has been made about any such investigation.

“Senior Kenyan officials should recognize that this abusive police behavior is counterproductive and order all police forces deployed in Dadaab to treat residents with restraint and respect,” Bekele said. “There is no excuse for this abuse.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundations offers US$3 million grant for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa

Farmers in Africa ploughing using oxen. Bio-technology though ignored can boost food productivity in the continent. PHOTO: Internet Sources.  

ACCRA: 2 May 2012 by AATF

The Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) today announced it had received a grant of US$3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand its work. The announcement was made during the Forum’s fifth anniversary celebrations in Accra, Ghana. The initiative set up in 2006, aims to enhance knowledge-sharing and awareness on biotechnology and to contribute to building an enabling environment for decision making on agricultural biotechnology in Africa.

“Biotechnology has delivered substantial benefits to farmers around the world but Africa still lags behind in exploiting its potential partly due to lack of an enabling environment for the development and use of agricultural biotechnology,” said Hon Sherry Ayittey, Ghana’s Minister for Environment, Science and Technology in her address during the Forum’s fifth anniversary celebration in Accra, Ghana.

“Discussions over agricultural biotechnology and its application are surrounded by misperceptions due to lack of or conflicting information,” she continued. “This is a challenge that decision makers who must make the right decisions in the face of a rapidly growing population, declining agricultural productivity and reduced resources available for agricultural research continue to face,” she added.

Over the past 20 years, agricultural biotechnology has made a positive impact on poverty reduction and hunger in the developing world, but mainly in Asia and Latin America. Sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated population of 800 million in 2007, continues to register low farm productivity even as two-thirds of its population lives in rural areas and depend on agriculture for survival. The region has the world's largest concentration of people who go to bed hungry every day - estimated at a third of the population.

“OFAB addresses the existing biotechnology information gaps and concerns by facilitating the interaction of scientists involved in biotechnology research with journalists, policy makers, civil society, farmers and other stakeholders,” said Dr Denis Kyetere, the Executive Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

“Over the last five years, we have seen discussions held at OFAB making input into Africa’s decision on how biotechnology can contribute to its food security and economic developmental goals, thus significantly contributing to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty and hunger by half by 2015,” said Dr Kyetere.

OFAB was initiated by AATF and is currently being implemented in five African countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ghana in collaboration with like-minded partners. OFAB plans to open a sixth country chapter in 2012. OFAB partners in the countries include the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA-Africenter) in Kenya; the Uganda Council of Science and Technology (UNCST), the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), Nigeria’s National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ghana.

“Effective development and use of new technologies require an enabling environment that will improve understanding, contribute to the process of formulation of relevant policies and laws and ultimately support the adoption and use of these technologies by small-scale farmers across Africa,” said Dr Salifu, the Director General of CSIR, Ghana.

“Through the forum, the scientists get the much needed chance to impact policy makers on the need to mainstream science and technology into Africa’s development agenda and back that with adequate funds for research and development,” said Dr Salifu.

Currently, OFAB operates through holding of monthly meetings in the different countries, where topics of interest in agricultural biotechnology are presented and discussed. The principal areas of discussions during the meetings include those specific to understanding agricultural biotechnology in general and how it applies to Sub-Saharan Africa, updating stakeholders on biotechnology project developments and discussing enabling factors such as intellectual property management, liability, seed systems and commercialisation.

“OFAB has played, and will continue to play, a key role in improving public awareness on biotechnology in Africa,” said Dr Kyetere. “This funding will go a long way to support the current activities of OFAB and also enable the chapters to expand their activities outside their current monthly meetings to cover a wider geographical scope within the country and organize targeted biotech communication events for specific categories of stakeholders” he added. The expansion of OFAB activities will contribute to the attainment of the overall goal of creating an enabling environment for agricultural biotechnology.

In order to create the necessary enabling environment, policy makers and the people they serve need to have the right information on agricultural biotechnology to inform decision making and subsequent action. Currently, the biotechnology debate is characterised by scientific facts which are often mixed with environmental, health, social-ethical and political considerations. This complicates matters for these key decision makers often resulting in development of negative perceptions of biotechnology and mis-informed discussions.

“OFAB strives to ensure that policy makers, farmers and agricultural stakeholders have clear and well-structured information on biotechnology that shows that agricultural biotechnology has an important and useful role to play in enhancing food security and creating wealth,” said Dr Peter Ndemere, the Executive Secretary of UNCST and chair of the OFAB-Uganda chapter.

Lessons and experience gained during the five years that OFAB has been in operation point to the potential that it offers in creating better understanding and appreciation of agricultural biotechnology in SSA to address biotechnology information needs of policy makers and the general public.

“We have seen OFAB contribute to informing policy decisions on biotechnology through the provision of a platform for highly interactive discussions on biotechnology including discussions on regulations and biosafety laws” said Dr Margaret Karembu, the chair of the OFAB-Kenya chapter.

OFAB in Nigeria has grown and is recognised as a key awareness and information sharing forum with increased calls for its work to be expanded to cover the countryside. “It has served as a key platform for informing various stakeholders on the importance, content, and impacts of the country’s biosafety bill,” said Prof Bamidele Solomon, the OFAB-Nigeria chairman. “We see OFAB continuing to play this role in the countries that are in the process of passing their bills and those that have already passed them to support the commercialisation and use of biotech crops,” he added.

There has been increased policy maker public pronouncements on the benefits of biotechnology. Hosted by NABDA, OFAB has acted as the agricultural biotechnology stakeholders’ convening body, bringing stakeholders together through provision of a discussion platform and sharing of updates on key developments. The Chapter continues to host high level government officials from key ministries such as agriculture, science and technology, environment, information and communications including members of parliament during presentation of topical issues relevant to their ministries.

According to Dr Hassan Mshinda, the chair of the OFAB-Tanzania chapter, “the enactment of enabling biosafety bills will allow for the testing and delivery of agricultural biotechnology tools that will ultimately benefit farmers in SSA. Our farmers need to access innovative technologies to address their agricultural productivity constraints and consequently play a role in enhancing food security and creating wealth for their families and nations. Such technologies are currently out of their reach due to inadequate information on their use and adoption.”

“OFAB’s vision is for an Africa in which agricultural biotechnology makes a significant contribution to enhanced food security and wealth creation,” said Dr Kyetere. “To help realise this vision, OFAB seeks to build an effective, trustworthy and responsive platform for society to make informed decisions on safety and appropriateness of the application of agricultural biotechnology.”


About AATF (
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates and promotes public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary agricultural technologies for use by resource-poor smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

About OFAB (
The Open Forum for Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) is a platform that provides an opportunity for biotechnology stakeholders to network, share knowledge and experiences, and explore new avenues of bringing the benefits of biotechnology to the African farmer and investor