Wednesday, December 30, 2009



29th December, 2009
By Richard Adrama
and Henry Mukasa

ANOTHER LRA rebel commander has surrendered in eastern Congo, the Ugandan army has said.

‘Captain’ Ocen turned himself in to the Congolese army in Paika two days before Christmas, according to Capt. Peter Mugisa, the UPDF spokesman for West Nile region.

Ocen was one of the LRA officers under the command of Okello Kalalang who committed horrendous atrocities in northern Uganda and eastern Congo.
“Kalalang was one of Kony’s most notorious commanders who burnt down houses after killing and abducting hundreds of Congolese,” said Mugisa.

The LRA carried out reprisal attacks after the armies of Congo, Southern Sudan and Uganda launched a joint military offensive on the rebel bases in Garamba National Park.

The offensive, dubbed ‘Operation Lightning Thunder’, was launched after LRA leader Joseph Kony refused to sign the final peace agreement after two years of protracted talks in Juba, Sudan.

Mugisa said Ocen surrendered with a gun and 30 rounds of ammunition, as well as four fighters under his command. They were transferred to the battalion headquarters in Duru.

This brings to 56 the number of fighters who have defected since the joint operation started a year ago.

According to figures released by the UPDF on Monday, another 305 rebels were killed, 41 captured and 513 abductees rescued since December 2008.

Mugisa noted that the continued surrender of LRA fighters signals the end of the insurgency.

“This trend implies that the UPDF have dealt the LRA bandits a decisive blow through comprehensive combat engagement,” he said.

“The remaining LRA fugitives no longer deserve to be called rebels. They are bandits because they are scattered in four countries with no clear central command structure.”

Ocen is expected to be flown to Entebbe or Gulu army headquarters.
Samuel Obali, who surrendered in November, said they were also forced to surrender because of the constant pursuit by the UPDF forces in the CAR, DR-Congo and Southern Sudan.

“We had no food, water, medicine and lacked communication with the central command. We had to organise ourselves and surrender to the Congolese Armed Forces in order to survive.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday released a damning report, saying at least 1,200 people were killed, 1,400 abducted, and 230,000 displaced in eastern Congo during 10 months of LRA rampage.

“These attacks and systematic and widespread human rights violations carried out by the LRA may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the report said.

A second report, issued the same day, described a similar pattern of LRA attacks in neighbouring Southern Sudan.

It documented 30 LRA attacks between December 2008 and March 2009 in Western and Central Equatoria states in which at least 81 civilians were killed, 74 abducted and 11 villages pillaged.



December 29, 2009

The technology exists to reveal objects hidden under clothes at airport checkpoints, and many experts say it would have detected the explosive packet carried aboard the Detroit-bound flight last week. But it has been fought by privacy advocates who say it is too intrusive, leading to a newly intensified debate over the limits of security.

Screening technologies with names like millimeter-wave and backscatter X-ray can show the contours of the body and reveal foreign objects. Such machines, properly used, are a leap ahead of the metal detectors used in most airports, and supporters say they are necessary to keep up with the plans of potential terrorists.

“If they’d been deployed, this would pick up this kind of device,” Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary, said in an interview, referring to the packet of chemicals hidden in the underwear of the Nigerian man who federal officials say tried to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight.

But others say that the technology is no security panacea, and that its use should be carefully controlled because of the risks to privacy, including the potential for its ghostly naked images to show up on the Internet.

“The big question to our country is how to balance the need for personal privacy with the safety and security needs of our country,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who sponsored a successful measure in the House this year to require that the devices be used only as a secondary screening method and to set punishments for government employees who copy or share images. (The bill has not passed in the Senate.)

“I’m on an airplane every three or four days; I want that plane to be as safe and secure as possible,” Mr. Chaffetz said. However, he added, “I don’t think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure that airplane.”

Full-body imaging machines are in use in 19 airports in the United States and are being used as the primary method of screening at six. Earlier this year the Transportation Security Administration announced plans to buy 150 more machines and to use the scanners as the primary screening method for air passengers.

That prompted a letter of protest from a coalition of 24 privacy organizations to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Your agency will be capturing the naked photographs of millions of American air travelers suspected of no wrongdoing,” the letter said.

Images produced by the machines in the days before privacy advocates began using phrases like “digital strip search” could be startlingly detailed. Machines used in airports today, however, protect privacy to a greater extent, said Kristin Lee, a spokeswoman for the T.S.A.

Depending on the specific technology used, faces might be obscured or bodies reduced to the equivalent of a chalk outline. Also, the person reviewing the images must be in a separate room and cannot see who is entering the scanner. The machines have been modified to make it impossible to store the images, Ms. Lee said, and the procedure “is always optional to all passengers.” Anyone who refuses to be scanned “will receive an equivalent screening”: a full pat-down.

Since the Christmas Day bombing attempt, supporters of tighter security have raised their voices in criticism of privacy advocates. “I do think the privacy groups have some explaining to do,” said Stewart A. Baker, a former homeland security official in the administration of President George W. Bush.

However, he added, body imaging technology has its limits — the machines cannot, for example, detect objects stowed in bodily orifices or concealed within the folds of an obese person’s flesh.

Bruce Schneier, a security expert who has been critical of the technology, said the latest incident had not changed his mind.

“If there are a hundred tactics and I protect against two of them, I’m not making you safer,” he said. “If we use full-body scanning, they’re going to do something else.”

The millions of dollars being spent on new equipment, he said, would be better invested in investigation and intelligence work to detect bombers before they get to any airport.

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said his group had not objected to the use of the devices, as long as they were designed not to store and record images.

Mr. Chertoff said he found such statements a “strategic retreat” from more strident positions taken before last week’s terrorism attempt. He acknowledged that “nothing is 100 percent,” but added, “The more difficult you make it for someone to conceal weapons, the fewer people who are going to be willing or capable of concealment” and the harder it would be to make effective weapons.



On the left is Farouk Abdulmutallab and on the right is his wealthy Nigerian father

December 29, 2009

LONDON — Hit hard by the London transit system bombings in 2005, Britain keeps a close eye on Islamic extremists, and MI5, the covert domestic security agency, has said it specifically monitors Muslim campus groups. Yet one student president of the Islamic Society at the prestigious University College London, a British security official said Tuesday, had “never shown up on the radar screen” as a threat.

That was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, who is accused of trying to blow up a plane descending into Detroit on Christmas Day in the name of Al Qaeda. The attack did not end in death but has set off many alarms, about holes in airline security, an active new Qaeda front in Yemen and the apparent reality — a focus now for investigators here and in the United States — that Britain remains a nation of deep Islamic ferment, where a young man like Mr. Abdulmutallab can become radicalized, perhaps without notice.

“It took a lot to get to know him; I’d describe him as humble,” said Qasim Rafiq, 24, who succeeded Mr. Abdulmutallab as the Islamic Society’s president in 2007. “If he walked into a room, you wouldn’t know he was there.”

Mr. Abdulmutallab’s engagement with radical Islam clearly hit a crisis for his family by Nov. 19, when his father, among Nigeria’s richest and most prominent men, visited the American Embassy there to express concern about the radicalization of his son, who had disappeared, perhaps to Yemen.

But a snapshot of Mr. Abdulmutallab’s formative years in London, from 2005 to 2009, reveals a central difficultly in preventing future terrorist attacks: Friends, relatives, a teacher and fellow Muslim students say they cannot point to a trigger moment in recent years in which an amiable and privileged young man, devout if also disaffected, aspired to mass murder. Their best guess — one shared by investigators — is that the road to radicalization ran less through Yemen, where he studied Arabic as a teenager and apparently later prepared for a suicide mission, than through the Islamic hothouse of London.

“It’s pointless trying to pin the blame for this on those in far-off lands,” a Muslim from California who studied Arabic in Yemen with Mr. Abdulmutallab said in a telephone interview in which he insisted on anonymity because he did not want to draw attention to his family, which migrated from Pakistan to Orange County when he was a boy.

“What we have to do is to try and understand what is going on in our own backyards,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves why a young man like Umar Farouk would do this, what the factors were in London that drove him to violence.”

Investigators are now, in fact, turning a sharper and retrospective eye to the passage in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s life that began immediately after his summer in Sana, Yemen, in 2005, when he enrolled as a $25,000-a-year student at University College London. In recent days, officials in Washington and London have said they are focusing on the possibility that his London years, including his possible contacts with radical Muslim groups then, were decisive in turning him toward Islamic extremism.

That view, if confirmed, would offer a stark reaffirmation that Britain, the United States’ closest ally, poses a major threat to American security. Critics say the British security forces have failed to adequately monitor and restrain the Islamic militancy that thrives in the vast network of mosques that serve the nation’s 1.5 million Muslims, and on university campuses across the country where nearly 100,000 of the 500,000 students are Muslims, including many, like Mr. Abdulmutallab, from overseas.

Like the experiences of many of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, and the four suicide bombers who struck in the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London transit system, as well as Islamic militants involved in other terrorist plots in the past two decades, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s life in the British capital exposed him to contradictory influences that might have hastened his radicalization.

On one hand, there was the privilege of attending one of Britain’s most distinguished universities, University College, which was recently ranked the fourth best university in the world, after Harvard, Cambridge and Yale, in an annual survey conducted for Times Higher Education. Along with this, the Nigerian lived as few students in Britain can afford, in an apartment in an upscale mansion house within walking distance of the University College campus in London’s exclusive Bloomsbury district.

Details of what Mr. Abdulmutallab did out of class are emerging slowly, in part because he seems to have lived a Pimpernel’s life, moving in the shadows and disclosing little even to those who counted him as a friend. But one focus for investigators has been his activities in University College London’s Islamic Society, which he joined soon after enrolling at the university, perhaps partly as a refuge from the persistent loneliness he described in teenage postings on Islamic Web sites before he arrived in Britain.

Within a year in London, he was reveling in his role as the society’s president, sending an e-mail message to his Californian friend in August 2006 recounting what a “nice time” he was having and how “time has flown by” since he enrolled at University College and joined the society.

Left unsaid was the fact that Mr. Abdulmutallab had arrived in Britain at a time of unparalleled intellectual and religious fervor in Britain’s Muslim community in the wake of the July 7 attacks, which killed 56 people, including the four suicide bombers.

The bombers were British-born Muslims with no history of fundamentalist violence, were indoctrinated in mosques in Britain and on visits to Pakistan and had recorded “martyrdom videos” attributing their actions to Britain’s role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Mr. Abdulmutallab, whose personal abstinence and insistence on praying five times a day earned him the nickname Alfa, a term for Muslim clerics, when he was at an elite British boarding school in the West African state of Togo, the Islamic Society seems to have provided comfort. Judging from its Web site and videos of its gatherings posted on YouTube, the society has served in recent years as a forum for agitated debate about the “oppression” of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims by the United States and other Western countries.

The society’s guest speakers have included radical imams, former Guantánamo Bay prisoners and a cast of mostly left-wing, anti-American British politicians and human rights advocates. In January 2007, with Mr. Abdulmutallab as president, the society sponsored a “War on Terror Week” that was harshly critical of American conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Similar gatherings were being held on campuses in many parts of the world, including the United States, and the records of the one at University College offer no evidence by themselves that Mr. Abdulmutallab or his associates in the Islamic Society were promoting anything other than peaceful protest. That, in any case, is the account given by his successor as the society president, Mr. Rafiq.

“There were no signs of anything extreme at all when I met him,” Mr. Rafiq said. “He never mentioned anything like that. If I could go back in time and speak to him, ask him, I would. There was nothing to suggest that was in him when I knew him.”

As for off-campus activities, Mr. Rafiq said he liked to meet Mr. Abdulmutallab for Friday evening prayers at the Islamic Society’s campus prayer room, then walk to a nearby chicken-and-chips shop where they would eat and talk about their common enthusiasm for the Arsenal soccer club as well as Islamic Society business.

The profile offered by Mr. Rafiq fit with the descriptions from others who knew Mr. Abdulmutallab before he arrived in London. John McGuinness, 59, who was deputy head teacher at the Lomé school in Togo when Mr. Abdulmutallab graduated in 2005, described him as an impeccable student.

“He was very slim, and he had an angelic face, always smiling,” he said. “He was incredibly polite and very hard-working. He didn’t even talk in class.”

Along with this, Mr. McGuinness said, there was his unvarying devotion to Islam. “He would put references to Allah in the work he was doing,” he said. “ ‘God is great’ would be at the end of everything he wrote,” but Mr. McGuinness said this did not strike him as done out of any extremism.

A cousin of Mr. Abdulmutallab in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, also said there was no sign of Islamic radicalism when he was growing up. “He was a normal kid,” said the cousin, who asked that his name not be used because he did not want to anger Mr. Abdulmutallab’s family. “It was clear from his late teenage years that he was actually quite devoted to his faith. He never missed his prayers. We understand that he met some people who influenced him when he was in London.”

Investigators in London seem certain to cast their net beyond the campus, and one focus seems likely to be the London Muslim Center, in the capital’s heavily Muslim, mostly underclass district of Whitechapel. An article Tuesday in The Independent, a major London daily newspaper, said, without citing any sources, that Mr. Abdulmutallab had visited the Whitechapel center at least three times while he was a university student.

If they confirm a link between Mr. Abdulmutallab and the center, investigators most likely will focus on the center’s history of involvement with Muslim fundamentalists.

A particular interest will be its contacts with the American-born, Yemen-based preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, an extremist cleric with links to Al Qaeda who investigators have named as having exchanged e-mail messages with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood, Tex., military base in November. Earlier this year, Mr. Awlaki, who was banned from entering Britain, made a speech to worshipers at the Whitechapel center by video link from Yemen.



The Nigerian bomber, Abdulmutallab on the left with an unidentified person

December 28 2009
LAGOS, Nigeria

A young Nigerian man who allegedly tried to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight broke off contact from his worried parents only a few months before the attack, apparently trading a world of wealth for the calling of a jihadist. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab abruptly told his family he would abandon the life that took him from a $25,000-a-year private school in Togo to a degree at an illustrious London university. That message pushed his father, a prominent banker from Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north, to contact state security officials and later the U.S. Embassy in hopes of someone bringing home his missing son.

"We provided them with all the information required of us to enable them do this," a family statement read Monday, without elaborating.

Instead, the family said they awoke to news of the attempted Christmas Day attack on the Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight carrying 279 passengers and 11 crew members.

His family's wealth made Abdulmutallab an educated Nigerian expatriate, and he continued to travel after allegedly he turned to extremism. The 23-year-old told U.S. officials who arrested him after the failed attempt to bring down the plane that he had sought extremist training in Yemen. Nigerian officials said the man's round-trip plane ticket was bought on Dec. 16 in Accra, Ghana, for $2,831 in cash, presumably by Abdulmutallab himself.

Abdulmutallab had graduated from University College London in 2008 before heading to Dubai and later cutting his ties with his family, leaving loved ones back home struggling to learn how he had allegedly turned to ruthless extremism. "From very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern," the family's statement read.

A university campus in Dubai said Monday that the young man had been attending the school from January through the middle of this year. University of Wollongong in Dubai Vice President Raymi van der Spek told The Associated Press that Abdulmutallab took classes for "about seven months" before leaving the Australian public university. His whereabouts from then until December have not been confirmed. Abdulmutallab's father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, previously said he thought his son traveled to Yemen before the attack.

It's also a mystery what Abdulmutallab did over the eight days - including his birthday on Dec. 22 - after his ticket to Detroit was bought. On Dec. 24, Abdulmutallab re-entered Nigeria for only one day to board a flight in Lagos, local officials said. He walked through airport security carrying only a shoulder bag, with explosives hidden on his body, they said.

Abdulmutallab is being held in a federal prison in Michigan after suffering burns in the botched bombing. U.S. authorities have said he claimed to be carrying out an attack on orders from al-Qaida (web | news) .

In a statement released to reporters Monday, the family said Abdulmutallab's father reached out to Nigerian security forces about two months ago. The father followed up with officials at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria's capital, a month and a half ago. "We were hopeful that they would find and return him home," the statement read. "It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day."

A Nigerian police spokesman declined to comment, while officials with Nigeria's State Security Service could not be reached for comment Monday. A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja said he had no information on the father's efforts.

A U.S. official previously told the AP that the embassy shared the father's fears with liaison staffers from agencies like the FBI (web) , then passed the information to the State, Justice and Homeland Security departments. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation.

The family said Abdulmutallab's alleged attack came as a shock. As a boy, he attended the British School of Lome, a high-priced preparatory school in Togo. There, a security guard remembered him Monday as a good soccer player who also played basketball. Another staffer could only offer compliments. "I knew him and I even used him as a perfect example of a good student," said Rose Amegah, who works in the school's administration department. "Punctual, serious, but keeping to himself most of the times. Farouk was a brilliant student."

The family promised to cooperate with Nigerian and U.S. authorities as investigations continue. "We, along with the whole world, are thankful to almighty God that there were no lives lost in the incident," the statement read. "May God continue to protect us all, amen."

Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Ebow Godwin in Lome, Togo, contributed to this report.


Friday, December 18, 2009



On the left is President Barack Obama and on the right is Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska

Published: December 17, 2009

The White House and Senate Democratic leaders seem willing to give Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, just about anything he wants to win his support of major health care legislation. Anything, that is, but the item at the top of Mr. Nelson’s wish-list: air-tight restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions.

The bid to win Mr. Nelson’s support has become a race against the clock. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, has developed plans for a series of votes beginning at 1 a.m. Monday and round-the-clock Senate sessions intended to meet his deadline of completing the health care bill before Christmas.

But Mr. Reid is still at least one vote short of the 60 he needs to move the bill ahead, and as much as anyone, Mr. Nelson appears to hold the legislation’s fate in his hands.

Other Democrats, liberals as well as centrists, have not yet committed to vote for the bill. And the abortion provisions are just one of numerous concerns that Mr. Nelson has expressed about it. But the biggest obstacle seems to be his demand for tighter restrictions, which are being resisted fiercely by a bloc of senators who support abortion rights.

Mr. Nelson on Thursday issued a statement saying a compromise on abortion language drafted at his behest was “not sufficient.”

Asked by a home-state radio station on Thursday if Democrats could meet their deadline, Mr. Nelson said he did not think so.

“I can’t tell you that they couldn’t come up with something that would be satisfactory on abortion between now and then and solve all the other issues that I have raised to them,” he said. “But I don’t see how.”

Mr. Nelson, a former governor, state insurance commissioner and insurance company executive now serving his second Senate term, is the focus of increasingly intense entreaties by Mr. Reid and the White House. He has met personally with President Obama three times in the last nine days, and daily with Mr. Reid.

Pete Rouse, a senior White House adviser, has been assigned specifically to address Mr. Nelson’s concerns. Senator Bob Casey, a freshman Democrat from Pennsylvania and a prominent opponent of abortion rights, was tapped to devise some sort of compromise language on coverage for abortions to bring Mr. Nelson on board.

But Mr. Casey’s initial efforts have come up short, though he said he would keep trying. “I want to be a fountain of ideas on this topic,” he said.

To help divine Mr. Nelson’s thinking, a wide array of Democrats have reached out to him in recent days, including former Senators Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. In the calls, Mr. Nelson has not disclosed how he is leaning, but his friends say they can sense the pressure he is facing.

One potentially crucial factor is Mr. Nelson’s fondness for the president, his friends say. When he was running for re-election three years ago, there was only one Democratic Senate colleague he invited to Nebraska: Mr. Obama. A year later, Mr. Nelson was among the first senators to endorse Mr. Obama for president.

“You never like to disappoint a friend, but that friendship only goes so far,” Mr. Kerrey said. “I don’t think it will cause him to vote for the bill, if he believes on balance that the bill shouldn’t be passed.”

Mr. Nelson said that Mr. Obama “made a strong case” when they met one-on-one Tuesday, “but it remains to be seen if it was compelling.”

Still, at the White House and in the Capitol, no one can predict what Mr. Nelson will do if Mr. Reid pushes for a final vote, possibly on Christmas Eve. Mr. Nelson has said that at the moment he would vote no — and that abortion was only one of many concerns.

“There are other substantive issues,” Mr. Nelson said in the radio interview, with KLIN in Lincoln, Neb. But, speaking about abortion, he added, “That alone is a reason.”

Nebraska’s governor, Dave Heineman, a Republican, has written to Mr. Nelson urging him to oppose the bill because of proposed reductions in Medicare spending and also because of the cost to the state of a proposed expansion of Medicaid.

Mr. Nelson has said he wants to change the bill to let states decide if they want to expand Medicaid, though he has not suggested how very low-income people would otherwise gain insurance coverage. Democratic leaders said they were working on a compromise.

The abortion issue, though, is the central one.

Nebraska Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion lobbying group, has long supported Mr. Nelson, who is the only Democrat elected statewide in Nebraska.

“A Democrat has to walk a pretty fine line to survive in Nebraska,” said John R. Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “It is a pro-life state. More than that, the energy the pro-life community puts into races is impressive.”

Julie Schmit-Albin, the executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said the group was closely monitoring the situation in Washington. “We know he is under enormous pressure from both sides,” she said. “We’ve stood by him, and we’ve enjoyed a good working relationship.”

Mr. Nelson also has deep ties to the insurance industry, having worked as a general counsel and president of the Central National Insurance Company before becoming the executive vice president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

In trying to work out a deal on abortion, Mr. Casey said he had proposed stricter requirements for insurance plans to separate federal tax dollars from private premiums paid by subscribers so that no government money is used for abortions.

The fight over abortion arises because, under the bill, the federal government would take on new responsibilities for health care, subsidizing coverage for millions of people. At issue is whether policies bought with subsidies could cover abortions even if private premiums are separated.

Advocates of abortion rights say that women who now have insurance covering abortion could lose it under the restrictions that would be imposed under a health bill passed by the House last month.

“It’s something we never had to deal with before,” Mr. Casey said. “There is no model.”

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting.



By Jon Cohen and Jennifer Agiesta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 18, 2009

As President Obama arrives in Copenhagen hoping to seal an elusive deal on climate change, his approval rating on dealing with global warming has crumbled at home and there is broad opposition to spending taxpayer money to encourage developing nations to curtail their energy use, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There's also rising public doubt and growing political polarization about what scientists have to say on the environment, and a widespread perception that there is a lot of disagreement among scientists about whether global warming is happening.

But for all the challenges American policymakers have to overcome, nearly two-thirds of people surveyed say the federal government should regulate the release of greenhouse gases from sources like power plants, cars and factories in an effort to curb global warming. Last week the Environmental Protection Agency said it is putting together plans to control the emissions of six gases deemed dangerous to the environment and public.

Support for such a regulation is down 10 percentage points from June, but majorities of Americans remain supportive of such regulations even if they increased monthly bills, so long as they lower greenhouse gas levels. If energy bills jumped $10 a month, 60 percent back new limits; at $25 a month, it's 55 percent.

Most, however, oppose a widely floated proposal in which the United States and other industrialized countries would contribute $10 billion a year to help developing countries pay for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases they release. Overall, 57 percent of those polled oppose this idea; 39 percent support it. Most Republicans (74 percent) and independents (58 percent) are against this proposal, while a small majority of Democrats (54 percent) are supportive.

At the same time, there's growing negativity toward the president's handling of the broader global warming issue. Around the 100-day mark of Obama's presidency, 61 percent approved of the way he was dealing with the issue. Approval slumped to 54 percent in June and to 45 percent in the new poll.

The drop in Obama's ratings has been driven by a steep slump among political independents, who went from 62 percent positive in April to 36 percent now.

Scientists themselves also come in for more negative assessments in the poll, with four in 10 Americans now saying that they place little or no trust in what scientists have to say about the environment. That's up significantly in recent years. About 58 percent of Republicans now put little or no faith in scientists on the subject, double the number saying so in April 2007. Over this time frame, distrust among independents bumped up from 24 to 40 percent, while Democrats changed only marginally. Among seniors, the number of skeptics more than doubled, to 51 percent.

The declining confidence comes when the administration is trying to get momentum for an international pact on climate change, leveraging broad consensus among scientists that global warming is a real threat that demands immediate action. Another obstacle, however, is that relatively few of those polled perceive such an accord.

In fact, more than six in 10 Americans see a lot of disagreement among scientists on the issue of global warming. That's the view of nearly eight in 10 Republicans and about two-thirds of independents. A smaller majority of Democrats, 55 percent, see general agreement among the scientific community.

The poll was conducted by telephone Thursday through Sunday among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Thursday, December 17, 2009



Several hundred protesters march during a Climate No Borders demonstration in Copenhagen on Monday. Copenhagen is hosting the United Nations Climate Change Conference which ends on December 18. Photo/REUTERS

December 17 2009

Prospects for a strong U.N. climate change deal grew more remote at the climax of two years of talks, with developed and developing nations deadlocked on sharing cuts in greenhouse gases.

Dozens of heads of state were arriving in the Danish capital to address the December 7-18 conference, which is meant to sign a new pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions on Friday.

Ministers have struggled to craft a coherent text for the leaders to sign because they have so far failed to close a rift over how far developing world should join industrialized countries in cutting carbon emissions.

A Danish proposal to break the talks into smaller groups to speed up progress foundered on opposition from poor countries, backed by top greenhouse gas emitter China.

"There was no progress overnight in consultations on how to consult," said a source who declined to be identified.

"We are in serious trouble. There is hope that the arrival of Lula (Brazil) and the Chinese PM might unblock this."

China told participants it saw no possibility of achieving a detailed accord to tackle global warming, an official from another nation involved in the talks said early on Thursday.

The official, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters the Chinese had instead suggested issuing "a short political declaration of some sort," but it was not clear what that declaration would say.

China was still committed to the negotiations, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. Jiang told a regular news conference that "China hopes the Copenhagen meeting is successful, and has always taken a constructive attitude."

Talks on Wednesday had stalled after some developing nations rejected a proposal by the Danish hosts to try and simplify complex drafts by convening a small ministerial group to narrow long lists of negotiating options.

China also wanted all countries involved. Some developed nations ministers complained that the talks could be strangled on issues of procedure.

"People can kill this process, kill the agreement with process arguments. It is very dangerous at the moment," said Britain's energy and climate minister Ed Miliband late on Wednesday, declining to name any countries.


The Copenhagen summit is meant to agree a global climate deal, as a basis for agreement on a new treaty to succeed the existing Kyoto Protocol after 2012, to avoid dangerous climate change and drive a shift to a greener global economy less dependent on fossil fuels.

About 120 heads of state and government will join the talks on Thursday and Friday, with U.S. President Barack Obama planning to arrive on Friday morning.
Speakers are lined up to address the summit until the small hours of the morning, including political heavyweights such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

While the overall picture appears bleak, there has been some progress in areas critical to reaching a deal.

Africa dramatically scaled back its expectations for climate aid from rich nations on Wednesday, and Japan pledged about $11 billion in public funds to 2012 to help poor countries adapt to a warmer world and cut their emissions.

Substantial progress is stalled on sharing the cost of emissions cuts, and a disagreement over whether to craft one new climate treaty or extend the present Kyoto Protocol and add an extra pact involving more nations.

Kyoto binds the emissions of nearly 40 industrialized countries, but not the United States which never ratified the pact, and does not require action of developing nations.

Under a new deal, the United States wants international scrutiny of performance by developing nations against targets to slow growth in their emissions, something they have rejected.

(With extra reporting by Anna Ringstrom, Alister Doyle, Krittivas Mukherjee, Karin Jensen; Writing by Gerard Wynn; Editing by Janet McBride)



From left Gaddafi of the AU, Obama of USA,President of China and President of the European Union

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 17, 2009

China has told participants in the U.N.-sponsored climate talks that it cannot envision reaching an immediate, operational accord out of the negotiations here, according to an official involved in the talks.

Chinese officials conveyed the message early Thursday, the official added. It remains unclear what China would be willing to embrace instead of a robust political agreement."We have a very serious situation in Copenhagen," said Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren, whose country holds the EU presidency. "The EU contributes to and supports all efforts to have the process moving forward."

Chinese officials are now seeking a two-page agreement, said another source, who added that it is unclear what it might contain, although "you can get a lot into two pages."

The move signaled that the talks could be in serious trouble, just as 119 world leaders, including President Obama, were converging on Copenhagen to try to strike a deal to combat global warming. Officials from the United States and other developed countries have consistently said they cannot accept an agreement that does not include pledged emission reductions from major developing countries, as well as a method of verifying those cuts. Such language is essential to U.S. senators, who have yet to pass climate legislation and would have to ratify any future climate treaty.

The National Wildlife Federation's Jeremy Symons said the new development did not foreclose the possibility of a climate deal here. "The question on the table has been what will be put together between now and 2010, and how much gets done here in Copenhagen," Symons said. "I don't think this changes that dynamic. There is still plenty of time here for a good outcome, but the form of that is still unclear.
"The mood is unchanged -- [it is] challenging to find the right negotiating path and framework to match the determination of world leaders coming here," Symons added.

Jake Schmidt, who directs international climate policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the United States deserves part of the blame for the current impasse. "The lack of clarity about what the U.S. will actually do to reduce emissions is limiting what we can achieve here in Copenhagen," Schmidt said. "That is reflected in what China and other countries seem to think is possible here."

China's move came as Obama prepared to visit the historic climate conference amid signs Wednesday of a break in the impasse between rich and developing nations.

The United States and Japan agreed to make major contributions to the developing world to keep prospects of a deal alive. And the leader of a bloc of African nations said they would accept a smaller -- though still sizable -- package of financial aid, in return for going along with an agreement.

But tear gas hung in the air outside the conference center Wednesday, as protesters demanding faster and more stringent cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions clashed with police. And, inside, talks were slowed by disagreements within the developing world -- which has proved a more powerful, and more fractious, force than expected.

Some environmentalists expressed hope that Obama's appearance Friday, the final day of the 12-day talks, could help end the two chaotic weeks on a successful note.
"If the pieces are here, President Obama is the only person who can pull them together into an agreement," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. "We expect him to do so."

Even before the United Nations-led talks began, it was clear they would not deliver what environmental groups had initially hoped for: a global treaty on climate change, with high-emitting countries formally pledging to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions in the coming decades.

Instead, the goal was to sign a "political agreement," in which nations would pledge to tackle emissions but without making a binding commitment under international law. The understanding was that a formal treaty would come in 2010.

That goal still seemed within reach Wednesday, one day before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives to take part in the negotiations.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that it is typical of global conferences that some differences remain when heads of state arrive. Obama, who has made phone calls this week to the leaders of developed nations such as Germany and France and developing countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia, will be joining 118 other world leaders in the Danish capital.

"I think you've seen in some ways people say that . . . some of this is just going to get hashed out when leaders of these countries get here to start hashing it out," Gibbs said. "I think that's in many ways how some of this stuff happens. And I don't think that, in all honesty, that'll be a lot different here."

Compromise on money

In a moment that distilled the diplomatic dance in Copenhagen, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi -- who is representing all of Africa here -- unveiled his proposal Wednesday for a system in which rich countries would provide money to poor ones to help deal with the effects of climate change. The effects might include rising sea levels, droughts and changing rainfall patterns.

Zenawi said he would accept $30 billion a year in the short term, rising to $100 billion a year by 2020, for poor countries worldwide. This was seen as a key concession by developing countries, which had previously spurned that figure -- originally proposed by European countries -- as too low.

"It is no exaggeration that this is our best, and perhaps our last, chance to save our planet from destructive and unpredictable change," Zenawi said. "If we fail to rise above the current challenge of climate change, we will then have proved that global economic progress is based on a fundamentally dysfunctional political system."

Also Wednesday, Japanese officials said their country would provide $15 billion over the next three years to help impoverished countries adapt to climate change and lower their emissions. But that offer would be good, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Tetsuro Fukuyama said, only if a global agreement is reached this week.

"We have to move forward," Fukuyama said in an interview. "We have to have an agreement."

The United States has yet to say how much money, if any, it will offer to poor countries for this purpose. But on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced $1 billion in U.S. funding aimed at helping developing countries preserve their forests."These types of announcements are exactly what's needed to build trust for an ambitious outcome by the end of the week," said Andrew Deutz, who directs international climate policy for the group Nature Conservancy.

The progress made Wednesday was mainly with regard to just one of the sticking points: how much the rich nations should pay the poor ones. On other questions -- including to what extent industrialized and major developing countries should reduce emissions, and how to include these pledges in a global pact -- the talks only inched forward.

Points of Contention

On Wednesday, for instance, rich and developing countries were disagreeing about the starting point for that debate.

The European Union, Japan, Australia, Russia and Canada want to scrap the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, because the United States and China did not join in its pledges to cut emissions, and start with a new document. But a bloc of poorer countries wants to make the next agreement a formal sequel to the one in Kyoto, which binds most developed countries to emission cuts and provides some financing for poor ones.

On Wednesday, many developing countries walked out of negotiations over that disagreement. Selwin Hart, a delegate from Barbados and a member of what the United Nations calls the Group of 77, even though it boasts 130 countries, said the Kyoto deal offers "legal certainty" that industrialized countries will keep cutting their carbon dioxide output.

The G-77 has played a significant role in shaping the debate here. But as the conference moves closer to a deal, serious fissures have erupted inside this group.

The oil-producing countries of Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Sudan have pressed for some kind of compensation if a global crackdown on carbon dioxide emissions puts a crimp on their exports. China, trying to hold on to its "developing" status despite its rise as a global power, has opposed the idea of incorporating its voluntary climate targets in an international agreement.

And Bolivian President Evo Morales told delegates Wednesday that rich countries should pay climate "reparations" and that the world should try to limit warming to less than the 3.6-degree rise that other leaders have agreed to.

"End the slavery of Mother Earth," Morales said at a news conference. "She's now the slave of capitalist countries."

Washington Post staff writer David A. Fahrenthold contributed to this report.



Below:Afrikaners gathered Wednesday at a monument near Pretoria for a holiday honoring white settlement.On the left above: bowing to anempty tomb symbolizing the resting place of those Afrikaaners who died in the struggle against Zulus

The 16th of December was once a day of rival holidays in South Africa. Afrikaners, the descendants of white settlers, celebrated the Day of the Vow, a covenant said to be made between their ancestors and God in 1838 that led to the slaughter of 3,000 Zulus. Blacks celebrated on the same day to mark the start of armed struggle against apartheid in 1961. With the arrival of multiracial democracy in 1994, lawmakers proclaimed Dec. 16 a Day of Reconciliation, a time of national unity for all races. But most Afrikaners have found it hard to set aside their own holiday. At the Voortrekker Monument near Pretoria on Wednesday, thousands of them gathered to observe the Day of the Vow.

Published: December 16, 2009
PRETORIA, South Africa

The 16th of December was once a day of rival holidays here, two opposing flows of memory colliding at a junction. Afrikaners, the descendants of white settlers, celebrated the Day of the Vow, a covenant said to be made between their ancestors and God in 1838 that led to the slaughter of 3,000 Zulus. Blacks commemorated the same day on the calendar, marking the start of armed struggle against the apartheid regime by the African National Congress in 1961.

With the arrival of multiracial democracy in 1994, lawmakers considered it wise to maintain Dec. 16 as a holiday, proclaiming it a Day of Reconciliation, a time for all races to come together in the spirit of national unity.

But 15 years later, that happily-ever-after ending is a long way off, and the ideal of a rainbow nation now seems little more than a deft turn of phrase. According to a poll released last week by the highly regarded Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, 31 percent of South Africans believe that race relations have not improved since the end of apartheid, and 16 percent actually think they have gotten worse. (About 50 percent said relations had improved.)

As for the holiday itself, most Afrikaners have found it hard to set aside one of their most sacred occasions, and on Wednesday, thousands of them gathered, as they do every year, inside the marble chamber of a mammoth granite monument near Pretoria. The structure is a shrine to the Great Trek, when white pioneers migrated north with their ox-drawn wagons and ramrod-loading muskets, completing a conquest they saw as the fulfillment of a divine mission.

“The Day of Reconciliation may be a good idea, but for Afrikaners, the Day of the Vow is still what’s in our hearts,” said Johan de Beer, 46, a teacher waiting on the steps for the gates of the monument to open in the early morning. “This is a religious holiday that is based on our people’s history.”

In his inauguration address, Nelson Mandela spoke of a covenant of his own, longing for “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.” Viewers of the new American movie “Invictus” might be tempted to conclude that such racial harmony prevailed in the aftermath of a long-shot upset in a rugby game.

The recent survey results would probably stun someone who went to sleep during apartheid and awakened in the present. After all, blacks not only control the government, they mingle in the finest restaurants and swankiest malls. The so-called black diamonds include liberation struggle heroes who have been welcomed into the boardrooms of the nation’s largest corporations.

But while South Africa is the continent’s wealthiest country, income inequality here remains among the worst in the world. About 29 percent of blacks are unemployed, compared with 5 percent of whites, according to recent figures. When statistics include discouraged workers — dropouts from the labor force — the jobless rate climbs to nearly 50 percent. Most of the unemployed have never held a single job, according to a study by a panel of international economists.

The recent poll results also showed that nearly one in four South Africans never speaks to people of other races in a typical day. “In the upper income groups there is a lot of integration, but very little among the poor,” said Fanie du Toit, the executive director of the institute that released the poll. “About 40 to 50 percent of blacks are slum dwellers or rural people who never come in contact with whites.”

At the Voortrekker Monument, among those celebrating the Day of the Vow, barely a black person was in sight but for the men in blue uniforms picking up the trash. “I don’t know anything about their holiday,” said one of those workers, Elias Selema.

The earliest attendees took seats beneath the monument’s dome in the main hall, a huge room encircled by friezes made from Italian marble that depict the epic migration. Others sat a level below, surrounding the cenotaph, the empty tomb that is the symbolic resting place of those who died during the trek. Still more took seats on the surrounding lawns and in the gardens.

“This is my day of thanksgiving,” said Callie van Merwe, an 89-year-old woman dressed in the loose frock and white cotton bonnet of a settler. She added: “Today is a happy time, but I feel bad about the future. This country is changing, changing too much.”

There are several versions of the Day of the Vow and the Battle of Blood River that followed. The historical record is one-sided, and no doubt the retellings lend themselves to myth. One historian, Leonard Thompson, has said the mythology came to serve a political purpose, used to justify the racial oppression of apartheid as God’s will.

In the story’s most common rendition, a brigade of 468 voortrekkers, or pioneers, and about 60 of their slaves set out to avenge hundreds of deaths at the hands of the Zulus. Their leader, Andries Pretorius, cleverly selected a place to camp that was protected by a steep ravine and the Ncome River, which broadened at that spot into a deep hippopotamus pool.

Preceding the Zulu attack that was sure to come, the trekkers came together to recite a vow. In part it read, “If he will protect us and give our enemy into our hand, we shall keep this day and date every year as a day of thanksgiving like a Sabbath, and that we shall erect a church in his honor.”

The Afrikaners chained their covered wagons together, placing barbed shrubs beneath them. Wave after wave of Zulus charged, trying to use their short spears in close combat, but instead dying in heaps as smoke rose from muskets and cannons. As the story goes, 3,000 Zulus died while the trekkers suffered only three injuries. So many warriors fell dead in the Ncome it then became known as Blood River.

“We believe it was God’s will to have Christians lead the way in this land,” said Lukas de Kock, one of the leaders of Wednesday’s worship. “On that day, the Day of the Vow, God made a clear statement that this was his will for South Africa.”

The reading of the vow is one of the two most solemn moments of the prayer service. The other comes precisely at midday as families lean over the parapets that overlook the cenotaph.

Careful calculations were made by the monument’s designers, and exactly at noon on each Dec. 16, the sun shines through a small opening in the dome, alighting on the empty tomb 138 feet below and yet again signaling for many that it was the Lord’s will that the land be theirs.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 17, 2009, on page A8 of the New York edition.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009



Manto, the late South African Health Minister in two different pauses

By Mike Cohen
South Africa
Dec. 16 2009

South Africa’s former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who drew international condemnation for encouraging AIDS patients to use beetroot and olive oil to stop the advance of the disease, died today. She was 69.

“I can confirm that she passed away earlier today,” Nosipho Ntwanambi, deputy president of the ruling African National Congress’s Women’s League, said by phone from Cape Town. Tshabalala-Msimang died in a Johannesburg hospital from complications related to a liver transplant, she said.

Tshabalala-Msimang was named health minister by former President Thabo Mbeki in 1999 and echoed his skepticism of the causal link between the HIV virus and AIDS, a relationship long accepted as fact by most mainstream scientists. She refused to take a public AIDS test, saying this was “a private matter,” and questioned the safety of drugs proven to prolong the lives of those infected with AIDS.

An estimated 5.7 million South Africans are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, according to UNAIDS.

Tshabalala-Msimang lost her job as health minister in September 2008 after Mbeki was ousted by the ANC. She was replaced by Barbara Hogan, and appointed as Minister in the Presidency. She was axed from the cabinet when Jacob Zuma became president in May 2009.

‘Transformation Agenda’

“At the time of her death she was serving as the National Executive Committee member of the ANC, a leadership role that she has been active in for many years,” the ANC said in an e- mailed statement. “Her death has robbed the ANC of a truly committed cadre and stalwart to the transformation agenda.”

Born in Emfume, a village south of Durban on South Africa’s eastern coast, Tshabalala-Msimang joined the ANC, which led the fight against apartheid rule, in her early 20s.

She left the country in 1962, spending the next 28 years in exile, studying medicine at the First Leningrad University in the Soviet Union and a masters degree in public health at Belgium’s University of Antwerpen. She worked as a doctor in Tanzania and Botswana and helped draft the ANC’s health policies.

When all-white rule ended in 1994 and the ANC took power she became a lawmaker, chairing the National Assembly’s health committee. She was named deputy justice minister by then- President Nelson Mandela in 1996.

As health minister, Tshabalala-Msimang also drove through more stringent tobacco laws that banned smoking in most public places. Rules limiting the mark-ups pharmacists could charge on drugs were also introduced during her tenure.
SAfrica ex-health boss dies; touted garlic for HIV

2. By CELEAN JACOBSON (AP) – 23 minutes ago
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa's former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who gained notoriety for her dogged promotion of lemons, garlic and olive oil to treat AIDS, has died. She was 69.

The ruling African National Congress said Tshabalala-Msimang died in a Johannesburg hospital Wednesday from complications related to a 2007 liver transplant. Media outlets said she was possibly undergoing tests for a possible second transplant when she died.

Tshabalala-Msimang's disastrous HIV policies during her nine years in office made her the most unpopular government minister in post-apartheid South Africa. She was ridiculed locally and internationally and nicknamed "Dr. Beetroot" — another one of her suggested AIDS remedies — and "Dr. Garlic."

However, she was responsible for some advances. She improved basic services in rural areas, forced down the price of medicine, tried to stem the exodus of doctors and nurses to rich countries, and was one of the driving forces behind a global anti-tobacco treaty.

A former anti-apartheid activist, she spent nearly 30 years in exile.
"We pay homage to this gallant fighter and will forever treasure the contribution she made in the struggle for liberation and the building of our democracy," the ANC said in a statement.

Tshabalala-Msimang had a loyal defender in her close friend, former President Thabo Mbeki, partly because of his own doubts about the link between HIV and AIDS. She was replaced in 2008 after Mbeki was ousted by the ANC.

Tshabalala-Msimang and Mbeki have been blamed for not preventing over 300,000 deaths, according to Harvard University study. There have been calls by activists for them to be charged with genocide.

South Africa, a nation of about 50 million, has the world's largest number of HIV cases with some 5.7 million people infected with the virus.
The country's two subsequent health ministers have won praise for breaking with Tshabalala-Msimang's confrontational approach.

Reaction to Tshabalala-Msimang's death was muted and sympathetic.
"We don't wish ill on any human being even though we had a very difficult time with her as minister of health," Vuyiseka Dubula of the Treatment Action Campaign, a group she often clashed with, told the South African Press Association.

AIDS activists blamed Tshabalala-Msimang for spreading confusion about AIDS. They won a landmark court case against the ministry in 2002 to force it to provide pregnant women with drugs to stop them infecting their unborn child; and in 2003 to give antiretroviral therapy to people in the more advanced stages of the disease.
Tshabalala-Msimang repeatedly stressed her mistrust of antiretroviral medicine, saying too little was known about the side effects.

"All I am bombarded about is antiretrovirals, antiretrovirals," she said at a 2005 media conference. "There are other things we can be assisted in doing to respond to HIV/AIDS in this country."

Tshabalala-Msimang's recommendation was to use nutritional remedies such as olive oil, the African potato, beetroot, garlic and lemon.
"Raw garlic and a skin of the lemon — not only do they give you a beautiful face and skin but they also protect you from disease," she said.

Her views — which made her a favorite target for cartoonists — reflected mistrust in traditional African societies of "Western" remedies and earned her loyal supporters.
She shrugged off constant calls for her resignation, which reached a crescendo at the August 2006 international AIDS conference in Toronto, where the South African stand featured displays of garlic and lemons.

In a devastating speech to the conference, the then-United Nations envoy for AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, slammed the government's policies as "more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state."
Tshabalala-Msimang continued as a cabinet minister under the caretaker presidency of Kgalema Motlanthe who replaced Mbeki. But she was not given a post after President Jacob Zuma was elected earlier this year.

However, she remained on the ANC's national executive committee.
Tshabalala-Msimang was born near Durban Oct. 9, 1940. She completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Fort Hare in 1962 — just after the African National Congress was banned — and shortly after that was ordered into exile with 27 other students who had been singled out for their leadership potential.

When she said she was leaving for exile, her mother implored: "Please do something for me if I should never see you again — become a medical doctor," according to the Department of Health.

Tshabalala-Msimang graduated from the First Leningrad Medical Institute and then went on to gain a Masters degree in Public Health from the University of Antwerp in Belgium. She worked at hospitals in Tanzania and Botswana and returned to South Africa as apartheid was crumbling in 1990.

She was elected to parliament at the first democratic multiparty elections in 1994, was named deputy justice minister in 1996 and health minister in June 1989.
She was married to Mendi Msimang, a former ANC treasurer, and had two daughters.
Funeral details have not yet been announced.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



Museveni snd Queen Elizabeth on the left, Opposition leaders on the right

Kampala, Uganda

Five major opposition political parties yesterday signed a new protocol for cooperation, agreeing to field a joint presidential candidate in the 2011 general elections.

As the opposition leaders signed the protocol in Ndeeba, a Kampala suburb, Justice Minister Khiddu Makubuya formally presented a set of bills for amendments to electoral laws in Parliament.

Forum for Democratic Change president Kiiza Besigye, Ms Miria Obote of the Uganda People’s Congress, Mr Kibirige Mayanja of Justice Forum-JEEMA and Conservative Party’s Ken Lukyamuzi signed the protocol.

In the 17-page memorandum of understanding which they said was an addition to the one signed on August 5 last year, the leaders agreed that individual cooperating parties will go through their own process of selecting a flag bearer, who then will be put in a joint pool to select the joint candidate.

Opposition Party Presidents L-R Kizza Besigye Forum for Democratic Change John Ken Lukyamuzi Conservative, Miria Obote Uganda People's Congress and Kibirige Mayanja of Justice Forum raise hands as a sign of solidarity after signing the Inter Party Protocol at Pope Paul II memorial Hotel on Tuesday. PHOTO BY STEPHEN OTAGE

“The IPC Electoral Affairs Committee and Summit shall by consensus select one candidate and recommend him or her to the National Conference,” reads the protocol in part.

The protocol also establishes structures for a joint National Conference of the cooperating parties in many cases going an extra mile to accommodate as many interests as possible.

The national conference for example, which will be the supreme organ of the co-operation, will comprise 50 members nominated by each party and district chairpersons of the parties. It will convene at least once a year.

Structures for appeal and arbitration have been established in the new protocol.

In the event that no consensus is reached by the IPC, the matter will be put to vote in the IPC Electoral Affairs Committee.

The opposition leaders agreed that the same procedure that will be employed in selecting a presidential candidate will be extended to parliamentary and other local grassroots elections meaning that each of the cooperating parties will not necessarily field candidates for all available seats in general local and national elections.

Long journey

The parties have been working hard to muscle enough strength to check President Museveni’s hold on to power. Mr Museveni, who is certain to emerge as the ruling NRM candidate, will have been in power for 25 years in 2011.

His main challenger in the last two elections, former personal physician Dr Besigye, said the effort was not to show weakness of the individual parties but in a way acknowledged the challenge the opposition faces.

“In fact each party here can defeat Museveni’s NRM but we are here to demonstrate that we are not competing with NRM alone but a military regime,” Dr Besigye said, adding: “And 2011 will not be an election but a liberation process.”

The new protocol does not take away major challenges facing the opposition as key potential partners continued to run on the outside track. The Democratic Party for example has declined to join the cooperation and some members of the signatory parties are still unconvinced of the joint strategies.

Opposition parties first attempted to cooperate in 1996 under the Inter-Party Political Forces but the idea fell short. In 2001, a more loose alliance was built without signed MoUs while in 2006, the first multi- party election in over two decades had all parties fielding individual candidates.

But Ms Obote, who took over at the rotational IPC summit, described the new protocol as a landmark.

“This occasion today is meant to re-energise and consolidate our resolve to provide new political leadership and direction to our nation to cause positive change by the power of the people,” she said.



on the left Zenawi of Ethiopia, on the right, Gaddafi the AU Chairman

Copenhagen, Denmark
Wednesday, December 16 2009

African negotiators have backed proposals to establish a 30 billion US dollar ‘start up fund’ to enable developing countries plan for ambitious programmes to tackle climate change over the next three years.

But the negotiators are however suggesting that 40 per cent of the funds be reserved for the continent, which has so far bore the greatest brunt of global warming, despite its little contribution.

These funds, they say, should be administered by the African Development Bank, under a board of trustees.

The proposals were read out by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, on behalf of African countries, even as the high level summit of the ongoing climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark entered its second day.

More than 150 heads of state and government including President Kibaki are attending the talks that end of Friday.

Said Mr Zenawi; “I therefore ask for the immediate establishment of a committee of experts to work out the finer details on how this will be achieved.”

He went on; “We want to do so with a view to launching the fund by the time of the next G-20 summit to ensure that the funds are quickly disbursed thereafter.”

The Ethiopian PM said that in the long run, funding for adaptation and mitigation measures for developing countries will be scaled up. According to their proposals, this should take effect by 2013, where they expect funding to hit 50 billion dollars per annum and that it be increased to 100 billion per annum by 2020.

He said; “The UN climate change secretariat should mandate a commission of political leaders and experts to review all such funding mechanisms to achieve our targets and to submit its report within six months,” said Mr Zenawi.

Reports also indicate that the continent was rooting for countries to adopt an ambitious agreement limiting the increase in temperatures to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels as had been recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But his proposals elicited sharp reactions from members of the African civil society attending the conference, who said it will spell doom for the future of the continent.

"The IPCC science is clear - 2 degrees is 3.5 degrees in Africa – this is death to millions of Africans” said Mithika Mwenda, the coordinator of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance.

"If Prime Minister Meles wants to sell out the lives and hopes of Africans for a pittance - he is welcome to - but that is not Africa's position" he added.
His sentiments were also echoed by his colleague Mr Augustine Njamnshi who said; "Every other African country has committed to policy based on the science. That means at least 45 percent cuts by rich countries by 2020 and it means 400 US billion US dollars fast-track finance not 10 billion dollars."

"You cannot say you are proposing a 'solution' to climate change if your solutions will see millions of Africans die and if the poor not the polluters keep paying for climate change," he added.

However, Mr Zenawi in an apparent response said he was aware that his proposals would ‘disappoint’ many who had had asked for the full compensation of the damage done to the continent’s development prospects.“My proposal dramatically scales back our expectations with regards to the level of funding in return for more reliable funding and a seat at the table in the management of the funds,” he said.

“Africa looses more than most if there’s no agreement on climate change…because we have more to loose that others, we have to be prepared to be flexible and go the extra mile to accommodate others. This is what my proposal intends to achieve,” he said.

He went on; “There should not be any doubt about our eagerness to compromise and cut a deal. But such flexibility on our part should not be confused with desperation…we are determined to make sure that we have an agreement where everyone is happy.”



On the left, Queen Elizabeth and Yoweri Museveni. On the right, Queen Elizabeth the Head of the Commonwealth

By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
December 15, 2009

I have read revelations how deals were cut and executed during the CHOGM conference in Kampala a few years ago. The fact that to this date, Ugandan parliament is still hell bent on getting to the bottom of the scandal is a measure of maturity, tolerance and even transparency on the part of the executive.

The CHOGM story reads like a familiar one in Kenya. We have had our fair share of such type spanning over twenty years. The storyline is pretty familiar. There is an international conference in the offing. The organizers decide very early that there are no resources or manpower and technology to carry out such an assignment. However, the government insists the conference must go on. And here is where smart Alecks emerge from the woodworks. They develop a foolproof document complete with a budget appended for government consideration.

In most cases it is argued that the gathering such as the CHOGM is a goldmine for tourists in the country. So many heads of state and their delegations gathering in our capitals will help spruce up our dented image abroad. More importantly is the economic angle inserted in the document. Apart from millions of dollars that will be left behind by foreign delegates, it will be an opportunity to showcase our tourist and investment potentials. When the government sees the positive figures projected after the conference, it goes on overdrive.

The next face of this type of scam sees government functionaries colluding with influential power brokers. They put up a team that will source expertise outside our boundaries. Together they will quote figures to pay for foreign expertise and technology not available locally. In all these scams, figures are quoted in the usual US dollars for ease of funds transfer. In worse situations like the Ugandan CHOGM, tax payers are made to pay for UBC equipment in US dollars that are hired by the same foreigners for a song then they collect their dollars and disappear.

However, the Ugandan case can be rated as much better than Kenyan examples.
In the mid 1980s, Kenya offered to host the All Africa Games in Nairobi. To do this, the country decided that the games in Nairobi would surpass all other games held in Africa.

And in his wisdom, the then Minister for Sports advertised for an international marketing firm to market the games. What we had was an American, a Mr. Dick Berg who claimed to have marketed the Olympics and even some other World Cup tournaments in Europe and South America. When the man was hired, he rented an entire floor of a five star hotel in the center of Nairobi, all expenses paid for by the government of Kenya. The man even promised Kenyans top American artists to grace the occasion. And to his credit, he brought Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, never mind that nobody knew Jermaine as much as his brother Michael in this part of the world.

However Mr. Berg disappeared mysteriously before the games leaving a trail of debts to the Kenya government. To this day nobody knows what happened to the millions he collected from sponsors and advertisers.

What makes the Kenyan story sound like the CHOGM in Uganda are the details of the deal! In both cases, some cash was paid upfront even before the deal was signed. In both cases there were locals that headhunted and connived with foreigners to defraud the public. Foreigners never know when we have big meetings. We look them up to help us steal from our people.

The fact that the details of the CHOGM saga are coming out in the open and are freely being debated, we must use this as a vital lesson and possibly the beginning of dealing with highly placed individuals in our systems. Ugandans must be congratulated for going this far with the probe. For us the Dick Berg story died a natural death without a whimper from our parliament.

However, for this to be a learning experience for the rest of East Africa, President Museveni must muscle the courage to rise above the normal expectation. He must take to task the players that conspired, most probably in his name, with foreigners to steal Ugandan taxpayer’s cash using fraudulent means. The South Africans who pretended to import OB vans because there were none in Uganda then turned round to use the local UBC vans must be pursued by Interpol and prosecuted on Ugandan soil.

Those Ugandans allegedly close to President Museveni must not take cover in the presidency. They must be hauled in courts together with their conspirators to face justice and refund the cash they fraudulently received during the CHOGM Conference. If Ugandans don’t arrest this impunity, they will go the way of Kenyans where thieves of public funds such as Anglo Leasing and Golden Berg scams are happy to walk the streets of Nairobi and autograph children’s books!



On the left, ODM group, in the middle, Church activists and on the right PNU group
By Jerry Okungu
December 14, 2009

As we move to the Christmas season and New Year celebrations, it is about time we gave politics a break and focused on the little things that matter to us most; love for one another.

As we mark the birth of Jesus Christ, let the spirit of good will to all mankind be visited upon us too, let the peaceful wind of love, joy and caring blow across our land from coast to the lake and from our mountains , valleys and deserts.

This is our time to reflect and take stock of our actions in various fields and assess our performance in our various tasks and relations with one another. And there are many areas we need to look at to determine how we have performed.

Much as we want a new constitution that has sapped most of our energies in the last three or so months, there are other equally important areas that we may need to look at again.

This year has been a hard one for many in our country. The failed rains meant that most parts of the country had not enough food to eat. In many parts of our country, we lost our brothers and sisters due to acute food shortage. Others perished along with their animals due to devastating drought. Much as we tried to raise foodstuff, funds and other basic necessities, to some, the help we strove to provide came a little too late. It is our hope that disaster managers in our country have learnt vital lessons from this year’s experience and are planning to be more prepared next time we are faced with such predictable calamities.

On the security front, the Mungikis were as unrelenting as ever. Despite massive security deployment in Central Province, we still lost many valuable Kenyans due to unnecessary bloodletting. This Christmas season should help us to see the folly of killing one another and the need to live together as the children of one true God. More importantly, now that the Mungiki leader has been baptized, it is our hope that the message of goodwill will spread to the rest of Maina Njenga’s followers so that they stop taking the lives of innocent Kenyans.

While still on security; we cannot forget the many lives lost in recent months to cattle rustling bandits in Northern and Eastern parts of Kenya. The killings in Isiolo, Samburu and West Pokot need not have taken place had our security system been functional to its maximum capacity. Again, we can only hope that we have drawn vital lessons that will come in handy in the coming years.

As we break for the festive season when we expect to be merry, let us give a moment’s silence and thought to those of our brothers, sisters and children still in IDP camps or those newly evicted from Mau forests and are still camped on the roadsides. As our hearts go to them for whatever reason, let us share with them the little we have; a blanket here, a meal there and a cloth to cover their backs. This in my opinion is the true spirit of Christmas season.

In the spirit of Christ’s teachings, let us give politics a break and join hands in songs of praise to the God of all mankind. Let the squabbles in ODM, PNU and ODMK go silent. Let early 2012campaigns ease off and rival political rallies be turned into Christmas festivals. Fatigued Kenyans badly need this break!

In this season, let us for once celebrate the New Year without the usual senseless road carnage, matatu madness and deafening public prayers in our parks and market places. Let us be dignified enough to worship God without shouting at Him.

This season, let the wealthy churches that have been collecting millions of funds from their followers show their true Christian worth by truly sharing God’s blessings with the poor and the less fortunate. Let us see the true spirit of Jesus Christ on display this season when the men of the cloth will lead the way in giving back their year’s blessings.

Let us also dedicate our prayers to our Speaker of Parliament, the two principals of our Coalition Government and judges and parliamentarians to see the virtue of paying taxes like ordinary Kenyans. Let us pray that they will see the moral principle that real patriots give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar like Jesus encouraged his Jewish audiences to do. It is only through fair taxation shall we have moral authority to govern our people and demand services from our government.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!



On the left, Kenyan parliament in session. In the middle, the stomach of a typical MP while on the right is the Speaker of Kenyan parliament, Hon Marende

By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
December 14, 2009

As the public debate on the draft constitution draws to a close, there are fears that ODM and PNU are ganging up to have a common stand on what the new constitution should contain and discard. One of the clauses they are conspiring to expunge is the recall clause that threatens to cut short the life of non-performing MPs rather than wait for five years before sending such no-performers packing. The other one targeted for expunging is the clause that compels all Kenyans including the President to pay their taxes.

As a Kenyan, I’m drawing my inspiration from the draft’s preamble that bestows the making of this constitution upon me. To me”we the people of Kenya” means ordinary people with power to choose parliament and the executive every five years. If it is we who have the powers to produce this document then it is about time we told MPs and other arms of government to shut up and let us produce the document of our choice and liking.

When we embarked on this umpteenth journey to produce a new constitution under Kofi Annan’s Agenda 4, the understanding was that once nine wise men known as the Committee of Experts were selected, they would go about doing their business without interference or undue influence from the political and interests groups because such interference especially from MPs and religious groups was the reason we flopped in constitution making in 2005.

Right now religious leaders are busy beating drums about things that matter least to ordinary Kenyans. They are busy poisoning our minds with issues on the Kadhi’s courts, family values and the right to life. In each of these issues, they have introduced strange clauses that are nowhere in the draft. They have invented contentious issues and inserted them in the draft to make it look like there are problems.

To illustrate my point, let me tell you what the draft says about the Kadhi’s courts. It does not say anything about entrenching the Kadhi’s Courts in the new constitution. It says that the Kadhi’s courts will remain in our judicial system as they have been since 1963. This status quo has never given ordinary Kenyans any headache and it never will. Why some morally bankrupt churches have an issue with it beats logic.

On the issue of family life, the draft is very clear that every adult Kenyan will have the right to get married to another adult of the opposite sex. However, some churches are reading permissiveness in the clause claiming that it allows adults of the same sex to get married. Where they get that interpretation is difficult to fathom.

However the most bizarre argument is on the clause that deals with the right to life. In this chapter, Christians have strained to introduce a clause that does not feature anywhere in the draft. That clause struggles to claim that this draft allows for abortion thus denying human beings the right to life.

But what is obnoxious about their argument is that even if the life of a mother is in danger, no abortion should take place! More bizarre is the argument that even if a nine year old child gets pregnant, the parents have no right to terminate the pregnancy! This heretic belief in the sanctity of life while destroying the life of a nine year old is what makes non believers think that some churches may not be worshipping the true God but some cult that neither cares nor feels for the suffering souls in our midst.

Kenyans must be more than weary of some Christian churches and the political class, especially the sitting members of parliament. We must not allow them to repeat what they did to us in 2005. In 2005, the NCCK worked round the clock to defeat the Bomas draft and went ahead to campaign for a section of the political class to pass the Wako draft. When the church failed, its leaders ganged up two years later to derail the 2007 elections. Although they have publicly apologized, we know they have not repented and that is why like in 2005, they have hurriedly come up with their parallel draft.

It is easy to deal with churches at the referendum the way they were dealt with at the 2005 referendum because the numbers they proclaim to have are nonexistent. Kenyans never vote along religious lines. If that were the case, Pastor Muiru would be Kenya’s president today. At the polls, “millions” of his followers ended up being 800 on the presidential ballot, not enough even to win a parliamentary seat.

As for MPs ganging up to water down the people’s draft, let them know that Kenyans are watching keenly. If they dilute it to suit their whims, we will reject the draft and punish them individually at the 2012 polls.
That is the way it is!