International Womens Day 2010 : Chronology of Women’s Rights from Clara Zetkin to Angela Merkel

Posted on 8 March 2010. Filed under: Affirmative Action, Governance |

The right to vote and hold a political office is a fairly recent development for women. Read a timeline charting the milestones in equal rights for women from Clara Zetkin to Angela Merkel.

The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911 as a way to attract attention to the cause of gender equality. In the nearly 100 years since the day’s inception, the women’s rights movement has made significant inroads.

In 1919 at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, the groundwork for the first International Women’s Day was established. The annual conference, which was attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries representing unions, socialist parties and working women’s clubs, agreed to the plans drafted by Clara Zetkin to set aside the same day every year in every country to draw attention to the women’s rights movement. Zetkin, the head of the “Women’s Office” of the Social Democratic Party in Germany, argued that a special day was necessary to unite the efforts of women around the world in pursuing their equal rights.

March 19, 1911: first International Women’s Day. The 19th of March was originally selected to coincide with the anniversary of Germany’s 1848 revolution, when the Prussian king was forced to recognize the rights of the general population, including the introduction of voting rights for women — a promise he failed to keep. In 1913 the date was moved forward to March 8.

1975: During International Women’s Year, March 8 was officially recognized by the United Nations as International Women’s Day. The day is marked by a public holiday in China, Vietnam, Russia and several post-Soviet states.

Voting rights

1869: British MP John Stuart Mill is the first person in Parliament to call for women’s rights to vote.

1893: New Zealand, at the time a British territory, grants women the right to vote.

1902: The newly established Commonwealth of Australia, which had just obtained independence from Britain a year earlier, becomes the first sovereign state to introduce voting rights for women.

1906: Finland is the first European country to allow women to vote. Russian women achieve this right in 1917; German women in 1919.

1920: The US passes the 19th Amendment giving women complete voting rights on the federal level.

1928: The United Kingdom grants women the right to vote. In 1934, Turkey introduces women’s voting rights. In 1944, with the help of the Allies, France is liberated from Nazi Germany and introduces voting rights for women. India passes its first constitution and allows women to vote. Afghanistan introduces voting for women in 1963, but the right is taken away under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001.

1971: Switzerland becomes one of the last countries in Europe to grant general voting rights for women. In 1984 the Duchy of Lichtenstein follows suit.

2005: Kuwait allows women to vote for the first time in general elections. Saudi Arabia and Brunei do not allow women to vote.

Political office

1966: The feminist organization NOW (National Organization for Women) is founded in the US by activist and feminist author Betty Friedan. It quickly leads to the establishment of political activist groups throughout Europe and the Western world.

1966: Indira Gandhi becomes India’s first woman prime minister. Twelve years later, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto becomes the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.

1979: Britain’s Margaret Thatcher is elected as the western world’s first woman prime minister.

2005: Liberia’s Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf becomes Africa’s first elected woman head of state.

2005: Angela Merkel is elected German chancellor. She is the first woman to hold this position and has been ranked by Forbes magazine as the most powerful woman in the world for the last four years. She was reelected in 2009.

2008: Hillary Clinton launches campaign for the US presidency. Had she been elected she would have been the first woman president.

Related: Kenya mark international Women’s day 2010

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Historic UN Climate Change Conference Kicks off in Copenhagen

Posted on 8 December 2009. Filed under: Environment, Governance |

Copenhagen (Denmark), 7 December 2009 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicked off today in Copenhagen with a strong sense of confidence that countries can seal a comprehensive, ambitious and effective international climate change deal in Demark and with an unprecedented sense of urgency to act on climate change.

The highly anticipated conference marks an historic turning point on how the world confronts climate change, an issue with profound implications for the health and prosperity of all people.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced that 110 heads of state and government will attend the conference at its conclusion.

The Prime Minister pointed to the fact that climate change knows no borders. “It does not discriminate, it affects us all,” he said. “And we are here today because we are all committed to take action. That is our common point of departure – the magnitude of the challenge before us is to translate this political will into a strong political approach,” he added.

The two-week meeting, the fifteenth Conference of the 193 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the fifth meeting of the 189 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, is the culmination of a process set in motion in Bali, where Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to conclude negotiations on a new global deal in Denmark in 2009.

As the conference kicked off, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report with Lord Nicholas Stern showing that the gap between countries’ strongest proposed cuts and what is needed may be only a few billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner arrived in Copenhagen on 5 December with the CO2-free Climate Express , a train from Brussels that brought together more than 400 activists, environmentalists and business leaders to discuss the challenges ahead to tackle climate change.

Other passengers on the train included James Leape, Director General of WWF and Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the International Union of Railways. The Climate Express was welcomed upon arrival in Copenhagen by the new Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Lykke Friis, Søren Eriksen, CEO of the Danish Railways (DSB), and Kim Carstensen, Leader of WWF International’s Global Climate Initiative.

Upon arrival in Copenhagen, Mr Steiner opened the UNEP Climate Maze, a giant labyrinth in the city centre made up of hundreds of cloth banners stamped and signed by Seal the Deal! campaign supporters. The accompanying photo exhibition, Hard Rain, is a stark exploration of the state of our planet and its people at this critical time.

The urgency to act in Copenhagen was underscored by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who told the conference that global emissions would need to peak by 2015 for the world to stay below a two degrees Celsius temperature rise. “The costs of responding to climate change will become progressively higher as time goes on, therefore we must take action now,” he said.

“We have reached the deadline and there is no going back”, said newly elected COP President and Danish COP 15 Minister Connie Hedegaard. “Copenhagen will be the city of the three C’s: ‘Cooperation’, Commitment’ and ‘Consensus’. Now is the time to capture the moment and conclude a truly ambitious global deal. This is our chance. If we miss this opportunity, we will not get a better one,” she said.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said there was unprecedented political momentum for a deal.

“World leaders are calling for an agreement that offers serious emission limitation goals and that captures the provision of significant financial and technological support to developing countries,” he said. “At the same time, Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action that begins the day the conference ends.”

According to the UN’s top climate change official, negotiators must focus on solid and practical proposals that will unleash prompt action on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries and capacity-building.

Yvo de Boer spoke of three layers of action that governments must agree to by the end of the conference: fast and effective implementation of immediate action on climate change; ambitious commitments to cut and limit emissions, including start-up funding and a long-term funding commitment; and a long-term shared vision on a low-emissions future for all.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an aggregate emission reduction by industrialised countries of between minus 25% and 40% over 1990 levels would be required by 2020 in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with global emissions falling by at least 50% by 2050. Even under this scenario, there would be an only a 50% chance of avoiding the most catastrophic consequences.

“Industrialised countries meeting under the Kyoto Protocol need to raise the level of ambition of developed countries with regard to individual targets and the need to make rapid progress on the tools and rules that developed countries can use to reach their targets, such as carbon market mechanisms, land use and land use change and new gases,” said Yvo de Boer.

The UNFCCC working groups starting Monday will have six days to conclude negotiations before the Ministerial High Level Segment starts 16 December.

Ministers will then in turn have two days to take any unresolved issues forward before the more than 100 world leaders arrive the evening of 17 December. This means a total of eight negotiating days to prepare a workable package that consists of both immediate and long-term components which leaders can endorse on 18 December.

More than 15,000 participants, including government delegates from 193 Parties to the UNFCCC and representatives from business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions, are attending the two-week gathering.

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Kenya Threatened by New Urban Disaster

Posted on 24 September 2009. Filed under: Governance, Lifestyle, Refugees/ IDPs |

Rapid urbanization is changing the face of poverty in Kenya

“If the government does not acknowledge this crisis, it will get even worse. Failure to address this now will leave Kenya paying for generations to come.”

Philippa Crosland Taylor Head of Oxfam GB, Kenya

Kenya is facing a new urban timebomb, with millions of Nairobi residents suffering a daily struggle for food and water as the divide between rich and poor widens, international aid agency Oxfam warned in a new report today. A combination of falling household income, rising prices, and poor governance is making life a misery for the poor majority in Kenya’s capital, the report on ‘Urban Poverty and Vulnerability in Kenya’ said.

Rapid urbanization is changing the face of poverty in Kenya. Nairobi’s population is set to nearly double to almost six million by 2025, and 60% of residents live in slums with no or limited access to even the most basic services such as clean water, sanitation, housing, education and healthcare. Whereas the starkest poverty has previously been found in remote rural areas, within the next ten years half of all poor Kenyans will be in towns and cities.

“An increasingly disenfranchised and poverty-stricken urban underclass is set to be the country’s defining crisis over the next decade, unless the Kenyan government and international donors act urgently to address it. Nairobi is fast becoming a divided society where the gap between rich and poor is now similar to the levels of inequality in Johannesburg at the end of apartheid. It is a city of a small minority of ‘haves’ and millions of ‘have nothings’,” said Philippa Crosland Taylor, head of Oxfam GB in Kenya.

Children in Nairobi slums are now some of the least healthy in the country, the report found. In some parts of the city, infant mortality rates are double those of poor rural areas, and half of young children suffer from acute respiratory infections and stunted growth. Acute child malnutrition is a growing concern.

The urban crisis has intensified over the past year, with people now earning less but having to pay more to survive. Household incomes have fallen due to the global economic crisis, with casual and long-term work harder to find as companies scale down. Meanwhile, the price of staple foods such as maize has more than doubled in the past year, with 90% of poor families forced to reduce the amount of food they eat as a result.

With drought devastating much of Kenya, the water crisis in Nairobi is one of the most severe in the country. Cholera cases have recently been reported and are expected to increase as almost 90% of slum dwellers have no piped clean water. Forced to buy from commercial street vendors, the poorest people often have to pay the highest prices – the report found that some poor communities pay eight times as much for water as wealthier communities in the same city.

Oxfam said the Kenyan government has repeatedly ignored the growing magnitude of the urban crisis, and urged it to invest more funds and resources in improving life for the most vulnerable residents of Nairobi’s slums. Projects that improve access to clean water and sanitation, and boost people’s income, are most urgently needed. International donors, who have tended to focus exclusively on rural poverty, also need to recognize the scale of the urban problem, the agency said.

“Just a few miles away from the country’s parliament and State House, poor families are living in breathtaking poverty, scouring the streets for scraps of food and queuing for hours for water they can barely afford. If the government does not acknowledge this crisis, it will get even worse. Failure to address this now will leave Kenya paying for generations to come,” said Crosland-Taylor.

The report warned that the rising urban inequality is creating a huge underclass with serious consequences for the country’s security and social fabric. The struggle to survive has forced some of the most vulnerable people into crime and high-risk occupations such as prostitution. Frustrated youth are increasingly turning to violence, and with Kenya still extremely politically volatile following the 2007/08 post-election violence, the risk of ethnically-linked clashes in Nairobi’s slums is being exacerbated by the growing resentment over inequality and desperate living conditions.

“Having enough food to eat and clean, safe water is one of the most basic human rights, yet in Nairobi it is increasingly only for the rich minority. Nairobi is one of the biggest and most prestigious cities in East Africa, yet it is crumbling before our eyes,” said Crosland-Taylor.

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New Code of Practice in Kenya Protects HIV+ Employees

Posted on 23 July 2009. Filed under: Governance, MDGs, Public Health |

“Your CV is great. But we need your HIV test”

NAIROBI, 22 July 2009 (PlusNews) – When Doreen Aluoch*, 32, got a job as a chef at a leading hotel in Kenya four years ago, she was told she had to have a medical examination before she could be employed, but she did not know that the routine checkup would include an HIV test.

“I was taken to the clinic and my stool, urine and blood samples were taken. I was shocked when I was told that I cannot work as a chef because I had HIV, yet nobody even bothered to tell me that I was undergoing an HIV test,” she said.

“I am now running my own restaurant and I perform just like anybody else, and there are many people like me in every sector. Even people who know my HIV status eat at my restaurant and none of them has ever come to tell me he or she contracted HIV because they ate food cooked by me. If one should not be employed because they are HIV positive, then equally even somebody having about of malaria or hypertension is not fit to work either.”

The Federation of Kenya Employers, in conjunction with the International Labour Organization, the Ministry of Labour, the National AIDS Control Council and other bodies in the Kenyan labour sector have instituted a new code of practice that prohibits employers from compelling employees and prospective employees from undergoing HIV tests without consent.

Applicants selected for a job are routinely given medical tests to ensure that they are healthy and qualify for insurance cover. Employers of people with medical conditions such as hypertension and HIV have to pay higher insurance premiums.

“There is nothing wrong with an employer asking for medical examination results from an employee, because this helps them help the employee manage their health conditions better,” said Jacqueline Mugo, executive director of the Federation of Kenya Employers.

“[But] we are saying it is wrong to use this, and specifically in relation to HIV and AIDS, to deny one employment opportunity so long as they are fit to work. It is immoral to single out HIV as a reason for denying one employment.”

Patchy implementation of workplace policies

''It is immoral to single out HIV as a reason for denying one employment''

She noted that “While 60 percent of employers in Kenya have HIV and AIDS policies, they vary in nature and we envisage that this code of practice will act as a guideline, and set the ground rules for employers in implementing workplace and world of work HIV policies.”

Irene Opiyo, a labour policy consultant, said most employers did not want to employ people living with HIV because they perceived them as unproductive, and would increase the company’s health care costs. She called on the government to draw up labour legislation regarding HIV and crack down on companies with discriminatory policies.

In July 2008, a woman won a landmark case in the Kenyan High Court when she sued her employer for dismissing her on the basis of her HIV status, and her doctor for revealing her HIV tests results without her consent.

In the only case of its kind in Kenya, the court awarded the former waitress US$35,000 and ruled that it was unlawful to end a person’s employment on the basis of being HIV positive.

AIDS activist William Kundi told IRIN/PlusNews that the new code of practice was long overdue. “Some employers do not even tell you the reason they are not employing you, and only tell you that you are not fit to work. It is traumatizing and … stops those who are positive … from revealing their status.”

The new code will help organizations in the management, care and treatment of employees living with HIV, and will also help them set up HIV-related interventions in places of work.

“I believe this is the best place to reach them [employees] with HIV-related messages, like those that promote reduction of stigma, abstinence and faithfulness,” said Mugo. “Employers must work closely with employees to reduce stigma at the workplace to increase productivity of employees.”

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Playing At Home is Safer

Posted on 16 April 2009. Filed under: Governance, Lifestyle, MDGs, Public Health |

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons
Two-thirds of HIV-positive Kenyans are either married or cohabiting

(PlusNews) – Marriage is not a safe haven from HIV; in fact, the pandemic is spreading rapidly among married people in Kenya. This is the core message of a new campaign to discourage extramarital sex.

“Wacha mpango wa kando; epuka ukimwi” – Swahili for “stop relationships on the side; avoid HIV” – is the name of the initiative developed by Population Services International (PSI), a social marketing organisation, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme, and the National AIDS Control Council.

“Our campaign is necessitated by the increasing number of infections in marriages,” said Lucy Maikweki, deputy director of HIV and communication at PSI.

Print ads warn cheating married people that their “spare wheel” could have their own spare wheel, who could also have a spare wheel, who could be HIV-positive, putting the whole chain in jeopardy.

A series of TV spots feature a couple sitting in their living room watching a televised HIV message on fidelity. The woman is warned that if her husband is very secretive with his phone, it may be because he is cheating. The man is warned that if the woman is keen to change the channel when the HIV message comes on, she may be hiding something.

According to the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator Survey, in 10 percent of monogamous couples and 14 percent of polygamous unions at least one partner is HIV positive, while two-thirds of HIV-infected Kenyans are in stable relationships.

“There are signs of an increased number of discordant couples [where only one partner is HIV-positive], which is a clear indicator of rising levels of infidelity in marriage and other long-term sexual relationships,” Maikweki said.

A 2007 study by Kenya’s University of Nairobi found that 17 percent of men surveyed and eight percent of women reported having extramarital relationships.

''I trust the woman I go out with and so that advert is not meant for me''

PSI’s campaign targets men like Joshua Omondi*, an upwardly mobile sales representative who says he is happily married but gets bored with the monotony of a single sexual partner. For the past year, he has been having a relationship with a young university student.

“I cannot be with my wife every day … I just need a break from the family boredom, so we meet in a night club every weekend where we have a good time and later get to spend a night somewhere; after that I go home to my wife and children,” he told IRIN/PlusNews.

Omondi does not use condoms with either his wife or mistress. “Initially [my girlfriend] and I used a condom while having sex but we later stopped because I thought I could trust her enough,” he said. “Using a condom with my wife when I get back home is unthinkable, because that will definitely lead to mistrust.”

Maikweki said many people involved in extramarital affairs did not use condoms for similar reasons. “There is some false sense of trust over time,” she said.

The “wacha mpango wa kando” campaign also encourages couples to be tested for HIV, not just at the start of a relationship, but well into marriage and other long-term relationships.

Omondi has seen the campaign, but is ambivalent about its message. “The campaign is a good one, but, you see, I trust the woman I go out with and so that advert is not meant for me,” he said. “After all, it encourages sticking to my wife, which I am not ready to do anytime soon.”

Read more:
Where does married love fit into Uganda’s prevention plan?
Sharing more than just the matrimonial bed
Love in the time of HIV/AIDS

PSI is conducting a survey to assess the impact of the campaign, but it appears to be having a positive effect on Agatha, a married woman who admits to having lovers besides her husband.

“The new TV campaign strikes you when you watch it,” she said. “You have the feeling you should use a condom with an extramarital partner.”

*Not his real name

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KENYA: Changing Lifestyles Put Indigenous Communities at Risk

Posted on 27 February 2009. Filed under: Governance, Lifestyle, MDGs, Public Health |

The Ogiek have battled eviction from their home in Mau Forest for decades

MAU FOREST, 23 February 2009 (PlusNews) – One of East Africa’s last remaining hunter-gatherer communities, the Ogiek people, has largely remained separate from the rest of society, but NGOs warn that their ignorance and isolation from HIV/AIDS prevention efforts could heighten their vulnerability to the virus.

According to the Centre for Minority Rights and Development (CEMIRIDE), an NGO promoting the rights of indigenous peoples in Kenya, total ignorance of HIV among the Ogiek is not uncommon.

“There are no HIV campaigns at all directed at the Ogiek … the government do not even have statistics about the prevalence amongst them,” said Pattita Tiongoi, a programme officer with CEMIRIDE.

“The disease is penetrating through the Ogiek because of displacement, which has seen them mingle with their infected cosmopolitan neighbours like the Maasai and the Kalenjin.”

Napuoyo Moibei*, who thinks she is about 35 years old, was evicted from the Mau forest in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province several years ago and took up employment on a nearby wheat farm to make ends meet.

“The money was little, and with children and no husband, my option was to have sex with men from other communities who lived in the nearby trading centres,” she told IRIN/PlusNews.

Moibei’s husband passed away three years ago, and she recently discovered that she too was HIV-positive. “I had never heard about the disease called AIDS until I got sick and was almost dying,” she said. “The wife of my employer sympathised with me and took me to Nakuru for treatment.”

“I still do not know much, except that I have to go for drugs [life-prolonging antiretroviral medication] in Nakuru to live – that is what the nurse told me.”

''I had never heard about the disease called AIDS until I got sick and was almost dying''

With no knowledge about the virus, Moibei was unable to protect herself. “I do not know even how a condom looks like,” she said.

Experts say there is an urgent need to start HIV awareness campaigns targeting the Ogiek population of around 20,000, especially as more of them leave the forest for urban settlements and rural plantations, where they interact with higher-prevalence communities.

A study by the Minority Rights Group International and CEMIRIDE found that sex work was increasing as single-parent girls and women sought to fend for themselves, leading to the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

“The initial lifestyle of being confined to the forest kind of shielded the Ogiek from HIV spread, but that lifestyle has been disrupted due to displacement,” CEMIRIDE’s Tiongoi said. “This is a small group of people that can easily be wiped out by [HIV] in just a few generations.”

According to Daniel Kobei, executive director of the Ogiek People’s Development Programme, HIV and other health issues have been sidelined as the government and NGOs focused on other Ogiek issues such as landlessness and poverty.

Kobei noted that very few Ogiek were literate, which meant they could not benefit from traditional HIV campaigns and would need specially created messages; health services would also have to be brought nearer the forest to reach the people still living there.

“Those who seek medical help have to come all the way to Nakuru, which is almost 40 kilometres away from where they are; it is a tiring walk for one who is living with the virus,” he said.

Most Ogiek still live in the Rift Valley, which has an HIV prevalence of seven percent, slightly lower than the national average of 7.4 percent.

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New Atlas Maps a Blueprint for Kenya’s Green Development

Posted on 17 February 2009. Filed under: Environment, Governance |

25th Session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum 16-20 February

Kenya Atlas of our changing environment

Kenya Atlas of our changing environment

Kenya’s chances of realizing its 2030 vision will depend increasingly on the way the country manages its natural or nature-based assets, a new satellite-based atlas concludes.

Many of these economic assets are coming under rising pressure: from shrinking tea-growing areas to disappearing lakes, increasing loss of tree cover in water catchments and proliferating mosquito breeding grounds, environmental degradation is taking its toll on Kenya’s present and future development opportunities.

Thus improved and more creative management is urgently needed to translate the aspiration, to the realizing of Vision 2030.

These are among the key conclusions of the new 168-page Atlas produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at the request of the Government of Kenya.

Kenya: Atlas of Our Changing Environment was launched today by Kenyan Environment Minister John Michuki and UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

It is the first-ever publication of its kind to document environmental change in an individual country, through the use of dozens of satellite images spanning the last three decades.

The request for the Atlas, funded by Norway and supported by the United States Geological Survey, follows the launch last June in Johannesburg of Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment at a meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.

Mr Steiner said: “The Kenya Atlas shows both the diversity and the fragility of the country’s natural assets which are at the heart of the nation’s socio-economic development. It highlights some success stories of environmental management around the country, but it also puts the spotlight on major environmental challenges including deforestation, soil erosion and coastal degradation.”

“The Atlas makes a strong case that investments in green infrastructure within a Green Economy can bring it closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Atlas is for the government and for all Kenyans who want to see transformational change and a path out of poverty to prosperity by sustainably realizing this country’s true development potential,” he added.

Some of the key findings of the Kenya Atlas include:

* The nation has increased the proportion of land area protected for biological diversity from 12.1 percent in 1990 to 12.7 percent (about 75 238 km2) in 2007.

* The land available per person in Kenya has dropped from 7.2 hectares per person in 1960 to just 1.7 ha per person in 2005 due to the rapid population growth of the last few decades. There are now 38 million inhabitants in Kenya, up from just eight million in 1960. The population is expected to keep rising, and land available per person is projected to drop to 0.3 ha per person by 2050.

* Five water towers – Mau Forest Complex, Aberdares Range, Mt. Elgon, Cherangani Hills and Kakamega Forest – are critical as water catchments, vital for tourism, and hence towards achieving Kenya’s vision 2030

* The rivers flowing from the Mau Complex are the lifeline for major tourism destinations including the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park. In 2007, revenues from entry fees alone amounted to Ksh. 650 million (US$ 8.2 million at today’s exchange rate) and Ksh. 513 million (US$ 6.3 million at today’s exchange rate) for the Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru respectively.

* A temperature rise of just 2 degrees Celsius would make large areas of Kenya unsuitable for growing tea, which accounts for 22 percent of the country’s total export earnings. Some 400,000 smallholder farmers grow 60 percent of Kenyan tea.

* Rapid population growth coupled with conversion of land cover within Lake Olbollosat’s catchment is posing a huge threat to the lake which has periodically dried up and then come back to life in the past. There is concern that the increasing number of pressures may mean that if it dries up again, it could be the end of Lake Olbollosat.

* The value of soil lost due to erosion in Kenya each year is three to four times as high as the annual income from tourism. In 2007, earnings from tourism totaled 65.4 billion Kenyan Shillings (or more than US$ 824 million at today’s exchange rate).

* Forest loss increases key health risks such as malaria. Research in the western district of Kisii shows that old natural habitats with a greater diversity of mosquito predators – such as dragonflies and beetles – have a lower density of mosquitoes. Intact forests also have less breeding sites for mosquitoes. Thus conserving forests has multiple economic benefits from soil stabilization, improved water supplies, more reliable hydro-power and tourism to health ones including reducing the risk of malaria epidemics.

* The Cherangani Hills have seen less forest loss than the other “water tower” forests in recent years and significant areas of indigenous forest remain. Monitoring and careful management are needed to preserve these valuable assets.

From Maasai Mara to Lake Turkana – Kenyan ecosystems under pressure

The Atlas’s before-and-after satellite images in this Atlas vividly document the environmental change in 30 locations across Kenya since 1973 including:

* The Mau Forest Complex, a key water catchment is being deforested at an alarming rate due to charcoal production, logging, encroachment and settlements. One quarter of the Mau forest – some 100,000 hectares – has been destroyed since 2000.

* Large scale, uncontrolled, irregular, or illegal human activities like charcoal production, logging, settlements, and crop cultivation, among others, caused devastation within the Aberdares range. The construction of a fence around the Aberdare Range has reduced/stopped uncontrolled, irregular, or illegal human activities within the forest, as well as human wildlife conflicts

* The Atlas underlines the kinds of economic and environmental choices facing policy-makers. For example it notes that the vast ecotourism potential of the Aberdare National Park remains largely untapped, with just 50,000 visitors per year on average.

* Large mechanized wheat farms in the area surrounding the Maasai Mara have expanded by 1,000 percent between 1975 and 1995, most of them on the Loita Plains, significantly reducing the available natural grasslands in this important habitat for wildebeest-a key economic species in terms of tourism.

* Between 1973 and 2006, almost half of the natural vegetation cover around Lake Nakuru, another big tourism attraction not least for its pink flamingoes, was lost. The satellite pictures show a clear degradation of forest cover west of the lake, partly due to the excision of 350 square kilometers of forest in 2001.

* Lakes across the country are under intensified pressure, with Lake Naivasha struggling to cope with the expansion of settlements and flower farms in the towns of Naivasha and Karagita; Lake Turkana losing water through a combination of decreased rainfall, increased upstream diversion and increased evaporation due to higher temperatures.

* Prosopis – a terrestrial shrub- has blocked pathways, altered river courses, taken over farmlands, and suppressed other fodder species in the areas around Lake Baringo since the 1980s.

* Some estimates suggest that about half of the mangroves on Kenya’s coast have been lost over the past 50 years due to the overexploitation of wood products and conversion to salt-panning, agriculture and other uses.

Towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and Vision 2030

According to the data presented in the Atlas, Kenya has made some important strides towards achieving some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – with notable headway in the fight against poverty, the provision of universal education and the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Yet challenges remain for Kenya on the road to achieving environmental sustainability, notably limited government capacity for environmental management and insufficient institutional and legal frameworks for enforcement and coordination.

The Atlas notes that deforestation, land degradation and water pollution are some of the challenges Kenya needs to address to achieve MDG7, ‘Ensure Environmental Sustainability’.

One key finding of the Atlas is that achieving environmental sustainability is fundamental to achieving all the MDGs. Environmental resources and conditions have a significant impact on many aspects of poverty and development.

“One of the most powerful ways to help achieve the first MDG – eradicate extreme poverty and hunger – is to ensure that environmental quality and quantity is maintained in the long term,” the authors say.

For instance, poor people often depend on natural resources and ecosystems for income; time spent collecting water and fuelwood by children can reduce the time at school; and environment-related diseases such as diarrhoea, acute respiratory infection, leukemia and childhood cancer are primary causes of child mortality.

“Vision 2030, with its ambitious development blueprint, is a key opportunity for the Kenyan Government to address environmental challenges as a key element underpinning the country’s sustainability and development,” concludes the Atlas.

Links: Kenya Atlas of Our Changing Environment

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Official PEV Camps Closed But IDPs Still Struggling

Posted on 11 February 2009. Filed under: Governance, Humanitarian, Insecurity |

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
The Kanamker IDP camp on the outskirts of Lowdar town

LODWAR, 11 February 2009 (IRIN) – A year after election-related violence rocked Kenya, hundreds of displaced families are still living in temporary shelters in small camps in Rift Valley province.

The government sought to close all camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) by the end of last year, following operation “Rudi Nyumbani” [Go back home] in June.

Some IDP families received resettlement packages and bought land. But others are waiting to return home or are still officially displaced.

Describing themselves as “self-help groups”, the families in Naivasha, near Nairobi, for example, live in tented or wooden and iron-sheet-covered shelters, saying they lack sufficient money to build better homes.

Njenga Miiri, District Commissioner in Nakuru, said after several relocation sites were set up and some displaced people helped to buy land, government efforts were directed at peace-building and reconciliation.

Map of the Rift Valley

The sites, which dot the province from Maai Mahiu, about 70km south of Nairobi, to the arid Turkana areas 700km north-west of the capital, still exist, despite efforts by the government and its humanitarian partners to resettle all the displaced in 2008.

In the North Rift – covering the districts of Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia West, Nandi North, Nandi South, Kwanza, Turbo and Mt Elgon – two government-recognised IDP camps remain. There are 72 transit sites.

Thirty of these are in Uasin Gishu, according to the Eldoret sub-office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kenya. The displaced who returned to Trans Nzoia East and Koibatek have, however, been fully integrated and transit sites closed.

Resource problems

Those trying to settle on land they have purchased complain of neglect. In Naivasha’s Jikaze self-help site, water is a problem. Jikaze’s 145 households comprise former IDPs who pooled their resettlement funds to purchase land away from their original homes.

Spokesman Mohammed Ngugi said most of the families came from Naivasha showground camp. Each now owns a small plot in the new settlement.

“The major problem is a lack of water; we rely on hired donkeys to ferry water from distances up to 7km away, although we had been promised that water would be trucked to us regularly,” Ngugi said.

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
A group of young men sit by empty water at their new settlement in Mai Mahiu, Naivasha District. They settled in the area after almost one year of being in an IDP camp in Naivasha town

Local well-wishers have offered Jikaze at least 60 acres for farming, but the IDPs lack funds to hire a tractor for ploughing. “Some people have donated seeds but we are unable to plant,” Ngugi said. “If we got a tractor, we would farm and sustain ourselves instead of relying on relief food.”

A group in Nakuru that had been living with relatives and friends but had now pitched camp near the district commissioner’s office said they were waiting for government help.

“When we sought refuge at the Nakuru agricultural showground we found it already congested and the officials there said if we could stay with friends and relatives, our case would be considered later,” Ann Nyambura, from Kipkelion in the South Rift, told IRIN.

But now their relatives could no longer accommodate them, and the 150 families had clashed with the administration.

“These people did not stay in camps but they are now putting pressure on the government to consider their case,” Miiri said. “We have undertaken a filtering process and have managed to remove some of the genuine cases but the number keeps increasing.”

At Eldoret showground, the IDP camp was still open on 7 February, with the government and partners making efforts to have it closed by March. OCHA-Kenya said 33 families had left the camp in recent weeks to return home.


Shelter is just one problem. In Turkana, north-western Kenya, food is the key challenge. The area – comprising Turkana Central, Turkana East and Turkana South districts – is arid and gripped by severe food shortages.

Photo: Keishamaza Rukikaire/IRIN
Njenga Miiri, Nakuru District Commissioner

While election violence was not experienced in Turkana, hundreds of IDPs live in camps like Kanamkemer on the outskirts of Lodwar town.

“One year later, we are still in camps; here we are 2,987 people and there are other camps in the district,” Joshua Ebei, Kanamkemer camp chairman, said. “We did not fight each other [so] we cannot talk of reconciliation among ourselves. We were working for those who were evicted [but] we cannot return there as our employers are not fully resettled.”

Government officials, he added, had in the meantime allocated them land to settle but the Kanamkemer area lacked water.

“In the face of the current food shortages, we would not survive in our new plots if we moved there,” he told IRIN on 7 February. “For now we will remain under the generosity of the Reformed Church [the owners of the land], the Catholic Church and other agencies.”

The Reformed Church has, however, given the IDPs two months’ notice. “When this period expires, what will happen to us?” Ebei asked. “If water was provided at the land allocated to us, we would move there tomorrow.”

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Kenya in Dire Need of a National Environmental Policy

Posted on 27 January 2009. Filed under: Environment, Governance |

Countries around the world are pursuing environmental management at various levels and employing a range of strategies. However, available evidence suggests that environmental policy in developing countries remains largely incoherent. Developing countries need rationalized environmental policies. These are lacking mainly because poverty and socioeconomic needs are often seen as more pressing than the need for environmental controls. How to balance these is a major challenge. Kenya, in particular, is faced with diverse and complex environmental challenges and has been struggling to resolve these, mainly because it has been operating without a national environmental policy. As the country strives to accelerate the pace of development, environmental concerns have become more evident. This is further compounded by the difficulties of placing an economic value on natural resources. Meanwhile the continuing deterioration of Kenya’s environment has precipitated a number of hazards that have long-term irreversible damage. The adverse impacts of deforestation, particularly where natural ecosystems are involved, are widely recognized. The planned forest clearance, which has gotten underway in several areas of the Mount Kenya, the Nandi forests and the Mau Forest, is to benefit mainly local loggers, squatters and tea growers. Similarly, out of the justifiable need to create more jobs and enhance economic development, policy makers and planners often ignore the potential negative effects that various developments cause to the environment – a situation exacerbated by the rapidly growing population.

In Kenya, policy making and the whole planning process has tended to fall short of the expectations. It was in post independence Kenya that the government was to create an equitable structure that would support the efficient utilization of available resources. However, the country’s first two development plans for the periods 1965 -1974 had no explicit mention of environmental policy. Nonetheless, the policy makers acknowledged the role of forests and water catchment areas, wildlife management and the mining sector as valuable natural resources.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, the environmental concerns gradually shifted to controlling human behavior with a view to achieving a balance between the development needs of the nation and enhancing the management of the environment. It is during this period that the government began the implementation of Structural Adjustment Programs. For instance, government stepped up efforts to strengthen institutions tasked with the responsibility of assessing and monitoring environmental changes that were likely to have harmful effects in the future. This was the first attempt by the government to apply the principles of environmental impact assessment (EIA).

The enactment of the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) No.8 1999 that served as the main framework environment law, was among the steps in the country’s commitment towards environmental sustenance. This notwithstanding, an evaluation of the EMCA discloses that there are inadequacies in the Act in that it only addresses issues of environmental management in a sectional spectrum. As Kenya’s principal legal instrument on the environment, the EMCA is expected to address all aspects of the procedural and substantive process in relation to environment and development, including law enforcement and monitoring of compliance. However, strategies to achieve this have not been fully developed or implemented. Different factors that have contributed to these situations include:

  • lack of institutional capacity and resources to mobilize and link activities effectively within and between sectors,
  • specific environmental sectoral laws that do not adequately articulate the links between development, population and environmental concerns; and more often conflict with the EMCA, and
  • limited budgetary provisions to finance the effective implementation of environmental programs set out in national development plans.

In this regard, a more resolute solution would be the formulation of the National Environmental Policy whose primary objective would be to ensure compliance and enforcement of the law. Such a policy would also harmonize all approaches towards environmental management and strengthen cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination.

Currently, a far-reaching initiative towards an elaborate national environmental policy is contained in the Sessional Paper No. 6 of 1999 on Environment and Development. It advocates for the integration of environmental concerns into the national planning and management processes and provides guidelines for environmental sustainable development. The challenge of the document and guidelines is to critically link the implementation framework with statutory bodies namely, the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenya Forestry Service (KFS); the Public Complaints Committee (PCC) and the National Environmental Tribunal (NET).

A review of all the relevant regulatory and structural frameworks is therefore necessary in order to develop an implementation strategy that will ensure cross-sectoral relations within the various government agencies. In addition, while there have been positive efforts to date, there is an apparent lack of coordination, commitment and the political will to ensure that sectoral policies are implemented and adhered to. Most importantly though, is to have the National Environmental Policy that will harmonize the sectoral policies.

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Kenya to Host World Environment Ministers

Posted on 27 January 2009. Filed under: Environment, Governance |

More than one hundred Environment Ministers are set to meet in Nairobi on 16 to 20 February 2009 for the United Nations Environment Programme’s annual Governing Council meeting.

The high-level meeting comes on the heels of an eventful year which saw further evidence of global warming, food shortages and the worst financial crisis in years. The ministers meet amid growing calls for a Global Green New Deal – a new approach to the economy that focuses on green growth and investments in natural and nature-based resources.

Issues on the table include:

  • The green economy and green growth
  • Climate change and the ongoing talks towards a new international agreement in Copenhagen in December 2009
  • Mercury – ministers will discuss policy options for an international response to global mercury pollution
  • The food crisis
  • The Olympic Games and the environment
  • An overview of the key environmental issues of the day including ecosystem management, resource efficiency and environmental governance.

Media are welcome to attend the daily press conferences with UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner as well as ministers and other environmental leaders.

Media accreditation will open on Wednesday 11 February at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

To register, download the form from and bring your documents to the GC Accreditation Desk at the UNEP Visitors’ Pavilion. The Accreditation Desk will be open every day from 11 to 19 February, 8:30am-1pm.

The full schedule of Governing Council press conferences and media events will be sent out on 9 February.

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Why The African Lion Could Become A Distant Memory

Posted on 17 December 2008. Filed under: Governance, Wildlife |

Is this a bad thing? Well, looking at the positives, it’s a whole lot better than seeing this proud creature wiped off the face of the Earth completely!

The Lion’s Demise

The african lion’s numbers have been a cause for great concern in recent times in fact, there has even been talk of extinction. It’s a dirty word in the world of conservation and while the lion presents as a creature vending machine dimensions, the sad fact is, the one creature on the planet capable of wiping it out, man, has been responsible for it’s dwindling numbers.

Take for example just over 100 years ago, the African lion was around in numbers south of the Sahara desert. Today, it’s almost got to the stage where the only place you can see the king of the beasts in it’s “natural habitat” are large conservation parks. The reason; man’s yearning for progress.

An African Lion Safari Without Lions?

Strange as it may seem, the big cat may be something children in the future will learn about only in history books. Is it that serious? It sure is and it seems left to a few individuals with the foresight to recognize there is a problem.

It’s understandable progress must be made in certain areas of Africa, particularly from an agricultural standpoint but at what cost? Some will argue the safety of lions has been assured through their conservation and while this may be true, the free ranging lion has retreated so dramatically in numbers it’s questionable whether it could even be saved from extinction in some areas.

Lion working groups can only do so much with limited funding and the task of maintaining lion groups is not an easy one. So and African lion safari without the star of the show is not as far-fetched as it may sound.

African Lion Facts

The lion is unquestionably at the top of the food chain in Africa. The fact remains, if the lion’s demise becomes permanent, then the repercussions for some of Africa’s ecosystems could be dramatic. The Okavango Delta in Botswana is one area where the survival of the lion is imperative.

The Best Lion Safari Destinations

Despite the gloom and doom over the lion’s preservation in Africa, there is little doubt an African lion safari is still the preferred choice for many would be adventurers.

When you visit your local zoo, which animal holds the biggest mystique? The big cat with the flowing mane always attracts a crowd. and Kenya are two excellent destinations to see the lion in all it’s glory under the strict supervision of guided tours. South Africa’s Kruger National Reserve is also a popular choice for lion lovers. And don’t forget the magnificent Serengeti!

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World Aids Day: Winning Against HIV Stigma Behind Bars in Kenya

Posted on 30 November 2008. Filed under: Governance, Public Health |

Photo: Eric Kanalstein/UNMIL
A new support group has empowered HIV-positive prisoners (file photo)

NAIROBI, – HIV-positive prisoners in Kenya not only suffer isolation from friends and family, but also within the prison walls.

“Fellow prisoners and warders treat us so uncaringly – they stigmatise us,” said Collins Kiwinda*, a prisoner serving time for robbery with violence at Athi River Prison in the capital, Nairobi. “Our relatives never come to see us and find out how we are faring.”

Kiwinda is married, but assumes that his wife has left him – she has not visited since 2002, when he was arrested; his parents and siblings have not visited him for over five years.

A poor diet and cramped cells makes life even more difficult. “When one is sick in prison, food becomes an issue as he needs to eat well to regain better health,” Kiwinda said. “Yet the food offered to us HIV-positive inmates is so poor in nutritional value.”

Pleas for the provision of basics, like beds or mattresses for infected prisoners, have been met with blank stares or replies like: “You don’t deserve any privileges or rights here; after all, you are only a prisoner.”

The recent arrival of Zingatia Maisha (Swahili for focus on life), a group of NGOs in a countrywide project to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV, has boosted morale.

“HIV-positive inmates suffer double stigma – for their being prisoners and for their HIV status,” said Nancy Muchemi, a project officer at the Kenya office of the African Medical and Research Foundation.

“We offer them psychosocial support to relieve their stress, as well as expose them to HIV information: we train them on issues of prevention, safe sex, reinfection, healthy living and adherence to ARV [antiretroviral] drugs.”

Prisoners said the most useful thing the Zingatia Maisha project had taught them was the benefit of forming a support group for HIV-positive prisoners, giving them the opportunity to talk about their thoughts and feelings others in the same position.

Read more
Slow response to HIV rates in prisons
Even a short prison sentence could mean death
Overcrowded prisons heighten TB risk

The group has also put their case for better meals and health care, and less discrimination. They are pushing for clocks on prison walls to improve ARV adherence – prisoners are not permitted to wear watches, so taking medication at the same time every day can be problematic.

They have invited senior prison staff to their meetings so they can give their views on the prisoners’ requests, and initial efforts seem to be bringing results.

“We are already acting on their concerns. Upon a doctor’s recommendation, those who deserve a special diet have their needs addressed,” the officer in charge of Athi River Prison, Felix Kitema, told IRIN/PlusNews. He said his administration would continue to look into the particular concerns of people living with HIV.

The support group is also reaching out to other prisoners. “We encourage other prisoners to go for VCT [voluntary counselling and testing],” said Benson Wasike*, one of the group’s leaders. “By knowing one’s status and [being] armed with information, stigma and discrimination are likely to go down.”

According to the Kenya Prisons Service, HIV prevalence among inmates is around 10 percent, higher than the national average of 7.8 percent. A 2004 study found that HIV and TB were the leading causes of preventable deaths in Kenya’s prisons.

2008 World AIDS Day statements

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OneWorld’s People of 2008 Finalist: Pamela Adoyo

Posted on 30 November 2008. Filed under: Governance, MDGs, Public Health |

This is a World AIDS day post.

WASHINGTON,  (OneWorld) – Pamela Adoyo stands calmly and resolutely at the epicenter of Kenya’s AIDS epidemic. Her women’s group is helping care for the sick, impede the disease’s spread, and stitch back together a community torn apart by the epidemic.

Adoyo consults with two caregivers from the Dago Womens Group. © New America Media

Adoyo consults with two caregivers from the Dago Women's Group. © New America Media

Her days as a mother, wife, and community organizer stretch from 5am to 10pm — from the morning milking of the family cow to the completion of the family dinner, with a yeoman’s load of counseling, care giving, and problem solving woven in between.

Her days as a mother, wife, and community organizer stretch from 5am to 10pm — from the morning milking of the family cow to the completion of the family dinner, with a yeoman’s load of counseling, care giving, and problem solving woven in between.

“HIV/AIDS has affected all facets of Kenyan society with devastating economic consequences,” says the United Nations. The disease has deprived rural areas in particular of many of their most productive members of the community, and made it very difficult for families to earn a sufficient living, further entrenching poverty.

Children orphaned by AIDS increase the economic burden on the families or community organizations that take over their care. Plus, AIDS orphans are likely to miss out on education, and so are more prone to end up engaged in risky behaviors like prostitution and drug abuse. “This completes the vicious cycle of poverty and HIV/AIDS,” adds the UN report.

But the Dago Women’s Group, which Adoyo helped found in 1996, is pushing back against those trends in the country’s southwestern Nyanza province.

About half of Kenya’s 1.4 million annual HIV/AIDS cases originate in Nyanza, says Alexandra Moe, in a recent profile of Adoyo for New America Media.

“For Adoyo and dozens of other Dago women, the generations-long fight for family survival includes leading the battle against HIV and AIDS, one house at a time, in a region that has been ravaged by the epidemic,” writes Moe.

And in this traditionally patriarchal community, Adoyo’s steadfast leadership is also starting to redefine what women “can” and “can’t” do.

EXCERPTS from the New America Media profile, “Village Mentors: How grassroots advocates are leading the fight against AIDS in Kenya

By Alexandra Moe

In a day that starts with the 5 a.m. cow milking and ends at 10 p.m., when her family has finished its dinner, Adoyo squeezes time from her home and family to manage the 45 local women who are caregivers to the sick. Separately, they fan out to 511 households to check on the 365 men and women in the area who are “down” with HIV/AIDS, and the nearly 2,000 AIDS orphans and other children affected by the epidemic….

When a patient has been diagnosed with HIV and has received medication from the local health clinic, Adoyo’s caregivers take over. They make home visits, organize support groups and give comfort when patients phone them in despair. If they visit a home and suspect someone is HIV positive, they make sure all family members and neighbors are tested. They give out their cell phone numbers so that if someone requires urgent medical care in the middle of the night, they can provide transportation to the nearest hospital — a 40-minute motorbike ride, with the patient riding behind.

“You always say ‘yes’ whenever they call,” Adoyo says. “When you say ‘yes,’ that person has all the hope in the world – that you will come, that you are going to help them, that you will advise. If you say ‘no,’ you have already killed them.”…

The mentors — nearly all of them AIDS widows — who stop by throughout the morning treat Adoyo as one would a village elder. They wait patiently for a few words with her, asking for religious guidance and personal advice as well as their daily work assignments….

Mama Maria, center, is a volunteer mother at the Dago Dala Hera Orphange

AIDS struck Dago with a force in the ’90s, ripping apart the social fabric. The government was ill-prepared to cope with the crisis, so the Dago Women’s Group moved in. The women tended to the sick, and cared for the orphans and vulnerable children — the OVCs, as the relief groups call them — left behind by the deadly virus. The needs were great, and resources extremely limited….

But even in the face of such heartbreak, Adoyo takes pride in the progress the Dago Women’s Group has made against the AIDS epidemic. She says they’ve been especially successful in reducing the shame once attached to the disease.

“There was the feeling that, ‘I can’t disclose my status no matter what happened, I can’t say that I am sick because people will laugh at me,'” Adoyo says. “The stigma was high. That was why people were just dying with the disease — they didn’t want people to know.” Many wouldn’t even get tested, she said, contributing to the spread of the epidemic.

“Now they are coming out to say their status. They go to get tested and they say to the mentor, ‘I am negative, or, I am positive.’ If they are positive they say, ‘how can you help me to live positively?'”

Adoyo is most proud of the orphanage the women built, Dago Dala Hera (“Home of Love”), with fundraising assistance from Dago’s first Peace Corps volunteer. On Sep. 24, 20 girls were moved in, cared for by “volunteer mothers,” most of whom are AIDS widows. Plans are being made to take in the first group of boys….

Adoyo’s successes have not come without personal stress. She struggles to balance her traditional duties as a wife and mother, with the meetings and trainings that take her away from the home.

“This is where I say it’s hard,” she says. “An African woman has her work to do, and the work is too much for them.” In the patriarchal order of her village, Adoyo says, a wife has always been expected to follow her husband’s orders without question. That has to change, she says.

“We say, okay, it is good to do this (housework), but now I am going to do this also (work outside of the house),” Adoyo says. “We want women to be part and parcel of the family, the conversation and the decision making, everything.”

Her husband devotes his days to farming and to working on the orphanage. Touring the girls’ dormitory, Duncan Adoyo says he’s proud of his wife’s leadership in the community. “Pamela’s work has been a turning point for the village and a bright start for the present and future generations,” he says. “As the husband I appreciate so much the work and will keep supporting her in the quest to help the villages.”

* This story profiles one of ten finalists for’s People of 2008 award. Vote for your favorite, read more profiles, or tell us about other amazing people on OneWorld’s People of 2008 page.

2008 World AIDS Day statements

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Lake Victoria Islands: Kenyan Anger as Uganda Nets Island

Posted on 27 November 2008. Filed under: Environment, Governance, Insecurity |

Recently published on this weblog:Lake Victoria Potential Source of Regional Conflict

A boat by one of the Migingo islands on Lake Victoria

By Muliro Telewa
BBC News, Kisumu

Boats approaching the tiny Migingo Islands on Lake Victoria are greeted by the surprising sight of a Ugandan flag flying high above a collection of shiny tin shacks.

The three islands are located about two hours by motorboat from the Migori district of western Kenya.

According to officials from Uganda and Kenya, it takes at least nine hours by motorboat to reach the islands from Bugiri in Uganda.

The Migingo island is in our country. It is in Kenya
Fisherman Ojuku Onyonyi

The two countries have had several conflicts in the past over fishing activities on Lake Victoria.

Kenya has always considered the rocky Migingo islands to be part of its territory, and maps dating back to the mid 1950s show them to be in Kenyan territory.

But Uganda has recently laid claim to the smallest one, sparking a row between the two neighbours.

The one acre island has been home to about 1,000 people from the three East African countries, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Of the three islands, this is the most popular among the fishermen because of its flat, rocky beaches which make it easy to dock boats.

But Kenyan boats and fishermen are no longer allowed to land on the disputed island, which is guarded by armed Ugandan policemen.


In October, Uganda arrested 15 Kenyan fishermen and ordered about 800 others to leave the island.

Fisherman on Lake Victoria

The disputed island is prized by fishermen for its beaches

Now, the country’s flag flies prominently over the island, which acts as a landing port for fishermen on the lake.

“The Ugandans came with their flag and hoisted [it] in the Kenyan soil, something that has never happened anywhere in any part of this country,” Kenyan fisherman Ojuku Onyonyi said.

He blames a lapse on the part of the Kenyan security system for the dispute.

“The Migingo island is in our country. It is in Kenya,” he said.

The Ugandan security officers say they will only allow Kenyans back on to the island if they are led by Migori district commissioner Julius Kalonzo.

Earlier this month, Mr Kalonzo led a group of angry Kenyan fishermen to the island, where they were greeted by a Ugandan delegation.

The two groups held a four-hour meeting but failed to reach an agreement.

The two officials addressed the restless crowd of Kenyans which was threatening to pull down the Ugandan flag.

Cocked guns

“The Kenyan government has spoken to the Ugandan government and said that according to us, Migingo belongs to us,” Mr Kalonzo said.

Harmony means working as brothers and sisters
Mwanaisha Chikomeko
Head of the Ugandan delegation

His statement was greeted with loud cheers from the Kenyan fishermen.

In contrast, the head of the Ugandan delegation, Bugiri regional district commissioner, Mwanaisha Chikomeko, was heckled by the largely Kenyan crowd.

She suggested the formation of a joint beach management committee to oversee fishing on the island as the two countries resolved the dispute.

“The chairperson could be a Ugandan, the treasurer could be a Kenyan, the secretary can be a Ugandan, the vice-chair can be a Kenyan, the deputy treasurer should be a Kenyan,” she said.

“No!” the crowd shouted back.

“We’ve already said that harmony means working as brothers and sisters. Be it Ugandan is harassing Kenyan, or be it Kenyan is harassing Ugandan. We want it to stop immediately,” she said.

A Ugandan flag on one of the Migingo islands on Lake Victoria

The Ugandan flag continues to fly while surveyors investigate the boundary

The public meeting ended in disarray, and the two commissioners said the Ugandan flag would continue to fly over the island until the dispute was resolved.

Mr Onyonyi arrived at the meeting carrying a Kenyan flag with him, which he said he intended to hoist on the island.

But after the hostile gathering broke up, the fisherman was forced to surrender his flag to the Kenyan security forces who accompanied the district commissioner.

The other Kenyan fishermen grumbled but hopped into their boats and sailed off since the Ugandan security forces had cocked their guns to prove that they were still in charge.

Since then, the two countries have resolved to engage surveyors to draw up the boundaries and determine who the islands belong to.

A joint committee has also been formed to oversee activities on the island and prevent any conflict.

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Lake Victoria Potential Source of Regional Conflict

Posted on 23 November 2008. Filed under: Environment, Governance, Insecurity |

The so-called ‘scramble for fish’ in Lake Victoria is turning out to be a source of conflict between nations bordering the lake and could potentially threaten regional stability. In the past month alone there have been several incidents around the lake that have heightened tensions between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. It is now apparent that the main source of these incidents is the lack of a clearly delimited and demarcated border between the three countries sharing Lake Victoria.

Since 2003, a number of Kenyan fishermen have been arrested and their boats and equipment confiscated by either Tanzanian or Ugandan authorities for “illegally crossing the common borders.” The latest incident happened when about 400 Kenyan fishermen were kicked out of Migingo island by Ugandan authorities. Migingo is claimed by both Uganda and Kenya. This incident has exacerbated the already strained relations between the two countries. The Kenyan fishermen have appealed to their political leaders to intervene, some even threatening violence.

Besides the ‘scramble for fish,’ Uganda is also under suspicion of having entered into a secret agreement with Egypt to increase the outflow of the Nile waters.  Although Uganda is claiming that it is entitled to enter into bilateral talks with another country regarding Lake Victoria, Tanzania insists that such agreements would implicitly violate the rights of the other Nile Basin member states.

Initially, the contestation over the waters of Lake Victoria was mainly between Egypt and the main riparian states, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.  However, recently the contestation has become more localized, with the riparian states finding it difficult to share the lake due to increased exploitation of its resources and demands for more water from Egypt and Sudan.

These disputes can be located within the broader discourse of disputed borders in Africa and of exploitation of natural resources in the borderlands. Demarcation has never been clear on the Lake Victoria segment of the border between the three East African countries. The lake is the main source of livelihood for close to 30 million people who live around it, therefore undemarcated or poorly demarcated borders and ineffective management are bound to have a spillover effect on regional security.

Lake Victoria has attracted the attention of numerous explorers and environmentalists throughout history. The British explorer, John Hanning Speke was the first European to come into contact with the lake in 1858. He was overjoyed when he first laid his eyes on the majestic water body that seemed to be neverending. He renamed it Victoria after the British monarch and claimed to have located the source of the Great Nile.

Lake Victoria lies within an elevated plateau in the western part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley and is about 68 000 square kilometers in size; making it the continent’s largest lake, the largest tropical lake in the world and the second widest freshwater lake in the world after Lake Superior in Canada. The Nile River-Lake Victoria basin falls within ten countries (Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC, Burundi and Eritrea) and therefore has a considerably high population density.

Egypt has always felt a strong sense of entitlement to the waters of the Nile, and on several occasions disregarded the other nine states with direct or indirect interests in the waters. Central to the problem are two colonial treaties determining Egypt’s interests in relation to the Nile’s waters. A 1929 treaty between Egypt and Britain essentially gave Egypt the right to veto any construction projects that would negatively affect the country’s interests. The 1959 treaty gives Egypt and to a lesser extent, Sudan, exclusive rights over the river’s use. The three main riparian states have over the years found these treaties unacceptable, and have contested them.

The building of the Nalubaale Power Station, also known as Owen Falls Dam, in 1956 was a result of an agreement between Egypt and the colonial British administration. The idea of a power station supplying electric power to Uganda and some parts of neighbouring Kenya seemed a good one at the time.  However, in recent years there has been a significant lowering of water levels on Lake Victoria. Several reports by independent hydrologists reveal that over-releases from Owen Falls are a primary cause of the severe drops in the lake’s water levels. In 2006, two environmentalists, Lori Pottinger of International Rivers and Frank Muramuzi of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists wrote to the World Bank, demanding speedy action regarding the Lake. The Bank had been one of the main proponents of the Owen Falls Extension Project in the 1990s, which led to further water releases from Lake Victoria for hydroelectric purposes.

A 2004 Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) Strategic Conflict Analysis document reported that changes in the lake’s capacity would have an adverse effect on poverty and economic marginalisation, which are already on the rise in the Lake Victoria region.

As far back as 2003 when the border incidents first started, there has been no real pledge by the three governments to deal with the issue. Following these incidents, an agreement between the governments of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya was reached to appoint surveyors to embark on a study to demarcate the shared Lake Victoria border. Initial findings stated that the demarcation exercise would require heavy funding. There has hitherto been no demarcation of that boundary. We can argue that the financial implications of demarcation have contributed to the slow demarcation process.

Commitment to demarcate should be the primary concern. Saving Lake Victoria requires a concerted effort from all the parties concerned. Unfortunately there is no single solution to the problem. Political will from the concerned states is required as well as a determination to address the environmental concerns. Equitable sharing of the waters should be a priority. Water is becoming a commodity, not only on the Nile River- Lake Victoria basin, but throughout the world, as a result of acute environmental changes, hence the need to consolidate efforts for sustainable environmental and socio-political solutions.

Namhla Matshanda, African Security Analysis Programme, ISS Tshwane (Pretoria)

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    A blog created to cover environmental and political information in Kenya with a view to promoting POVERTY ALLEVIATION through creating awareness of the Millennium Development Goals


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