News Around Africa


Lome: Ecowas Says No Elections Before 24 April, Olympio Plans to Stand
West African neighbours trying to end Togo's leadership transition crisis have concluded that fresh presidential elections cannot realistically be held before 24 April. "ECOWAS has taken into account the various stages of the electoral process, notably revising electoral lists, studying candidates' dossiers, and the campaign itself," said Adrienne Diop, a spokeswoman for the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). "Elections will not be able to take place until after April 24," she announced. ECOWAS placed sanctions on Togo after Faure Gnassingbe seized power following the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema who had ruled this small West African country for 38 years. But after Gnassingbe agreed to step down as interim president on 25 February, ECOWAS pledged to provide advisers to help organize the free and fair election of a new head of state. The opposition, which boycotted several earlier elections under Eyadema, has announced that it will contest the presidential vote. But a coalition of six opposition parties is still mulling whether to present a united front against Gnassingbe, who has already been chosen as the candidate of the ruling Rally of the Togolese People (RPT) party. Gilchrist Olympio, the exiled leader of the main opposition party, the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), was prevented from standing against Eyadema in the 2003 presidential election. But Olympio said that he intended to take on the dead leader's son. "I am the candidate of my party," Olympio told IRIN by telephone from Paris where he has been living for several years. "Of course the government we have and the constitutional court we have might no let me stand," he said. "If they bar me, then up to 74 percent of the Togolese electorate will be barred too." Eyadema, who died on 5 February, amended the constitution of the West African nation in 2002, inserting a clause that requires all presidential candidates to lived in Togo for at least 12 months prior to the election. This may prevent Olympio from running, since another article of the constitution stipulates that no ammendments can be made to the charter during the rule of an interim president. With Olympio having thrown his hat into the ring regardless, the other opposition parties must decide whether to rally round him or his chosen representative, or present their own candidates. "Gilchrist announcing his candidacy worried us," Leopold Gnininvi, the leader of the Democratic Convention of the African People (CDPA) party told IRIN. "We will discuss the question of a single candidate and if all goes well we will have the name of that candidate." Some analysts think that the opposition must choose a single candidate to stand a chance of winning. "In the end, the opposition's main chance lies in forming a united front -- whether they can do that successfully remains to be seen," said Olly Owen, an Africa Analyst at London-based research house Global Insight. So far, no date has been set t for Togo's presidential election. According to one interpretation of the constitution, the poll must be held within 60 days of the death or incapacity of the incumbent head of state. That would mean 3 April at the latest. However, ECOWAS has said publicly that free and fair poll cannot realistically be organized in such a short time frame. It wants the 60-day count down to start on 26 February, the day the vice-president of the national assembly, Abbas Bonfoh, took over from Gnassingbe as interim head of state. The Togolese constitution stipulates that if a president dies in office, the 'electoral body' must be convened within 60 days to choose a new leader. But there is some disagreement about when that 60-day period starts and whether elections have to be actually held within 60 days or simply announced. Some diplomats in West Africa believe Togo's ruling party and influential army will go for an early poll on 3 April to maximize the chances of Gnassingbe making an early return to power through the ballot box.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]
Activists Urge WTO to End Subsidies
Ahead of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial meeting in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa today, prodevelopment groups say African farmers are paying a heavy price for "empty promises" on implementing fair trade. The group said this week that developed countries such as the US and European Union member states continued to subsidise farmers and impose high tariffs on agriculture imports. It said these practices distorted the world agriculture market, the lifeline of most African economies. At the Doha Round of trade talks in 2001 and in July last year, WTO members agreed export subsidies should be phased out and domestic support to farmers substantially reduced. "But nothing has happened yet. How many times shall African farmers be asked to pay for these empty promises?" said Angela Wauye of Action Aid International. The group said: "Development issues at the WTO have been put on the back burner for the last couple of years, yet they are of extreme urgency if resolving the remaining trade issues is to benefit Africa." Kenyan trade expert Oduor Ogwen said African countries had to first discuss how the developed world would reduce high tariffs on imports, which made it hard for Africa to export processed agricultural produce. "We must first discuss why the West has trade policies that force Africa to export primary commodities, then (discuss) agriculture subsidies by the developed world." The situation, said Wauye, was such that developed states had high Tariffs on processed agricultural imports yet their farmers enjoyed significant agriculture subsidies. "This is a barrier to trade," she said. For example, to export rice to Japan from Africa a dealer must pay a duty of 625%. But to export the same produce to Kenya dealers must pay 100% duty.
Activists also oppose uniform tariffs mooted by WTO member states. Such a global tariff structure could lead to African markets being saturated with cheaper food imports from developed countries. Participants at the Mombasa meeting from close to 30 WTO economies will discuss a wide range of issues such as market access for agriculture and nonagricultural products including services and removing red tape in global trade. The activists called on the ministers, trade representatives and WTO secretariat to ensure developing countries had the right to protect their local agriculture production and had the right to determine their own reductions and tariff bindings on industrial products. They are also against any pressure on developing countries to submit offers on the services negotiations.
                Business Day, Stephen Mbogo



Nigeria, South Africa And Uganda Win Academy Funds

Academies of science in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda have been chosen to receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help boost their ability to provide African governments and the public with advice on science-related issues. The funding will come from a US$20 million grant that was awarded last year to the US National Academies -- a consortium of bodies that includes the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) -- to provide support for building the capacities of Africa academies during the next decade (see 'African science academies get US$20 million boost').
In line with the goals of the foundation, set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the programme will include specific efforts intended to improve policymaking on issues relating to human health. "The goal is to enhance life for all Africans by making it possible for Africa's scientific community to more effectively tap its potential, both in meeting national needs and in creating a strong science base for public policy," Bruce Alberts, president of the NAS, said in a statement. Alberts says he is keen for African academies to play the same role in providing science-based advice to top decision-makers as the NAS does in Washington, for example through the work of the National Research Council. Following the announcement of the grant from the Gates Foundation last year, seven African countries were visited by a small team to assess their ability to absorb extra funding and use it effectively. In addition to the successful candidates, the team also visited Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal. According to the academy, the science academies in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda were chosen as the focal points of the new programme "based on their vitality and potential for success, the willingness of each country's government to draw on scientific expertise in decision-making, and the pool of available scientific talent". The main goal of the initiative is to help the three academies engage broader communities of African scientists, medical and health care professionals, and engineers in policy issues.
Although the NAS says that it intends to guide such efforts during their early stages -- for example by carrying out various joint activities -- it is eventually hoped that each nation will create its own capacity to carry out such activities, under the leadership and support of the African academies. "Some of the preliminary activities will [therefore] centre on helping the three academies develop the skills to plan and conduct scientific studies, organize major conferences, raise and manage funds, create and implement administrative procedures, and build lasting relationships with government officials and other stakeholders in their countries," the NAS said in a press statement. In addition to the three academies that will received the bulk of the funding, separate strategic planning grants are being awarded to the academies of Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal that had also been short listed. The initiative will also support various meetings and symposia intended to promote collaboration and joint learning among sub-Saharan Africa's science academies. This is partly a bid to counter criticism that focusing primarily on three countries runs the risk  of doing little for scientists in other African countries. In addition, Canada's International Development Research Centre has agreed to work with the US organization to support the initiative, and has promised financial assistance to allow the participation of a fourth initial partner, widely expected to be Senegal.