Baird Sickened by Nigerian Abductions

OTTAWA, Canada, December 19, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird today issued the following statement in reaction to reports that terrorists killed at least 30 and kidnapped at least 100 women and girls from the town of Gumsuri in northern Nigeria on December 14, 2014:

“I was sickened by the news of another kidnapping of a large number of women and girls by suspected Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria. This is the latest in a series of odious crimes by this repugnant terrorist group, which preys on the innocent and defenceless.

“On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those killed, and express my heartfelt desire for the early and safe return of those who were kidnapped.

“This act will only serve to unite Nigerians and the international community in the fight against international terrorism. We call on the Government of Nigeria to do all they can to reunite these women and girls with their loved ones.”

Niger : IMF Executive Board Completes Fourth and Fifth ECF Reviews

NIAMEY, Niger, December 19, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — On December 17, 2014 the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund completed the fourth and the fifth reviews of Niger’s economic performance under a program supported by an Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement. The decision enables the disbursement of SDR 11.28 million (about US$16.52 million, 17 percent of quota), bringing total disbursements under the ECF arrangement to SDR 56.40 million (about US$82.62 million, 86 percent of quota)

In completing the reviews, the Executive Board approved the authorities’ request for waivers for the performance criterion related to net domestic financing at the end of December 2013 and June 2014, and the modification of performance criteria of the end of December 2014.

The ECF arrangement for Niger was approved on March 16, 2012 (see Press Release No. 12/90).

Following the Executive Board’s discussion, Mr. Naoyuki Shinohara, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, made the following statement:

“Niger’s overall macroeconomic performance has been broadly satisfactory. After the economic slowdown in 2013 due to the regional security situation and adverse climatic conditions, economic growth has rebounded in 2014. Inflation has been contained, in part due to the government’s efforts to improve food security and the functioning of food markets. However, program performance has been mixed, as a combination of unexpected security and food expenditures and a shortfall in external financing have strained fiscal management. The structural reform agenda is advancing, although with delays in implementing some key public financial management measures. Significant progress has been made on the limitation of exceptional expenditure and timely release of quarterly budget allocations.

“In the near term, containing the fiscal deficit through measures to improve tax policy and administration, reform customs administration, and reduce exemptions is essential to ensure sustainability. Medium-term prospects appear favorable, but depend critically on the authorities’ ability to leverage Niger’s natural resource wealth into sustained inclusive growth. Critical in this regard will be further strengthening debt and public financial management, the management of natural resource wealth, and the business climate. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Debt Management is an important step forward and should play an increasing role in ensuring the public investment efficiency. Establishing a treasury single account would significantly improve cash management and budget execution.

“Further structural reforms to improve the business environment are critical. In this context, swift implementation of the recently approved financial sector development strategy would support economic growth by increasing financial stability and transparency as well as financial deepening. Strengthening the resilience of the economy through steps to enhance food security; removing trade barriers, including for food products; and improvements in the legislative environment could all promote stronger and more inclusive growth and alleviate poverty.”

The Executive Board also completed the 2014 Article IV Consultation1 with Niger.

Niger’s overall macroeconomic performance has been satisfactory. Economic growth slowed to 4.1 percent in 2013 largely due to the regional security situation and adverse climatic conditions on agricultural production despite a significant increase in oil production. Inflation was contained at 2.3 percent in 2013 as food prices fell thanks to the government’s efforts to improve food security and the functioning of food markets. Growth is estimated to rebound to 6.5 percent in 2014, driven by agriculture and inflation to remain subdued. Reflecting continued expenditure pressures and weak revenues, the basic fiscal deficit has widened but arrears were significantly reduced. The external current account is expected to widen in 2014 because the growth of exports was outpaced by the rise in imports of goods and services related to investment projects in the extractive industries and public works. Limited government resources and project implementation capacity continued to weigh on public investment.

Macroeconomic prospects look favorable. Growth is expected to average 5.6 percent in 2014-16 and 8.5 percent in 2017-19 as two large natural resource projects—crude oil export and uranium production—are expected to begin in 2017/18 and 2019, respectively. On the external side, the decline in oil prices in the second half of 2014 will lower the current account over the medium term, resulting in a lower but still significant accumulation of reserves. The main near-term risks relate to further deterioration in the regional security situation, which could severely impact foreign direct investment, trade flows, and fiscal outcomes. The economy also remains vulnerable to climatic shocks, commodity price volatility, and limited predictability of donor support. The timing, financing, and feasibility of government involvement in projects in the extractive industry pose particular risks, due their inherent elevated uncertainty and the authorities’ limited implementation capacity.

Executive Board Assessment2

Executive Directors agreed with the thrust of the staff appraisal. They noted that despite the unfavorable security situation and adverse climate shocks, which have complicated program implementation, Niger’s economy delivered positive growth in 2013 and rebounded in 2014. While the medium-term outlook is favorable, it is vulnerable to domestic and external risks, and poverty remains high. Against this backdrop, Directors welcomed the authorities’ commitment to their economic program and stressed the importance of continued efforts to improve the resilience of the economy, strengthen fiscal sustainability, and foster inclusive growth.

Directors underscored the importance of further strengthening the fiscal framework to ensure fiscal sustainability while addressing development needs and security challenges. They called for measures to improve tax policy and administration, reform customs administration, and reduce exemptions. Welcoming the authorities’ intention to prioritize spending in key sectors, Directors encouraged prudence in budget planning and continued efforts to improve budget execution. Investment spending should be scaled up prudently, supported by reforms to improve the efficiency of spending and absorptive capacity. Directors welcomed the authorities’ commitment to undertake additional capital spending only as revenue materializes.

Directors acknowledged the authorities’ efforts to strengthen the debt management framework through better coordination of relevant ministries and regular reporting of debt stocks and flows. They urged the authorities to develop a medium-term debt management strategy to guide prudent borrowing plans and safeguard debt sustainability.

Directors noted that the medium-term economic outlook will depend critically on the authorities’ ability to leverage expected natural resource revenues for advancing the inclusive growth agenda. In this context, they emphasized the importance of further strengthening the fiscal and institutional frameworks. Priorities are the enhancement of public financial management, including the establishment of a treasury single account, and improved governance and transparency of natural resource management in order to provide room for increased social and infrastructure spending.

Directors emphasized the need for further structural reforms to improve the business environment. They welcomed the recent approval of the decree to implement the financial sector development strategy and encouraged the authorities to speed up its implementation. The strategy aims at increasing financial stability and transparency as well as financial deepening and inclusion, and would improve the legal and judicial framework. Directors also noted that enhancing food security through investments in agriculture and fostering regional trade would promote stronger and more inclusive growth and faster poverty reduction.

1 Under Article IV of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country’s economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board.

2 At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country’s authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in summings up can be found here:

Zambia : Statement at the end of an IMF Article IV Mission

LUSAKA, Zambia, December 19, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team led by Tsidi Tsikata visited Zambia during December 4-18 to hold discussions for the 2014 Article IV consultation.

At the end of the mission, Mr. Tsikata issued the following statement:

“The Zambian economy continues to register strong growth. Non-mining growth has remained close to 7 percent, but technical outages at some mines led to a decline in copper production that is projected to reduce overall real GDP growth to about 5½ percent in 2014. The exchange rate depreciated sharply in the first half of the year. A marked tightening of monetary policy and a boost to international reserves from Eurobond proceeds helped to partially reverse the depreciation and stabilize the exchange rate. Nevertheless, the annual rate of inflation edged up to 8.1 percent in November.

“Zambia’s growth potential remains high, but the medium-term outlook is clouded by domestic and external risks. The outlook is buoyed by several mining and electricity supply projects that are about to come on stream. However, political and social pressures for loosening fiscal policy in the run-up to the 2016 general elections are potential sources of downside risks. Moreover, lower world copper prices and the announced shift to a royalty-only mining tax regime with high rates are likely to adversely affect the mining sector. The authorities indicated that they are looking to assuage the concerns of mines and prevent closures.

“Greater policy stability and consistency would help anchor confidence in Zambia as an attractive investment destination. In this regard, the mission urged the authorities to seek a speedy resolution to the impasse over VAT refunds to exporters. More generally, it will be important to enhance dialogue between stakeholders, particularly between government and the mining sector where there is a need to build mutual trust.

“Effectively addressing the country’s fiscal imbalances is critical for maintaining macroeconomic stability and ensuring a strong foundation for sustained economic development. Despite some progress in 2014, keeping public finances in line with approved government budgets has proved challenging, and deficit financing has put upward pressure on interest rates. In the mission’s view—based on the current international and domestic environment—the 2015 financing requirement is likely to be larger than planned. The mission welcomed the authorities’ intention to take measures to keep the deficit within the budgeted level. Such consolidation would, with time, allow for a normalization of monetary policy and a reduction in interest rates.

“After the January 20 presidential by-election, the mission team will engage the incoming government to discuss its policy intentions and priorities before submitting a report to the IMF Executive Board on the 2014 Article IV consultation.

“The team met with Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda, Bank of Zambia Governor Michael Gondwe, and other senior government officials, as well as members of parliament and representatives of the private sector, civil society, and development partners. The mission wishes to thank the authorities for their hospitality and for the open and constructive spirit in which the discussions were held. It also expresses its gratitude to all other stakeholders with whom it held discussions.”

IMF Staff Completes Review Mission to Malawi

LILONGWE, Malawi, December 19, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — A team from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), led by Oral Williams, visited Lilongwe December 10–17, 2014 to finalize discussions for the fifth and sixth reviews under Malawi’s Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement.1

At the end of the mission, Mr. Williams issued the following statement:

“The mission and the Malawian authorities reached staff-level agreement on policies that could be supported under the ECF. To this end, policies geared toward bringing inflation down to single digits and increasing reserve coverage over the duration of the program were central to discussions. These encompassed measures to strengthen budget execution—key to ensuring delivery of its objectives—including safeguarding social spending, while maintaining a tight monetary stance to bring inflation to a downward trend.

“In addition, discussions focused on incorporating the recommendations of an IMF technical assistance mission on public financial management into the program. These recommendations are aimed at restoring financial controls and accountability in the face of the “Cashgate” scandal.

“Addressing vulnerabilities in the financial sector that may have emerged in light of recent shocks faced by the economy were central to program discussions and included measures to strengthen the legal and regulatory frameworks to address sector-wide issues.

“The staff-level agreement is subject to review by the IMF’s management and its Executive Board. Consideration by the Executive Board is expected in early 2015.

“The mission held discussions with H.E. President Peter Mutharika, Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe, Reserve Bank of Malawi (RBM) Governor Charles Chuka, Secretary to the Treasury Ronald Mangani, other senior government and RBM officials as well as representatives of Malawi’s development partners.

“The mission expresses its gratitude for the constructive spirit in which discussions were held.”

1 The ECF is the IMF’s main tool for medium-term financial support to low-income countries. It provides for a higher level of access to financing, more concessional terms, enhanced flexibility in program design, and more focused, streamlined conditionality. Financing under the ECF currently carries a zero interest rate, with a grace period of 5½ years, and a final maturity of 10 years.

Niger : The Project for Strengthening Community and Regional Capacities for Security Enhancement

TOKYO, Japan, December 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — 1. On December 16 (same day local time), an exchange of letters on providing grant aid of 202 million Japanese yen took place in the Republic of Niger’s capital of Niamey City between Mr. Hiroshi Kawamura, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to Niger (concurrently with the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire) and Mr. Fodé Ndiaye, Resident Representative of UNDP Niger.

2. This aid will contribute to enhancing the security capabilities of regional governments by providing the headquarter centers of all the seven Niger’s regions excluding the special district of Niamey with wireless communication devices connecting the regional governments with the prefectural bureaus under their jurisdictions, and wireless-equipped vehicles for patrolling outlying locations (desert areas).

3. In 2012, the Government of Niger formulated the “Sahel-Niger Strategy for Development and Security.” The pillars of the strategy include strengthening security measures, strengthening the governance of regional governments, improving service delivery, and job creation, and the Government of Niger is moving ahead with initiatives relating to “peace and stability” and “development” in the region. This aid will contribute to promoting this policy of Niger.

4. At the TICAD V in June 2013, the Government of Japan advocated “Peace and Stability” as one of the three pillars of Yokohama Action Plan. The Government of Japan particularly announced to implement support measures to the Sahel region in such areas as combating terrorism and enhancing security capabilities in the Sahel region in particular, and this assistance constitute a part of those measures.

South Sudan / Common Humanitarian Fund allocates $60 million to kick start aid operations in 2015

JUBA, South Sudan, December 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — The Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) has allocated $60 million to get the humanitarian response for 2015 off to a timely start. The money will support aid agencies to take maximum advantage of the onset of South Sudan’s dry season, during which aid agencies plan to use roads to deliver aid to as many people as possible.

“Thanks to donors, this CHF allocation allows humanitarian partners to hit the ground running from 1 January,” said Toby Lanzer, the Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan. “However, it is only 10 per cent of the $600 million we need by the end of February if we are to save more lives and reach all people in acute need in early 2015,” he continued.

The largest portion of the CHF funding will support non-food items and emergency shelter, water and sanitation, and livelihood supplies. Seeds and tools must be in the right locations by April so that communities can make the most of the planting season. With a projected 2.5 million people facing food insecurity between January and March, such support is critical. Funding will also go toward camp coordination, education, emergency telecommunications, health, logistics, and protection.

The South Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund is a multi-donor pooled fund established in 2012. Since the current crisis began, the CHF has allocated $194.5 million in South Sudan. Current donors include: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

This CHF allocation comes as aid agencies in South Sudan are appealing for $1.81 billion dollars for 2015 to support 4.1 million people in need. With more timely funding available at the outset of 2015, aid agencies would be well positioned to meet the most acute needs.

DRC: Conviction of Colonel 106 major boost in fight against impunity – Zeid

GENEVA, Switzerland, December 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today welcomed the conviction and sentencing of Lieutenant Colonel Bedi Mobuli Engangela for committing crimes against humanity between 2005 and 2007 in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Engangela, better known as ‘Colonel 106′ after the battalion he commanded, was on Monday sentenced to life in prison for murder, rape, sexual slavery, torture, abduction, and “imprisonment and other forms of grave deprivation of physical liberty.”

“Such a high-profile conviction of a senior officer will, I hope, bring some measure of comfort and catharsis to the victims of the horrific human rights violations committed and ordered by Engangela,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “This case is a major boost in the fight against impunity in the DRC.”

In line with the Government’s zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence, the UN in 2007 urged it to bring to justice perpetrators of sexual violence, including commanding officers involved in a number of cases. An arrest warrant was issued for one of these officers, Engangela, in September 2011 and the UN Joint Human Rights Office, working with other components of MONUSCO*, the UN Development Programme, and national and international justice partners, has since then provided important assistance to military authorities on this case.

MONUSCO’s support enabled the prosecution to identify some 900 victims during preliminary investigations. Eighty victims and eyewitnesses were then able to testify at Engangela’s trial, including 31 victims of sexual violence. The fact that the UN Joint Human Rights Office worked closely with the authorities to set up a witness protection system, allowing witnesses to testify without fear of retaliation, was another extremely important element contributing to the eventual landmark conviction and life sentence.

Engangela’s conviction comes a month after another high-ranking officer, General Jérôme Kakwavu, was sentenced by the High Military Court in Kinshasa to 10 years in prison for rape and war crimes committed in Ituri district by himself and his armed group, the Forces armées du Peuple congolais (FAPC), between 2003 and 2005.

The High Commissioner called on the authorities in the DRC to build on the momentum created by these cases to continue to prioritise justice and accountability for gross human rights violations, and to ensure that victims of such crimes receive adequate assistance and compensation. Equally, the authorities should ensure that the rights of the accused – to a fair trial and to appeal judicial decisions – are fully respected, Zeid said.

ICC : African Countries Support Court

NEW YORK, December 18, 2014/African Press Organization (APO)/ — African countries expressed strong support for the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the 13th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute, the court’s founding document, African and international organizations present at the session said today. The governments showed a more positive picture of Africa’s relationship with the ICC than is often reflected in public debates, the organizations said.

The ICC’s Assembly of States Parties met from December 8-17, 2014, at the United Nations headquarters for its regular annual session. ICC members approved the court’s budget and elected six new judges to the court, in addition to discussing topics such as cooperation with the court.

“While a few vocal African governments are intent on portraying the ICC as anti-African and trying to undermine the court, the real picture is quite different,” said Esther Waweru of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. “Just ask the president of the Central African Republic, who expressed deep gratitude to the ICC for assisting her country in the wake of serious crimes there, and the many other African countries that took the floor in support of the ICC.”

This year the Assembly of States Parties elected the first African to be its president, Justice Minister Sidiki Kaba of Senegal. Kaba stressed Senegal’s “unwavering determination to defend the essential principles and values” of the ICC and made a commitment to reconcile the ICC with all regions of the world, including Africa. He pointed out that Africa has the largest number of ICC members and that Africans form a considerable percentage of ICC staff, including four judges and the prosecutor. He also noted that Africans have been the first to seek the court’s intervention.

More than a dozen African countries represented by senior government officials expressed strong support for the court’s work at the session. The president of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, affirmed the court’s role as a crucial tool in the fight against impunity, and said that the court was essential in delivering justice for victims of grave international crimes. Others included officials from Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zambia.

South Africa highlighted the ICC as a “bastion in the fight against impunity.” Ghana affirmed that it remains “committed to the importance” of the ICC to punishing and deterring crimes, and Nigeria indicated that the ICC is “increasingly becoming a critical global institution.” Côte d’Ivoire stressed the court’s “positive value” in prosecuting serious crimes, Sierra Leone highlighted its “deep commitment to the court,” and Lesotho called the ICC a “key instrument” in advancing justice. The Democratic Republic of Congo noted that the ICC is “a gift of hope” for future generations.

Ghana, Gambia, and Lesotho also affirmed the need to protect the court’s independence, which ran counter to Kenya’s unsuccessful initiative to have a special session at the meeting on the conduct of court officials in relation to current cases.

Zambia highlighted the role of African governments in requesting the ICC’s involvement, while other countries such as Nigeria conveyed their commitment to adopt laws to implement the ICC statute domestically and to cooperate with the court. Namibia, Burkina Faso, and Ghana urged other countries to join the court.

“With the general debate of the assembly’s 13th session, most African states showed strong support for the ICC,” said Aboubacry Mbodji of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights, based in Senegal. “A minority of African states remains hostile to the court, but civil society will continue to mobilize to bring them along to ensure the court is able to function with the full support that it needs.”

Kenya and Uganda, and to a lesser extent Tanzania, criticized the court in their interventions, while also expressing support. Kenya even indicated it would remain “a strong champion” of the ICC.

African ICC members also offered a group statement, delivered by Lesotho, which affirmed their “unwavering support” for the ICC and their “highest regard for the Rome Statute.” The statement also noted that the African Union’s calls for non-cooperation with the court “should not obscure the consistent, active backing for the ICC among African governments and civil society across the African continent.” The statement said that the AU’s concerns with the ICC relate in large part to Security Council action around the AU’s request to defer to the Darfur situation, and not to any action taken by the court itself.

At the same time, the African group statement reaffirmed the AU’s call for the court’s statute to be amended to include immunity before the court for sitting officials. Such immunity was included in the protocol to expand the regional African Court on Justice and Human Rights, which was adopted in July.

At the Assembly of States Parties session, a judge from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua, was elected to an ICC judgeship, along with five other judges from France, Germany, Hungary, South Korea, and Poland. The election of Mindua brings the total number of African judges at the ICC to five. The other African judges are from Botswana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana.

“Africans are playing a significant role at the ICC,” said Ibrahim Tommy of the Centre for Accountability and Rule of Law in Sierra Leone. “In addition to an African prosecutor, we have five African judges and the president of the court’s assembly is now the Senegalese justice minister. This reflects strategic engagement by significant segments of Africa in the court’s important work.”

All of the court’s current investigations are of situations in Africa, which the court’s critics frequently raise. But the majority of the court’s situations came about as a result of requests by the specific country for the ICC to open an investigation. Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Uganda asked the ICC to investigate crimes. The UN Security Council referred Darfur, Sudan, and Libya to the ICC. The Office of the Prosecutor acted solely on its own initiative in only one situation: Kenya.

At the same time, the Security Council has allowed political considerations to affect its decisions on referring situations to the court arising in countries that are not ICC members. This undermines the cause of justice and should be addressed by more universal ratification of the court’s treaty, which allows the court to exercise its authority without the Security Council, and more consistent action in support of justice by the council, the organizations said.

Nongovernmental groups from Burundi, Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Zambia were present for the session. Ahead of the session, African groups and international organizations with a presence in Africa, the Coalition for the ICC, International Federation for Human Rights, and Human Rights Watch issued recommendations to African ICC countries for the session.

“Justice – and not immunity – when serious crimes are committed is central to democratic societies,” said Timothy Mtambo of Malawi’s Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation. “We have asked our leaders to remain true to the ICC’s Rome Statute and other instruments they ascribe to.”