BeninSecondary schools in Benin have been shut down and many government offices have been under-staffed as a result of a three-day strike by public sector workers to demand higher pay.
The nationwide "warning strike" by SYNARES, the union representing teachers in secondary schools and colleges of higher education, and the Confederation of Workers of Benin (CSTB), began on November 11.
All secondary schools and the university in the capital Cotonou were closed by the teachers' strike, but there was only a partial walk-out at government offices, since not all civil servants belong to the CSTB.
The civil service union is demanding an increase in the minimum wage of government employees, which is currently 30,000 CFA francs (US $52) per month.
It is also seeking the restoration of automatic pay rises after every two years of service. These increments were abolished five years ago, when the government decided to award pay rises purely on the grounds of merit.
The teachers and university lecturers are demanding pay arrears for overtime work and time spent preparing research for publication. They also want greater transparency in the way university finances are managed and the right to appoint the rector of the university. This official is currently appointed by the government.
The strikes were called following the collapse of negotiations between the government and the unions on 31 October. (Source: IRIN)
Central African Republic
Gendarmes in the Central African Republic have recommended the incorporation of a course on international law in their training and the provision of documents on the topic in all gendarmerie stations across the country.
The gendarmes made the recommendation on November 11 at the end of a two-day training seminar organised for them in the capital, Bangui, by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"After this seminar the difference between ordinary immigrants who come here in search of wealth and refugees became clearer," Elysee Nouzoukem, a warrant officer who was among the 60 gendarmers at the seminar, said.
He is based at the gendarmerie station of Berberati, 186 km west of Bangui.
A UNHCR protection officer, Mamadou Diane, conducted the training on refugee basic rights and obligations as well as the mandate of the UN agency in charge of refugees. The gendarmes were drawn from across the country.
"As law enforcement forces, you have the duty to welcome and protect refugees," Jean Claude Matongo, a UNHCR security officer, told the participants, who included 10 women. (Source: IRIN)
Rodrigo Angue Nguema, a journalist for the French news agency, Agence France Presse (AFP), was released by Equatorial Guinean authorities on November 11 after eights days in detention. No formal charges were proffered against him. "He was questioned over the sources of an article he wrote," a source said.
Nguema was arrested last Monday, two days after the government had accused foreign media of spreading false stories. The government had earlier strongly denied rumours of a possible coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.
In a statement broadcast on national television and radio, government spokesman Antonio Fernando Nve Ngu, accused foreign agencies of spreading false stories, saying the rumours were "the fruits of their imagination".
The government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has in the past been accused of harassing the press. In 2002, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) secretary general Robert Menard wrote to Nguema saying: "Your country is one of the most repressive in Africa when it comes to press freedom."
The country's human rights record has also drawn sharp criticisms from human rights organisations. Following a December 2002 visit, the Special Rapporteur of the UN s Commission on Human Rights, Ambeyi Ligabo called for a parallel improvement in the realisation of human rights to accompany Equatorial Guinea s oil-backed economic growth. (Source: IRIN)
Water shortages in eastern and southern Ethiopia are reaching "emergency proportions" as a result of failed rains, according to the Ethiopian government s federal early warning system (EWS), based in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Pastoralists in the remote Somali Region [now officially classified as the Somali National Regional State - SNRS] and along the border with Kenya in the south are facing critical shortages of pasture for their animals, EWS said in a report on Wednesday. "The performance of the season is worrying," it noted.
The EWS also reported that signs of malnutrition were now appearing among the vulnerable. In particular, it noted, shortages of water and pasture were reaching "emergency proportions" in certain districts, especially those on the border with Somalia in the far east of the country.
The Deyr rains, normally expected in October, and vital to pastoralists in the Somali region, are now a month late. It was the failure of the same rains in 1999 that caused the devastating drought estimated to have claimed 50,000 lives. The failure of this year's Deyr rains also comes in the wake of a country-wide drought which has left 13.2 million people dependent on international food aid.
"It is important to note that in this largely pastoral region, one rain failure or a significant delay in one rainy season can easily result in a drought situation, because the population is very dependent on the biannual rainfall cycle," the EWS said. "Currently, southern highlands, southern and southeastern parts of the country are major concern areas," it added. "They cover most parts of the pastoral areas." (Source: IRIN)
The government has suspended Ethiopia s independent journalists' association in a row over its out-of-date operating licence, officials said on November 12.
The association said it had been shut down for political reasons. "This is a major blow for free speech and press freedom in the country, said Kifle Mulat, who has been president of the 155-strong Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association for the last four years.
The suspension came amid increasing tensions between the government and the EFJA over a controversial new draft press law. "We are fighting this draconian press law and the government do not like that," Kifle said. The draft press law, which could come into effect later this year, has been condemned by international freedom of speech watchdogs as being "restrictive".
The EFJA, which was set up in 1993 but only granted its government licence three years ago, claims to fight for the rights of the independent press in Ethiopia. However, it has drawn criticism from journalists in the private press for "weak leadership" and for being "over politicised".
The ministry of justice, which imposed the suspension and is responsible for registering NGOs, insisted the move was "not politically motivated". Getachew Gonfa, head of registration at the ministry, said the sanction had been imposed because the EFJA had been operating illegally by failing to renew its annual operating licence for the last three years. Under Ethiopian law, all organisations working within the country must be licensed by the ministry and provide audit reports detailing financial records. (Source: IRIN)