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Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Angolan government to manage oil revenues better and allow for greater fiscal transparency, so that Angolans can enjoy the benefits of the country's resources, HRW said on 13 January.

Although Angola's 27-year civil war ended in 2002, "an estimated 900,000 Angolans are still internally displaced. Millions more have virtually no access to hospitals or schools, [and] according to United Nations estimates, almost half of Angola's 7.4 million children suffer from malnutrition", the rights group noted.

"While ordinary Angolans suffered through a profound humanitarian crisis, their government oversaw the suspicious disappearance of a truly colossal sum of money. This seriously undermined Angolans' rights," Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights programme at HRW, said in a statement.

The government's failure to account for missing funds was rooted in its failure to keep accurate records of its revenues and expenditures. "Even if the government decided to fully disclose information [on oil revenue], it would not necessarily meet public needs, since its own record keeping is so poor," the lobby group added.

An audit was needed because, while it was "possible to determine that funds are missing and that there are major discrepancies in government accounts ... it is very difficult to determine exactly how public funds were spent."

The Human Rights Watch report - "Some Transparency, No Accountability: The use of oil revenue in Angola and its impact on human rights" - draws heavily on International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports and an unreleased "Oil Diagnostic" done by international accounting firm KPMG on behalf of the World Bank and the government.

"Perhaps the most disturbing disclosure by the IMF in its March 2002 and July 2003 reports was the sheer size of unaccounted-for funds, which it describes as 'discrepancies' in government expenditures. The [IMF] report included a stark account of how much money had been spent for unexplained purposes and was effectively missing ... [which] totalled about US $703 million per year from 1997 to 2002, or about 9.5 percent of the country's GDP," the report noted. (Source: IRIN)


Despite the growing number of women choosing a media career, very few are in decision-making positions, a situation the recently formed Botswana Media Women Association (BOMWA) aims to correct.

"In the leadership positions we have not reached 30 percent representation because media remains male-dominated at management levels," said Shollo Phetlhu, BOMWA chairperson and acting general manager of Botswana TV (BTV).

"The media sets the agenda and is the mirror through which the country looks at itself. We therefore feel that the role of the media in nation building cannot be complete without the active participation of women," she said.

Although Botswana has the highest proportion of women print media practitioners in Southern Africa - 41 percent compared to the regional average of 22 percent - women continue to complain about entrenched gender imbalances. Challenging the media, using its own codes and standards, is a strategy BOMWA intends to exploit.

"Our women need to be empowered in the area of training, to keep abreast of development, because media is dynamic. For example, BTV women no longer have to carry heavy equipment and can use small, portable and up-to-date cameras," commented Caroline Phiri-Lubwika, information officer at the Botswana chapter of the Media Institute Southern Africa (MISA).

"This helps to break down barriers for women wanting to take up challenging jobs," she added. Phiri-Lubwika said giving women a voice through the national media was also vital.

"In every society women and children suffer the most, so it is very important to allow them to be able to air their grievances. A male-dominated management is unlikely to understand problems experienced by women," she explained. (Source: IRIN)


At least nine people have died from an outbreak of acute gastro-enteritis in Moundou, the main town in southern Chad, following the breakdown of its water works which has led people to drink polluted water from wells and the local river, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

The ministry said 90 people had fallen ill with acute diarrheoa and vomiting since the town's main water pumping station broke down in late December.

The World Health Organisation sent a mission led by Dr. Yam Abdoulaye to the industrial town 500 km south of the capital N'Djamena on January 11 to investigate the outbreak and determine the exact nature of the disease

Its victims suffer a rapid loss of body fluids. The government has so far avoided any suggestion that the disease may be cholera. The river Logone which flows through Moundou is heavily polluted with the effluent from a local abattoir and factories that make soap, cooking oil, tobacco and beer. (Source: IRIN)


Ethiopia's traditional community-based burial societies - idirs - are now turning their attention to helping people living with HIV, officials said on January 13.

"This change of mandate is very fundamental," Dr Eyob Kamil, head of Addis

Ababa's Health Bureau, said at the launch of a training programme for idirs. "It's mobilising community support and giving skills to provide care to everyone. This is community empowerment."

Idirs are community groups to which people pay subscriptions towards meeting funeral and mourning costs. They have a very long reach among communities and are found in almost all parts of the country. Members of these burial societies are currently being trained for HIV/AIDS-related work in Addis Ababa.

People active in the field of HIV/AIDS believe the involvement of the idirs will result in the establishment of the country's largest home-based care programme in the Ethiopian capital.

So far, some 250 volunteers from 20 idirs in Addis Ababa have received training under the scheme. "What is fantastic about this project is the engagement of the idirs, whose primary mandate is to take responsibility for the funeral, mourning and costs," Eyob said.

"Now, with the increasing number of people living with HIV/AIDS, the idirs are changing their mandate and will focus on providing care for their members still alive, as well as caring for all the people in their geographic area."

More than 2 million people - 200,000 of them children - are living with HIV in Ethiopia, according to the government. Some campaigners say the true figure is far higher. (Source: IRIN)


Lobby group the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) has vowed to frustrate any talks on constitutional reform between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition.

It argues that only Zimbabweans - not political parties - have the right to decide on the matter.

NCA chairman Lovemore Madhuku said he would consider negotiations on constitutional reforms between the two parties an "illegitimate process", even though the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had its roots in the NCA and the labour movement. "Political parties could only discuss the modalities on how to involve the people," he said.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, on a visit to Zimbabwe in December, and the church, have both urged ZANU-PF and the MDC to negotiate a solution to the country's deep political and economic crises.

While the MDC has denied that any talks have so far taken place, it has insisted that the focus of any dialogue should be on constitutional reforms, to ensure future elections are free and fair.

The NCA, an umbrella civic organisation, successfully lobbied in 2000 for the rejection by referendum of a controversial draft constitution by the government-appointed Constitutional Commission.

After that defeat, President Robert Mugabe said the country would stick with its original constitution, which has been much criticised for the power vested in the presidency. The NCA proposes "people-driven" reforms, based on a national consultative process. (Source: IRIN)

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