Storm-hit Houston strains from influx of evacuees, crime outbreak

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Houston strained under the arrival of tens of thousands of people fleeing submerged homes and flooded roads on Wednesday, while some incidents of looting and armed robberies forced a midnight curfew.

City and regional officials showed signs of tension after working nonstop for a week or more on storm preparations and response, with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner bluntly telling the U.S. government to quickly approve aid for victims of Tropical Storm Harvey.

The storm that came ashore on Friday near Corpus Christi was the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years. It has killed at least 22 people and forced 30,000 people to flee to emergency shelters. Damage has been estimated at tens of billions of dollars.

The Houston City Council voted on Wednesday to allocate $20 million to storm recovery efforts, pulling the money from a rainy day fund, though that is an initial step and far more will be needed, officials said.

The move came as Houston police and other first responders transition from rescue operations and back to law enforcement, with Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg vowing to vigorously prosecute looters. At least 14 have been arrested for looting in the past two days, Ogg’s office said.

The surge in evacuees has been stressing resources in the fourth-largest U.S. city. As of Wednesday morning, Texas officials said close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage, with more than 1,000 destroyed. Thousands of other homes were threatened by two reservoirs swollen by as much as 52 inches (132 cm) of rain in some areas.

Officials ordered evacuations in several areas around levees or dams, but opted not to call for a mass evacuation, which could have led to chaos during the storm.

As Harvey began to dump rain and cause flooding, the city opened the George R. Brown Convention Center last weekend. It planned to house 5,000 people, operating with the help of American Red Cross volunteers and others. The center’s population quickly grew to double that capacity, as people streamed in from areas south and west of Houston.

Officials opened two more “mega” centers late Tuesday at the Toyota Center, home of the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets, and NRG Park, part of the complex that hosted the 2017 Super Bowl.

As police responded to scattered incidents of looting and armed robberies, the mayor ordered a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m., which residents respected. There were no arrests for curfew violations on Tuesday night, police said.

There were at least 20 missing people as of midday Tuesday in Houston, and a family of six, including four children, drowned inside a van in Houston during the storm, law enforcement officials said.

NEWS NOW

Kenya: The Election & the Cover-Up
Helen Epstein

Baz Ratner/TPX/Reuters
Kenyans waiting to vote in the presidential election, Gatundu, Kenya, August 8, 2017
On August 8, millions of Kenyans formed long, orderly lines outside polling stations across the country to vote in presidential and local elections. Kenya is notorious for corruption, and virtually all prior elections had been marred by rigging. This time, however, the US and Kenya’s other donors had invested $24 million in an electronic vote-tallying system designed to prevent interference. When Kenya’s electoral commission announced on August 11 that President Uhuru Kenyatta had won another five-year term with over 54 percent of the vote, observer teams from the African Union, the European Union, and the highly respected US-based Carter Center, led by former Secretary of State John Kerry, commended the electoral process and said they’d seen no evidence of significant fraud. Congratulations poured in from around the world and Donald Trump praised the elections as fair and transparent.

But not everyone was happy. Raila Odinga, leader of the opposition National Super Alliance party, or NASA, declared the election a sham as soon as the results began coming in. On August 18, he submitted a petition asking Kenya’s Supreme Court to annul it and order a re-vote. The petition claims, among other things, that nearly half of all votes cast had been tampered with; that NASA’s agents, who were entitled by law to observe the voting and counting, had been thrown out of polling stations in Kenyatta strongholds; and that secret, unofficial polling stations had transmitted fake votes. The Supreme Court is expected to rule on September 2, but on August 29, the court registrar reported that some 5 million votes, enough to affect the outcome, were not verified.

Signs that something weird was going on emerged well before the election. A month earlier, Kenya’s electoral commission contracted Ghurair, a Dubai publishing firm, to print ballots. Newspaper reports linked the company to Kenyatta’s inner circle, and Kenyan courts ordered the electoral commission to use a different firm. The order was ignored, and the electoral commission issued a single-source contract to Ghurair anyway, citing time pressure. Then the accounting firm KPMG reported that more than a million dead people might still be registered as voters. NASA officials complained that Ghurair could print extra ballots to be used to create pro-Kenyatta ghost votes. Kerry dismissed these concerns, quipping after the election, “The people who voted were alive. I didn’t see any dead people walking around.”

Ten days before the election, the brutally tortured corpse of the electoral commission’s IT manager, Chris Msando, was discovered in some bushes outside Nairobi. CCTV footage shows his car roaming around the city for hours in the middle of the night before he died. Also in the car were two men and a woman, whose dead body was discovered beside Msanado’s, suggesting a “love triangle” explanation. Many Kenyans expressed skepticism. Msando managed the electronic system for transmitting results from polling stations, and he’d been complaining to the police of death threats for weeks. Kenya’s donors, including the EU’s ambassador to Kenya, praised the government for its commitment to investigating the murders, though many Kenyans suspected the police of being involved in them. But when the US and UK offered to help with the investigation, the police declined. Kerry warned the opposition not to politicize the killing.

A week before the election, a team of US and Canadian advisers who had been helping Odinga’s campaign set up a parallel system to verify the vote counting were arrested at gunpoint and deported. Then Odinga’s spokesman fled too, citing death threats. Then the NASA vote-counting office was ransacked. The Carter Center noted in its report that the raid had probably been carried out by Kenyan security personnel.

Election day brought more problems. According to Kenya’s electoral laws, representatives from all political parties are permitted to witness the voting and the counting of ballots in polling stations after polls close. Each representative then signs a form known as 34A, certifying the count, and receives a carbon copy. The new $24 million system was supposed to enable scans of the 34A forms to be sent to the electoral commission and posted online immediately, so they could be double checked by all parties and the public. But that system broke down at polling stations all across the country, so only the numbers were sent to Nairobi, often not by the new system but by text message. NASA officials pointed out that these numbers could have been changed en route and noted various suspicious findings in the unofficial early returns, including 100 percent voter turnout at some polling stations—with all votes for Kenyatta; a consistent 11 percent spread between Odinga and Kenyatta during the vote counting—a virtual statistical impossibility; and a phenomenon known as “unvoting,” in which the totals for some candidates actually fell as more votes came in. In his remarks on behalf of the Carter Center, Kerry admitted that there had been some “little aberrations here and there,” but none that “we thus far feel affected the overall integrity of the process.”

Electoral commission officials were supposed to deliver their 34A copies to one of 290 constituency-level centers, where the totals would be recorded on forms known as 34Bs. Copies of all 34As and 34Bs were then supposed to be delivered physically to the national tally center in Nairobi, where they were to be put online—if they had not been already. But almost none were actually online on the day Kenyatta was declared the winner.

Shortly before departing Kenya, John Kerry praised the electoral commission for having done an “extraordinary job to ensure that Kenya has a free, fair and credible poll.” He then urged the opposition to “get over it and move on.”

Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
The Kenyan Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) preparing to announce election results, Nairobi, Kenya, August 11, 2017
People who have witnessed election fraud in other African countries have told me that it’s normally done by making small changes to large numbers of tallies and this appears to have happened in Kenya, where there were over 40,000 polling stations. After NASA submitted its petition, a team of American IT experts led by University of Michigan Professor of Statistics and Political Science Walter Mebane volunteered to conduct a forensic analysis of the results. Results that have been tampered with show patterns and Mebane’s computer program identified over half a million fraudulent votes in this manner—almost certainly an underestimate of the true number.

According to Mebane, the paper forms provide the true test of the integrity of the election. The Supreme Court’s registrar assembled a team of experts to physically examine the 34A and B forms that the electoral commission claimed to have used to arrive at the final results. According to their analysis, nearly a third of the forms have irregularities: some are blank, some are signed in the same handwriting, some come from polling stations that didn’t officially exist, some show results that differed from the totals on the copies of the form in NASA’s possession and from the totals announced by the electoral commission, and thousands lack official stamps, signatures, and watermarks. When the Supreme Court-appointed team examined the logs of the electoral commission’s server, it found that numerous unauthorized users had entered the system before and after the election, that the electoral commission chairman had uploaded and removed 34A forms, and that some polling center results had been added before the election had actually occurred.

Despite the growing evidence that the election was a fraud, Kenya’s notoriously corrupt judiciary may dismiss the case. When Odinga disputed Kenyatta’s victory after a similarly flawed election in 2013, the justices ruled that the election should stand, even though results from much of the country are not available even now, and probably never will be.

Another rigged election in Africa is not news. But that US election observers were so quick to endorse it is shocking. Perhaps they believed that wrapping the election up quickly would prevent violence. After Kenya’s 2007 election, which most observers have since concluded was rigged against Odinga, some of his supporters went on a looting and killing spree in ruling-party strongholds. Gangs backed by ruling-party officials fought back and the ensuing mayhem left more than a thousand people dead, caused hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, and nearly shut down the economy of much of eastern Africa, which relies on transport from the Kenyan coast. Odinga was not blameless: he was quoted making ethnically charged statements. But it was Kenyatta and his current deputy, William Ruto—who was then in a coalition with Odinga, but has since switched sides—who were charged by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity for organizing and supporting the violent gangs. (The cases against them collapsed after witnesses were intimidated or died under mysterious circumstances.)

If the observers think urging Odinga to “move on” will avoid a rerun of 2007, they are likely mistaken. The Bush White House’s rush to congratulate Odinga’s rival, Mwai Kibaki, after the rigged 2007 election helped fuel the violence that followed.

A far more troubling possibility is that the US wants Kenyatta to remain in power, at the expense of democracy. Kenya lies in one of the most volatile regions of the world. Its neighbor Somalia has been a war zone for a decade; conflict in South Sudan has sent more than two million refugees scrambling to neighboring countries, including Kenya, since 2013. Two of Kenya’s other neighbors, Uganda and Ethiopia, are ruled by US-backed autocrats who have instigated or worsened these conflicts. Ethiopia’s US-assisted invasion of Somalia in 2006 set off the mayhem there, promoting the rise of the Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabaab. In 2014, Uganda entered the South Sudan civil war on the government’s side. Humanitarian organizations called for an arms embargo, which would have made Uganda’s involvement illegal. The UN Security Council, including Russia and China, seemed open to an embargo, but the Obama did not pursue it.

Kenyatta, a drowsy-looking bon vivant and the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-independence president, is supported by a powerful network of Kenyan politicians and businessmen, mostly of Kikuyu ethnicity, who have been looting the country for decades. He has aligned Kenya with US policy by, for example, deploying Kenyan forces in AMISOM, the US- and UK-supported African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Odinga, a taciturn, ambitious seventy-two-year-old of Luo ethnicity, whose father was Jomo Kenyatta’s post-independence vice-president and later his rival, has long nursed a grudge against Kenyatta’s Kikuyu elite. He spent ten years in jail for participating in a failed coup against Jomo Kenyatta’s hand-picked successor, Daniel Arap Moi, in 1982 and he fought vigorously for Kenya’s progressive 2010 Constitution which weakened Kenya’s formerly all- powerful presidency and made local officials more accountable to their people. Odinga has pledged to deliver a plan to withdraw Kenya’s troops from Somalia in the first ninety days of his presidency. NASA officials point out that the AMISOM deployment has provoked terrorist attacks on a Nairobi shopping mall and a university, killing hundreds and devastating Kenya’s tourist industry. Odinga is also close to South Sudan’s beleaguered opposition, and might help force the US-backed government into negotiations. This is something the Obama administration seems not to have wanted, and the Trump administration seems not to either.

Thomas Mukoya/TPX/Reuters
Opposition leader Raila Odinga greeting supporters, Nairobi, Kenya, August 13, 2017
When I asked a member of the Carter Center delegation why his team was so confident about Kenyatta’s victory, he sent me a six-page report by a US-funded Kenyan NGO called the Election Observer Group. It describes a “verification” survey of the presidential results from 1,703 randomly selected polling stations around the country. According to the report, the survey predicted the electoral commission’s final results to within 0.3 percentage points for all eight candidates, including very minor ones who’d received only a few thousand votes.

It was obvious at once that something wasn’t right with this report. The NGO’s projected results were suspiciously accurate and the authors neglected to describe their sampling strategy. The sampling strategy is crucial—after all, voter preferences are not randomly spread around the country but clustered, with Kenyatta’s supporters in some regions and Odinga’s in others. A spokesman for the NGO told me that the survey was carefully stratified, but after carrying out a similar “verification” study during Kenya’s 2013 election, the same NGO declined requests to share its methodology until months after the contested vote, and when it did, several polling stations in the planned sample were reportedly missing.

A statistician friend who looked over the report for me put it this way: “Working backwards, from a known… or desired… election outcome, even I would know how to choose 1,700 polling stations to make results work. You would simply toss into the hopper Kikuyu area polling stations or remove Luo stations as needed.” Kikuyus tend to support Kenyatta; Luos, Odinga.

The Carter Center official was sanguine: “This [report] makes it highly unlikely that a large scale systematic manipulation—digital or manual—occurred during tabulation,” he wrote me. “Any significant discrepancies would have been discovered in the parallel count.”

But the study he was touting seemed to me like a piece of fake news—a flood of which had poured into Kenya around the election, virtually all pro-Kenyatta and/or anti-Odinga. Reports that Odinga had killed white farmers and that American think tanks believed Kenyatta would win appeared on newly created, convincing-looking blogs like “Foreign Policy Journal” and on mock-ups resembling Kenya’s largest daily, The Nation. While cooked-up stories about celebrities and UFOs are common in Africa, partisan fake news like this is not.

Days before the election, an official-looking document—that may or may not be genuine—was leaked to an opposition member of parliament. It described plans to deploy “regime friendly” soldiers to two of Nairobi’s largest slums, both packed with Odinga supporters. In case the people rose up after the results were announced, these men were to cut off the water and electricity supplies and block access to the city center.

A few days after the election, an obviously fake “Embassy cable” began circulating on Whatsapp, complete with US government heading and transmission codes. The unsigned author, addressing his or herself to the “Secretary of State,” predicted that if Odinga won the election, his tribesmen would be so happy they’d go on a rampage for months, looting and pillaging and destabilizing eastern Africa. While the predictions in the document are absurd, they reflect what many Kenyans probably think Americans think of them, and seemed designed to demoralize those Kenyans who have long suspected a US hand in the rigging of their elections.

Last spring, Kenyatta’s party hired, for a reported $6 million, the data research firm Cambridge Analytica, which helped elect Donald Trump and sway Britain’s Brexit vote. Cambridge Analytica’s parent company is Strategic Communications Limited, which is now working for the State Department. Articles in Slate and Politico suggest that SCL has in the past engaged in disinformation campaigns to sway elections in developing countries. The company denies this.

The most disturbing article concerning the Kenyan election appeared on the New York Times editorial page two days after the results were announced. Entitled “The Real Suspense in Kenya,” the editorial claimed that election observers had “witnessed no foul play,” even though the Carter Center’s report, in contrast to the observer’s public statements, mentions Msando’s killing, the NASA office raid, and the problems with the transmission of results.

The editorial also accused Odinga of “fann[ing] the embers of ethnic strife,” when he’d actually urged his supporters to remain calm. NASA considered organizing a nonviolent protest—permitted under Kenyan law—but deemed it too dangerous. There was spontaneous protesting and some sporadic looting in Odinga strongholds after Kenyatta’s victory was announced, but according to human rights groups, there is no evidence that this was organized, or that Odinga or NASA had anything to do with it. As the Times editors should have known, there was election-related violence, but virtually all of it was carried out by government security forces. For days after the results were announced, special police units cracked down mercilessly, killing at least twenty-four people in Odinga strongholds. The police claimed the victims were criminals or inciting violence, but this is doubtful. In the lakeside city of Kisumu, police went house to house, hurling teargas and beating and shooting people. Some victims were dragged out of bed and killed. At least ten deaths have been so far documented in this city alone, and more than a hundred others were beaten or suffered gunshot wounds. Among the dead are a nine-year-old girl shot by a stray bullet in Nairobi while playing on her balcony and a six-month-old beaten to death, in her own house, while in her mother’s arms. After Kisumu Governor Peter Anyang Nyong’o told reporters that fishermen had discovered five corpses in body bags floating in Lake Victoria, at least one of which had bullet wounds, the police claimed they were all drowning victims.

The Times editorial also failed to mention that reporters covering the police abuses have been beaten and arrested and that two highly respected Kenyan NGOs investigating them were closed down and raided by the police. A similarly misleading editorial appeared in The Washington Post on the day the election results appeared.

The US government has a disturbing history of meddling in the politics of developing countries; during the cold war, it also influenced some of our most prominent editors and journalists to downplay human rights abuses committed by its undemocratic allies. In countries like Kenya, where important US interests are at stake, the onslaught of mass-media distortions, and biased international election observers and Western-backed NGOs, suggest the possibility of concerted strategy. As the Chinese general Sun Tzu put it in his famous book The Art of War, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” But to do that, you need to make him feel he has already lost

US journalist killed in South Sudan, State Department confirms

(CNN)A US journalist has been killed in South Sudan.

The State Department confirmed that Christopher Allen was killed in the East African nation on Saturday.
“We can confirm that U.S. citizen Christopher Allen died in South Sudan on August 26, 2017 while working as a journalist. We express our condolences to Mr. Allen’s family,” it said in a statement. “The Embassy stands ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for Mr. Allen’s family, we have no further comment at this time.”
According to South Sudan’s state broadcaster, Allen was one of 19 people killed during fighting between government troops and rebels in Yei River state.
“Christopher Allen, who worked for various news outlets, was killed in heavy fighting in the town of Kaya,” South Sudan Broadcast Corporation said, citing rebels and military officials.

Cameroon president orders charges dropped, release of Anglophone leaders

Cameroonian President Paul Biya has ordered the release and dropping of all charges against arrested leaders in the Anglophone South West and North West regions leaders and the dropping of all charges against them.

The order, read on Wednesday on state radio CRTV, said the decision is in line with numerous measures taken by the government to address the concerns of the people from the Anglophone regions.

“This decision stems from the head of state’s firm resolve to continuously spell ways and means of seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis through the virtues of tolerance, dialogue and humanism,” it said.

The leaders cited in the order include Lawyer Felix Nkongho, Dr Neba Fontem, Ayah Paul Abine and radio talk show host Mancho Bibixy among others who are facing charges at the Yaounde Military Tribunal.

This decision stems from the head of state’s firm resolve to continuously spell ways and means of seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis through the virtues.
They were arrested late last year and accused of inciting violence during the protests in the North West and South West regions.

They pleaded not guilty to the charges which included complicity in hostility against the homeland, secession, civil war, and campaigning for federalism.

Paul Biya said in the order that he is determined to “combat all enemies of peace and progress, champions of division, criminals of all kinds who under the guise of political demands attempt to jeopardise the future of our country and especially that of the youth”.

“They will be brought before the courts,” he added.

On Tuesday, the Minister of Communications Issa Tchiroma Bakary threatened to shut down satellite television operators who host a new pro-secession TV channel banned in January 2017.

The Southern Cameroons Broadcasting Corporation (SCBC) TV was launched on May 6, 2017 as the mouthpiece of the North West and South West Anglophone regions with political programmes designed to push for the dissolution of the 1961 union of the Southern Cameroons with Cameroun.

The communications minister also announced that pupils in the two regions will undergo remedial classes in the first two months of the new school year to catch up with the lost school period affected by protests that rocked the regions.

The series of protests were against marginalisation.

Anglophone teachers, lawyers and students were beaten and intimidated by the security forces during peaceful protests against the imposition of the French language on their schools and courts.

Anglophone journalists also condemned a government order banning all radio and television discussions on the political situation in the region.

President Biya subsequently signed a decree establishing the National Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism to solve the matter.

Many activists, however, call for the establishment of a two-state federation.

A video recently emerged showing a dozen detainees being held in a dark cell believed to be a military bunker. They went on a hunger strike against their inhumane treatment.

The government said it was not aware of the video.

Rights groups have raised concerns about increasing repression under the 35-year-old rule of President Biya.

Last month security forces prevented a news conference by Amnesty International that had been called to demand the release of three young men jailed in 2015 for sharing a joke.

At least eight journalists are reported to have been arrested during the crisis in the Anglophone regions late last year.

At least six people were shot dead, hundreds arrested and internet was cut off for three months in the region.

The arrested protesters are being held under anti-terrorism laws enacted as part of the battle against Islamist Boko Haram militants in the north.

Media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had unsuccessfully demanded reasons for the arrest and detention of the journalists.

Storm Harvey: Bodies spotted in family’s submerged van in Houston

Police say they have recovered the bodies of six family members whose van was swept off a Houston bridge during Storm Harvey.

The van was carrying the Saldivar family when it was overtaken by violent flood waters near Greens Bayou on Sunday.

Driver Samuel Saldivar escaped through a window but was unable to rescue the other six passengers – his parents Belia Saldivar, 81, and Manuel, 84, along with their great-grandchildren Devy, 16, Dominic, 14, Xavier, 8, and Daisy, 6.

He survived by clinging onto a tree and was rescued by officers who were alerted to his shouts.

The van was swept off a bridge by floodwaters in Houston. Pic: @HCSOTexas
Image:
The van was swept off a bridge by floodwaters in Houston. Pic: @HCSOTexas
After floodwaters in the area receded, the van was spotted by family members and recovered by police.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said: “The family is devastated, we all are as well. Our worst fears have been realised.”

Storm Harvey has caused catastrophic flooding in Houston and other parts of Texas, leaving billions of dollars of damage in its wake.

Forecasters say Louisiana is now “under the gun” of the storm after it made landfall for a second time.

Thousands have fled their homes in Houston, Texas
Image:
Thousands have fled their homes in Houston, Texas
As Harvey bore down on her home on Sunday morning, Devy Saldivar spoke of her fears on Facebook.

She posted: “No sleep & anxiety, please let this pass sooner.”

Hours later, her great-uncle Sammy tried to drive the family to safety but got into difficulty as floodwaters engulfed the van on a bridge.

Sammy’s brother Ric said water “picked up” the vehicle and sent it plunging into a stream.

An aerial view of a dam in Houston, surrounded by flood waters
Video:
From the air: Flooded Houston
“It went headfirst in and water came in real fast,” Ric Saldivar told CNN. “He could hear the kids screaming and crying, trying to get out of the van.

“He’s still blaming himself, he was trying to do the right thing to get them out of the flood … and it just happened.”

He added: “I can already imagine Dad holding Mum’s hand real tight as the water rushed in.

“I know they went to heaven holding hands.”

ENOUGH PROJECT MAKE CORRECTIONS DUE TO FACTUAL INACCURACIES

he Impact of Dodd-Frank and Conflict Minerals Reforms on Eastern Congo’s War

EnoughProject makes Correction– June 20, 2014: References to a gold dealer and refiner on pages 2 and 16 have been deleted due to factual inaccuracies. A comment from the company can be found here “Response to Enough Project”

Kaloti Precious Metals (Kaloti) declares that all allegations and implications relating to its non-compliance in the gold trade business are false and without any merit or substantiation.

Kaloti is proud to have led the transparency drive in Dubai’s physical gold market by completing all stages of any independent third party audit and by implementing DMCC Guidelines on Responsible sourcing of Precious Metals and Review Protocol. Kaloti willingly underwent the first-ever audit of its gold refinery business and went a step further for transparency by voluntarily opening the third party audit to include all trading activities of Kaloti Jewellery International DMCC.

Our fully compliant final result was confirmed by Ernst & Young, the auditors, in their Review and Assurance Reports.

In all enhanced and rigid Ernst & Young audit reports and findings, Kaloti was never found to be sourcing from conflict zones or DRC area in particular. It was also never found to be funding conflict or human rights abuses or any of the other mentioned allegations All non-compliance during the initial audit stage was related to a lack of specific KYC documentations and not to say any findings of conflict gold within the supply chain.

The final findings of the Consolidated Report were published in accordance with the requirements of the regulator and they were consistent with global best practices and industry norms of compliance reporting.

Kaloti has followed and adhered at all stages to the requirements of the audit and the DMCC Review Protocol and remains fully compliant.

Just four years after enactment of historic Dodd-Frank “conflict minerals” legislation, a new investigative report by the Enough Project identifies early signs of success, with many lucrative mines in eastern Congo no longer controlled by violent armed groups responsible for mass atrocities, rape, and grave violations of human rights.

By Fidel Bafilemba, Timo Mueller, and Sasha Lezhnev | Jun 10, 2014

[This report contains a correction.]

Market changes spurred by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law on conflict minerals have helped significantly reduce the involvement of armed groups in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (“Congo”) in the mines of three out of the four conflict minerals. The law, in addition to conflict minerals audit programs from the electronics industry and related reforms begun by African governments in the region but not yet fully implemented, has made it much less economically viable for armed groups and Congo’s army to mine tin, tantalum, and tungsten, known as the 3Ts. Minerals were previously major sources of revenue for armed groups, generating an estimated $185 million per year for armed groups and the army. However, artisanally mined gold continues to fund armed commanders. Further reforms are needed to address conflict gold and close loopholes on the other minerals.

Furthermore, initial military restructuring within Congo’s army has removed armed actors from many mines, and military operations undertaken by the Congolese army and the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade have significantly reduced the threats of powerful armed groups such as the M23 and the Allied Democratic Forces. Neutralizing these groups – two of the biggest contributors to Congo’s deadly conflict in recent years – is helping improve the situation in the areas where they operated with impunity.

Nevertheless, insecurity remains a serious challenge in several areas of eastern Congo. After 15 years of the deadly conflict minerals trade in the Kivus, the Dodd-Frank law initiated meaningful reforms in the way that international commercial actors engage with the minerals trade in eastern Congo, Rwanda, and the region, and is beginning to remove the gasoline that has helped fuel Congo’s deadly conflicts. While this has started a shift toward legal and peaceful forms of natural resource extraction for several minerals, the Congolese army and several other militias continue predatory abuses against civilian populations in the absence of the rule of law. The Kinshasa government’s significant corruption and dysfunction remain major obstacles to human security in Congo. Without reforming the security sector, militarily engaging the Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group, introducing real anti-corruption reforms, and committing to free and fair elections, the security situation will remain unstable.

The Enough Project conducted five months of field research in eastern Congo, interviewing 220 people in 14 mines and towns, in addition to 32 interviews in the U.S. and Europe. The research revealed the following findings…

The text above is an excerpt from the full report, The Impact of Dodd-Frank and Conflict Minerals Reforms on Eastern Congo’s War

South Sudan Makes Progress on Cease-fire

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FILE – South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar poses for a photograph as he is interviewed by The Associated Press about the situation in South Sudan.

ADDIS ABABA—

South Sudan’s rebels signed an agreement Monday to finalize the implementation of the security arrangements that were part of an August peace accord.

Fighting has continued despite that cease-fire, but this latest development has all parties hopeful.

The government delegation and a group of former political leaders and detainees signed the agreement in September, but the rebels had refused.

General Taban Deng Gai said the rebels delayed because they were concerned about the volume of troops in the capital city, Juba.

“The government had the understanding that the 5,000 mentioned in the minutes were just only for them, but now they understand that we are going to share them,” Gai explained. “They’re going to be shared between the two parties. This will be the first unit of the army to be unified.”

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FILE – South Sudan government soldiers in the town of Koch, Unity state, South Sudan.

Talks will continue to decide on the details on the shared forces. IGAD, the East African bloc mediating, is hopeful for more progress after the signing Monday morning.

South Sudan Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Bashir calls the signing a breakthrough as talks have been going on for 22 months.

“This minute, as per the agreement, is supposed to be the operationalization of the permanent cease-fire and transitional security arrangement, which is key for the implementation of other provisions,” Bashir said.

A political rift between President Salva Kirr and his former deputy turned violent in December 2013. The conflict has left millions displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.

The U.N. warned this month that nearly 4 million people in South Sudan face “severe food insecurity,” including “tens of thousands on the brink of famine” in war-torn Unity state.

Several cease-fires have been signed since January 2014, but none of them has brought peace.

Why is George Clooney betting on South Sudan for his coffee?

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Nespresso has begun exporting coffee from South Sudan, as major companies look again at how and where they source their beans

(CNN)George Clooney could be right: the future of big coffee is small farmers. The film star and face of Nespresso has been promoting the nascent coffee industry in South Sudan, where he has long been involved as a political activist.

The company has been working with the non-profit organization TechnoServe and around 500 small farmers to restart commercial coffee exports in South Sudan, which gained its independence in 2011, but has since been gripped by a new civil conflict. Nespresso says intends to invest around $2.5 million in the country to expand its program to reach 8,000 farmers by 2020.

“The high-end coffee market is not just interested in having the best quality beans, but in having a compelling story behind those beans,” says William Warshauer, TechnoServe’s CEO. “In that sense, South Sudan represents both in a way that’s off the charts. This is the world’s last new coffee origin.”

As well as gaining it access to a unique coffee, Nespresso’s investment reflects a growing momentum within the big buyers of the commodity to invest in Africa, and in the small-scale farmers who actually grow the beans, and whose livelihoods are increasingly under threat.

“You cannot have on one side a business strategy and on the other a sustainability strategy,” Jean-Marc Duvoisin, CEO of Nestlé Nespresso, told CNN in an emailed response to questions.

“As a business, we couldn’t be sustainable if the farmers we work with are not sustainable themselves. Our approach, combining quality, sustainability and productivity principles, has resulted in better coffee quality, better environmental conditions, better social conditions and higher income for farmers.”

Livelihoods under threat

Worldwide, 85% of coffee is grown by smallholders, who sell their crop either directly to the big traders and processors, or at the farm gate through middlemen. In Africa there are more than 3 million small-scale coffee growers, according to TechnoServe, and 80% live on less than $2 per day. Research from the Fairtrade Foundation shows that the farmers at the end of the supply chain receive less than 10% of the retail price for coffee.

This structure is looking less sustainable every year, and coffee buyers are worried that their long-term prospects may be undermined by a lack of investment at the farm level. To redress the balance, they are putting more effort — and more money — into supporting the livelihoods of smallholders.

In June, Starbucks, which sources coffee from more than 30 countries, put an extra $30 million into its Global Farmer Fund program, to support smallholder farmers, more than doubling its size.

“I think the biggest market driver [for investments in smallholders] is that companies have realized it’s in their best interest, and beyond their best interest, that it’s core to their operations,” says Liam Brody, senior vice president at Root Capital, which manages funds that invest in small farmers. “Some of them have just realized that the way they’ve done business can’t continue.”

A vicious cycle

The global crop has been threatened by climate change, ageing trees and diseases, all of which have contributed to the fragility of these rural livelihoods. This in turn has made it difficult for farmers to invest in new plants, irrigation or fertilizers, leading to a vicious cycle of falling productivity and lower income. At the same time, demand is increasing as consumers in China and India switch from tea to coffee.

Africa only produces around 12% of total coffee production, but the low levels of development — and consequently low yields per farm — mean that it is well-placed to take up the slack. Comparatively small investments in inputs can have significant impact on the amount of coffee that is harvested.

“I think we’ve really reached a tipping point on this,” TechnoServe’s Warshauer says. “I think companies are seeing this fundamentally differently than they used to. They understand better than ever before that when they’re sourcing things from emerging markets, that when the family that’s growing them can’t live above the poverty line while doing so, then what they’re buying might not be there when they come back the next year to buy it again.”

Victims of North Darfur tribal clashes need aid

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Houses burn during clashes between Berti and Beni Omran tribesmen in Mellit, North Darfur, 22 October 2015 (RD)

The people who lost their homes during tribal clashes in Mellit, North Darfur, on Thursday have yet to receive humanitarian assistance.

The Popular Committee of Dar El Naeem has handed the locality’s commissioner the names of the sixty families whose homes were torched in the Berti-Beni Omran fighting, pointing out that these people are in urgent need of food, water, tents, and plastic sheets.

According to the Committee, Mohamed Ahmed El Zein was killed during the clashes. El Hadi Abdallah Adam, Suleiman Hemeida Mohamed, Ahmed Osman Abdelkarim and Jamal Adam Abdallah were injured.

Sudan govt. will only talk with armed movements in Addis

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The AU mediation team consults Sudan opposition leaders in Addis Ababa on 22 August 2015 (AUHIP)

The National Consensus Forces (NCF) have not received an invitation from the AU High-level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) to meet with the Sudanese government in Addis Ababa on 2 November. The Sudanese government is willing to take part in a preparatory meeting on the National Dialogue, brokered by the AUHIP, yet the meeting should be confined to the rebel movements only.

Tareg Abdelmajeed, the secretary of the NCF coalition of opposition parties said in an interview in Radio Dabanga’s Milafaat Sudaniya on Sunday that they have not received an invitation for a preparatory National Dialogue meeting. He said the NCF will discuss the issue with their allies, the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) rebel alliance and the National Umma Party.

On Tuesday, the Sudanese government said it received an invitation from the AU mediation team to resume peace talks with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) on the Two Areas (South Kordofan and the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian capital on 2 November.

Priorities

However, SPLM-N Secretary-General Yasir Arman told Radio Dabanga last Thursday that they had not yet received an invitation. He said that the priorities of the new negotiation round were still a subject of discussion; whether to start with a preparatory National Dialogue meeting, or a meeting on a cessation of hostilities in the Two Areas.

Arman said the SPLM-N prepared themselves for two scenarios: “We will go to Addis Ababa, where we will demand a comprehensive solution [for all crises in Sudan] until it becomes a major issue on Sudanese, regional, and international agendas.” The rebel movement also plans to discuss a ceasefire in the Two Areas to allow humanitarian organisations access to the war-torn areas. “The issue of the delivery of aid will be presented as a top priority,” he stressed.

Rebels only

On Sunday, the Sudanese government affirmed its readiness to meet with the armed movements in a preparatory meeting for the National Dialogue at any time determined by the AUHIP.

In a press conference in Khartoum, member of the 7+7 National Dialogue Coordination Committee and Assistant to the President Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamed definitively ruled-out any preparatory meeting abroad with opposition parties present in the country. These parties are welcome to join the National Dialogue sessions in Khartoum, he said. The 2 November meeting in Addis Ababa will be restricted to the rebel movements.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ibrahim Ghandour met with AUHIP chairman Thabo Mbeki last Friday in the Ethiopian capital, to discuss his proposal for holding a pre-dialogue meeting with the armed opposition.

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