Kenya + 2 more

East Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 22 March

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KENYA: Government denies starvation-related deaths
The Kenyan government on Tuesday denied there had been any starvation-related deaths in the northeast Wajir district, according to the 'Daily Nation' newspaper. Minister in the office of the president in charge of relief and rehabilitation Shariff Nassir told journalists that any deaths in the district were due to "other ailments". He said districts such as Mandera, Moyale, Marsabit and Turkana were harder hit than Wajir, and added that the government was monitoring the situation. News organisations last week reported at least 85 deaths resulting from starvation in the Wajir area and warned that the number could be higher since the area's residents are pastoralists who bury their dead the same day. Local MPs have accused the government of adopting a "don't-care-attitude" towards the people of the entire northeastern region, and of "typically" giving "untruthful" official statements with no solutions to the famine situation, the 'Daily Nation' said.

But Nassir on Tuesday called on leaders from the area to "stop politicising" the issue of distributing relief food to famine victims in the country. He said the drought early warning system had indicated that Wajir district was only in a "state of alert". The under-secretary in charge of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL), Maalim Mahaboub, also told IRIN on Wednesday that Wajir district has been depicted as an emergency situation "contrary to the true situation on the ground". "Only only environmental conditions, specifically water, have shown signs of deterioration," he said. "Animal and human body condition is fine and more animals are being sold in Wajir market today than in December 1999."

KENYA: Monkeys battle villagers over water

Ten villagers were injured and eight monkeys killed in a two-hour fight over relief water delivery at Takaba trading centre, Mandera district, the 'Daily Nation' reported. It said the trouble started on Monday when three water tankers bringing water from neighbouring Elwak town to the drought-stricken area arrived at the trading centre. "The monkeys attacked the villagers who were drawing water sending them fleeing, as they [monkeys] took to quenching their thirst with the villagers' water," the paper said. It quoted a local official as saying the villagers at this point, regrouped and armed themselves with axes and machetes and "counter-attacked the monkeys who stood their ground and fought back".

KENYA: Government issues malaria alert in southwest

The Kenyan government has issued a high malaria alert for residents and visitors to Nyanza and parts of the Rift Valley provinces, the 'East African Standard' reported on Tuesday. It said an upsurge of highland malaria cases was expected following the onset of the long rains. The paper quoted Nyanza provincial medical officer Ambrose Misore as saying the government had increased drug supplies in malaria endemic areas and medical personnel had been put on high alert. Misore said highly vulnerable districts like Kisii, Nyamira and Gucha were already recording at least 100 cases per week, with about 100 malaria deaths recorded at the Kisii district hospital between January and 17 March.

KENYA: Moi announces firearms amnesty

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi last week announced a one month time period for surrendering illegal firearms to the authorities. Kenyan radio quoted him as saying that those who handed in their weapons within this period would not be prosecuted. Moi made the announcement as a follow-up to the recently-held Africa conference on the proliferation of small arms and light weapons which took place in Nairobi.

UGANDA: 530 die in mass suicide

Uganda's Interior Minister Edward Rugumayo on Tuesday said 530 people had died in an apparent mass suicide last Friday by members of the cult Movement for the Restoration of the 10 Commandments of God. In a statement reported by the 'New Vision' daily, he said 78 of the victims were children. The incident occurred at Kanungu in southwestern Uganda, with many of the victims burnt beyond recognition, although the majority appeared to be women, Rugumayo said. The cult was headed by doomsday prophet Joseph Kibwetere and had 4,200 followers with branches in various parts of the country. "The sect was sworn to silence," Rugumayo said. "There was little communication with the outside world." President Yoweri Museveni expressed deep shock and said the government would investigate the incident.

UGANDA: Museveni tells Karamojong to give up guns

Meanwhile, President Museveni on Monday ordered Karamojong warriors in the northeast to surrender their guns with "immediate effect", Ugandan radio said. Museveni who was addressing a public rally in Moroto district also said the army presence would be increased. The president requested the Karamojong to work with the government as vigilantes to bring peace to the area. He added he had come to Moroto to ensure his directives were implemented "to the letter" and if necessary, "with maximum force". [see also IRIN 'Focus on growing tension in Karamoja' of 22 March]

UGANDA: Government puts off national census

The Ugandan government has put off a national population and housing census, which was to be held this year, for at least two years because the it has no money to fund it, 'The East African' weekly newspaper reported. "This year we have the referendum, the referendum campaigns, and the national health and demographic survey, all of which are going to cost a lot of money, so we cannot also have the census," the paper quoted a finance ministry official as saying.

UGANDA: Government meets donors

A meeting between the government's donor Consultative Group (CG) and foreign donors opened on Tuesday in Kampala, Presidential Press Secretary Hope Kivengere told IRIN. "The government is presenting its policy documents on different areas and the donors react to the presentations by seeking clarifications, making comments on various proposed expenditures, policies," she said. The meeting, modelled after the Paris Club, is taking place in Uganda for the second time. "The first was held last year after President Yoweri Museveni requested donors in Paris to hold such meetings in the developing countries to see exactly what is usually presented at the Paris Club," she explained. The meeting will end on Thursday after which delegates will visit President Museveni's home area in western Uganda, at his invitation, to see some of the projects there.

UGANDA: WFP resumes food distributions in north

WFP has resumed food distributions to displaced people in the northern Gulu and Kitgum districts, a statement from the organisation said. Distributions to the two areas were suspended in late December because of insecurity. WFP said military escorts were being used for the food convoys and that in the last two weeks, over 1,600 mt of food had been distributed to more than 175,000 internally displaced people (IDPs). The UN food agency pointed out, however, that the security situation was still "unpredictable" with more reports of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels entering from Sudan. Staff and food movements outside of Gulu and Kitgum were currently restricted while WFP awaited clearance from government authorities. In northeast Uganda, some 670 mt of food commodities were delivered to the Karamoja region to assist the population affected by prolonged drought. WFP said an emergency operation was being prepared to provide food for an estimated 160,000 needy people in Karamoja for the next six months.

UGANDA: New arrivals noted

Since the beginning of March more than 300 Sudanese have arrived in the Moyo and Arua areas of northwest Uganda, WFP said. The new arrivals reportedly claim harassment from Sudanese rebels and forced conscription into the army. People also report inter-tribal fighting as one of the reasons for leaving Sudan.

TANZANIA: Thousands defy government call to vacate homes

Thousands of residents in the flood-prone areas of Dar es Salaam's lowlands have defied a government call that they evacuate their homes following the start of the long rains. The Tanzanian 'Guardian' newspaper reported on Tuesday that as the valley dwellers, soaking from weeks of heavy rainfall, braved the downpour, meteorologists warned that flooding in the lowlands was imminent. "The ongoing long rains are expected to last until May and I wouldn't be surprised if floods hit the valleys as it happened during the El Nino rains," the paper quoted the director-general of the National Meteorological Agency, Mohamed Mhita, as saying. Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Yusuf Makamba said the government may have to "forcibly" remove the residents for their own safety.

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