Kenya + 2 more

East Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 24 August

UGANDA: Government unconcerned by Besigye 'disappearance'
Senior presidential adviser on media and public relations John Nagenda on Thursday dismissed as an unimportant issue the alleged disappearance of former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye, who came second to President Yoweri Museveni in elections in March. News and rumours of Besigye's 'disappearance' were the talk of the country but Nagenda told Radio Uganda that the whole saga was "complete and utter nonsense" which only "silly" foreign media were taking seriously, and that Besigye was just trying to draw attention to himself. "It is unimportant and I do not want to waste time on it," he added.

Besigye reportedly went missing from his residence in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, on Friday 17 August and his whereabouts have remained unknown, although there is speculation that he may have fled the country. Security agencies have impounded a vehicle suspected to have been used by him to leave the country in Kapchorwa, eastern Uganda, leading to speculation that Besigye could have crossed into Kenya, the Ugandan government-owned 'New Vision' reported on Friday, 24 August. "We do not know where he is, and how he left the country," it quoted Ugandan army spokesman Lt-Col Phineas Katirima as saying.

Family sources have said that Besigye had received information that he was to be arrested and charged with being a threat to national security. Besigye's wife, Mbarara MP Winnie Byanyima, has petitioned the government to produce her husband, saying that it was responsible for his disappearance. "It's a worrying situation and I'm angry at those people who have ... the government, for having made him run away from his family, and who have made him so insecure since the presidential elections," Kenyan Television Network (KTN) on Thursday quoted her as saying.

[for more information, see "IRIN Interview with opposition politician Kizza Besigye", recorded on 3 July and published on 24 August 2001.]

UGANDA: USAID to help tackle cotton disease

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is financing research aimed at curbing cotton wilt disease, which is prevalent and spreading in some of Uganda's cotton growing regions, the 'Dow Jones' financial news agency reported on Thursday. Peter Olupot, cotton project coordinator with the USAID 'Compete' programme (for Competitive Private Enterprise and Trade Expansion), said a US Department of Agriculture expert would travel to Uganda by October to help local experts develop ways of controlling the disease. He said the disease was caused by a fungus, and resulted in the drying of affected plants, 'Dow Jones' reported.

"No serious thought had been given to this disease for years, but it's now spreading. We have to do something before it becomes a problem in the future," it quoted Olupot as saying. The disease is currently controlled by uprooting and burning affected trees. Cotton was Uganda's third-largest export commodity after coffee and tea, accounting for just under 5 percent of annual commodity export revenue, the report stated. Output has been steadily increasing from around 35,000 bales a year in the mid-1990s to an estimated 100,000 bales in the year 200-'01, it added.

SUDAN: Establishment of inter-religious dialogue announced

The Minister for Guidance and Endowments Dr Islam Ahmad al-Bashir on Wednesday announced the establishment of a department within his ministry to foster dialogue within and between the Islamic and Christian religions in Sudan, and to support peaceful coexistence through constructive dialogue, the official Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) reported on Thursday. The minister stated his intention to cooperate with all religions and sect to maintain national unity, and said he would establish a council to deal with the affairs on non-Muslins, it added.

The Sudanese civil war, increasingly a battle for political power and economic resources, has also presented itself in religious terms at different times, as rebel groups from the predominantly Christian and animist south have battled against successive Arab and Islamic-dominated regimes in the north. Influential Christian groups have also presented the abduction of women and children in southern Sudan - and alleged slavery, which the government denies - as an extreme form of religious intolerance by the Islamic north.

SUDAN: Security forces say oil attack foiled

The Sudanese army on Thursday stated that it had foiled a rebel attempt to blow up an oil pipeline in Red Sea State, eastern Sudan, Sudanese TV reported on Thursday. Security personnel guarding the pipeline had defused an explosive device in the Braniu area, 400 km south of Sinkat, according to the report. Guards had uncovered some publications by the Beja Congress, a rebel group allied to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), along with a number of grenades and an amount of TNT explosive, it added. The SPLM/A has repeatedly accused foreign oil companies operating in southern Sudan of collaborating with the Sudanese government, and warned that they are "legitimate targets" in the country's 18-year civil war.

KENYA: Religious group refuses polio immunisation

A religious sect in northeastern Kenya has refused to allow the vaccination of members' children against polio, the 'East African Standard' reported on Thursday. About 300 members of the banned 'Dini ya Musambwa' ('Religion of Tradition') sect rejected the proposed vaccination of children under five years of age, saying that the practice was "ungodly", and that the sect used traditional healing methods, the report stated. District Public Health Officer Stephen Porrot was quoted as saying that he had asked the local chief to educate the community on the importance of immunisation.

During a recent polio vaccination campaign in the Democratic Republic of Congo, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy told IRIN that it was important not to dismiss people's fears about immunisation but to educate them on its safety and benefits. "There's probably very little more safe than oral polio vaccine in terms of how many people it has saved from being crippled, and it's used all over the world," she said.

KENYA: Ambassador criticises 'irresponsible' MPs

Japan's Ambassador to Kenya Morihisa Aoki on Wednesday decried as "irresponsible" those Kenyan MPs who last week voted against a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the government introduce new anti-corruption measures, the 'East African Standard' newspaper reported. The outgoing Japanese envoy said his government was unhappy with the Kenyan parliament's rejection of the bill, which sought to pave the way for the reestablishment of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA) and open the door to millions of dollars of donor funding. Speaking at a meeting with Vocational Training Minister Isaac Ruto, Aoki praised the Kenyan government for recent improvements in transparency and accountability in its budget spending, and said Japan felt "obliged" to assist the East African country.

President Daniel arap Moi last week announced the establishment of a new police unit to tackle corruption, saying it would ensure that 132 cases formerly being handled by the country's defunct Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority (KACA) would be investigated and "concluded expeditiously". The announcement came on Wednesday 15 August, a day after Kenyan MPs voted down the constitutional amendment bill, which opposition groups criticised as window-dressing that would only allow for anti-corruption measures that were too weak and defective to achieve anything.

Although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has tied the release of an estimated US $317 million of funding to progress on anti-corruption and privatisation measures outlined in Kenya's economic reform programme, Moi said the government would continue to follow its IMF-approved poverty reduction programme.

KENYA: Government admits low pay threatening health services

The government of Kenya admitted on Thursday that the country's hospitals were facing a serious shortage of medical staff as doctors and nurses left the country in search of better jobs abroad, according to news reports. "It is true that doctors are leaving the country for greener pastures abroad. This is because of the low salaries they are earning in Kenya", the 'East African Standard' quoted the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Julius Meme, as saying.

Meme said Kenyan doctors in public service earned a maximum of Ksh 31,880 (US $414) per month, while their South African counterparts were paid the equivalent of Ksh 200,000 (US $2,600). Kenyan doctors have demanded a 300 percent pay rise, to rise the salary of the lowest paid to Ksh 61,000 (US $792). However, the 'East African Standard' quoted Minister of Medical Services Maalim Muhammad as saying that the government could not afford the increase demanded.

The Kenya Medical Association (KMA) on Tuesday warned that emigration of medical professionals was threatening the very existence of the country's health services. The KMA said that low pay was forcing about 20 doctors to leave Kenya each month to take up better jobs in other countries, and that Kenya currently had only 600 doctors and 70 dentists in the public sector, to treat over 28 million people. This 'brain drain' had contributed to a general deterioration in medical services, and health facilities were increasingly available only to the wealthy, it added.

Meme said the government planned to continue to provide health services across Kenya by redistributing the country's remaining doctors. "We have to take deliberate steps which will see us make do with the few remaining doctors," he said.

Opposition Democratic Party MP and shadow minister for education, Matu Wamae, called on the government to establish a task force to tackle the crisis in the health sector. "As it is now, we are the laughing stock to countries who receive our professionals," he said.

[ENDS]

[IRIN-CEA: Tel: +254 2 622147 Fax: +254 2 622129 e-mail: irin-cea@ocha.unon.org ]

[This item is delivered in the "africa-english" service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: irin@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Reposting by commercial sites requires written IRIN permission.]

Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2001