CONGOLESE NUN RECEIVES HIGH U.N. HONOR
Sep. 17 (GIN) – A Roman Catholic nun who rides a bicycle deep into the bush in the north-eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo to help female victims of war is to receive a top UN award for her courageous work.
Sister Angelique Namaika is a familiar site, pedaling down dirt roads to visit the women and to run a center she called Maman Bongissa in the village of Dungu. The center trains displaced women and girls in basic income-generating activities they could use to improve their lives.
From 2003 when she arrived in Dungu to help vulnerable women, to 2008, the flood of internally displaced persons or IDPs had become overwhelming. The Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA, a militant group fighting an insurgent war for autonomy in the region, had been, according to human rights groups, stealing children to become child soldiers, burning homes, raping women. “The need of IDP women was huge,” she recalled. “They had lived through terrible things in the bush. “
Maman Bongissa became Dynamic Women for Peace, offering training, microcredit and health care for children. Since 2003,Sister Namaika’s organization has provided support to around 2000 people, most of them displaced women and girls.
To support her work, she said: “I also have an oven at home, I bake breads every day which I sell, the money from the bread helped me to organize other activities for the women.”
The 46-year-old Sister Angélique will receive the Nansen Refugee Award and the Nansen Medal, named for Norwegian scientist and humanitarian Fridtjof Nansen, at a ceremony in Geneva on Sept. 30. Malian musicians, Amadou and Mariam will perform.
“If I manage to help only one woman to rediscover life, she told the UN committee, “I will consider I have succeeded.” w/pix of A. Namaika
VILLAGERS IN POLLUTED ZONES CALL OIL COMPANY’S COMPENSATION OFFER ‘CRUEL’
Sep. 17 (GIN) – An oil company’s offer to compensate some 13,000 fishermen who lost their livelihoods when an oil pipeline burst and caused fishing water to be fouled for years was unanimously rejected as “an insult” and “cruel”.
The Bodo community of the Niger Delta of Nigeria gave thumbs down to the offer from the Anglo-Dutch company Royal Dutch Shell of 7.5 billion Nigerian naira or just under $48 million, or about $1,750 for each person affected by the spill.
“The amount offered was equal to two to three years’ net lost earnings whereas the Bodo creek has already been out of action for five years and it may well be another 20-25 before it is up and running properly again,” said Martyn Day, a partner with the UK law firm Leigh Day.
Day, who represented the Bodo people during the negotiations with Shell, told The Guardian newspaper that Shell’s offer was rejected unanimously at a large public meeting in Bodo.
In addition to the 13,000 fishermen who lost their livelihoods, some 31,000 inhabitants of 35 villages were affected, according to Leigh Day. Independent experts estimate between 500,000 and 600,000 barrels were spilled, devastating the environment and contaminating about 30 square miles of mangroves, swamps and channels, the law firm said.
Shell acknowledged liability for the spills five years ago, but it disputes the amount spilled and the impact on the community. It offered a much-lower settlement, which was also rejected, in 2009.
With the rejection of the compensation offer, a London court is now likely to decide how much the giant Anglo-Dutch company must indemnify the affected fishermen.
Shell, for its part, said: “We have an interest in sensible and fair compensation being paid quickly to those who have been genuinely impacted by these highly regrettable spills.”
Meanwhile, a U.S. marine scientist and expert on the effect of oil spills faulted a report on the Shell spills by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), calling the study another “delaying tactic” by Shell.
The report “fails to meet its professed objectives, presents little new information, contains inaccuracies, represents a flawed process, and seriously undermines the credibility of IUCN,” wrote Prof. Richard Steiner, formerly of the University of Alaska Marine Advisory Program, in a letter published on the internet. w/pix of woman walking by oil-slicked waters
NEW BILLIONS PLEDGED AT EUROPE CONFAB FOR SOMALIA IN DISTRESS
Sep. 17 (GIN) – European donors opened their wallets again to pledge some $2.4 billion for the reconstruction of Somalia. The money throws the Horn of Africa nation another lifeline as it attempts to end more than two decades of conflict.
The money has been called a “New Deal” for what is widely regarded as a failed state.
European Union (EU) Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the extra money would support a “new phase in the life of Somalia”.
The EU contribution would be in addition to the $1.6bn it gave Somalia from 2008 to 2013.
Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab insurgent group dismissed the donor pledges as a “Belgian waffle” – sweet on the outside but really not much substance to it.” Writing on their Twitter page, they predicted that donor pledges would remain mostly unfulfilled or the money would be lost to corruption.
By coincidence, Uganda this week suspended 20 army officers accused of selling food and fuel meant for Somali-based troops, a Ugandan army spokesman told the BBC. The Ugandan contingent head, Brigadier Michael Ondoga, is among those being investigated.
Uganda is the biggest contributor to the African Union force with more than 6,000 troops in the 18,000 AU force.
While the force has helped the UN-backed Somali government regain control of key cities and towns from al-Shabab, most of southern Somalia remains under al-Shabab’s control.
Meanwhile, an American-born rap star who became a jihadi militant in Somalia and on the FBI’s most wanted list was shot to death this week in an ambush reportedly ordered by the same Somali al-Qaeda militants he had joined.
Omar Hammami, a native of Daphne, Alabama, was the son of a Christian mother and a Syrian-born Muslim father. He reportedly had a falling out with the group’s leader and expressed fear for his life in a web video in March 2012.
Reached by phone in Alabama, Hammami’s father, Shafik, said today that he had been told of the reports but could not confirm them.
Shafik Hammami defended his son for fighting for his principles. Hammami’s mother, Debra, however, said she disagreed with her son’s jihadist ideology, but added: “I do love my son and I do have motherly love… If I could just touch him for five minutes, I would be thrilled.” w/pix of Somali primary school students
SOUTH AFRICANS WIN RULING AGAINST STEEL POLLUTOR
Sep. 17 (GIN) – A major steel producer has been ordered to turn over documents about the environmental impact of its two South African facilities which activists say poisoned the air and water as well as left a trail of hazardous waste.
Activists alleged that water from ten unlined waste ponds seeped into the groundwater and polluted their wells. As a result their crops failed, animals died, and nobody would buy their land.
David Soggott, the lawyer for the Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance or VEJA, described the waste ponds as “lakes of poison.”
For years, communities living in the shadow of the plants in the Vaal Triangle, an area of heavy industry and mining in southern Gauteng province, have complained of water pollution. In 2004, they banded together to create VEJA.
Their requests to ArcelorMittal South Africa or AMSA, for documents on the illegal dumping, were ignored.
“It is our constitutional right to be aware of the activities of AMSA to be able to know how they are impacting on our health and environment,” said Samson Mokoena, Coordinator at the VEJA. “As communities, we are failing to understand that if such a company is claiming to be responsible, why it would not want to share its plans with us.”
Last week a Johannesburg high court judge agreed and ruled the company must turn over its documents.
VEJA’s lawyers applauded the decision. “The court has confirmed that organizations like VEJA are entitled to protect and exercise the right to a healthy environment by seeking information to enable them to assess environmental impacts, and to exercise a watchdog role,” said Robyn Hugo, an attorney at the Centre for Environmental Rights, a non-profit law clinic based in Cape Town, South Africa.
The company has yet to confirm that it will comply. Themba Hlengani, a ArcelorMittal South Africa spokesman, told Business Day that the company was studying the judgment and “will be consulting with our legal team on the appropriate course of action.”
Investigative reporter Richard Smallteacher researched the South Africa story for CorpWatch, a non-profit which promotes human, environmental, social and worker rights by holding corporations accountable for their actions. w/pix of VEJA coordinator S. Mokoena