Tribute to late Mary Nura Bassiouni: Celebrating a South Sudan's woman of steel

The New Sudan Vision is pleased to present an inspiring story of late Mary Nura Bassiouni, a prominent Southern Sudanese politician and tireless advocate of women’s issues around the world.

This past International Women’s Day (March 8), a global day which celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women, was dedicated to her memory by South Sudan Institute for Women's Education and Leadership for her contributions to Sudan and various women causes.

This installment is part of our long-running theme of digging up stories of unsung south Sudanese heroes. The story was reprinted with the permission of the Bassiouni family and South Sudan Institute for Women's Education and Leadership.

Mary Nura Bassiouni when she was giving a speech at Advocate International Conference in San Antonio in 1999

Mary Nura Bassiouni was an icon of women’s leadership, a pioneering politician and a passionate humanitarian. She devoted a lifetime to a distinguished selfless public service career. The second-eldest daughter of Elizabeth Soro Sangwa Luwo and Philip Soro, Mary was born in Juba, Sudan, on June 12, 1946. She was educated at Kator Elementary School in Juba. She then attended Loa Intermediate School, before proceeding to St. Teresa’s Teachers Training College, Kator, where she trained as a primary school teacher. She obtained a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) in Business Administration from Pacific Western University. In her packed public service life Mary Bassiouni devoted time to study French with passion. She achieved an exceptionally high proficiency in the French Language. She used it extensively to widen her extraordinary network of professional associates and friends. Throughout her school years, Mary exhibited remarkable natural leadership skills, the key trait that would later define her trail blazing Public Service career – fearless leadership, passionate advocacy, progressive values and strong, community-centered principles. Above all she championed the cause of women at a time when discrimination and inequity was accepted as their normal station in life.
On August 12th, 2008, Mary Nura Bassiouni lost her life at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, USA, after bravely battling cancer. As in life, she remained calm, resolute and defiant to the end and when the end came, she departed on her own terms in dignity and in the arms of her beloved husband and children. That dark day deprived the Sudan, the African continent and women at large of one of the most extraordinary women of our time. Although fate has silenced a powerful voice for the disadvantaged and dispossessed, her legacy lives on to inspire the younger generations especially women to aspire to greater heights.
Activist and banker 
Growing up in a politically-conscious family with deep roots in Public Service, Mary Bassiouni became a passionate supporter of the Southern Sudanese cause. She joined the Southern Front, then the leading political movement, and became a strong party activist as the South struggled for self-determination. Following her graduation, she found her first career calling in the financial sector in the Barclays Bank in Juba, Southern Sudan. The Ministry of Education and Barclay’s Bank conducted an extensive search for highly qualified Southern Sudanese women, and Mary was selected, becoming the first Southern Sudanese woman to join the Bank.

Rising star in exile
Mary met her soul mate, David S. Bassiouni, in 1965 when both were active student leaders at the frontlines of the Southern cause. It was the beginning of a special enduring union that would last forty years – she pursued the path of a rising political phenomenon while he attended Khartoum University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Following death threats and harassment, Mary and many members of the Southern Front went into exile in Uganda. During her exile, Mary was appointed as an official at the Nigerian High Commission in Kampala but she continued to champion the cause and supported Southern Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
Wife, mother and political leader 


Mary Nura Bassiouni and her family (Family photo)

Following her return from exile in 1965, Mary resumed work for Barclays Bank in Khartoum and continued to advocate for the Southern Sudanese. Within five years, she would fulfill multiple roles as a loving wife, fiercely devoted mother, successful banker and emerging politician. In 1967, she married Dr. David Bassiouni as he started his veterinary career and then gave birth to Emile in Kassala two years later. Aida would follow in 1972 and David, Jr. would join the family in 1976. Balancing the duties of a fiercely loving mother with her career, Mary continued to work for Barclays Bank while continuing to advocate for the Southern Sudanese cause, particularly the unity of the South. She lived by her favourite quote from Napoleon: “Give me a good mother and I will give you a nation.”
David and Mary returned to Juba in 1972 following the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 and played leading roles in the establishment and running of the Regional Government in South Sudan. Once there, Mary left the banking world, became a full-time politician and continued her meteoric rise up the political ladder. She became the President of the Sudanese Women’s Union, the first women’s organization in Southern Sudan, and devoted her time to promoting women’s rights and issues in the Region. Mary was then elected into office to represent the women of Equatoria in the newly established Regional Assembly, another validation of her fierce commitment to women’s issues and Southern Sudanese concerns and aspirations. She was subsequently re-elected twice to the Southern Regional Parliament where she served at the ministerial level as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Social Affairs.  She also designed and built the Multi-Purpose Sudanese Women Center in Juba, which continues to offer a variety of vocational training and facilities to the women of Southern Sudan. Today, it stands out as a milestone of her legacy of distinguished contribution to Public Service.
Political pioneer and national figure 
As a three-term Member of Parliament, Mary Bassiouni became a member of the Sudanese Socialist Union (SSU) and rose to the membership of its Politburo, then the highest political organ in the country. Soon afterwards, she became the first Southern Sudanese woman to serve as Minister of Internal Affairs in the cabinet of President Jaafar Nimery. While representing her Southern Sudanese constituency, she also championed a variety of national and international causes ranging from contributing to the pioneering OAU initiatives in addressing gender issues, to helping to implement the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
In her capacity as a leader and a female icon, she represented and championed Sudanese interests in conferences throughout the African continent, the Middle East and Europe. She lent her voice and expertise to hundreds of seminars, conferences and workshops. Throughout this time, she continued to make difficult and courageous decisions based on deeply-held values and principles. In 1983, she took a principled stand against the proposed imposition of Sharia Law in the Sudan because of her commitment to national harmony. This historic stand ended up costing her the ministerial position, which she happily relinquished for the greater interest. She subsequently left the government in protest, preferring to live in exile instead of compromising her principles.
Advocate and humanitarian 
In the photo is former secretary of state Madeline Albright (third from left) and late Mary Nura Bassiouni (far right corner) at Advocate International Conference in San Antonio in 1999 (Bassiouni family photo)

After leaving the Sudan in the early eighties, Mary lent her unique expertise and powerful voice to dozens of women’s organizations and NGOs, advocating on behalf of women around the world. Whether it was fighting for refugees at the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, lobbying for human rights through Advocates International or advocating for economic and social development programmes within the UN and regional organizations, she continued to eloquently argue the case for stopping discrimination against women and giving them equal opportunities worldwide. She earned a series of leadership awards from the Women’s Commission, the New York Association for New Immigrants and other organizations. She also accompanied Dr. Bassiouni in his various country assignments in UNICEF and the UN. Throughout this time, Mary gave David and the family immeasurable support as a devoted wife and a highly gregarious and popular socialite within the international community.
A lasting legacy and an unfinished mission

  Undated photo of late Mary Nura Bassiouni on a camel in Jordan at the ancient site of Petra (Family photo)

To the end, Mary Nura Bassiouni remained a fearless leader, a champion for the voiceless and an iconic role model for the Southern Sudanese community, the Sudanese people and thousands more far beyond the country’s borders. She believed in and struggled for the unity of the South because to her, the South is and should always remain indivisible. She will be missed by all for so many reasons but all will agree that she cared deeply and toiled selflessly for the disadvantaged members of her society, especially women. Her legacy of selfless public service, uncompromised principles, progressive values and her drive for the empowerment and advancement of women will continue to inspire and embolden future generations and women leaders to continue her unfinished mission. This noble mission is enshrined in the vision and agenda of The Mary N. Bassiouni Foundation, which is dedicated to the empowerment and advancement of women in the Sudan and throughout the world.

FEATURES:Universal access to medical care still a long way off in the south

Battling HIV in a post-conflict army

Photo: Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN

Research shows that post-conflict transitions are periods of heightened vulnerability to HIV

JUBA, 29 January 2010 (PlusNews) - The evidence of five years of peace is everywhere in Juba, regional capital of Southern Sudan - in the brisk trade in the city's markets, its packed bars and nightclubs, and in the relaxed gait of the soldiers of the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

For the soldiers, the contrast with life in the bush could not be greater - they wear new uniforms, receive a monthly salary and are revered as freedom fighters by the local population. But behind the good times lurks the threat, senior officials of the SPLA warn, of HIV/AIDS.

"After peace was achieved, our soldiers began to receive regular payment, and with money comes the ability to buy alcohol, to buy sex," said Lt Col John Woja Elinana, head of the SPLA's HIV secretariat. "With the increase in cross-border movement of people from high-prevalence countries like Uganda and Kenya, sex with women whose HIV status is not known is putting them [soldiers] at high risk.”

According to Woja, during the war years, knowledge of HIV prevention was very low among the troops, and the army's leadership embarked on an aggressive campaign to equip soldiers with the knowledge and skills to avoid infection.

A 2009 report, HIV/AIDS, Security and Conflict:
New Realities, New Responses, by The Netherlands-based research group, the AIDS, Security and Conflict Initiative (ASCI), warns that "post-conflict transitions are both a period of heightened vulnerability to HIV transmission and a neglected element in HIV and AIDS policy and programming".

With input from the neighbouring Uganda People's Defence Forces and support from two NGOs, Intrahealth and Population Services International (PSI), the secretariat - created in 2006 - has designed a prevention programme specifically targeting troops.

Army-specific prevention

"PSI has conducted a peer education training programme... the peer educators have reached more than 100,000 soldiers, including spouses, with the HIV message," said Simon Yango Taban, SPLA programme manager for PSI.

After peace was achieved, our soldiers began to receive regular payment, and with money comes the ability to buy alcohol, to buy sex

So far, the programme has reached Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria, and Lakes states.

"Working within an army has the distinct advantage that it has its own organized structures so getting soldiers together to pass on the message is relatively easy," he added.

The information targeting the army uses military language to enable soldiers to easily identify with the message; for instance, HIV is referred to as "the enemy", while advice on condom use reads, "using a condom is entering an unknown territory with an armoured car".

PSI has also collaborated with UN-run radio station Miraya FM to hold weekly talk shows on HIV, including Q&A sessions with members of the military.

"We have also been able to distribute about 1.5 million condoms every year to soldiers," said Carol Karutu, programme manager of Intrahealth in Southern Sudan.

Messages encourage soldiers to seek voluntary counselling and testing, and through Intrahealth, the secretariat has set up 10 voluntary counselling and testing centres - either in barracks or in SPLA health facilities manned by soldiers.

Soldiers who test positive are referred to the health facility at the SPLA headquarters in Bilfam, Juba, where an anti-retroviral (ART) clinic and fully equipped laboratory have been built. Once on ART, HIV-positive soldiers continue to be deployed and are referred to hospitals near them or sent back to Juba to refill their prescriptions; so far, about 300 soldiers are enrolled in the army's ART programme.

"We do not discriminate when soldiers are HIV-positive; we continue to train them and deploy them as long as they remain fit," Woja said.

As the army's HIV programme continues to roll out to the rest of Southern Sudan's 10 states, the secretariat intends to mainstream HIV into other SPLA sectors.

Strong leadership

"We plan to train instructors at the SPLA's training schools to incorporate HIV lessons into their curricula at all levels, from commander training to the lower cadres," Intrahealth's Karutu said.

More on the military:

Military gets new HIV policy


Military to lead the way in male circumcision


Armies grapple with HIV among troops


Crucial to the success of the programme and to its expansion, she noted, would be the continued commitment from the highest levels of the army. "We have the commanders talking about HIV at every military parade, the army holds big marches every World AIDS Day, and President Salva Kiir - who is also the SPLA's Commander-in-Chief - has even taken a public HIV test," she said.

"Command-centred approaches to HIV prevention are likely to be more effective in reducing HIV risk among the rank and file than solely relying upon education and training based on individual behavioural, medical, or human rights approaches," the ASCI's report found.

Challenges remain for the SPLA's HIV programmes - demand for information continues to outstrip its supply, which is hampered by severe infrastructural handicaps such as poor road networks and limited health services, while delivering information remains a challenge because, according to Karutu, a large percentage of the SPLA is illiterate and therefore only able to take advantage of oral messages.

"The SPLA recognises HIV as a threat that can disrupt our ability to defend our nation," Woja said. "We must continue to push the message of HIV prevention among our troops."

Universal access still a long way off in the south

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN

A health system overhaul is needed

JUBA, 3 February 2010 (PlusNews) - Southern Sudan's poor infrastructure, largely illiterate population and dearth of health facilities and workers mean that despite five years of peace, HIV programmes are still in their infancy.

There are no national-level statistics on HIV prevalence or incidence, further hampering the fight against the pandemic, but a 2007 site-specific antenatal surveillance by the US Centres for Disease control found prevalence levels ranging from as low as 0.8 percent in Leer, Unity State, to as high as 11.5 percent in Tambura, Western Equatoria State.

"We use an estimate of 3.1 percent for the south, and we know that the epidemic is more concentrated in big towns and areas near the border with our neighbours who have higher prevalence, such as Kenya and Uganda, but so far we have not conducted a survey of HIV indicators," Bellario Ahoy Ngong, chairman of the South Sudan AIDS Commission (SSAC) told IRIN/PlusNews.

Ngong said HIV was spread mainly through heterosexual transmission, and was worse in the areas where trading opportunities had expanded since the Comprehensive peace Agreement with the north was signed in 2005.

"There has been a lot of movement of people since we attained peace, and in the big towns like Juba, Yei and Yambio, sex work has increased along with trade," he said. "Unfortunately, our people have very low knowledge of HIV transmission and prevention, so they are very vulnerable."

An HIV time-bomb

According to the SSAC, HIV awareness is below 10 percent; the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) puts literacy at 24 percent, making prevention literature - a staple in the HIV prevention plans of most countries - largely ineffective. The government and its partners depend mainly on health workers, community mobilizers and radio stations to disseminate information on HIV.

UNFPA described the situation in southern Sudan as "an HIV time-bomb" due to social and cultural issues like polygamy and widow inheritance, as well as misconceptions about the virus and a highly mobile population of internally displaced people, refugees, returnees and traders.

Nevertheless, Population Services International (PSI), a social marketing NGO, managed to sell or distribute more than a million condoms in 2009. "Condom promotion is difficult in southern Sudan because people want to reproduce to replace the sons lost during the 21- year north/south war," said Oksana Chikina, maternal and child health manager for PSI in the regional capital, Juba.

"Misconceptions still persist about condoms, including that they can break, are not reliable, and can make a man or woman infertile after prolonged use.
They are also associated with promiscuous people, and therefore create trust issues within relationships."

Condom promotion is difficult in Southern Sudan because people want to replace the sons lost during the 21-year north/south war

Other aspects of prevention, including HIV testing, are not doing much better; there are now 50 voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) centres in the south, but only one percent of the population has been tested for HIV.

"Low knowledge means a low perception of risk, so it is not easy to convince people to test," said SSAC's Ngong. "We also need many, many more VCT centres, as the ones we have are very far from some communities."

The tough, mountainous terrain, the sheer distance to remote areas in the vast region, and a very poor road network stand in the way of expanding VCT services and providing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to those who need it.

Southern Sudan is also desperately short of physicians, with 0.22 doctors for every 1,000 people, according to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), while the government says just 25 percent of the population have access to health services.

A logistical nightmare

"ART [antiretroviral therapy] rollout is heavily dependent on functioning health systems - in the south we are dealing rebuilding health facilities destroyed during the war, but even before the war many areas simply had no health services," said Dr Rogers Busulwa, a medical officer with WHO's southern Sudan operations.

"Health worker salaries are often not paid on time, so retaining them is hard, especially since there is competition for them from the NGOs," he commented. "Working in the south is also a logistical nightmare ... there have been occasions when equipment, like refrigerators, has arrived damaged at the more remote areas due to the poor condition of the roads."

About 1,600 people are on ART in the south, up from only 200 when the programme started in 2006, but still far short of covering the estimated 23,250 who need the drugs.

Prevention of mother-to-child transmission [PMTCT] services have been set up at more than 20 sites. A national 2007 sero-behavioural survey noted that only 31.7 percent of Sudanese women aged between 15 and 49 knew that HIV could be transmitted from mother to child; a 2006 household health survey found that just 15 percent of women gave birth in formal health facilities.

"We have started a PMTCT programme in Upper Nile State, and while women in the community actively attend antenatal visits and agree to be tested for HIV, they still choose traditional birth attendants to deliver their babies," said Gladys Arika, health project manager for faith-based NGO, Tearfund. "We are encouraging pregnant women to come with their partners, [but] so far this is not happening."

Despite uncertain funding as global oil prices fluctuate, pockets of continued insecurity, and a shift in focus to a planned national election in May 2010 and a referendum in 2011, the government of South Sudan is going ahead with an ambitious health system reconstruction plan.

Read more

Health workers report rise in HIV


"At times we wear polythene bags in place of gloves to deliver babies"


Funding woes continue to plague HIV fight


Crafting prevention messages for the south


Health system reconstruction

Dr Samson Baba, director-general of the Ministry of Health's directorate of external assistance and coordination, said the plan would give 85 percent to 90 percent of people access to "acceptable levels of healthcare" within 10 years.

"Through the Multi-Donor Trust Fund [a World Bank mechanism to coordinate the reconstruction and development of Sudan], we are creating a basic healthcare package that stipulates the minimum standard of care that should be available at all health centres within the country," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

"We are also embarking on an ambitious training programme for health workers ... using NGOs to train local staff, sending locals abroad for training, and developing our own training institutions," he said. "At current training levels, it would take us 66 years to satisfy our midwife gap, but with our accelerated plan it should take 10 years."

The government intends scaling up its ART sites to at least 20 by the end of 2011, with at least one in each of the south's 10 states, and to double the number of people on ART.

"Achieving universal access will be a slow process because of all the difficulties," said WHO's Busulwa, "but there is strong political commitment and the government does want to take ownership of the programmes, so it will eventually happen."

Positive networks fight HIV in the south

Photo: Kasang Dedi/IRIN

The associations help identify HIV-positive people in their communities who are in need of assistance

JUBA, 4 February 2010 (PlusNews) - Networks of people living with HIV in southern Sudan are trying to overcome deficiencies in the limping health system and broken infrastructure by spreading information about the pandemic and reducing stigma and denial.

"We have come to rely on these networks to do much of the education around HIV," Bellario Ahoy Ngong, chairman of the South Sudan AIDS Commission (SSAC), told IRIN/PlusNews. "They have been responsible for significantly lowering levels of stigma around the epidemic in the south."

The Sudan Network of People Living with HIV (SSNeP+), an umbrella body for associations of people living with HIV in the south's 10 states, was established in 2007 to give HIV-positive people a platform and a voice, and has been involved in drafting legislation - yet to be passed - on the rights of people living with HIV.

"At the time we started there was very bad stigma and character assassination of people living with HIV. We started with small group sessions to let people know they were not living in isolation; today SSNeP+ has 11 member associations from all over the south. Slowly, as a result of our openness about HIV, stigma has stared disappearing," the chairman, Lole Laila Lole, told IRIN/PlusNews.

The SSAC's Ngong said the role of SSNeP+ member associations had extended from reducing stigma to educating the population about HIV, and identifying HIV-positive people in the community in need of assistance; they had also benefited from SSAC income-generating projects, such as honey production and goat rearing.

A growing role

"We actively encourage people who test positive for HIV to be open about their status - it is the easiest way for them to get assistance, and it further helps to reduce stigma," Ngong said. "We are trying to build the network's capacity to advocate for openness and registration of these people."

"We respect people's right to confidentiality, but we have seen that openness can make you free; many people die early because of the stress of hiding their status from their families and friends," said Lole, who was diagnosed positive in 2002 after the death of his wife and child. "Once you declare it openly, people see that HIV is a disease like any other."

Openness can make you free; many people die early because of the stress of hiding their status from their families and friends

In Yambio, capital of Western Equatoria State, more than 17,000 have already registered as members of various associations of people living with HIV; Ngong said the SSAC would build the capacity of the associations to expand their work into the rural areas.

The SSAC also intends using the associations in its drive to get more people to be tested; so far, just one percent of people have been tested for HIV.

"Once people are tested they can join the associations, which we foresee becoming even more powerful tools for advocacy and HIV programming," Ngong said.

Government must not shirk its duty

The government is also discussing the idea of training people living with HIV as health workers, and using their office facilities to set up pharmacies to dispense life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy (ART).

However, Lole was not sure that this would be the most effective way to expand treatment in the region. "ART is a complex area that needs professionals, not lay people, to handle it," he said.

"Treatment is the responsibility of the government, and while we are ready to help with education and awareness, the government must not push its duties totally on us," he commented. "We need quality referral centres, not small pharmacies attached to our offices."

Africa: AGRA Launches Policy Initiative to Empower Africa to Shape Home-grown Agricultural Policies

Press Release

15 October 2009 Des Moines, Iowa and Nairobi, Kenya — New Initiative Announced for World Food Day Recognizes Policy's Pivotal Role in Attaining African Food Security.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) today launched an initiative to empower African governments to shape home-grown agricultural policies that provide comprehensive support to smallholder farmers. The initiative is supported by a US$15 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With an initial focus on five countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique and Tanzania), the initiative will strengthen African agricultural policy-making capacity through training agricultural policy analysts; bolstering policy think tanks; establishing data banks to support evidence-based policy development; and coordinating national policy hubs. It will focus on policies that support farmers in the areas of seeds; soil health; markets and trade; land rights; women's rights; equity; environmental sustainability; and climate change.

"Unlike farmers everywhere else in the world, African farmers, most of who are women, receive little or no support from their governments," said Mr. Kofi A. Annan, Chairman of the AGRA Board and former Secretary-General of the United Nations. "We must change this. The new support to AGRA from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is coming at the right time for Africa, where strong national policy action is essential to end poverty and attain African food security."

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced this grant at the World Food Prize Symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, along with a package of nine agricultural development projects totaling $120 million to address long-term food security.

"Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more and get it to market is the world's single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty," Gates said.

For this to happen, African farmers need enabling agricultural policies.   But Africa's agricultural policy system is in shambles, following decades of externally-driven policies which gutted public support for agriculture and created a vacuum in Africa's agricultural policy capacity.   External policies imposed through "structural adjustment" programs left tens of millions of farmers locked in poverty, unable to invest in their farms or to access markets.

"We cannot abandon our farmers and be surprised that Africa is in a food crisis," said Dr. Akin Adesina, AGRA's Vice President of Policy and Partnerships. "We must replace 'policies of abandonment' with policies of comprehensive support for smallholders. African institutions must lead by developing evidence-based and locally relevant policies to transform African agriculture into a sustainable, competitive and highly productive system."

"Our goal is not to set policy for African countries, but to empower countries, and move beyond policy analyses into policy action," said Dr. Namanga Ngongi, President of AGRA.   "We will give voice to African farmers."

To ensure that new policies benefit smallholders, the program will strengthen farmers' policy advocacy platforms, with a special focus on women farmers, to help them gain full and equal access to land security, farm technologies, markets, finance, and extension services.

"AGRA is helping to give African farmers and policy-makers a voice they have lacked for decades," said Stephen Wazira, Minister of Agriculture of Tanzania. "We need policies that unlock the potential of agriculture, feed our people and support economic development. This initiative will further empower our government to put policy to work for smallholder farmers."

Policy Impacts

According to Adesina, the tide is turning in favor of African farmers, as nations such as Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Mali, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Ghana and Nigeria are taking new bold steps to revitalize agriculture.

Many more countries are signing up to the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP) to provide at least ten percent of their budget in support of agriculture. As these funds become available, effective, locally-determined policies to guide investments will be even more critical. "AGRA will further bolster CAADP efforts at national and regional levels. Success of the green revolution at country levels across Africa is critical for countries to achieve the 6% agricultural growth target that African Presidents agreed to under CAADP" said Adesina.

Policy impact can already be seen in countries like Malawi and Rwanda which are providing comprehensive support to their farmers. Government policies, including seed and fertilizer vouchers for poor farmers, have helped transform Malawi from a net importer to a net exporter of maize for four years running, and fueled a national economic growth rate of seven percent. In Rwanda, policies which increased farmers' access to quality seed and fertilizers have boosted food production for two straight years. Food production grew by 15% in 2007 and 16% in 2008, as the country embarked on a green revolution program. This has improved national food security, even as 20 million people in neighboring countries must depend on food aid for survival.

AGRA stresses that across African nations, there is no single policy solution for promoting smallholder agriculture. While farmers need direct support, equally important are accelerated investments in public goods such as agricultural research, extension, small-scale irrigation and roads.

"In the long-term, the ability of Africa's smallholder farmers to adequately feed the continent depends on a policy environment that improves access to agricultural technologies, assures market access, stabilize food prices for the poor, protects the environment and helps farmers adapt to climate change," said Annan. "That is why this AGRA policy initiative is so important."

Organizations such as the Economic Commission for Africa, African Development Bank, Africa Union-NEPAD, Regional Economic Communities, the African Economic Research Consortium and the International Food Policy Research Institute will be key partners in the policy initiative.

"We will coordinate with these and other organizations to accelerate comprehensive policies and investments for rapid agricultural growth.   Millions of African farmers can no longer wait," Ngongi said.


About the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

AGRA is a dynamic partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programs develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural value chain ¬from seeds, soil health and water to markets and agricultural education.

AGRA's Board of Directors is chaired by Kofi A Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations. Dr Namanga Ngongi, former Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, is AGRA's president. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK's Department for International Development and other donors, AGRA works across sub-Saharan Africa and maintains offices in Nairobi, Kenya, and Accra, Ghana.

For more information see:

Profile - Yasir Said Arman: The altruistic freedom fighter


On Friday, Yasir Said Arman was nominated as the presidential candidate to lead the SPLM to April’s elections. The profile has been modified to fit current events. It was conducted on August 15, 2007 while Arman was in the United States of America.

(Victoria, BC NSV) - Just from what angle does one begin to narrate the story of an audacious freedom fighter whose prime preoccupation has been a better Sudan for all without understating or overstating? The story of Yasir Said Arman is characterized by altruistic human values, freedom and dignity for all irrespective of race, religion or culture. At the period when Sudan was undergoing political hardships and upheavals in the 70's and early 80's—at the time when the relative optimism ushered in by the 12 years of Adis Ababa was slowly being dusted by the ominous Shariah decrees of Jaafer Nimeri—Yasir Arman was a student nearing graduation. A son of a primary school teacher who loved taking the young Arman to different places in the north, Arman developed an avid interest in literature and children's books. At the heydays of his youth, he was a consumer of leftist literature –focusing primarily on identity, ethnicity and ideology. 

Specifically, he was an admirer of the African National Congress (ANC) and its approach to the diversity question in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-racial country like South Africa at the time when the ANC was deemed a terrorist organization by the apartheid government. Perhaps Arman had Sudan in mind and was glancing outside to reconcile the internal policies and the approaches of subsequent Khartoum governments with the diversity question and settle for the best. 

While Arman struggled to understand the myriad realities besetting harmony of Sudan from the South African experience, he not only turned internally to seek for answers but also to provide answers like a field researcher after years of field work. 

Arman used to have regular intense political discussions with fellow students and colleagues concerning the political makeup and realities of Sudan. One of those was Macur Thon Arok, whom he speaks highly about, having partially been instrumental in inspiring Arman to rock the boat of the People's Movement, SPLM/SPLA. Aside from Macur, the SPLM Manifesto, SPLM Radio and Dr. John Garang's vision of New Sudan stirred Arman to the SPLM's direction.

"[Dr. Garang's call for] a Sudan that belongs to all its people struck me very much and I became interested in the political discourse of the SPLM," he says. 

Previously, Arman has been a student activist where he met those he calls "interesting personalities" at school. He and colleagues were absorbed by the “Southern question” and the first civil war that raged on from 1965 until the signing of the Adis Ababa Agreement between the Anya Nya and the government of Jaafer Nimeri in 1972. 

Arman has reasons to subscribe to the vision of New Sudan. As a student he had witnessed firsthand rifts between student movements of divergent political persuasions, religions and ethnic groups. He developed very strong links with southern students both at the intermediate and the university levels. Of the southern students that he befriended in intermediate school were Macur Thon Arok, Chol Biar, Ador Deng Ador, David Bulen Alier, Jacob Bulen Alier and Santino Lado. 

Macur, whom Arman says approached the “southern question” with caution and with whom he exchanged views on southern Sudan went on to become a captain in the Sudanese army. Sadly, as Arman explains, "Macur was killed in cold blood in 1992..." 

Chol Biar and Ador Deng are now senior SPLM commanders, Arman says, while he gives no mention of David Bulen Alier and Jacob Bulen Alier. Santino went on to become an artist but Arman doesn't know his whereabouts. 

In university, his political activism sparked the ire of the authoritarian regime of Jaafer Nimeri. He was detained and locked up in jail together with Southern students he says helped shape his political worldview: Hoth Gor and John Luk of Anya Nya Two Movement and David da Kok. 

Undeterred, Arman and the three were defiant and unanimously condemned Nimeri's heavy-handed approach to the “southern question” and called for a democratic resolution of the civil war while in prison from 1984 to 1985. Out of prison, he says, "came the great call of the SPLM of Diktoor John Garang de Mabior for the New Sudan."

A Sudan of equality and tolerance that didn't discriminate its citizens based on religion and race was an attractive idea for Arman. 

Born in 1961 in Jezeera, about 180 kilometers from Khartoum, he traces his roots to diverse backgrounds and tribes in Sudan. His great, great parents migrated before the Mahdist revolution from Damael state near Shendi to Jezeera and Khartoum. A graduate of law, Arman studied at the Cairo University branch of Khartoum and joined the SPLM in the same year, 1986.

Although the SPLM embraces religion and diversity in its manifesto, as a new arrival in 1986, some individuals in the SPLM were ambivalent about him. He says he experienced subtle religious prejudice. Some thought he might have been sent by Khartoum to infiltrate and destabilize the Movement from within. In northern Sudan, he was portrayed as a betrayer and a disgrace to his people. 

Arman was not the only high-profile Muslim in the SPLM. There were many influential SPLM officers like  the late Yousif Kuwo Mekki, who believed in the Islamic faith who might have faced religious intolerance at the initial phase.

"As time went on, we managed to overcome those [barriers]. We managed to build confidence with people with whom we were working in the SPLM and we became part of the SPLM hardcore," he says.

"We were building a new society to overcome religion. That helped to overcome whatever happened." 

A Sufi Muslim, Arman calls his faith traditional Islam integrated with African cultures and traditions as opposed to a militant and political Islam. During the war, it was not lost on Arman that to be a liberator comes with a price tag.

Unlike in other marginalized peripheries where Arman was extolled as a hero, some of his immediate family members looked at him from lenses filtered through the eyes of Khartoum and was to those, a villain. However, he enjoyed wide backing from most of his lineage members, he says. "All my family were very supportive to me. They were proud of what I did and am proud of that too."

Meanwhile, the National Islamic Front would routinely round up and interrogate Arman's brothers to discourage him from his conviction and belief that Sudan must be new and inclusive. However, Arman and family didn’t capitulate to the oppressive regime and stayed true to the cause up to the end of the war. "It's part of the struggle," he says. 


"This has nothing to do with politics," he says about his marriage to Awuor Deng Kuol. The future husband and wife first run into each other in Adis Ababa when Arman used to work for SPLM information secretariat in 1989.

"We liked each other from that time and now and for the time in the future to come," he declares. A man of principles, Arman has pursued an inspirational revolutionary path. He is an independent thinker. He follows his heart and ideals as his participation in the SPLM demonstrates  and his marriage to a Ngok Dinka – an apparent break with tradition for love -- all a revolution and a worthy one, he says.

"For me it wasn't a difficult decision to like my wife and to decide to marry her. That was a decision any person reaches at a time when he decides it's the right time to marry."

He gives his marriage a clean bill of health but cautions, "There are always people here and there who will see it positively or negatively. But the most important thing is; it's me and my wife." 

A father of two, their marriage is blessed with two daughters, Shanaa 18, born in December 1992, and Wafaa (honesty), 13, born in January 1997. 

Arman says he is indebted to his wife and lauds her bold efforts for taking care of the young girls as Arman was often away for the SPLA war of liberation. He commends the sacrifices of Awuor Deng Kuol, who gave up school, family and education for the SPLM. A member of the famous Katipa Banaat (Girls Battalion), Awuor, like Arman aspired for a better life for all regardless of differences in humans. The couple saw SPLM as the rightful channel for achieving equity and just peace.

"I am indebted to [my wife] who shared the strength, and herself she is a freedom fighter," he says. "She really contributed a lot in encouraging me and we stood with each other throughout the last fifteen years." 

Understanding equals love. The marriage of Arman to Awuor was exemplary. Both traditional African ceremonies and Muslim rituals were honoured and observed. They tied their knot in the historical town of Torit, notwithstanding the threats of bombs and guns emanating from Kor Ingiliiz when the NIF regime was trying vainly to make a comeback.

The marriage might have been cross-cultural to many but to Arman, "It was a basic human being wedding." 


"Things will never be changed in Juba, this is the experience of the SPLM. Without changing things in Khartoum you cannot even reach the self-determination," he reechoes the prophetic words of Dr. John Garang that a fish rots from the head and not from the tail. Traditionally, Khartoum has been the head and Arman argues there will not be a quick rear door entrance to south's independence before there is any democratic restructuring of power in Khartoum.

"The self-determination and separation of south Sudan is theoretically in the books, it's a long way to go," he says. 

His observations are familiar. Khartoum has abrogated several agreements in the past and there is no reason to doubt history may repeat itself as CPA is largely on the verge of collapse. By far the obvious way forward and with many southerners' eyes fixed on separation, he says he has nothing against south Sudan if it opts for secession and warns celebrating separation now is premature.

"To reach the separation of south Sudan, you need the unity of the SPLM. You need those who fought the war with you. People from the Nuba Mountains and South Blue Nile and all over Sudan. Dr. Garang's vision is a great vision which can bring unity on a new basis or separation," he says.

Even when south Sudan does separate and form its own independent state, he goes on, New Sudan Vision will still be relevant whether in Darfur or anywhere else.

"The vision of New Sudan is important even if south Sudan separated. How do you rule south Sudan because it is also diverse? There are different tribes, cultures and religions.

"So you need the vision of New Sudan to bring these commonalities together,” he says. 

Arman urges south Sudanese to rally behind SPLM, saying it's the only organized, diverse and inclusive party in Sudan. "Southern Sudanese, themselves, until the end of Anya Anya didn't have real organizations. There was Anya Nya of Bhar el Ghazal, the Anya Nya of Upper Nile and the Anya Nya of Equatoria.'"

Says Arman: "The SPLM for me is not a political party or political movement or political institution; the SPLM for me is more. It's part of the national building and formation because in the SPLM you get people from different nationalities, ethnic and religious backgrounds together." 

As a leading figure in SPLM Nothern Sector (now SPLM national presidential candidate), he engaged in rallies in 49 cities in the west, east and the center in post-CPA period. He says he found thousands who uphold the vision of New Sudan. This compels him to say, "I believe the vision of Dr. Garang is very much alive more than any time before.

"The New Sudan Vision cannot die because if you're talking about it dying with Garang that means Dr. Garang is really dead but Dr. Garang is not dead and as a result his vision is alive." 

Arman says his proudest moment in life was not when he was carried on the shoulders upon returning to Khartoum with SPLM delegation for the first time in more than 20 years. His proudest day was "When Dr. Garang was received by millions in Khartoum. That was a clear message from all over the Sudanese society that the Sudanese people appreciate the vision and the leadership of the SPLM," he says.

Garang's triumphant return to Khartoum, Arman reasons, suggests the "people in the north and in the center in particular appreciate what we did and they see the reality of the situation and that our involvement with the SPLM is important for the national building and liberation of societies from all prejudices and building a new society to overcome [religious differences]."

He says that by the end of the day, "I believe in the capabilities of our people, whether they are from the north, the south or the west or the east or the center." 

Arman's relationship with the late Dr. John Garang was that of “comradeship.” He touts Garang as "the best politician Sudan has ever had in more than 100 years." In the 19th century, Arman says, the Mahdist revolution’s front man, Mohamed Ahmed Al Mahdi was the other colorful politician matchable only by Garang's charisma. 

“The real question”


At any rate, Arman is an altruistic freedom fighter. His unselfish toils for a new Sudan, he once told Iowa State Newspaper, "Not the Sudan of today, a Sudan of misery and wars and human rights violations. My dream is of a new Sudan, which respects human rights, in which every citizen feels he belongs to that country."

If the question itches you too—don't' worry it's not the real one. What happens to Yasir Arman and Mansour Khalid to name but a few when south Sudan separates? “It's not the real question,” he says. 

The real question—he
says with the vigour in which he took up arms 20 years ago—"The real question is the fate of Sudan, not the fate of individual.

"I never ask myself this question because am not going to live forever but Sudan will live forever. It is the fate of the south Sudan, the fate of the west, the fate of the north, and the fate of central Sudan that's the one concerning me. It's not about the individual because the individual can die or relocate." 

After more than 21 years of bush life and the struggle that is ongoing with the challenges facing the CPA, Arman maintains, "I think that it [joining the SPLM] was one of the greatest decisions in my life. I am proud that I made that decision and I thank all the people and everybody who contributed to what I did 21 years ago.

"I am touched by the hundreds of people whom I knew very well. Our martyrs who lost their lives are the ones who made the SPLM: those who are not there."

As it emerges that the SPLM has nominated Arman to be its presidential candidate, it remains to be seen whether this great freedom fighter will be the next president of the Republic of Sudan in April’s elections. 


Tanzania: Kikwete Takes Center Stage At UN And U.S. Meetings


October 1,2009 (New York )— With the Obama administration having sent off Kenya for corruption and impunity, Tanzania has emerged as East Africa's star player on the US pitch.

It was Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete rather than Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga who commanded the spotlight in New York at last week's opening sessions of the United Nations General Assembly.

The Tanzanian head of state was asked to initiate a discussion at a luncheon hosted by US President Barack Obama.

He outlined African agricultural

H.E Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanzania
issues at the two-hour meeting to which 24 African leaders had been invited. Mr Odinga was not among them.

In a move humiliating to Kenya, the United States withdrew the prime minister's invitation to the Obama luncheon, with American officials later attributing the reversal to a technical error.

But it seems clear that Obama and his team are keeping their distance from Kenya's leaders as a signal of US displeasure over the Grand Coalition's failure to attack graft and to hold accountable those responsible for the killings following the 2007 election.

President Kikwete was meanwhile heaping praise on the US government, unveiling a pan-African anti-malaria initiative, pledging to commit more troops to UN peacekeeping efforts, and preparing for his featured role at a corporate conference in Washington next week.

In comments on the sidelines of last week's UN sessions, President Kikwete described Tanzanians as "grateful recipients of generous support from the government and people of the United States."

He was referring to the five-year, $700 million development package awarded to Tanzania in 2008 through the Millennium Challenge programme.

It is the single largest of $6.9 billion in anti-poverty grants that the US has given to 19 countries since the inception of the conditioned aid initiative in 2004.

President Kikwete also orchestrated a gathering of several African leaders at the UN to announce formation of an alliance dedicated to halting the scourge of malaria within five years.

The disease is estimated to cost Africa an estimated $12 billion in annual health care expenses and lost productivity, the president noted at a press conference launching the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.

The new 20-nation grouping is intended to save money on procurement and distribution of malaria treatments and preventive bed nets.

Some $3 billion is being provided by donor countries and multilateral institutions to facilitate the effort to prevent almost all malaria deaths in Africa by 2015.

"The goals look ambitious but I am confident they are achievable," President Kikwete told reporters at the UN.

Addressing the General Assembly on September 24, President Kikwete pledged that Tanzania will continue to assist UN peacekeeping efforts and is "ready to do more" in that regard.

He noted that Tanzanian troops are currently deployed with the UN mission in Lebanon and will soon take up positions in Darfur as well.

Tanzania is likewise set to train soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo in co-operation with the UN force deployed in that country, he added.

After Mr Odinga flies back to Kenya, President Kikwete will travel to Washington to address a US-Africa Business Summit on September 30-October 1 that will have representatives of US corporations with stakes in the continent.

"President Kikwete's leadership has been crucial to Tanzania's success," says Stephen Hayes, head of the Corporate Council on Africa, which is sponsoring the conference.

Tanzania will be in a position to grow rapidly as the world economy emerges from the current downturn," Mr Hayes added.

The country is in fact projected to have the world's ninth-fastest growing economy this year, ranking just behind China and ahead of India, according to a December 2008 report by the London-based Economist magazine.

And in another move highlighting the comparative international standings of Kenya and Tanzania, it was announced recently that Dar es Salaam, not Nairobi, will be hosting next year's World Economic Forum.

The gathering of business leaders scheduled for May 2010, was initially set to take place in Kenya but was switched to Tanzania, reportedly at the prompting of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

According to the Daily Nation, Annan orchestrated this rebuke to Kenya for its failure to implement the National Accord he brokered last year.

Kenya, by contrast, has failed to qualify for Millennium Challenge assistance due to rampant corruption.