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Juba holds breath as fragile peace faces crucial test

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By AFP
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Chol Deng, her husband and five children sit, exhausted, under a tree, having journeyed back to South Sudan five years after fleeing their corpse-strewn hometown Malakal.

Encouraged by a six-month lull in fighting as a peace deal holds for the first time since 2015, the family last month joined scores of others warily returning home from Ethiopia and Sudan.

“People died, lots of them. People could literally walk on dead bodies across Malakal. That was why we left,” Deng told AFP, recounting the family’s flight to Sudan in February 2014.

“I want to know if the country has peace. I want my kids to come back home.”

But for now, they will stay in Udier, an opposition-controlled village relatively untouched by war in the Upper Nile region, keeping an eye on a peace deal which appears to have run worryingly aground, analysts and diplomats warn.

At some point, they are hoping to return to Malakal, once the country’s second city and now a ghost town of flattened, burned homes flanked by a large UN-protected camp where some 30,000 former residents live.

“I am always scared, I have seen people dying,” Deng said of her fears of fresh fighting.

In Udier, like in much of the country, young men with automatic rifles slung over their shoulders can be seen wandering along dirt paths between villages or strolling through the market. Just in case.

Observers warn that the latest peace deal is in danger, with a long list of tricky issues to be resolved before a unity government is formed in May.

“The two sides stopped fighting. That’s the good news. But now they’re stuck on nearly everything else,” said Alan Boswell, a South Sudan expert with the International Crisis Group (ICG).

Speaking to AFP in Juba, UN envoy David Shearer said it was promising to see that opposition members were back in town, for the first time in two years.

However “we should be further along … if momentum slows, frustration sets in, and that might lead to anger.”

Observers warn that reuniting arch-rivals President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar in government for a third time without resolving these issues could be a recipe for further disaster.

It was the pair’s running rivalry which kickstarted a civil war in 2013 characterised by brutal violence, rape and UN warnings about “ethnic cleansing”.

A 2015 peace deal brought Machar back as vice-president, and he returned to Juba with heavy security.

When the deal fell apart in July 2016, the capital was engulfed by a brutal battle between their rival armies. Machar fled on foot with the fighting spreading across the country.

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But ahead of Machar’s planned return in May, there have been no steps taken so far to discuss security control in the capital nor moves to establish a unified army.

Speaking to AFP, Cabinet Affairs Minister Martin Elia Lomoro insisted the deal was only one month behind schedule.

“These delays will be corrected … this agreement will not fail.

“All we hear (from the international community) is ‘oh we are late’… we are not hearing anybody telling us that ‘oh this is the help we have for you.'”

The government has asked foreign donors to fund much of its $285 million (252 million euro) budget to implement the deal.

This includes gathering troops together in a designated zone and eventually creating a new army.

“They haven’t even taken the first steps, steps that don’t cost anything, announcing how many troops they have and where,” said a foreign diplomat in Juba.

“It is a real dilemma for donors if you fund cantonment and it becomes an incentive for further recruitment.”

Many are also wary about Juba’s record for looting state funds in recent years.

“The peace agreement calls for much more fiscal transparency. It isn’t there. If it was, there would be a lot different reaction from donors,” said the diplomat.

The other key issue yet to be addressed is the contentious matter of internal boundaries.

When it won independence in 2011, the country was divided into 10 states but it has since been subdivided into 32, in what many critics see as a gerrymandering of traditional boundaries by Kiir to shore up his power.

Boswell said members of a boundaries commission, set up just this month, “face an incredibly difficult if not impossible task”.

The ICG has urged mediators to push Kiir, Machar and other signatories to agree on whether to postpone the unity government in May, and push for a third-party protection force in the capital.

Part of the problem, said the ICG, is that no one has stepped up to enforce the accord, which was mediated by Uganda and Sudan—whose President Omar al-Bashir is now embroiled in his own political crisis.

“Can brokers patch (up) the peace deal enough to keep the parties from sliding back to war?” said Boswell.

“And who will do this? Bashir is the only regional leader who is invested in the peace process, and he’s rather busy at the moment.”

South Sudan’s war has left 400,000 dead, and displaced nearly four million from their homes — the latest bloody chapter in over half a century of near-constant conflict.

While those like Chol Deng have dared to return, others in UN-protected camps (POCs) are waiting for concrete proof of peace.

“When the peace comes, everyone wants to go back home,” said Rebecca Nyalore John at the POC camp in Juba.

“(When) there shall be no killing, no beating, we can return home and stay in peace. That is all.”

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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