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 The New Times (Rwanda): UNEP Commends Environmental Policy

http://allafrica.com/stories/201102180145.html

 

Rwanda has gained recognition from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for a rather simple, but significant, environmental effort. The country has banned plastic bags altogether and since the law was enacted in 2005 it has been successfully enforced. This effort has been attributed to a larger appreciate for the benefits of protecting the environment and developing in a sustainable way.UNEP Director, Achim Stiener, recognized that Rwanda “has set an example for other African states to follow.”

 

This initiative on plastic bags is only a small piece of a larger commitment to environmental sustainability that the Rwandan government has successfully and responsibly engaged in.  Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority (REMA), Rose Mukankomeje, made it clear that “that the country is "going green" in all sectors of the economy, from schools to agricultural activities and towns.”  This all encompassing effort is formally expressed in Rwanda’s latest constitution which includes an amendment which serves as a “new organic law on the environment—article 3, which stipulates that every person has the right to live under a safe and clean environment.” President Paul Kagame has also made an effort to emphasize the importance of sustainable development as a key element to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Rwandan government has taken a holistic view of environmental sustainability noting that all long-term development efforts have a relationship with the environment. This view has necessitated that efforts to protect the environment has been a major priority.

 

Through the banning of plastic bags, and other successfully implemented programs, Rwanda has set a shining example for other countries to follow. Their initiatives, like the banning of plastic bags or locally organized cleaning efforts, do not require external assistance or much spending. Rather, the key factors are “leadership, determination and a willingness to address issues.” After years of war, which took a significant human and environmental toll, Rwanda has successfully begun the transformation towards improving and sustaining a healthy environment.  While the will to improve the quality of the environment exists in many African countries Rwanda has proven that if the will exists, development and environmental sustainability can be a reality.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

An article from the BBC titled “Rwanda gets tough on plastic bags”: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/4619748.stm

 

An article from ‘The New Times’ (Rwanda) titled “Govt to Support Plastic Recycling Factories”: http://allafrica.com/stories/201102280001.html

 

A video on the ‘Poverty and Environment Initiative” in Rwanda: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA2mwKP2CcQ

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1.       Do you think that the attempt to develop in an environmentally friendly way puts Rwanda at an advantage or disadvantage? Why?

2.       Do you think the environmental damage caused by civil war contributed to Rwanda’s commitment to protecting its natural resources?

3.       Do you think some development should take place, even if it harms the environment or uses unrenewable resources, to provide people with basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, water, electricity, etc.)? Where would you draw the line?

 

 

AllAfrica.com: Technology Eyed to Improve Lives of Women

http://allafrica.com/stories/201103080774.html

 

 

 

 

Liberia’s emphasis on the education of women and girls as a key element to economic development has gained international recognition and attracted assistance from some of the world’s top information technology experts.  A delegation led by Princeton University Professor Ann Marie Slaughter which included another seven female technology experts, including representatives from Google and Twitter, travelled to Liberia to “explore how mobile technology can be used to improve the lives of women” under a U.S. State Department program. While Liberia seeks to build its infrastructural capacity in order to engage its population in advanced technology, the delegation focused on how to train women and girls so that they may benefit from the new opportunities.

 

Under President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia has demonstrated a strong commitment to the advancement of women in both political and economic roles as the country develops. This attracted the U.S. State Department delegation as there is both interest and opportunity for programs focused on women’s education to thrive. The delegation visited teacher training institutes to collaborate on the best ways to use advanced technology to increase literacy. They also focused on how the internet can connect Liberians to job opportunities throughout the country and abroad. Preliminary insight noted the need for greater infrastructure to allow Liberians to take advantage of what the internet has to offer.

 

In reference to the delegation Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recognized that “that information and communications technology has transformed the world” and expressed “strong interest in working with Liberia’s market women through technology-based literacy programs to improve their skills and lives.” Sirleaf’s sound commitment to the inclusion of women in both political and economic development policy seems to bode well for new programs focused on women and ICT. However, a lack of technological literacy, especially among women, leaves much to be accomplished.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

An article from the United Nations on empowering women through ICTs in Rwanda; http://www.wougnet.org/Documents/UNIFEM/EmpowerRwandaWomen.html

An article from UNESCA on ICT research centers and women in Africa: http://www.uneca.org/aisi/docs/GK3hana/African%20women%20to%20benefit%20from%20ICT%20research%20centre1.pdf

An article on ‘West Africa’s Tech Revolution for Women and Girls’: http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2011-03-09/west-africas-tech-revolution-for-women-and-girls/

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1.       Do you believe investing in ICT infrastructure will pay off for Liberia? Should the majority of this investment take place before, after, or in accordance with investment in more basic infrastructure (roads, hospitals, etc.)?

2.       Why do you think the U.S. State Department delegation and Liberian officials are focusing on training women specifically? Is it good economic development policy?

3.       How can advanced technology improve the lives of women in Liberia? Can you think of ways the internet can make a difference in a Liberian woman’s life?

 

BuaNews (Tshwane, South Africa): "Companies Must Get Into Southern Sudan Early – Sisulu"

http://allafrica.com/stories/201102230067.html

 

 

As South Sudan’s independence date draws nearer many South African companies see opportunity where others see hardship. The South African Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Lindiwe Sisulu, is encouraging South African businesses to “take advantages of opportunities in Southern Sudan as soon as possible.” A new market that was once significantly stifled by sanctions and debt is suddenly emerging and has plenty of room to grow. South African officials have identified “agriculture, minerals and energy, infrastructure development, information technology and telecoms, water purification and supply, as well as forestry and banking” as “key opportunities.” Sisulu sees the reconstruction of South Sudan not only as a humanitarian responsibility but also as economic opportunity for South African businesses.

 

Many have already begun to take the unique opportunity. For instance, SABMiller (a South African brewery) completed its construction of a $30 million plant and began production in the budding country over a year ago. The South Sudanese can now enjoy their first locally produced beer, White Bull Lager. South African owned and operated, Kwezi V3 Engineers, have also joined the movement, sending consultants to South Sudan to assist in the restoration of public buildings. The South African based, but pan African mobile phone service provider, MTN, has recently begun investment in the information technology infrastructure of South Sudan. While all of these investments certainly aid in the development of South Sudan’s economy, the companies involved are counting on profitability as well.

 

The integration of South Sudan into the African economy is one piece of a larger effort to promote regional integration across Africa, a “key focus” of the South African Government. The Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, is pushing this agenda in order to fully capitalize on Africa as the “next economic success story.” Africa’s richness of resources, free market reforms, growing stability and a rising middle class certainly indicates economic development and profitability for many involved. Davis explains that individually, African countries have relatively small economies compared to giants such as China, India or the United States, but together they make up a sizable portion of the global economy. A free trade agreement, proposed by South African officials, would include between the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for East African States (Comesa) “with a combined GDP of $624 billion and a population of 700 million people.” South African businesses certainly stand to benefit from this agreement but the hope is that this agreement will attract more investment, trade, and resulting growth for the continent as a whole.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION A short article from United Press International on Russia’s investment in South Sudan: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/Resource-Wars/2011/02/21/Sudan-talks-energy-ties-with-Russia/UPI-21921298294777/

A long video on South Sudan’s path after independence from Al Jazeera: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJY3hGoemQ0

An article from East African Business Week on trading in South Sudan: http://www.busiweek.com/11/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=438:traders-look-to-return-to-south-sudan&catid=104:uganda&Itemid=1314 A

n article from the Daily Nation on South Sudan’s ‘outstanding issues’ after the vote for independence: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/africa/Resolve+outstanding+issues+Sudan+leaders+told+/-/1066/1111020/-/eldhljz/-/

An article from AFP on trade between North and South Sudan: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5grtYBev-tq3emudwRHbfWwOtlkrw?docId=CNG.5e9f1171bcbe4343da2b80daa83f3e61.4c1





 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Do you think a free trade agreement between 26 African countries is a good idea? What complications might arise? What benefits would be realized?

2. Do you think one day we could see an EU style economic integration in Africa? How do you think this would affect the world economy? How would it affect stability in Africa?

3. What industries do you think will be profitable in the early years of South Sudan? What kind of businesses should the country work to attract?

4. Do you think South Sudan will develop more quickly without the north? Or do you think the South will be economically disadvantaged from the spilt?

Media Global (New York): “Microsavings Opens Up a World of Possibilities” http://allafrica.com/stories/201102140002.html

http://www.africasummit.org/?p=804For those living on less than $2 a day there are few available financial tools that many of us may take for granted like bank accounts, credit, or insurance. However, even when the denominations are small, these financial tools can make a major difference in the profitability, security, and viability of a family’s finances. A few dollars is generally not enough to open or sustain a minimum balance in savings account at a traditional banking institution yet it can provide substantial security for low income family in times of need. Without the security of a bank account, savings must be kept in hand, in the home, or in risky informal banking and investment ventures. Access to a safe place to keep money can make a major impact on the ability of families and individuals to “manage risks and take advantage of commercial opportunities.” Without formal banking, saving money can be a risky endeavor. Robbery, flooding, and fires are real risks, not only for property, but for any savings hidden in drawer, under a mattress or in a pocket. Needy friends and family members and impulse spending can also seriously derail efforts to save for future opportunities or emergencies. To fill the void that formal banking institutions have left, many communities have relied on traditional banking, such as the ‘susu’ collectors in Ghana, for security. These small businesses “collect small but regular deposits generally over the course of a month… [then] return the accumulated savings to the client, but keeps a percentage of the savings as commission.” The susu collectors are often the safest and least expensive way to save money in many communities but also carry risk and high cost. The rate of commission is sometimes as high as 40 percent, there is little regulation and no guarantee that the money will be returned. However, many still emphasize their value added to their community in the absence of a better alternative. In some countries, such as Ghana, where rotating savings and credit associations or susu collectors are very popular, significant efforts have been made to regulate the practice, increasing the safety of saving and investing. With more regulation and security susu collectors are attracting the interest of large financial institutions such as Barclay’s and Citigroup who use the small businesses as an avenue to provide micro credit and loans to individuals. Other international organizations, such as Microsave, provide alternative opportunities for savings accounts as well as micro credit and loan opportunities. Although efforts are being made to expand the availability of these services, nearly 90 percent of those who make less than $2 a day do not have access to formal banking. While the cost and risk of saving can be high for low income families in Africa the benefits often outweigh them and have influenced many to continue investing. Just a small amount of savings can “help build assets, guard against risks like crop failure, and allow for investment in education, providing future generations with greater opportunity.” Families are able to better deal with unexpected expenses and emergencies increasing their own security and viability. Although providing safe and secure opportunities to save will certainly not eliminate poverty, it can make a major difference in increasing economic stability on a small scale, which is likely to eventually bring more stability to economies on a large scale.

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

A website dedicated to microfinance in Africa: http://microfinanceafrica.net/

A UN report on Microfinance in Africa: http://www.un.org/esa/africa/microfinanceinafrica.pdf

A short video about an organization in Niger which enables ‘group sharing’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1-Ked7g-Wo

An IMF working paper on Microfinance in Africa: http://www.insme.org/documenti/wp04174.pdf

A video about Savings and Credit Groups in South Africa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFX-3tNrNgQ

An IFC report on Microfinance in Africa: http://www.ifc.org/ifcext/gfm.nsf/AttachmentsByTitle/IFC+Africa+Microfinance+Brochure/$FILE/IFC+Africa+Microfinance+Brochure.pdf http://www.bernadettepaolo.com/

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Do you think micro-finance has the ability to transform a society away from poverty? Why or why not? What could increase the viability of such a transformation in conjunction with micro-finance?

2. Why do you think formal banking institutions do not provide micro-finance opportunities?  Do you think that these opportunities could increase a bank’s profitability in the long run or would these services have to be based on charity?

3. What are some things low income families could use a small amount of savings for? Can you think of an emergency cost that could be covered by a small amount of savings? What difference could this make in the long term for these families?

 

 

 BBC: “Africa’s mobile banking revolution”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8194241.stm

               

A new type of banking has taken root across many parts of Africa. While the number of mobile phone users across the continent has reached an estimated 500 million people most do not have access to a personal bank account or credit cards. This has helped to advance the use of mobile phone banking, a fairly simple process by which mobile user can transfer prepaid credits to another mobile user who can then redeem the credit for cash. Although this method of transferring money is virtually unheard of in the United States, “millions of Africans are using mobile phones to pay bills, move cash and buy basic everyday items.”

People have found a variety of conveniences through this new service.  Some use mobile banking to send money to far away relatives, others use it as a secure way to store funds, or making business transactions. One charitable clinic in Tanzania uses the technology to send roundtrip bus fares to low income patients in rural areas allowing them to afford the cost of travel necessary to receive care.[1] However, the major cause for the service’s success is its penetration of a market which had previously existed without any formal banking institutions at all. Those who cannot afford or do not have easy access to traditional bank accounts can send and receive small amounts money relatively cheaply, quickly and safely.  The typical transaction of “m-pesa,” a leading Kenyan mobile banking service is “less than $40.” While this is a relatively small transaction the company’s seven million customers are transferring “in excess of $8.5m per day."

While the mobile banking trend is widespread, access is not universal across Africa. There are still large populations which still have no access to traditional or mobile banks due to “low incomes, illiteracy and large signal black spots.” Taxes also apply to these transactions influencing many potential users to stick with cash when they can.  While mobile phone use is extensive across Africa, many do not have the means or opportunity access to this technology, putting mobile phone banking out of reach. This has attracted “charitable backing [from] the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” which has pledged $12.5 million to “extend services to the poor.”

Despite lack of universal access, mobile phone technology has been highly profitable and is spreading quickly. Major mobile phone service providers have moved into the mobile banking sector, have the means, and see the potential in expanding the service. The South African mobile phone provider, MTN, will be extending service “to the 20 countries where MTN operates, including Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ivory Coast, which combined have over 90 million mobile phone users.” African born mobile phone banking is clearly thriving across the continent.

 

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

An article and video from CNN on mobile banking and healthcare in Tanzania: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/12/29/mobile.banking.tanzania/index.html

An article from the New York Times on the future of mobile banking in Africa: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/03/world/africa/03iht-03oxan-Mobbank.16671846.html?_r=1

An article from TIME magazine on mobile banking in Africa: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2043329,00.html

World Bank video Mobile Banking in South Africa: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SKhCYoF0Lg

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1.       Do you think mobile banking will ever catch on in the United States? Why or why not?

2.       Do you think this type of banking will help elevate poverty in Africa? How?

3.       How do you think more traditional banking methods and institutions will fare in Africa? Will mobile phone banking change the way they operate?

 

The East African (Nairobi): "The Story of a Food Secure Nation"

http://allafrica.com/stories/201101311486.html

 

Less than three years ago Rwanda put into action a plan aimed at increasing food security. Since then food production has steadily increased at a rate of 16 percent per year, an incredible accomplishment compared with the rate of growth previous to the nationwide effort of only 0.7 percent. Today the country has developed a strong agricultural base which has “bid food deficits goodbye.”

 

The initiative began with the aim to provide one cow per family in 2006. The cows made significant improvements in the lives of many rural individuals and families by adding additional nourishment, natural fertilizer, and a little income to their homes. The government also enacted policy which would halt land fragmentation and encouraged the merging of smaller farms in order to make the “best use of fertiliser, improved seeds and labour.” Government management of the sector was improved through the reorganization and investment of homegrown agricultural policy and research. These policies were followed by additional programs like the “Crop Intensification Project” which began “distributing high-yielding seed varieties and fertiliser across the country” in 2008.

 

Of course nature has played its role, however, Rwanda’s concentration on improving agriculture has certainly paid off. Through the distribution of better seeds and training on better farming techniques the country has seen the production of its principle crops – maize, cassava, beans and bananas – soar. The calculated increase in the yields of these crops is at “99 per cent for maize, 43 per cent for wheat 28 per cent for rice and sweet potatoes…[as well as] an 11 per cent increase in bean[s].” The sustained progress of the agricultural sector has even ushered in international development and investment.

 

However, these increases in food production have not come without sacrifice. Rwanda is “one of the only five countries on the continent that have committed the recommended minimum of 10 per cent of their national budgets to agriculture.” Nevertheless, Rwanda’s success is a wonderful example to others that food security can be achieved by a developing nation.

 

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

An article from the BBC on a dairy farm in Rwanda: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10131793

A video on the ‘One Cow’ Initiative in Rwanda from ‘Action Aid’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxvuQqfmMSY

A collection of academic resources from the ‘Rwanda Food Security Research Project’ of USAID and Michigan State University http://www.aec.msu.edu/fs2/rwanda/index.htm

A newspaper article on development in Rwanda: http://allafrica.com/stories/201101190336.html

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Do you think this type of progress in food security is possible anywhere? Is Rwanda a special case?

2. What do you think are the main reasons why this initiative to increase agricultural yields succeeded? The actions of Rwandan government? Individual farmers? The weather?

3. Do you think that spending 10 per cent of a national budget on agriculture is too much? Is it too little? Why do you think more countries are not spending this ‘recommended minimum’?

 

 

Publisher:

Al Jazeera

Publication Date:

February 1, 2011

Copyright:

2011

Publisher Website:

http://english.aljazeera.net/

Language:

English


Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have streamed into central Cairo on Tuesday, taking over Tahrir Square in an unprecedented protest against President Hosni Mubarak.

Packed shoulder to shoulder, they held aloft posters denouncing the president, and chanted slogans "Go Mubarak Go" and "Leave! Leave! Leave!"

Similar demonstrations calling on Mubarak to step down were also witnessed across other cities, including Sinai, Alexandria, Suez, Mansoura, Damnhour, Arish, Tanta and El-Mahalla el-Kubra.

 

Egypt – 
Article published the Monday 17 January 2011 – Latest update : Monday 17 January 2011


Man sets himself alight outside parliament in Cairo

Fears that protests in Tunisia may spread to neighbouring Egypt

Reuters/Asmaa Waguih

By RFI

A parliamentary source said the man, identified as restaurant owner Abdo Abdelmoneim, stood in front of the People’s Assembly on Monday, covered himself in fuel and set himself on fire. A policeman standing near the victim was able to extinguish the fire and the man was immediately taken away by ambulance.

 

In an apparent copycat replay of the self-immolation of a Tunisian graduate, the official MENA agency says Abdelmoneim was protesting because he had not received bread coupons for his restaurant.

Tunisian graduate, Mohammed Bouazizi, eventually died from his injuries sparking a wave of protests in the country that would topple the 23-year-old regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Egyptians have often voiced similar grievances to Tunisians. They complain of economic hardships and the failure by Cairo to lift an emergency law in place for three decades. On Friday, dozens of Egyptians celebrated the ouster of Ben Ali outside the Tunisian embassy in central Cairo.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit has warned the West to stay out of Arab affairs. His comments on Sunday, come a day after US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, urged Arab leaders to work with their peoples to bring reforms.

Speaking from the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh where Arab foreign ministers are preparing for an economic summit on Wednesday, Abdul Gheit also dismissed the notion that people in the Arab world could be inspired by Tunisia.

"Those who imagine things and seek to escalate the situation will not achieve their goals," he said.

 


bernadette paolo

 

23 January 2011


 

Anti-government protesters in the Tunisian capital are continuing to heap pressure on Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to quit.

Backed by the country’s main trade union, thousands of "caravan of liberation" marchers descended in Tunis from the impoverished region where the uprising began last month.

Public assemblies of more than three people are officially banned under a state of emergency that has remained in place, along with a night-time curfew, since president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted last week.

 

The peaceful demonstrators were joined by hundreds of police officers, some of whom briefly blocked a car carrying interim president Foued Mebazaa, the speaker of parliament.

"The aim of this caravan is to make the government fall," said Rabia Slimane, 40, a teacher from Menzel Bouzaiane, where the first victim of the uprising was killed by security forces last month.

The General Union of Tunisian Workers, or UGTT, is refusing to recognise the new government because of its inclusion of figures from the old regime.

Ghannouchi has been prime minister in Tunisia since 1999. Following the revolt, he promised to resign from political life after Tunisia holds its first free and fair polls since independence from France in 1956.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called on Ghannouchi to carry out democratic reforms to stem the country’s political turmoil.

Mebazaa has promised a "total break" with the old regime and the government has announced that political prisoners will be released and all political parties legalised.

Meanwhile the banned Islamist movement Ennahdha has said it intends to register as an official political party and take part in elections.

The government on Saturday also lifted restrictions on the import of foreign literature and films, which were tightly controlled by the previous regime.

Schools and universities, which were shut on January 10 in the final days of Ben Ali, are to be reopened this week.

Read or Listen to this story on the RFI website

Cairo — Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year old Tunisian whose act of self-immolation led to an unprecedented popular revolution in Tunisia, is quickly turning into a symbol for disgruntled Arab youths angry at their autocratic rulers and poor economic conditions – a development that Arab leaders in the region are clearly taking note of.

 

On Tuesday a third Egyptian who set himself ablaze in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria to protest unemployment died at hospital. This came after a man set himself alight outside the Cabinet offices in downtown Cairo, and another set himself on fire Monday to protest his inability to obtain subsidised bread.

Egypt, a country of 85 million people, has implemented an economic programme, in agreement with the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), that includes lowering subsidies for staple foods and energy. The programme has deprived millions of Egyptians of inexpensive bread and pushed prices upwards for several other food items. As a result protests over salaries and lack of benefits have rocked the country over the past five years.

Other Western-backed Arab rulers – under prodding from Western economic institutions – are implementing similar programmes that support corporations and business people, who promise investments and development, at the expense of the poor.

La Tribune

Workers at an oil site in Algeria.

In Algeria, the second county after Tunisia that saw popular street protests against housing shortages, corruption and unemployment, four people committed the same self-immolation act as Bouazizi. At least one person has died so far.

In Mauritania, where fifty percent of the population of 3.5 million live under the poverty line of 2 dollars a day, one man was hospitalised after setting himself on fire outside the presidential palace Sunday.

During a ministerial meeting ahead of an Arab Economic Summit in Sharm El- Sheikh later this week, Arab League Secretary General Amre Moussa appealed to rich Arab nations – mostly oil-producing countries – to help assist other Arab countries that are "still in need of development".

The events in Tunisia and the region have forced several autocratic Arab rulers to take note of their peoples’ rising frustrations with their conditions.

 

In Jordan, King Abdullah II, a key ally of the U.S. and Israel who came to rule with Western backing after the death of his father King Hussein in 1999, ordered new measures to lower food prices and create more jobs for the country’s six million people.

The government announced an unprecedented 225 million dollars worth of cuts in fuel and staple food prices. Nonetheless, Jordanians have protested against rampant unemployment and high food prices in dozens of towns and cities. The country is suffering record deficit and a high unemployment rate.

In Syria, the state-run media reported Tuesday that the government of President Bashar Al-Assad would hand out direct financial support of about 11.00 dollars a month to some 415,000 families.

After the Tunisia events, the ruling Baath Party in Damascus said it would also reverse its plans to cut subsidies and that it would increase its food subsidies to combat high prices. The government also directed farmers to plant more wheat – a staple food item – the Syrian media said.

 

Kuwait plans to give free food rations to all Kuwaitis at a cost of 818 million dollars, as well as a one-time cash grant to every Kuwaiti of 3,561 dollars. These measures would take effect Feb. 1.

In Egypt – the largest Arab nation in terms of population, which has also witnessed dozens of labour protests and pay issues for the past five years – the government, which came to office in 2005, said the country’s subsides were still firmly in place. Local media reported that President Hosni Mubarak, the country’s ruler since 1981, ordered ministers to scale back any talk of cutting energy or bread subsidies.

Speaking ahead of the Arab Economic Summit, Egyptian Trade Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid said that the country’s subsidy system was working and that it shielded consumers in Egypt from the 50 percent increase in world food prices.

 

He, however, admitted that the Tunisian crisis would act as an accelerator to economic cooperation and integration between Arab states, Al-Ahram reported Tuesday.

In Mauritania, one of the region’s least developed nations, the government announced measures to open 600 stores to sell subsidised rice, sugar, cooking oil and wheat flour. The government also said that it was taking measures to "increase employment opportunities".

Opposition leaders belittled the measures and said they were not enough to fight "the country’s deliberate starvation, absurd high prices and corruption", the Mauritanian News Agency reported.

In Algeria, which shares borders and history of French occupation with Tunisia, the government was reportedly studying a measure to put a cap on food prices and impose price restrictions to ease two weeks of violent protests that coincided with the Tunisian unrest.

 

Algerians are complaining of sugar, oil and flour prices despite a surplus in the government budget of 14.8 billion dollars compared to 4.6 billion a year before. Oil prices rose this year helping boost the country’s revenue.

All across the Arab region, government backers are quick to assert that Tunisia is an exceptional case that cannot be repeated in other Arab countries.

"We are not all angry against the regime like Tunisians were," said Abdelmonem Saeed, chairman of Al-Ahram, a Cairo-based government- managed foundation that runs several publications.

"Egypt is 84 million people when Tunisia was only 10 million so you’ll find here parts that are for the regime and others that may be against it. Lots of people express their opinions through different channels here," Saeed said in an interview with Dream TV. "We are not the same."