‘Woman of Iron’ Honored for Protecting CAR’s Constitution

In March 2022, Daniele Darlan, then-president of the Central African Republic’s Constitutional Court, faced intense pressure to modify her country’s constitution to allow the president to run for a third term in office.

The pressure came from local politicians and Russian diplomats, but she was unwavering in her belief that the constitution could not be undermined.

“The constitution is the fundamental law. It’s the text on which all other laws and regulations are based,” she told VOA, speaking in French. “If you don’t respect the constitution, if you violate it, it sets off a chain reaction of violations. It means that you don’t have to respect any law or any rule.”

In October 2022 she was removed from her position, clearing the way for President Faustin-Archange Touadéra to remain in power.

International reaction was immediate.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, “judicial independence is a central tenet of democracy,” at the time of her removal. “We call on the Central African authorities to ensure the safety and independence of the Constitutional Court.”

The court “must be free from interference and political influence from inside and outside,” said Yao Agbetse, a U.N. independent expert on the human rights situation in the country.

Darlan said she does not regret her stand even though it cost her dearly.

“As a constitutional judge and president of the Constitutional Court I am a guardian of the constitution,” she told VOA in a one-on-one interview at the State Department. “At that moment, I had to make sure that the constitution would be respected. In this sense I only did my job.”

Nicknamed the “Woman of Iron,” she was one of the recipients of the 2023 International Women of Courage Award presented by the State Department this month.

The Central African Republic has joined a controversial security agreement with the Wagner Group, a Kremlin-controlled paramilitary mercenary company that provides security to the country’s president and has become deeply enmeshed in the nation’s economy.

Darlan said while people initially had high hopes for the Russian fighters, those hopes have since been dashed.

“The impact, unfortunately, has not been positive,” she said. “If at first the population was happy because Wagner was combatting certain armed groups, afterward that was no longer the case.”

Human rights advocates accuse Wagner of human rights violations in the country.

“Wagner has committed many abuses against the population and against the armed forces of the Central African Republic. So, little by little, there has been a rejection. At the beginning they were seen as saviors, but now the population has begun to realize they were not what they expected and are demanding they leave,” Darlan said.

And it’s not just the Central African Republic that is facing threats to the rule of law. Across Africa there have been instances of presidents amending the constitutions to stay in power and soldiers grabbing power at the point of a gun.

As someone who has dedicated her life to the rule of law, Darlan said she is troubled by this trend. She says presidents who cling to power do so out of fear.

“Once you run a country poorly. Once you mismanage the public funds, when you favor your friends and family, you are fearful of leaving power because you are fearful that you won’t be protected,” she said.

She said she hopes more African leaders will follow the examples of presidents who willing give up power and enjoy a quiet retirement.

“I think the heads of state who lead with good governance do not want to stay in power because they know when they leave, they’ll be safe,” she said. “There won’t be a judicial pursuit, they don’t have illicit funds. They are at ease. And they are loved by their population.”

your ad here

Vice President Harris Meets Africa’s Only Female President

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris pledged continuing cooperation with Tanzania as she met with the country’s president, the only female head of state in Africa, on her first official visit to the continent. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

your ad here

Nigeria’s Secret Police Say It Is Monitoring Possible Threat to Democratic Rule

Supporters of Nigeria’s ruling party are calling on the Department of State Services, often referred to as Nigeria’s secret police, to name the politicians the agency says are plotting to set up an interim government to prevent the handover of power to president-elect Bola Tinubu.

Opposition parties continue to reject the outcome of the February presidential election in which Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner.

Felix Muoka, national publicity secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress, told VOA Thursday that the APC has yet to officially react to reports of a threat to the nation’s democracy.

The secret police, in a statement late Wednesday, said some Nigerian politicians were plotting to institute an interim government ahead of May 29 when President Muhammadu Buhari is due to hand over power to president-elect Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The Department of State Services said the politicians are trying to “sponsor endless violent mass protests in major cities to warrant a declaration of State of Emergency and obtain frivolous court injunctions to forestall the inauguration of new executive administrations.”

The DSS did not name politicians involved in the interim government plot but pledged to take legal measures against them.

The declaration of Tinubu as president-elect last month was rejected by the opposition People’s Democratic Party and Labour Party.

Both parties have challenged the outcome in court and have been speaking to local television stations, calling Tinubu’s election illegal.

Muoka voiced support for the DSS.

“There’s been quite a lot of incendiary statements made by leaders of the opposition, in particular, leaders of the Labour Party,” Muoka said. “I think it is absolutely wrong and unpatriotic and in fact almost teetering on the edge of treasonable felony to instigate civil disobedience that may bring the country into severe crisis.”

Muoka added that the DSS is within its statutory authority to make arrests if it decides threats are sufficient.

“I am certain that the DSS will do everything within its authority to keep the peace in Nigeria,” he said.

Observers say the February elections lacked transparency. There were numerous reports of violence, voter intimidation and technical problems that caused delays.

But the DSS said in its statement the election was peaceful and that it is the alleged plot by politicians that could plunge Nigeria into crisis.

A civil society group, the Free Nigeria Movement, has been holding daily demonstrations in the capital to pressure the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, and Nigerian authorities to review the February and March elections.

Tochukwu Ezeoke is a Labour Party presidential campaign member who took part in the protest. He said the protests are not politically motivated and that the DSS is applying a double standard.

“We’re a group of Nigerians who have come together and are demanding that the right things be done,” Ezeoke said. “To be honest with you I’d say it smacks of hypocrisy that when something is coming from the ruling party they all feign ignorance. But on the other side when the citizens march the streets, then we get strokes. We are law-abiding citizens, if they want to arrest us, so be it.”

Paul James, elections program officer at YIAGA Africa, a nonprofit promoting democracy, said the timing of the DSS statement is suspicious. He said people are demanding what they said didn’t represent their wishes and aspirations and is worried about the timing of the DSS statement.

“To the best that I know they have not constituted any nuisance,” he said about protesters.

Last week, the ruling party’s presidential campaign spokesman and labor minister Festus Keyamo filed a complaint with the DSS about the opposition party’s commentaries on local television stations.

The petition came after the Labour Party’s vice presidential candidate, Yusuf Datti-Ahmed, told a station that Tinubu’s election was a sham and said he must not be sworn in.

your ad here

Hundreds of Companies Take Part in Nairobi Business Conference

More than 700 delegates and 300 companies participated in the third edition of the American Chamber of Commerce summit in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, organizers said. U.S. government and private sector delegations met with counterparts from Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Kenya President William Ruto said Thursday that Kenya was open for business, highlighting a deal his government had struck with U.S. biotech company Moderna.

“It is with pleasure that I announced the finalized deal between Moderna and the government of Kenya to build a $500 million dollar MRNA vaccine facility in Nairobi,” he said.

The two-day AmCham business summit, which ended Thursday, gave business leaders a chance to exchange market intelligence and explore areas of opportunity, especially for commercial engagement, said Maxwell Okello, CEO of AmCham Kenya.

He noted that it followed the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit hosted by the White House.

AmCham “does two things: … One: it’s a perfect demonstration of some of the commitments we had from the U.S. … Two: we are very keen in seeing how we can actually advance commercial engagement,” Okello said. “We thought this would be a good platform to create partnerships, bring local companies that could be counterparts to those American companies that are interested in coming into Kenya.”

Scott Eisner, president of the U.S. Chamber’s Africa Business Center, brought a group of over 30 executives. He told VOA they hoped to forge concrete private sector opportunities and joint ventures.

“We have plenty of tech companies with us, but we also have pharmaceuticals, medical devices, technology, satellite companies that are doing mapping of the world, infrastructure developers around Caterpillar, the GEs of the world,” he said. “So we really have arranged for a very strong delegation representing the complexities of the American business community.”

Nzonzi Katana is a process engineer for the Kenyan-based startup Semiconductor Technologies Limited, which had a booth at the exhibition hall. The company manufactures microprocessors, memory chips and sensors.

“We have been able to meet many representatives from many American companies,” Katana said. “I believe there’s one person who might be a potential supplier of our raw material.”

Effects of protests

Kenya is experiencing protests organized by opposition leader Raila Odinga over the high cost of living, and three people have died in clashes with police. How might this affect possible investors?

Whitney Baird, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, said Washington keeps U.S. companies informed about each country’s political and security situation.

“The U.S. government produces publications every year like the investment climate statement, country commercial guide, so there is information available to any businesses about what we’ve observed over a year,” Baird said. She said Kenya has a strong democratic tradition, and “we were very pleased with the elections,” but she urged any incoming U.S. business to “engage with our commercial and economic sections at the embassy and get the most up to date information about opportunities and the ongoing situation.”

At the summit, seven African companies in the agriculture sector were awarded grants totaling $5.1 million by the U.S. Agency for International Development through its Prosper Africa and Feed the Future programs.

your ad here

Hope Fades for Rescuing Missing Malawi Cyclone Victims

Officials in Malawi say hope has all but disappeared for finding some 500 people who are still missing two weeks after Cyclone Freddy hit the country. Disaster management officials said Wednesday that the country will now focus on rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the cyclone.

Charles Kalemba, commissioner for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, told reporters that the search and rescue team has ended operations in some districts, including Chiradzulu, where the government used excavators to sift through the muddy rubble.

However, Kalemba said the search team comprising police and military is still working in two other mudslide-hit districts, Phalombe and Mulanje.

“At this point … the work that they have done, even using the sniffing dogs, the chances of them being found are very slim,” Kalemba said. “But we have a process that would be followed where we would declare the missing [people] to have been passed on.”

The storm killed at least 676 people and displaced more than 650,000 others in southern Malawi. The cyclone, which also hit Mozambique and Madagascar, destroyed many bridges and roads in Malawi, making many areas only reachable by boats and aircraft.

Kalemba said the country has started working on road reconstruction, using military engineers from Malawi and Tanzania.

Major General Saiford Kalisha, chief of military operations and training for the Malawi defense force, told reporters that areas that are cut off are expected to be accessible by road in about four weeks.

The cyclone has also raised fears of an imminent food shortage in affected areas.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs said about 2.3 million people in southern Malawi have lost their crops and livestock.

Speaking during a televised prayer organized by the Evangelical Association of Malawi on Wednesday, President Lazarus Chakwera said Malawians should not lose hope but instead turn to God.

“Because there can be no hope if you know that there is no one to call up and too many of us are losing it because our hearts are failing us, because of fear,” Chakwera said. “But we need to understand that there is a higher power who loves each one of us and loves this nation and who gives hope where there seems to be no hope at all.”

In the meantime, the Malawi government has made significant changes to its 2023-2024 national budget to deal with the cyclone’s devastation. For instance, the government has allocated money for the purchase of two aircraft to help in search and rescue operations in time of disasters.

your ad here

Burkina Faso Banning Free Press ‘Bit by Bit,’ Journalist Says

Burkina Faso’s military government suspended the international broadcaster France 24 after it had aired an excerpt of an interview with the head of a regional al-Qaida affiliate. VOA’s Salem Solomon spoke to the journalist who conducted the interview.

your ad here

South Africa Recognizes Waste Pickers’ Contribution to the Fight Against Climate Change

As the world marks International Day of Zero Waste on Thursday, South Africa is taking steps to ensure that those collecting recyclables from homes and rubbish dumps register so they will be eligible for benefits such as higher payments for the items they collect. Authorities say this is necessary because the work they do contributes to the economy and helps fight against climate change. Vicky Stark reports for VOA from Cape Town, South Africa.
Camera: Shadley Lombard 

your ad here

Oil Executive Accused of Drug Dealing Appears in Court

The head of the board of directors at Namibia’s national oil company has appeared in court to face charges of dealing drugs.

Jennifer Comalie was arrested at the company’s offices on Monday when intelligence officers acting on a tipoff allegedly found a consignment of drugs in her official vehicle.

On Tuesday she appeared in the Windhoek Magistrate Court on charges of dealing in “dangerous dependence-producing substances.”

A spokesperson for the Namibian police in the Khomas region, Silas Shipandeni, confirmed the arrest to VOA.

“The contraband [was] discovered in her vehicle of which, amongst, others there was a discovery of 995 grams of cannabis of which one can call ‘skunk, 10 grams of cocaine powder and 90 units of crack cocaine,” Shipandeni said. He estimated that the total street value was 50,000 Namibian dollars.

A group of about 50 supporters gathered at the magistrate court on Tuesday to offer support to Comalie, whom many believe was set up as a result of a power struggle between her and the managing director of the National Petroleum Corporation of Namibia.

NAMCOR, in partnership with Dutch oil giant Shell and Qatar Energy, recently announced a major oil discovery off the coast of Namibia.

NAMCOR owns a 10 percent stake in the joint venture, which may provide huge revenues for Namibia if drilling and production proceed.

A Namibian corporate leader and a friend to the accused, Twapewa Kadhikwa, was among those showing support for Comalie in court.

She told VOA she believes Comalie’s arrest is politically motivated by those with an interest in Namibia’s touted oil sector.

“It’s obvious, it is not something you can put aside,” said Kadhikwa. “So, to me as a corporate leader first, I know Jenny. Jenny does not use drugs. You understand the volume of drugs that was found in her car are for, like, a trader, you know? Not for a consumer.”

Kadhikwa said the arrest seems like a plot to discredit Comalie.

Responding to questions regarding Namibia’s emerging oil and gas industry, local political analyst Rakkel Andreas said the country should ensure it has the necessary governing structures in place to ensure that those in power do not line their pockets with money that could benefit the general public.

“We are coming to learn that systemic corruption is a reality for the African continent, and a lot of times, this corruption is under the umbrella of legal frameworks,” Andreas said. “So, I think in terms of making sure that we have infrastructure in place in making sure we don’t have loopholes that can be exploited to enable systemic corruption. I think that is the larger conversation.”

Comalie was released on bail on Tuesday. The inspector general of the Namibian police, Joseph Shikongo, has called for an investigation into the circumstances that led to her arrest and who tipped off police about the drugs allegedly found in her car.

your ad here

VP Harris Stresses Democracy During Africa Visit

On the eve of her meeting with Africa’s only female head of state, Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday that having more women in power is a key ingredient for a healthy democracy.

Her meeting comes as the White House hosts its second-ever Summit for Democracy in Washington.

Harris said that in a vibrant democracy, women winning positions of power should be a common occurrence, not a rare and newsworthy one, as her ascension was.

As she prepared to meet Thursday with Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan, she spoke Wednesday with female entrepreneurs and leaders in Ghana’s capital, and announced more than  $1 billion in private-sector-led funding to advance women’s economic participation in Africa.

Afterward, in response to a question from VOA, Harris said women’s leadership is fundamental to a healthy democracy, and that it’s a topic she often raises in high-level meetings.

“In every bilateral conversation I have with almost any world leader, that is a topic that we raise because we do believe it is in the best interest of prosperity and security for the globe,” she said.

And, she says, it’s not about pushing women into power — in a healthy democracy, more citizens will feel empowered, and more women will gravitate toward higher office.

“When it comes specifically to this continent and the correlation between that and women’s empowerment, there’s no question when you have transparency in systems, when you have accountability in systems, when you create a system where rule of law is important, equal rights are defended and protected, you will see greater empowerment of all people including women — especially if they have been behind or you see extreme disparities,” she said. “So, there’s a correlation there, and we’re going to continue to work on it knowing that they’re interconnected.”

That’s one of the aims of the largely virtual summit in Washington, which is co-hosted by Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia.

In  Zambia, the Carter Center, founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, will host a summit-related program this week. David Carroll is director of the democracy program there, and told VOA that inclusivity is key.

“Healthy democracies are ones that are inclusive,” he told VOA on Zoom. “They are ones that have transparency, that respect core fundamental freedoms and rights. And hopefully, they’re also showing that they’re able to deliver for their people in ways that really meet the needs of their populations.”

Carroll added, “Another central element of the problem is democracies need to be respectful of core rights. They need to be inclusive as possible. They need to ensure that broad respect, but they also need to deliver for their populations.”

That is an uphill battle, especially amid what President Joe Biden has described as a global tug-of-war between democracies and autocracies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And data recently released by civil society group CIVICUS shows that 43 of the 120 nations invited to the summit “severely and routinely” restrict civic rights. According to their data, six countries have seen backsliding this year, including Ghana, the United Kingdom and Greece.

“In too many countries that have been invited to the Summit for Democracy, governments are stifling civil society and going to extreme lengths to silence their critics,” said Marianna Belalba Barreto, civic space research lead at CIVICUS.

“Without freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest, democracy cannot function effectively, as people lose their most important tools to hold governments accountable and promote change.”

your ad here

Freed ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Hero Rusesabagina Arrives in US

The man who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda” and was freed by Rwanda last week from a terrorism sentence returned Wednesday to the United States, where he will reunite with his family after being held for more than two years.

Paul Rusesabagina’s arrival back in the United States was announced Wednesday by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who wrote in a tweet that “we’re glad to have him back on U.S. soil.”

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists on Monday that Rusesabagina was in Doha, Qatar, and would be returning to the U.S.

Rusesabagina’s plane touched down in Houston in the afternoon and the 68-year-old was to travel next to a military hospital in San Antonio, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. The person said Rusesabagina was on the ground and in a car heading to reunite with his family.

“We’re glad to have him back on U.S. soil & reunited with his family & friends who’ve long waited for this day to come,” Sullivan wrote. “I’m grateful to those we worked closely with in the Rwandan Government to make this possible.”

Rusesabagina, a U.S. legal resident and Belgian citizen, was credited with sheltering more than 1,000 ethnic Tutsis at the hotel he managed during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide, in which over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus who tried to protect them were killed. He received the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts.

Vanished in Dubai

Rusesabagina disappeared in 2020 during a visit to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and appeared days later in Rwanda in handcuffs. His family alleged he was kidnapped and taken to Rwanda against his will to stand trial.

In 2021, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison after being convicted in Rwanda on eight charges, including membership in a terrorist group, murder and abduction, following the widely criticized trial.

Last week, Rwanda’s government commuted his sentence after diplomatic intervention on his behalf by the United States.

Rusesabagina had been accused of supporting the armed wing of his opposition political platform, the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change. The armed group claimed some responsibility for attacks in 2018 and 2019 in southern Rwanda in which nine Rwandans died.

Rusesabagina testified at trial that he helped to form the armed group to assist refugees but said he never supported violence — and sought to distance himself from its deadly attacks.

Rusesabagina has asserted that his arrest was in response to his criticism of longtime President Paul Kagame over alleged human rights abuses. Kagame’s government has repeatedly denied targeting dissenting voices with arrests and extrajudicial killings.

Rusesabagina became a public critic of Kagame and left Rwanda in 1996, first living in Belgium and then the U.S.

His arrest was a source of friction with the U.S. and others at a time when Rwanda’s government has also been under pressure over tensions with neighboring Congo and Britain’s plan to deport asylum-seekers to the small east African nation.

Rights activists and others had been urging Rwandan authorities to free him, saying his health was failing.

In October, the ailing Rusesabagina signed a letter to Kagame that was posted on the justice ministry’s website, saying that if he was granted pardon and released to live in the U.S., he would hold no personal or political ambitions and “I will leave questions regarding Rwandan politics behind me.”

Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kagame in Rwanda and discussed the case.

Kirby, the White House National Security Council spokesman, had said Sullivan personally engaged in the case, “really doing the final heavy lifting to get Paul released and to get him on his way home.”

your ad here

UN Refugee Agency in Mozambique Appeals for Help to Deal with DRC Refugees

The representative of the U.N. refugee agency in Mozambique said refugees fleeing war-torn parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo are making an already complicated humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique even worse.

Samuel Chakwera told VOA in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that the agency now needs additional resources to cater to the arriving asylum seekers, on top of already settled refugees and Mozambique’s own internally displaced persons.

“They are coming from Kivu north and Kivu south which is still in conflict as we speak. So, their situation is far from the best solution,” Chakwera said. “We have others integrated, we have quite a few in Maputo, in Beira and Tete.”

Violent clashes between non-state armed groups and government forces periodically drive hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, or DRC.

In February alone, according to aid agencies, nearly 300,000 people fled homes across the Rutshuru and Masisi territories in the DRC’s North Kivu province.

Now, small numbers of these people have entered Mozambique’s troubled northern regions where Islamist-linked insurgents are fighting with government troops in oil-rich Cabo Delgado province.

According to the U.N official, Mozambique hosts close to 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers, of which around 9,500 reside in Maratane settlement camp in Nampula province, while the remaining 19,000 reside in urban areas with host families.

The U.N. refugee agency says it works in full coordination with the Mozambican government, responding to lifesaving needs and advancing protection and solutions for forcibly displaced persons.

Chakwera said the increasing number of temporary refugees and asylum seekers from the DRC has strained Mozambique’s resources.

“So we are appealing for more funding from our donors to provide for things like shelter,” Chakwera said. “It’s quite a thing especially given the fact that we need resilient shelter because of the weather conditions. So that is the biggest thing that we are requesting from international partners for support.”

As Mozambique’s low-lying coast is prone to climate-induced disasters, the U.N. also provides emergency assistance in the wake of powerful cyclones that periodically ravage the region.

Powerful Cyclone Freddy struck Mozambique twice in February and in March, leaving behind a trail of damage, killing dozens of people and displacing 250,000 others in the central and northern parts of Mozambique.

your ad here

Burkina Faso Banning Free Press ‘Bit by Bit,’ Says France 24 Journalist After Broadcaster’s Suspension

The journalist whose interview with a terrorist organization resulted in Burkina Faso suspending France 24 has spoken with VOA about what he says is a decline in media freedoms in the country.

Burkina Faso’s military government suspended the international broadcaster after it aired an excerpt of an interview with the head of a regional al-Qaida affiliate earlier this month.

The journalist who conducted the interview, Wassim Nasr, told VOA that the Burkinabe leadership has been looking for a reason to shut down the network as part of an ongoing effort to control the flow of information in the country.

“When we speak to Burkinabe journalists or human rights activists or social or civil society activists, they all feel that banning free press is happening today, bit by bit,” Nasr told VOA. “And they are very scared of speaking out about things that are happening and what’s going wrong in the country.”

VOA reached out to Burkinabe authorities for comments, but inquiries went unanswered at the time of publication.

Burkina Faso government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said the France 24 interview with the head of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, amounted to acting as a mouthpiece for the terror group.

“Without contesting the freedom of the channel’s editorial choices, the government nevertheless questions the ethics that govern the professional practice of journalism on France 24,” he said.

The suspension has also been met with criticism from press freedom organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, which called the move “a blatant attack on press freedom” and urged the government to lift the suspension immediately.

The suspension follows a move by the government to suspend the French radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale in December for its reporting on terror attacks.

Dieudonne Zoungrana, editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Aujourd’hui au Faso, told AFP the climate for journalists in the country is very tense, but said the country is in a time of war and the government is naturally hesitant to give a platform to the enemy.

“With this axe that fell on France 24, it is also a warning shot for the local press, for the national press, that must be a bit careful,” Zoungrana told Agence France-Presse.

“Because in the background, it is based on how to treat information in times of war, how it should be treated. Do we have to say everything? Do we have to give everyone the floor? There are some problems that are currently being raised.”

Nasr said the interview with the terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb head Abu Obeida Youssef al-Anabi, also known as Yezid Mebarek, was nearly a year in the making. He sent Mebarek 17 recorded questions and Mebarek responded with voiced answers.

Nasr said France 24 only played 20 seconds of the audio as proof that the terror leader was making the statements. He added that he was careful to put Mebarek’s statements in context and include contradictory facts when necessary.

“I analyzed what he said. I picked out the interesting informational parts of what he said. I contextualized it and even contradicted him on many issues,” Nasr said.

For example, when Mebarek said AQIM was not responsible for a massacre in Solhan, Burkina Faso, which took the lives of at least 138 people, Nasr said his sources indicate it was, indeed, a unit of AQIM which was “undisciplined.”

“I said on screen that he was wrong, that they are responsible, despite the fact that he denied it,” Nasr said.

Nasr said that for a journalist, talking to an extremist leader is important in order to help viewers understand their ideology and tactics. It is not equivalent to justifying their actions or giving them a platform to recruit.

“As far as I am concerned, talking to jihadists and interrogating them and asking them questions is part of my job,” he said. “We are journalists, so we have to talk to all parties. I am not the spokesperson of the French Government, neither of the Burkinabe government, neither of any government. It is my job to talk to all parties.”

Some information in this article came from Agence France-Presse.

your ad here

UN Concerned About Disease in Malawi’s Displacement Camps

The U.N. humanitarian agency says Malawi needs immediate help to deal with diseases spreading in displacement camps for Cyclone Freddy survivors. The Malawi health minister told reporters Tuesday that the government is beefing up its medical staff but a local newspaper says the country needs more money to adequately deal with healthcare needs.

Malawi has over 500 displacement camps for people affected by Cyclone Freddy, which also hit Mozambique and Madagascar.

In its Tuesday Flash Update, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, says heath issues are rising in the camps due to a lack of clean drinking water and adequate sanitation. 

It says diseases such as cholera, scabies, and acute respiratory infections have been reported in some camps.

Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda is minister of health in Malawi.

She told a press conference that the main challenge has been a shortage of medical workers.


“So, we are beefing up our staff levels as well. We have been recruiting. I think over the past two weeks we have recruited over 300 health workers in the southern region just to beef up our health services in the health sector,” said Chiponda.

However, a local newspaper reported Tuesday that Malawi needs about $3 million to address health needs created by the devastating cyclone.

The World Health Organization says the unusually long-running cyclone destroyed more than 300 health facilities in Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique, leaving many communities without sufficient access to health services.  

In Malawi and Mozambique, the cyclone hit amid already-exisitng cholera outbreaks.

It says additionally, malaria cases have been reported in multiple camps, requiring medical attention and the provision of mosquito nets to prevent further spread of the disease.

Maziko Matemba is the community health ambassador in Malawi.

He told VOA that outbreaks of diseases in the camps were expected.

“And already Blantyre and those sites already had cholera. So, this would just be an increase to where we came from,” said Matemba. “But also, another assessment which we have done, you know, people are coming from different places to support people who are trapped. What would happen is that those people can also migrate several diseases; cholera, COVID.”

Matemba says that for people displaced from their homes, mental health is also a challenge.

“Before parliament signs off, or of all the requests that are happening in parliament, health has to be considered as one of the areas apart from infrastructure reconstruction because we are talking of mental health; it’s a big issue in those areas as well,” said Matemba.

In the meantime, several humanitarian organizations are supporting Malawi to address its health concerns.

The WHO and Doctors Without Borders have sent medical workers to hard-to-reach areas to assist those trapped because of roads that remain cut off.


your ad here

Sudan’s Finance Minister Denies Military Government Is Trying to Consolidate Power Over State Finance

Economists say Sudan’s economy is in dire shape, struggling under the weight of high inflation and the suspension of debt cancellation by Western nations since last October’s coup. In an exclusive interview with VOA in Khartoum, Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim tells Henry Wilkins about allegations the military government is trying to assert more control over the economy, and its alleged links with Russia’s Wagner Group.

your ad here

Al-Shabab Has Lost Third of its Territory, US Ambassador Says

The U.S. ambassador to Somalia said the Somali government’s military operations against al-Shabab have cost the militants one third of their territory. 

“Somali-led offensives have restored Somalia’s sovereignty to 1/3 of the territory formerly misruled by al-Shabaab,” Larry André told VOA Somali in an email. “Ending al-Shabab’s oppression is one step further toward Somalia’s full revival.”  

Since January, the United States donated weapons to the Somali national forces to support operations against al-Shabab. The U.S. also trains an elite Somali army unit known as Danab, which means “lightning” and has been leading the offensive against al-Shabab.

The Somali government this week reported that the military operations have inflicted heavy losses on the militant group during the past six months.    

In a statement on March 25, Ministry of Information said that 3,000 al-Shabab militants were killed and 3,700 more were injured in the first phase of military operations between August of last year and January. The government also said 70 towns and villages have been liberated from al-Shabab. 

Meanwhile, the militant group has claimed that the first phase of military operations by the Somali government and local fighters has failed.     

In an interview with al-Shabab-affiliated radio, the militant group’s spokesman, Ali Mohamoud Rage, who is also known as Ali Dhere, accused the U.S. of mobilizing forces against the group.    

He said the original plan was to eliminate al-Shabab within six months.    

“The first phase of the operation concocted by the infidels has turned futile,” he said.     

Contacted by VOA about the remarks by the al-Shabab spokesman, a senior Somali security official dismissed Ali Dhere’s claims.    

The “definition of failure has to be revisited if liberating Middle Shabelle, Hiran, South Mudug and parts of Galgadud is a failure,” said Kamal Dahir Hassan Gutale, national security adviser to Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre.    

The “Somali people and their government made possible all those successes reached by our security forces in a very short time,” he said.    

Gutale said Ali Dhere’s claim that the U.S. mobilized the Somali military offensive is baseless.    

“He is facing young Somali soldiers who are well-trained, battle-hardened, who took the battle towards the front lines,” he said. “Let him face them — they have liberated over 500 KMs from al-Shabab, and still they are after him.”    


Government officials said the second phase of military operations will start during Ramadan. But preparations for the second phase have faced criticism before it officially launches.  

Abdullahi Mohamed Ali Sanbalolshe, the former director of the National Intelligence and Security Agency, says preparations for the second offensive focus more on the role of the government and less on the participation of local fighters who have been integral to the relative success of the first phase. 

Sanbalolshe told VOA the local fighters have a low awareness about the new offensive. He alleges that the government is lowering the importance of the clans, locals and states.     

“All Somalis were interested and were part of the first one [offensive] – the members of the parliament, clan elders, business community, the civil society, the diaspora,” he said. 

“The participation of the clans [in the 2nd offensive] is low; it appears it’s confined to the government,” he said.    

Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur has rejected the criticism that the government is not valuing the role of the locals.    

“This fight belongs to the Somali people, and it is true that the successes were achieved with the collaboration of the people,” he said.     

“Every area that is going to be liberated, its people will be consulted with and informed.”    

Nur said most of the locals do not need the government to inform them about military offensives because they approach and ask for support. 

Mohamed Abdurahman contributed to this report.  

your ad here

Pirates Boarded Danish Ship in Gulf of Guinea

Pirates boarded a Danish-owned Liberian-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Guinea over the weekend, the owner said Tuesday, adding that contact with the 16 crew members had been lost.

The 135-meter Monjasa Reformer “experienced an emergency situation” on Saturday around 260 kilometers west of Port Pointe-Noire in the Republic of Congo, owner Monjasa said.

The ship owner said the crew had sought refuge in the tanker’s secure room when the pirates boarded, “in accordance with the onboard anti-piracy emergency protocol.”

“Onboard communications channels are currently down, and we are working with the local authorities to establish communication to understand the situation on board and provide all the support needed by the crew to overcome these dreadful events,” Monjasa said.

It said “the vessel was sitting idle” when the incident took place.

Monjasa declined to give information on the nationalities of the crew members when asked by AFP.

According to an official at the port of Pointe-Noire, the ship had arrived in Congolese waters on March 18 and left on March 22, and was in international waters when it was attacked.

“Three men took control of the ship and since then the crew can no longer be reached,” the official told AFP.

Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center told AFP a “missing vessel broadcast had been issued for passing ships to report to us if they come across it.”

Pirates have long been a risk in the Gulf of Guinea — a major shipping route stretching 5,700 kilometers from Senegal to Angola, with Nigerian gangs carrying out most attacks.

But since 2021, shippers say pirates have been raiding farther out in international waters.

Their violence and sophisticated tactics prompted pleas from shippers for a more robust foreign naval presence like the mission to curb attacks from Somali pirates a decade ago.

Many of the attacks in recent years have been carried out by Nigerian criminal gangs who strike out in speed boats from hideouts in the Delta region to raid vessels.

Some gangs have captured larger fishing vessels which they use as a “mothership” base to raid further out to sea.

Lull in attacks

But the region, which sees a lot of traffic from oil tankers, has also seen a lull in activity recently.

According to a report by The Maritime Information Cooperation and Awareness Center (MICA), three ships were attacked in the area in 2022 compared to 26 in 2019.

The sharp decline in Gulf of Guinea attacks contributed to 2022 recording the lowest number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery worldwide with 132 cases, according to the annual report from the International Maritime Bureau.

Two other attacks were recorded in the region in 2023 so far.

Denmark, home to shipping giant Maersk, sent a naval frigate in 2021 to patrol the waters, after the country had pushed for a stronger international naval presence.

The Absalon-class Danish frigate Esbern Snare — equipped with a helicopter and around 175 marines onboard — was sent to patrol the waters between November 2021 and March 2022, a period when the risk of attacks was higher.

Skirmishes and solutions

The Danish Shipping association said the latest incident shows “problems with piracy off the west coast of Africa are far from solved.”

With the war in Ukraine, “We fully understand… Denmark’s naval military capacity is needed elsewhere,” the group said.

But it suggested “navy vessels from several countries in the area… particularly the EU countries should coordinate their presence” to provide the best cover.

The gulf has periods of calmer seas when it is easier for pirates to race out from hidden bases on the Nigeria coast to raid commercial vessels offshore and kidnap crew.

In November 2021, sailors from the frigate were involved in a firefight resulting in the deaths of five suspected pirates.

A suspected Nigerian pirate was transferred to Denmark to receive medical care after the skirmish.

After needing to have his leg amputated the man, who has also applied for asylum in Denmark, was put on trial for and convicted of endangering the lives of the Danish sailors.

your ad here

Civil Society Groups Protest in Nigeria Over Election Outcome

Nigerian civil society organizations have been holding daily protests to pressure the Independent National Electoral Commission, or INEC, and Nigerian authorities to review the February and March elections.

The presidential, gubernatorial and parliamentary polls were marred by violent attacks leading to deaths, injuries, voter suppression and intimidation. On Monday, police said more than 700 people had been arrested for disrupting elections and will be prosecuted according to law.

As music filled the air, protesters in civil society group Free Nigeria Movement held up placards and marched in the streets of the capital on Tuesday.

Daily demonstrations began last week to call for accountability in the electoral system. Nigerians went to the polls in February and March to elect a new president, state governors and lawmakers.

Observers say the elections were characterized by widespread violence, voter suppression and intimidation, and technical problems.

Protesters say INEC was too quick to declare winners, despite the obvious challenges. They also say the commission failed to honor its promise to electronically transmit results during the presidential polls. Bola Ahmed Tinubu was declared the winner of February’s presidential elections.

Moses Paul, who convened the Free Nigeria Movement protests, called for the resignation of INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu.

“Professor Mahmood Yakubu has lied to us and abused our right of choice,” Paul said. “We pass a vote of no confidence, and we call for his immediate sack. We cannot afford to continue the culture of performance of lawlessness without consequences.”

Earlier in March, INEC said technical and security challenges were regrettable and pledged to improve.

On Monday, national police authorities said 781 people were arrested during the February and March polls combined. Police chief Usman Alkali Baba spoke during an assessment meeting with security heads in the capital to review the conduct at the polls. He said the police also recovered 66 firearms from the suspects.

The director of the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Development, Idayat Hassan, said there was some improvement in the handling of local elections compared to the presidential polls, but acknowledges the process was flawed overall.

“These elections have been a mixed bag,” said Idayat Hassan of the Center for Democracy and Development. “On one hand, INEC has been able to improve compared to the February 25 elections with early opening of polls, the functionality of the new technology for authenticating voters and with the upload of results. But on the other hand, these elections have been hugely blighted by violence, vote trading and voter suppression.

“When people are being induced, paid to vote, the validity of such an outcome becomes extremely questionable. There will likely be protests in some parts of the country.”

Last week, rights group Amnesty International condemned Nigeria’s electoral violence that disenfranchised thousands of voters and called on authorities to punish perpetrators in order to serve as a deterrent.

Hassan said lapses in Nigeria’s electoral laws were also inhibiting factors.

“It’s not just about INEC, but it’s about the legal provisions that do not actually prioritize the rights of citizens to fully participate in an electoral process,” Hassan said. “And it is this [gap] in the law that the political actors are exploiting to cause violence in opposition strongholds so they can actually reduce their vote. At the end of the day, results will have to be called.”

The opposition People’s Democratic Party and the Labor Party have filed petitions challenging INEC’s declaration of Tinubu as the president-elect.

Tinubu, of the ruling All Progressives Congress party, is expected to be sworn into office in two months, but many will be waiting to see if protests or court petitions can change that.

your ad here

At UN, African Leaders Say Terrorists Target Continent, Especially Sahel

African nations called on the world Tuesday to pay attention to how terrorism targeted their continent, particularly its Sahel region, telling the United Nations Security Council that Africans made up nearly half the world’s terror attack victims. 

Using his country’s bully pulpit as Security Council chair for March, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi told the council that “though terrorism is a global threat, the situation in Africa remains more critical.” 

His words were echoed by a series of ambassadors from African countries who discussed terror groups’ threats to their nations. 

One global terrorism index shows that 48% of terror victims last year were African, Nyusi said, “and the Sahel region is the new epicenter of terrorist attacks.” Many speakers said they were deeply concerned by terror groups’ operations in the vast, semi-arid expanse below the Sahara Desert. 

According to the U.N., the countries of the Sahel include Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. The latest Global Terrorism Index says the number of terror victims has risen 2,000% in the past 15 years, and it ranks Burkina Faso first in the region. 

“The situation in Africa is especially concerning,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council. “Despair, poverty, hunger, lack of basic services, unemployment and unconstitutional changes in government continue to lay fertile ground. … I am deeply concerned by the gains terrorist groups are making in the Sahel and elsewhere.” 

Mozambique’s Islamist extremist insurgency, which started in October 2017, is blamed for the deaths of more than 3,000 people and for displacing an estimated 900,000 people. In March 2021 the rebel violence forced the France-based firm TotalEnergies to put on hold its $20 billion liquefied natural gas project in the northeast. TotalEnergies invoked force majeure after the insurgents attacked the town of Palma, very near the gas project. 

Palma was later recaptured by Mozambican and Rwandan forces, and the government has urged TotalEnergies to resume work on the gas project. 

While gains have been made by Mozambique’s armed forces and its regional allies, the rebels are still capable of carrying out lethal attacks, including on the main north-south road that links the city of Pemba with the gas project in Palma. 

“Mozambique has been engaged in countering terrorism with some success,” Nyusi said, “thanks to a combination of internal efforts and the support from partners.” 

The U.N. is undergoing a regular review of its counterterror strategies. 

U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council that when she visited Mozambique in January, among the issues she discussed with officials there was how “we faced a host of challenges, especially when it comes to the dramatic rise in terrorism in Africa.” 

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, meanwhile, is on a weeklong visit to Africa, intended to deepen U.S. ties with the continent. 

your ad here

Amnesty International: Rights Landscape in West Africa Darkens 

West Africa’s Sahel region saw mounting violence and a rollback in free expression last year, rights group Amnesty International says in its latest annual report, released Tuesday.

Amnesty International says that for Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger — 2022 was an especially grim year. The countries saw an uptick in civilian killings compared to 2021, as they battle an ongoing jihadi insurgency in the region.

“We are talking about 9,000 civilians killed due to the conflict — and increase of 54% compared to 2021,” said Ousmane Diallo, Sahel researcher for Amnesty’s Dakar office.

He says governments in these three countries are increasingly disregarding human rights. One big thing that’s changed in the region over 2022: reports of the growing presence in some places of the Wagner Group, a private Russian mercenary company.

Mali and Burkina Faso have also seen coup d’états over the past two years.

“I think there is certainly a strong link between these military takeovers and some of the abuses of human rights… I specifically want to cite here freedom of expression and press freedom in Mali and Burkina Faso… that have been under strong attacks by these military governments,” he said. 

Diallo gives the example of Malian journalist Malick Konate, who was forced into exile for reportedly shooting footage for French TV that showed Wagner’s presence in Mali.

“The situation of Malik Konate is not a unique one. Many other actors —whether journalists or human rights defenders of political actors — have been forced to exile due to these attacks against freedom of expression and press freedom,” he said.

Even Senegal, considered one of West Africa’s most successful democracies, has lost points, Diallo says, when it comes to civil liberties. It’s president, Macky Sall, is considering running for a third term — which the opposition asserts would be unconstitutional.

“The situation in Senegal has dramatically worsened over the last two years. We have seen a lot of abuses against freedom of peaceful assembly — whether the right to protest by the opposition, by civil society members, is often rejected by administrative Authorities due to risk of disturbing public order without giving any specifics about it. But also, freedom of expression and press freedom,” said Diallo.

Amnesty also criticizes forced deportations under agreements aimed to control migration — including Algeria’s expulsion of thousands of sub-Saharan African migrants to northern Niger in recent years. Reports say many are dumped into the desert with little food or water. Algeria denies such accusations, calling them “malicious.”

your ad here

South Africa Mulls Options After ICC’s Putin Arrest Order

With an International Criminal Court arrest warrant out for Vladimir Putin, South Africa is weighing what to do if the Russian president accepts an earlier invitation to attend an August summit in the country.

The court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader on March 17 for war crimes involving the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. South Africa is a signatory to the ICC’s Rome Statute that obligates countries to execute the court’s international arrest warrants.

But Pretoria is also a close ally with Moscow and has refrained from criticizing Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine – going as far as holding bilateral talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier this year and hosting Russian war ships in February for joint military exercises.

Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s minister for international relations, told local radio station SAfm in an interview that the government was awaiting a refreshed legal opinion on the matter and would then consider its options.

“It is a difficult situation, but, you know, I think that the Cabinet needs to discuss this,” she said. “Once I have the opinion I will take it to Cabinet, so our actions will be guided by the overall views of government.”

However, the minister demurred on the possibility of withdrawing Putin’s invitation to the summit of the group of emerging economic powers known as BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. South Africa is due to host a summit of the bloc’s leaders this August. Moscow has not yet confirmed whether Putin will attend in person.

Pandor also criticized the ICC for not having what she called an “evenhanded approach” to all leaders responsible for abuses of international law, and for focusing on some states rather than others.

But Darren Bergman, shadow minister for international relations with South Africa’s main opposition party the Democratic Alliance, said the government must stick by its ICC commitments.

“The Democratic Alliance believes that the Cabinet should not be extending the invitation any more to President Putin and therefore should withdraw that invitation,” he said. “If they do not, they should be ready to effect the warrant of arrest on President Putin.”

Steven Gruzd, a Russia analyst at the South African Institute for International Affairs, told VOA there are a number of routes the government could take. It could dodge the issue by making the BRICS summit virtual, withdraw from the court entirely, or, most likely, he said, they could try looking for some sort of diplomatic immunity for Putin as a sitting head of state.

“We’ve seen this dilemma before,” he said. “In 2015, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan came to South Africa for the African Union Summit and South Africa was ordered to arrest him. There was a local court order. But this was ignored and defied, and he was allowed to escape from a military base.”

Lunga Ngqengelele, a spokesman for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation told VOA the Cabinet would likely discuss the matter this week.

your ad here