Poland’s president seeks release of Polish traveler sentenced to life in Congo

WARSAW, Poland — Polish President Andrzej Duda has spoken on the phone with Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi to try to obtain the release of a Polish traveler who was sentenced to life in prison in the Central African country on espionage charges, an aide said Monday.

Congolese forces detained Mariusz Majewski, 52, in February and he later faced a military court in the restive nation, accused of spying.

The allegations against him said that he had “approached the front line with Mobondo militiamen,” moved along the front line without authorization and “took photos of sensitive and strategic places and secretly observed military activities.”

The Mobondo have been involved in intercommunal violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s southwest since 2022.

Majewski was convicted last week and sentenced to life in prison. No details have been released as to where he is being held. 

Duda’s aide, Wojciech Kolarski, did not say what the outcome of the conversation between the two presidents was but stressed that the state had the obligation to take care of its citizens who find themselves in such dramatic situations overseas.

Majewski’s family says he is in poor health and insists that he is just a traveler.

Last week, Polish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Pawel Wronski said without elaborating that Majewski “is not a spy, he is a member of a travelers club” and was just following his “passion in life.”

Wronski said a chain of coincidental circumstances and events led to Majewski’s presence in Congo and his “behavior was the result of a lack of knowledge of local customs.”

Polish authorities are aware of the “very difficult political situation in Congo” and a recent coup attempt there but expressed hope that Majewski would not be implicated in a situation he has no connection to.

Poland does not have a diplomatic mission in Congo.

Earlier this month, the Congolese army said it had foiled a coup attempt and arrested the perpetrators, including some foreigners. Several U.S. citizens were among those arrested.

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China book corner set up at Kenya workers training institution

Nairobi — Chinese authorities are setting up a China book corner in Kenya’s state training institutions, to provide Chinese literature, language resources and insights for scholars and students. But analysts say such a display of soft power is an effort to maintain Beijing’s influence on the continent.

At one school in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, more than 30 students are enrolled in part-time classes on Chinese language and culture. Steve Wakoli has been teaching the three-month course for three years.

Inspired by employment opportunities as a translator, Wakoli learned Chinese in 2020. Now a private teacher, he said Chinese literature is helping him earn a living.

”I did accounts as my bachelor’s degree, but it reached a point where everyone is doing accounts and others are doing finance. This is a field that was crowded, so I decided to go for something unique. I found that there were translation jobs, teaching jobs,” he said.

Kenyan authorities have begun to display Chinese literature to the public in places like the state workers training institute — the Kenya School of Government.

More than 100 books on governance, politics and development are showcased in the school’s library in what is called the “China Book Corner.”

Prisca Oluoch, the school’s director of linkages, collaborations and partnerships, said the books can help readers understand how China grows an economy.

”A lot of our books currently in our library are from American authors, from European authors. How about the East? How about China, Korea, Singapore? How did they do it?” Prisca said. “Having the China corner helps us to have that perspective to be able to also build, in terms of our own African leadership and management, drawing from the Chinese experience.”

According to a study by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a key pillar of China’s efforts to gain influence in Africa and globally is to create the impression of universal support for the Chinese Communist Party in a strategy known as the “united front.”

Historical relations between African countries like Kenya and the West or Europe can be unassailable for newcomers, but Beijing is taking advantage of its technological expertise to make inroads, said international relations professor Chacha Nyaigotti.

“African nations, which some of them were colonized by the French and others, British or English people, still cherish that network between the U.K. and commonwealth countries in Africa, and France with French speaking countries in Africa. But I think African[s] are being driven toward China mainly because China supports their infrastructural development,” Chacha said.

The books, authored by writers including China President Xi Jinping, were donated by the Chinese Embassy in Kenya. Some are translated into the Kenyan language, Swahili. Officials believe that with access to Chinese literature, the public can learn different economic methods which may help alleviate poverty.

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EU partners with Kenya to prosecute suspected maritime crime suspects

Nairobi, Kenya — Kenya has agreed to help the European Union in dealing with maritime crime suspects in the region, amid a rising threat from pirate activity and attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The EU, which has a force operating in the Indian Ocean, is concerned that the insecurity which is also affecting ship traffic in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, is disrupting international trade.  

With threats to shipping on the rise in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea, the European Union is asking Kenya for assistance in prosecuting suspected criminals caught in the region’s waters.

Henriette Geiger, the EU ambassador to Kenya, said the bloc is working with Kenya in dealing with suspected criminals caught in the region’s waters.

“Kenya would conclude a legal finished agreement with the European Union which would allow then EU Atalanta to drop, first seized arms, weapons but also traffickers, arms and drug traffickers, here for prosecution,” she said. “Seychelles has already agreed, they already have a legal finished agreement, but it’s a small island; they cannot stand alone.”

The EU’s Operation Atalanta is a military operation in the Horn of Africa that counters piracy at sea.

Geiger explained that the EU navy force lacks the authority to prosecute suspects and cannot detain them for long without charges. Therefore, countries like Kenya are needed to assist in prosecuting suspects.

Isaiah Nakoru, the head of Kenya’s Department for Shipping and Maritime Affairs, says his country is ready to work on issues that promote security and the free flow of goods and people.  

“We have to work together to ensure that we achieve the aspiration for ensuring there is sustainability and security, and all activities that threaten the livelihoods of people and movements of people have to be addressed in partnership with all those who have a stake,” he said.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Kenya is holding at least 120 suspected pirates and has convicted 18 of them.  

Kenya faced criticism about whether its legal system allows the prosecution of suspected pirates accused of having committed crimes far away from its territory. However, in 2012, a Kenyan court ruled the East African nation has jurisdiction to try Somali pirates carrying out attacks in international waters.

Andrew Mwangura is a consultant on maritime safety and security in Kenya. More than ten years ago, he helped negotiate the release of some pirate captives. He says Kenya will always face legal challenges in prosecuting suspects who have not committed a crime in its territory.  

“The problem is still the same because there are challenges to prosecution in Kenya of the Somali pirates,” he said. “This pirate activity happens away from Kenya. They do not happen in Kenyan waters, and there will be legal challenges. To prosecute, to arrest them, that’s not a solution. The solution is to fight illegal fishing in East African territorial waters.”  

Recently, there have been reports of piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia, sparking worries about the return of Somali piracy. In the early 2010s, Somali pirates hijacked dozens of ships, holding them for millions of dollars in ransom.  

Two weeks ago, six suspected pirates accused of attacking a merchant vessel were moved from Somalia to the Seychelles for trial by the EU naval force. Last Friday, the EU force freed a merchant ship and its 17 crew members.

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Life expectancy bouncing back globally after COVID pandemic

Life expectancy in Europe has returned to the level it reached before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, while the U.S. is still trying to regain lost ground. Overall, new numbers show life expectancy has increased in most parts of the world, with eastern sub-Saharan Africa showing the biggest gains over the past three decades. Henry Ridgwell reports.

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Africa’s cholera crisis is worse than ever

LILANDA, Zambia — Extreme weather events have hit parts of Africa relentlessly in the last three years, with tropical storms, floods and drought causing crises of hunger and displacement. They leave another deadly threat behind them: some of the continent’s worst outbreaks of cholera.

In southern and East Africa, more than 6,000 people have died and nearly 350,000 cases have been reported since a series of cholera outbreaks began in late 2021. 

Malawi and Zambia have had their worst outbreaks on record. Zimbabwe has had multiple waves. Mozambique, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia also have been badly affected. 

All have experienced floods or drought — in some cases, both — and health authorities, scientists and aid agencies say the unprecedented surge of the water-borne bacterial infection in Africa is the newest example of how extreme weather is playing a role in driving disease outbreaks. 

“The outbreaks are getting much larger because the extreme climate events are getting much more common,” said Tulio de Oliveira, a South Africa-based scientist who studies diseases in the developing world. 

De Oliveira, who led a team that identified new coronavirus variants during the COVID-19 pandemic, said southern Africa’s latest outbreaks can be traced to the cyclones and floods that hit Malawi in late 2021 and early 2022, carrying the cholera bacteria to areas it doesn’t normally reach. 

Zimbabwe and Zambia have seen cases rise as they wrestle with severe droughts and people rely on less safe sources of water in their desperation like boreholes, shallow wells and rivers, which can all be contaminated. Days after the deadly flooding in Kenya and other parts of East Africa this month, cholera cases appeared. 

The World Health Organization calls cholera a disease of poverty, as it thrives where there is poor sanitation and a lack of clean water. Africa has had eight times as many deaths this year as the Middle East, the second-most affected region. 

Historically vulnerable, Africa is even more at risk as it faces the worst impacts of climate change as well as the effect of the El Niño weather phenomenon, health experts say. 

In what’s become a perfect storm, there’s also a global shortage of cholera vaccines, which are needed only in poorer countries. 

“It doesn’t affect countries with resources,” said Dr. Daniela Garone, the international medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF. “So, it doesn’t bring the resources.” 

Billions of dollars have been invested into other diseases that predominantly affect the world’s most vulnerable, like polio and tuberculosis, largely because those diseases are highly contagious and could cause outbreaks even in rich countries. But that’s not the case with cholera, where epidemics remain contained. 

WHO said this month there is a “critical shortage” of oral cholera vaccines in the global stockpile. Since the start of 2023, 15 countries — the desperate few — have requested a total of 82 million doses to deal with deadly outbreaks while only 46 million doses were available. 

There are just 3.2 million doses left, below the target of having at least 5 million in reserve. While there are currently cholera epidemics in the Middle East, the Americas and Southeast Asia, Africa is by far the worst-affected region. 

Vaccines alliance GAVI and UNICEF said last month that the approval of a new cholera vaccine would boost stocks. But the result of the shortage has already been measured in deaths. 

Lilanda, a township on the edge of the Zambian capital of Lusaka, is a typical cholera hot spot. Stagnant pools of water dot the dirt roads. Clean water is like gold dust. Here, over two awful days in January, Mildred Banda saw her 1-year-old son die from cholera and rushed to save the life of her teenage daughter. 

Cholera shouldn’t be killing anyone. The disease is easily treated and easily prevented — and the vaccines are relatively simple to produce. 

That didn’t help Banda’s son, Ndanji. 

When he fell sick with diarrhea, he was treated with an oral rehydration solution at a clinic and released. He slipped back into dehydration that night at home. Banda feels terrible guilt. 

“I should have noticed earlier that my son was not feeling well,” she said, sitting in her tiny concrete house. “I should have acted faster and taken him back to the clinic. I should have taken him back to save his life.” 

Because of the vaccine shortage, Zambia couldn’t undertake a preventative vaccination campaign after neighboring Malawi’s outbreak. That should have been a warning call, said de Oliveira. Zambia only made an emergency request when its cases started mounting. 

The doses that might have saved Ndanji started arriving in mid-January. He died on Jan. 6. 

In Zimbabwe, a drought worsened by El Niño has seen cholera take hold in distant rural areas as well as its traditional hot spots of crowded urban neighborhoods. 

Abi Kebra Belaye, MSF representative for Zimbabwe, said the southern African nation normally has around 17 hard-hit areas, mostly urban. This year, cholera spread to 62 districts as the struggle to find water heightened the risk. 

“This part of Africa is paying the highest price of climate change,” Kebra Belaye said. 

Augustine Chonyera, who hails from a cholera-prone part of the capital, Harare, was shocked when he recently visited the sparsely populated rural district of Buhera. 

He said he heard grim tales of the impact of the disease: a family losing five members, a husband and wife dying within hours of each other and local businesses using delivery trucks to take the sick to a clinic several kilometers (miles) away. 

“It seems now the people in rural areas are in more danger than us. I still wonder how it happened,” Chonyera said. 

He said he returned home as soon as he could — after giving a large bottle of treated water he had brought with him to an elderly woman. 

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123 people killed in fighting in Sudan’s el-Fasher, aid group says

Cairo — More than two weeks of fighting between Sudan’s military and a notorious paramilitary group over a major city in the western Darfur region killed at least 123 people, an international aid group said Sunday.

The fighting in el-Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur province, also wounded more than 930 people in the same period, Doctors without Borders said. 

“This is a sign of the violent intensity of the fighting,” the group said. “We urge the warring parties to do more to protect civilians.”

Clashes between the military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) escalated earlier this month in the city, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations.

El-Fasher has become the center of the conflict between the military and the RSF, which is aided by Arab militias commonly known as Janjaweed. The city is the last stronghold still held by the military in the sprawling Darfur region.

Sudan’s conflict began in April last year when soaring tensions between the leaders of the military and the RSF exploded into open fighting in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country.

The conflict killed more than 14,000 people and wounded thousands more amid reports of widespread sexual violence and other atrocities that rights groups say amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It also pushed the country’s population to the brink of famine. The U.N. food agency warned the warring parties earlier this month that there is a serious risk of widespread starvation and death in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan if they don’t allow humanitarian aid into the vast western region.

The RSF has built up forces in recent months seeking to wrest control of el-Fasher. Along with its Arab militia allies, the RSF besieged the city and launched a major attack on its southern and eastern parts earlier this month.

The clashes renewed Thursday in the Abu Shouk camp for displaced people in the Salam neighborhood in the city’s northern part, as well as its southern western parts, the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration reported.

On Saturday, a shell hit the house of a Doctors Without Borders aid worker close to the city’s main market, killing the worker, the charity said.

The U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan Clementine Nkweta-Salami blasted the “tragic” killing. The aid worker was not identified.

Nkweta-Salami urged warring parties to stop fighting in the city where “hundreds of thousands of women, men, and children in North Darfur are once again caught in the crossfire of war.”

“A human tragedy of epic proportions is on the horizon, but it can, and must, be prevented,” she said.

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South Africa’s main opposition party rallies support as it concludes election campaign 

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s main opposition party Democratic Alliance on Sunday made its final appeal to South Africans to help it unseat the ruling African National Congress as it concluded its campaign ahead of elections this week.

The Democratic Alliance is the biggest opposition party in South Africa and has gathered some smaller opposition parties to form a pact known as the Multi-Party Charter for South Africa, which will see a group of political parties combine their votes to challenge the ruling ANC after the elections.

Sunday’s rally coincided with that of the smaller opposition Inkatha Freedom Party, which has the populous KwaZulu Natal province as its stronghold and has committed to work with the main opposition.

Recent polls and analysts have suggested the ANC could receive less than 50% of the national vote. The Democratic Alliance is under pressure after its support declined in the last national elections and a number of its former leaders left the party to form new political parties that will be competing in the polls.

Its leaders and supporters came out in the thousands Sunday in Benoni, east of Johannesburg, where its blue colored flags and party memorabilia decorated a small stadium in the town.

“Make no mistake, if DA voters stay at home, or they split the vote among many small parties on the ballot, then our country’s next chapter could be even uglier than the past,” said party leader John Steenhuisen.

“If we sit back and allow a coalition between the ANC, the [Economic Freedom Fighters] and the [uMkhonto weSizwe], aided by the sell-outs in the Patriotic Alliance, then our tomorrow will be far, far worse than yesterday. It will be doomsday for South Africa,” he said to loud applause.

A coalition between the DA and other parties including the Patriotic Alliance in the Johannesburg council after the 2021 local government elections collapsed, handing power back to an ANC-led coalition and resulting in political animosity between the two parties.

Steenhuisen has repeatedly accused the ruling ANC and the leftist opposition party Economic Freedom Fighters of planning to go into coalition after the elections.

Speaking ahead of its final rally in the city of Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Velenkosini Hlabisa said their main objective was to see the current government removed.

“The IFP is campaigning to remove the ANC from power and become part of the government at a policy making level and also cut the ANC to below 50% at national level.

“We are calling on people to take action and vote IFP to remove the government that has failed them,” said Hlabisa.

He said most negotiations would take place after the results were in. Hlabisa highlighted unemployment, poverty, crime and the country’s electricity crisis as some of the major problems South Africans are facing.

“We all know the crisis we are facing, we all know the depth of the struggle in South Africa and the daily trauma so many people endure. What the country needs to hear is that there is a way out,” he said.

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South Africa election: How Mandela’s once-revered ANC lost its way

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — For years, the African National Congress rose above politics in South Africa. It was a movement dedicated to freeing Black people from the oppression of white minority rule and to the lofty principle of democracy, equality and a better life for all South Africans.

It was widely revered as a force for good under Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to the apartheid system of racial segregation.

But 30 years after the ANC transformed from a liberation organization to a political party in government at the end of apartheid in 1994, it faces growing dissatisfaction from South Africans who feel it has failed to live up to its promises.

South Africans will vote on May 29 in a national election that could be the biggest rejection yet of the ANC, which has governed one of Africa’s most important countries largely unchallenged since it led the fight to bring down apartheid.

Now, the ANC is for many a byword for graft and failed government. Here’s how the famous party lost its way:

Broken promises

While the end of apartheid gave every South African the right to vote and other basic freedoms, the challenge for the ANC was to convert that into a better life, especially for the Black majority who had been systematically repressed.

That has been difficult for the ANC government to sustain after some early success in raising living standards in its first 10 years in power. South Africa sits today with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, is still ranked as one of the most unequal countries, and its widespread poverty — which still disproportionately affects Black people — spurs most of the criticism of the ANC’s three decades in charge.

The ANC has often pointed to the difficulties in reversing nearly a half-century of racist laws under apartheid and hundreds of years of European colonialism before that, which kept millions in poverty. It maintains that South Africa is a better country than it was under apartheid and that is undoubtedly true.

But the most pressing problems for many South Africans in 2024 boil down to a failure of basic government services, with communities across the nation regularly protesting against the lack of electricity in their neighborhoods, broken or nonexistent water and sewage systems, garbage piling up on streets, and a shortage of proper housing that leaves millions living in shacks.

Corruption

While around half of South Africa’s population of 62 million live under the poverty line, according to the World Bank, ANC officials have been implicated in enriching themselves in a succession of corruption scandals.

Corruption is alleged to have been especially bad under former President Jacob Zuma, who was accused of allowing a decade of rampant graft to play out before he stepped down in disgrace in 2018.

There were countless stories of wrongdoing, with politicians receiving bribes in return for influence or lucrative state contracts as a culture of graft pervaded all levels of government. South Africans heard how senior ANC figures allegedly received money to buy expensive suits, throw lavish parties or renovate their homes.

The disappearance of $15 million designated for the removal of harmful asbestos from the houses of poor people was one of many cases that enraged the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa promised to clean up the ANC when he succeeded Zuma, but he was involved in his own scandal and survived an impeachment vote.

The ANC’s reputation hasn’t recovered.

Infighting

The ANC has been hampered by infighting since Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 after one term and handed over to a younger generation.

His successor, Thabo Mbeki, was forced out as Zuma undermined his position as the head of the ANC. The party turned on Zuma, who is disqualified from running in next week’s election, when the corruption allegations became overwhelming.

Ramaphosa has spent his first term as president since 2019 battling a part of the party still loyal to Zuma. In its early days, the ANC celebrated that it was a “broad church” of people dedicated to freedom and democracy. It now has factions much like any other political party, affecting its ability to solve South Africa’s problems.

The future

From a dominant position when it once commanded 70% of the vote, the ANC has seen people gradually desert it, especially among a new generation of South Africans who don’t remember apartheid.

The election is widely expected to be a landmark moment for the country’s post-apartheid democracy as recent polls have the ANC’s support at less than 50%, suggesting it might lose its parliamentary majority for the first time.

The ANC is still expected to be the biggest party but dropping below 50% would lead to it having to govern alongside others in a coalition.

That would be the biggest political shift in South Africa since the ANC ascended into the government and a humbling moment for a party Zuma once said would rule “until Jesus comes back.”

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Energy conference delegates push to make clean cooking accessible to all 

NAIROBI, Kenya — Participants at a global conference on how to reduce the world’s energy use called for universal access to clean cooking through government incentives and subsidies to unlock more private sector funds. 

The Paris-based International Energy Agency’s ninth annual conference on energy efficiency, held Tuesday and Wednesday in Nairobi, brought together ministers, CEOs and thought leaders from around the world to discuss how to speed up progress on energy efficiency, which experts say can drastically reduce planet-warming emissions. How to deliver affordable clean cooking, which involves using electricity, solar and other solutions instead of more polluting fuels like charcoal, wood and kerosene, was on the agenda. 

“There are many practical barriers to energy efficiency, and of course the barrier of the need for investment up front,” said Brian Motherway, head of IEA’s office of energy efficiency and inclusive transitions. “The key to unlocking efficiency is in the hands of governments. Strong, coordinated policies by governments will unlock finance and enable business and consumers to take the actions required to lower their bills.” 

This year’s conference focused on accelerating progress toward doubling energy efficiency by 2030 as agreed upon by governments at the COP28 climate change conference in 2023. 

Rashid Abdallah, executive director of the Africa Energy Commission, said at a panel discussion on Tuesday that “clean cooking should be part of any energy policy” or socioeconomic development plan. 

Globally, around 2.3 billion people cook using solid biomass fuel – such as wood and charcoal – and kerosene. In Asia, 1.2 billion people lack access to clean cooking facilities, and in Africa, more than 900 million people use biomass as their primary energy source. These energy sources release harmful toxic fumes and smoke that lead to illnesses and deaths and contribute to climate change. 

There’s also evidence that household air pollution from cooking with dirty fuels can lead to diabetes and adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirth and low birth weight, said Matt Shupler, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “There are many known health effects,” he said. 

Cleaner alternatives include electric and ethanol cookers that emit fewer pollutants. 

High prices are an obstacle to making clean, green and affordable cooking available to all, but positive trends are emerging in the sector, with investment in clean cooking enterprises surging to an all-time high of $215 million in 2022 and the number of clean cooking enterprises with revenue exceeding $1 million growing to 11 that same year, according to a report by the Clean Cooking Alliance. 

Despite this progress, a huge capital gap remains in achieving universal access to clean cooking by 2030. IEA estimates that $8 billion will be needed annually as investment in clean cooking stoves, equipment and infrastructure to meet the goal. 

One of the countries that have significantly scaled up affordable, high-quality, clean cooking is Indonesia. In 2007 the government started implementing a program to transition its primary cooking fuel from kerosene to liquefied petroleum gas. The proportion of the population with access to clean cooking doubled from 40% in 2010 to 80% in 2018. Regulation and incentives have been key to the program’s success, said Dadan Kusdiana, secretary-general of the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources.

“What we do is to provide the energy with affordability,” he said at a panel discussion on Tuesday. “They need this kind of energy, but they can’t afford it at the commercial price.”

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Mali opposition sets up transition government in exile

Dakar, Senegal — Malian opposition politicians said Saturday that they had formed a transition government in exile to rival the one governing the country, ruled by the military since a 2020 coup. 

It was the latest maneuver by the civilian opposition since Mali’s military rulers failed to meet a March deadline to hold elections and hand over power to a civilian government. 

“The citizen assembly of the civil transition has today elected the members of the government,” read a statement datelined Geneva and signed by exiled Malian politician Adaman Traore, identified as the body’s president. 

This “civil transition (government) … is the only legitimate one in Mali,” the text said. 

It named the prime minister and defense minister of the rival government as Mohamed Cherif Kone, one of several prominent exiled politicians listed as members. 

The announcement came a day after the political movement behind Mali’s junta-appointed civilian prime minister, Choguel Kokalla Maiga, openly criticized the military rulers for the first time. 

AFP was not able to confirm whether Maiga endorsed that position or Saturday’s statement by the rival government. 

The colonels running the junta have kept a tight hold on power, suspending all political activities and muzzling opponents, journalists and human rights activists. 

Mali has since 2012 been plunged into a political and security crisis fueled by attacks from jihadis and other armed groups, as well as a separatist struggle in the north. 

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Burkina Faso extends military rule for 5 years to 2029

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso — Burkina Faso’s military regime, in power since a 2022 coup, will extend its rule for five years under an accord adopted during national consultations on Saturday, the talks’ chairman said. 

“The duration of the transition is fixed at 60 months from July 2, 2024,” Colonel Moussa Diallo, chairman of the organizing committee of the national dialogue process, said after the talks. 

He added that coup leader and acting president Ibrahim Traore could run in any elections at the end of the transition period. 

What was supposed to be a two-day national dialogue began earlier Saturday, ostensibly to chart a way back to civilian rule for the West African nation beset by jihadi violence. 

The army has governed Burkina Faso since 2022, carrying out two coups that it said were justified in large part by the persistent insecurity. 

Jihadi rebels affiliated with al Qaida and the Islamic State group have waged a grinding insurgency since 2015 that has killed thousands and displaced millions. 

An initial national dialogue had resulted in a charter that installed Traore as president and put in place a government and a legislative assembly. 

Under the new charter, quotas will no longer be used to assign seats in the assembly to members of traditional parties. Instead, “patriotism” will be the only criteria for selecting deputies. 

“You have just rewritten a new page in the history of our country,” said Minister of Territorial Affairs Emile Zerbo, who opened the meeting on Saturday morning. 

The initial charter set the transition to civilian rule at 21 months, with the deadline set to expire July 1. 

But Traore had repeatedly warned that holding elections would be difficult given the perilous security situation. 

The new charter also calls for a new body called the “Korag” to “monitor and control the implementation of the country’s strategic vision in all areas and through all means.” Its composition and operations are at the discretion of the president. 

Civil society representatives, the security and defense forces and lawmakers in the transitional assembly took part in the weekend talks, which most political parties boycotted. 

Human rights groups have accused Burkina Faso’s junta leaders of abuses against civilians during their military campaigns against jihadis, and of silencing media and opposition leaders.  

After taking power, the coup leaders expelled French troops and diplomats, and have instead turned to Russia for military assistance.   

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South Africa’s top political parties begin final campaign push ahead of election

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s four main political parties began the final weekend of campaigning Saturday before a possibly pivotal election that could bring the country’s most important change in three decades.

Supporters of the long-governing African National Congress, which has been in the government ever since the end of white minority rule in 1994, gathered at a soccer stadium in Johannesburg to hear party leader and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speak.

The ANC is under unprecedented pressure to keep hold of its parliamentary majority in Africa’s most advanced country. Having seen its popularity steadily decline over the last two decades, Wednesday’s vote could be a landmark moment when the party once led by Nelson Mandela drops below 50% of the vote for the first time.

Several polls have the ANC’s support at less than 50%, raising the possibility that it will have to form a national coalition. That would also be a first for South Africa’s young democracy, which was only established 30 years ago with the first all-race vote that officially ended the apartheid system of racial segregation.

As thousands of supporters in the ANC’s black, green and gold colors attended its last major rally before the election, Ramaphosa recognized some of the grievances that have contributed to his party losing support, which include high levels of poverty and unemployment that mainly affect the country’s Black majority.

“We have a plan to get more South Africans to work,” Ramaphosa said. “Throughout this campaign, in the homes of our people, in the workplaces, in the streets of our townships and villages, so many of our people told us of their struggles to find work and provide for their families.”

The main opposition Democratic Alliance party had a rally in Cape Town, South Africa’s second-biggest city and its stronghold. Party leader John Steenhuisen made a speech while supporters in the DA’s blue colors held up blue umbrellas.

“Democrats, friends, are you ready for change?” Steenhuisen said. The crowd shouted back “Yes!”

“Are you ready to rescue South Africa?” Steenhuisen added.

While the ANC’s support has shrunk in three successive national elections and appears set to continue dropping, no party has emerged to overtake it — or even challenge it — and it is still widely expected to be the largest party by some way in this election.

But losing its majority would be the clearest rejection yet of the famous party that led the anti-apartheid movement and is credited with leading South Africans to freedom.

Some ANC supporters at the rally in Johannesburg also expressed their frustration with progress, as South Africa battles poverty, desperately high unemployment, some of the worst levels of inequality in the world, and other problems with corruption, violent crime and the failure of basic government services in some places.

“We want to see job opportunities coming and basically general change in every aspect,” ANC supporter Ntombizonke Biyela said. “Since 1994 we have been waiting for ANC, it has been long. We have been voting and voting but we see very little progress as the people, only a special few seem to benefit.”

While conceding to some failures, the ANC has maintained that South Africa is a better place than it was during apartheid, when a set of race-based laws oppressed the country’s Black majority in favor of a small white minority. The ANC was also widely credited with success in expanding social support and housing and other services for millions of poor South Africans in the decade after apartheid, even if critics say it has lost its way recently.

“There are many problems in South Africa, but nobody can deny the changes that have happened since 1994, and that was because of the ANC,” said 42-year-old Eric Phoolo, another supporter of the ruling party. “These other parties don’t have a track record of bringing change to the country.”

As some voters have turned away from the ANC, it has led to a slow fracturing of South African politics. They have changed allegiances to an array of different opposition parties, some of them new. South Africa has dozens of parties registered to contest next week’s election.

South Africans vote for parties and not directly for their president in national elections. Parties then get seats in Parliament according to their share of the vote and the lawmakers elect the president — which is why the ANC losing its majority would be so critical to the 71-year-old Ramaphosa’s hope of being reelected for a second and final five-year term.

If the ANC goes below 50, it would likely need a coalition or agreement with other parties to have the votes in Parliament to keep Ramaphosa, once a protege of Mandela, as president.

The far-left Economic Freedom Fighters had their last big pre-election gathering in the northern city of Polokwane, the hometown of fiery leader Julius Malema.

The new MK Party of former South African President and former ANC leader Jacob Zuma was also campaigning in a township just outside the east coast city of Durban, although Zuma didn’t attend the event. The 82-year-old Zuma rocked South African politics when he announced late last year he was turning his back on the ANC and joining MK, while fiercely criticizing the ANC under Ramaphosa.

Zuma has been disqualified from standing as a candidate for Parliament in the election because of a previous criminal conviction.

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Gold mine collapse in northern Kenya leaves 5 people dead

NAIROBI, Kenya — An illegal gold mine collapsed in northern Kenya, leaving at least five miners dead, police said Saturday.

The collapse of the Hillo mine in the Dabel area near the Kenyan border with Ethiopia on Friday was attributed to a landslide. Marsabit County Police Commander Patrick Mwakio said the miners died on the spot after the debris covered them.

No other miners have been found and it was not clear if anyone else was missing in the collapse.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki in March declared the area disturbed and banned mining activities after clashes over a mining dispute led to the deaths of seven people.

The mining activities were also in violation of the law because no environmental impact assessment had been done, and the tunnels were described as weak and on the brink of cave-in. Residents told media outlets that mining had continued despite the March ban and blamed authorities for allowing it.

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Italian museum recreates Tanzanian butterfly forest

TRENTO, Italy — In a lush greenhouse high in the Alps, butterflies of various species and colors flutter freely while butterfly pupae are suspended in a structure as they grow into adult insects.

This is the Butterfly Forest in the tropical mountain greenhouse in Trento, Italy, a project by the Museo delle Scienze (MUSE), an Italian science museum. It’s modeled on Udzungwa Mountains, a mountain range and rainforest area in south-central Tanzania that’s one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. The Butterfly Forest features plant species endemic to the region, as well as birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates from different parts of the world, all inside 600 square meters of forest with cliffs, inclinations and a waterfall.

The Butterfly Forest was created this spring to create public awareness on some of the research that MUSE is doing in Udzungwa Mountains to study and protect the world’s biodiversity against threats such as deforestation and climate change.

Deforestation leads to habitat loss, which causes declines in nectar sources for butterflies, changing the functioning of the ecosystem. It can also limit the movements of the insects causing a decline in biodiversity and potential extinction of vulnerable butterfly species. Changes to soil and air temperatures are altering the life cycles of the insects, impacting their development rates, mating behaviors, and migration patterns. Butterfly populations are declining in many areas, especially in places under intensive land use.

“Our aim is that of being able to study better, to understand better what is happening,” said Lisa Angelini, a botanist and director of the MUSE greenhouse. “Our work consists of monitoring and trying to develop projects in order to bring attention to biodiversity-related issues.”

Butterflies are pollinators that enable plants to reproduce and therefore facilitate food production and supply. They are also food for birds and other animals.

Because of the multiple roles of butterflies in the ecosystem and their high sensitivity to environmental changes, scientists use them as indicators of biodiversity and a way to study the impact of habitat loss and other threats. “Insects in general play a fundamental role in the proper functioning of ecosystems,” said Mauro Gobbi, an entomologist and researcher at MUSE.

Through a partnership with the Tanzania National Parks Authority, MUSE established the Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Center in 2006 to support research as well as in development of environmental education programs for schools.

“Research on butterflies is essential for informing conservation efforts and ensuring the long-term survival of the insects,” said Arafat Mtui, research coordinator at Udzungwa Ecological Monitoring Centre. Conservation efforts such as habitat restoration and good land management practices, which address climate change impacts, are essential for protecting butterfly populations, he added.

With at least 2,500 plant species, more than 120 mammals, and thousands of invertebrate species, Udzungwa Mountains is rich in biological diversity. It’s part of the Eastern Arc Mountains of Kenya and Tanzania that are a proposed UNESCO Heritage site. It has more than 40 endemic species of butterflies.

MUSE’s work here is vital because of this variety, said Sevgan Subramanian, principal scientist and head of environmental health at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology in Nairobi.

“If you want to have a monitoring of the health of the ecosystem, monitoring such indigenous or endemic insect population diversity is very critical, so that we have an idea whether the ecosystem is still healthy or not,” he said.

Gobbi, the entomologist, said high-altitude environments like Udzungwa Mountains National Park are suitable for studying the effects of climate change because they usually have no direct human impact.

He and other scientists have warned that failure to protect insects from climate change effects will drastically reduce the planet’s ability to build a sustainable future.

Scientists at MUSE said the main challenge in butterfly conservation is changing the current farming policies to increase the amount of low-intensity farmland, and promote diverse landscapes preserving the remaining patches of natural habitats.

“Often our grandparents used to say ‘there are no longer as many butterflies as there used to be,'” he said. This is “absolutely supported by scientific research, which confirms that butterflies, like other insects, are in crisis. We are losing species, we’re losing them forever, and this is going to break the balance of ecosystems.”

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UN: Situation in Sudan’s North Darfur capital grows more dire by the day

United Nations — Humanitarians warned Friday that the situation in North Darfur’s capital, El Fasher, is growing more dire by the day, as the state’s only functioning hospital has about a week’s worth of supplies left and as casualties mount.

“The fighting has reportedly forced thousands of people to flee since 10 May and caused hundreds of civilian casualties,” U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

May 10 is when clashes erupted inside El Fasher between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), who are positioned inside the city, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), who attacked surrounding towns before they entered the state capital.

According to Paris-based medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, at least 700 injured civilians arrived at that last operating hospital, known as South Hospital, in the past two weeks. Eighty-five of them have died.

“People are arriving with abdominal injuries, chest wounds, brain trauma, and open fractures,” Claire Nicolet, MSF’s head of emergency programs, said earlier this week in a statement. “Some have gunshot wounds, some have been wounded by bomb fragments, and others have been wounded by shelling.”

She said the hospital urgently needs more surgeons and supplies.

Humanitarians have been struggling for weeks to reach El Fasher, where at least 800,000 civilians are sheltering, many of them having been displaced from other parts of Darfur that have fallen to the RSF.

“More than a dozen trucks carrying aid for more than 121,000 people have been trying to reach El Fasher for over a month, but the current security situation is making this all but impossible,” Dujarric said.

He added that one World Food Program truck convoy carrying 1,200 metric tons of food and nutrition supplies for about 117,000 people was able to cross into North Darfur from Chad on Thursday, through the Tine crossing.

The government of Sudan reopened that crossing in early March, after closing it citing concerns that it could be used to supply the RSF with arms and ammunition.

Weapons accusations

The Sudanese government has repeatedly accused the United Arab Emirates of sending arms to the RSF via airports in Chad. On Friday, the Security Council met at Sudan’s request to discuss the matter. The meeting was private; Sudan would have preferred it be public.

Afterward, Sudan’s envoy said the UAE should be “censured and condemned” for its actions.

“The UAE behaves like a rogue state,” Ambassador Al-Harith Idriss Al-Harith Mohamed told reporters. “It must be punished for invading Sudan through local and foreign actors and proxies.”

He said those proxies include mercenaries from Chad, southern Libya and parts of the Sahel. Mohammed said the RSF is using arms from the UAE to kill and rape civilians, displace people and destroy the country’s infrastructure.

The UAE has repeatedly denied the accusations.

“We are aware of the baseless allegations made against the UAE, which we have already addressed, including through letters to the Security Council, most recently of which was on 25 April,” UAE Ambassador Mohamed Abushahab told VOA in a written statement.

“We see the efforts by the representative of Sudan as another attempt to distract the Security Council from the atrocities being committed by the warring parties, including attacks on civilians, hospitals and schools, and the obstruction of humanitarian aid,” he said.

A report published in January by a panel of experts mandated by the Security Council to monitor sanctions implementation in Sudan said the SAF has used aerial bombing and heavy shelling in urban areas of Darfur, causing a large-scale humanitarian crisis.

The panel also found that the RSF in July started using several types of heavy and sophisticated weapons that it did not have at the start of the war, in April 2023. The experts said this gave them a military advantage that let them quickly take over Nyala in South Darfur and El Geneina in West Darfur, while the RSF’s new anti-aircraft devices helped them to counter the SAF’s air force.

The panel said that various flight-tracking experts had since June observed numerous cargo planes originating from Abu Dhabi International Airport arriving at Amdjarass International Airport in eastern Chad, with stops in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda. They said information they gathered substantiated media reports alleging the aircraft carried weapons, ammunition and medical equipment for the RSF. The UAE told the panel that they were transporting humanitarian assistance for displaced Sudanese, not arms.

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Niger’s journalists wary of red lines, arrests after military coup

Abuja, Nigeria — When Gazali Mahaman Abdou heard about the military coup in his home country of Niger last July, he went to work reporting on developments.

A journalist for more than 20 years, Abdou reports for the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle from his base in Niger’s capital, Niamey.

But with a transitional military leadership in power, Abdou said, covering the situation has become too risky, with some journalists detained.

“Sometimes the menace is not coming from the junta directly but the supporters of the junta. That’s why we are afraid,” he said. “Someone can attack you anywhere. That is why we’re so careful. It’s not easy.”

Some journalists left Niger because they couldn’t work, Abdou said, adding, “After three or four months, they returned to the country, but they can’t critique the junta directly.”

Risky to report

Media advocates say that since the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, journalists are at risk of arbitrary arrests and intimidation by transitional authorities.

In January, the junta suspended Niger’s media association, known as the Maison de la Presse, replacing it with a committee headed by the Interior Ministry’s secretary general.

Abdou said journalists like himself who have stayed have changed how they report to ensure their safety.

“We’ve become more careful with our choice of words,” he said. “When I work, I know that the junta doesn’t like to hear about the number of soldiers who died at the front line. We have to be more careful — we don’t give the number, but the government number is not the good [correct] number.”

It’s a situation that worries press freedom and rights advocates. Groups that include Amnesty International report Niger’s transitional leaders are targeting and arbitrarily arresting journalists who report on the conflict and security-related topics.

Amnesty has called for the immediate release of journalists unjustly detained, including Soumana Maiga. Authorities detained the newspaper editor in April over a story about Russian agents allegedly installing listening equipment in state buildings.

Days before that arrest, authorities detained a journalist and former adviser to the ousted president.

A regional trend

Busola Ajibola, deputy director of the journalism program at the West Africa-focused Center for Journalism Innovation and Development, says the trend is concerning.

“When journalists are arrested arbitrarily and held incommunicado, it sends signals to other journalists to begin to self-censor,” she said. “That pattern is spreading not just in Niger but in places like Burkina Faso.

“What we worry about is not just the shrinking of the atmosphere for accountability journalism, but … the total shrinking of the civic space,” she said.

VOA’s attempts to reach the transitional government were unsuccessful. But the military has said that those journalists detained are accused of trying to undermine national security and destabilize the country.

In a tense environment, Ajibola said, media collaboration is one way for Niger’s journalists to get their stories out.

“This is the time we need to begin to advocate for regional collaboration among journalists themselves,” she said. “The government of Niger does not constitute a major threat to a journalist in Ghana, Mozambique or Nigeria, so we can now have a situation where journalists that are in Niger find a way to amplify their voices. They necessarily do not have to be the ones telling the stories, especially if they can’t tell the stories within a safe zone.”

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, last year joined with 80 media groups and journalists to demand the military respect press freedom. But since the coup, Niger has dropped 19 points on the RSF World Press Freedom Index rankings.

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Southern Africa worst hit by climate change

Windhoek, Namibia — The Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) met in Namibia’s capital on Thursday to discuss ways to blunt the impact of rising temperatures in the region.

Global warming has surpassed the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, with January 2024 marking the hottest year on Earth since pre-industrial times.

The rising temperatures, experts say, are making environmental disasters worse.  

Climate expert Francois Engelbrecht cautioned of “tipping points” if Southern African nations don’t adapt to climate change and limit their carbon dioxide emissions by moving from coal and oil to cleaner energies like wind and solar.

“In Botswana and Namibia, one of the biggest risks is that we are running the risk of completely losing the cattle industry,” Engelbrecht said. “Because if the world should warm to about 3 degrees Celsius globally, it means in Botswana and obviously Namibia, the warming will be about 6 degrees Celsius, and that heat stress is so aggressive to the cattle that no breed can survive. All the cattle breeds will become unsustainable in terms of farming with them.”

Tipping points are events where climate systems change in such a way that they can no longer be reversed. As an example, Engelbrecht said, a prolonged drought in the Gauteng Province of South Africa that lowered water levels in dams and led to shortages in the city of Johannesburg, making it inhospitable.

Zambian geology scholar Kawawa Banda says research conducted under SASSCAL shows groundwater supply in the Zambezi Catchment Area shared by Botswana, Namibia and Zambia could be another tipping point.

“In the TIPPECC project, what we want to do is understand the risks associated with these drought conditions,” Banda said. “We also want to understand the risks associated with tipping points around the quality, as well as possible complete depletion of this resource, so that actions around adaptation and risks are better informed from a water management perspective.”

TIPPECC stands for Tipping Points Explained by Climate Change. It is funded by SASSCAL. Jane Olwoch is the executive director of SASSCAL, which includes Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

She says there is a need to integrate climate change into goverment policy, and information is a tool in sensitizing leaders to act on climate change by supporting renewable energy. 

“We use science especially in green hydrogen to support demonstration pilot projects. In that way, we are bringing in new technology, new know-how, and giving our countries capability to respond to these new subjects like green hydrogen and renewable energy,” Olwoch said.

Namibia’s green energy ambitions involve the production of hydrogen and ammonia for foreign markets using solar and wind energy, some of which will be sent back into the electrical grid.

A clean source of energy, experts say, can replace oil, coal and gas in the near future.

In the Southern Hemisphere, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia are hit hardest by global warming, with SASSCAL research showing a 6 percent increase in the second half of the 21st century if nothing is done about it now.

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Scientists: Climate change, rapid urbanization worsen impact of East African rains

NAIROBI, Kenya — The impact of the calamitous rains that struck East Africa from March to May was intensified by a mix of climate change and rapid growth of urban areas, an international team of climate scientists said in a study published Friday.

The findings come from World Weather Attribution, a group of scientists that analyzes whether and to what extent human-induced climate change has altered the likelihood and magnitude of extreme weather events.

The downpours caused floods that killed hundreds of people, displaced thousands of others, killed thousands of livestock and destroyed thousands of acres of crops.

To assess how human-caused climate may have affected the floods, the researchers analyzed weather data and climate model simulations to compare how these types of events have changed between today’s climate and the cooler pre-industrial one. They focused on regions where the impacts were most severe, including southern Kenya, most of Tanzania and a part of Burundi.

It found that climate change had made the devastating rains twice as likely and 5% more intense. The study also found that with further warming, the frequency and intensity of the rains would continue to increase.

“We’re likely to see this kind of intensive rainfall happening this season going into the future,” said Joyce Kimutai, research associate at Imperial College London and the lead author of the study.

The study also found that the rapid urbanization of East African cities is increasing the risk of flooding.

Highly populated urban areas, especially high-density informal settlements, were significantly impacted by the downpours. Torrential rain flooded houses and roads, in some places exposing weaknesses in urban planning to meet the demands of fast-growing populations.

March to May is “long rains” season in East Africa. It’s when most of the region’s average annual rainfall occurs, and is typically characterized by torrential rains.

East Africa also suffered flooding during the “short rains” of October to December 2023 and before that, it endured a three-year drought. WWA scientists found that both events were worsened by climate change.

Philip Omondi, climate change specialist at the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre in Nairobi and wasn’t involved in the study, said human-caused impacts result in intense and high-frequency extreme floods and droughts.

Shaun Ferris, senior technical advisor for agriculture and climate change at Catholic Relief Services in Nairobi, said more intense weather put a new level of pressure on old and unplanned buildings and basic infrastructure and there’s a need to put up infrastructure that will be more able to cope with climate change.

“There is huge pressure on basic services,” he said giving the example of Nairobi, whose population has doubled over the past 20 years.

Ferris said that the global community needs to start using the loss and damage fund for climate disasters so they can repair and upgrade their basic infrastructure.

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Africa home to nearly half of global displaced population, IDMC reports

Nairobi, Kenya — A record 75.9 million people are living in internal displacement due to conflict, and nearly half that number is in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a recent report.

The report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, or IDMC, shows 34.8 million people in the region were displaced in 2023, up from the previous year. The biggest increase came in Sudan, which is currently in the midst of civil war.

Sudanese doctor Aisha Hassan is among the millions of people newly displaced last year. 

The doctor said that when she arrived for work at a hospital to tend to those injured in the country’s ongoing civil war, she faced threats from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and gangs. The RSF has been at war with the Sudanese armed forces since April of last year. 

The threat forced her to leave her patients and her city, Omdurman, northwest of the capital, Khartoum. Hassan said she and her family fled to safety. 

“From there I went to North Sudan Al-Shimaliyya, it’s called Karima. We stayed there for three months, and my family and I went to Port Sudan. From there we displaced here to Uganda,” she said. 

Fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the RSF has displaced 9.1 million since April 2023, making Sudan the country with the most displaced people globally. According to the IDMC, the number marks “the most ever recorded in a single country since records began in 2008.” 

The conflict has made it difficult for aid agencies to reach the millions in need, triggering more displacement as people search for food, water, medicine and safety.  

Elsewhere, fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo between the army and rebels has displaced close to 7 million people. Conflict in Ethiopia that began with a two-year war in Tigray in 2020, and erupted in many parts of the country, displaced 790,000 people last year.  

Africa’s conflicts are usually over territory, community politics, and control over resources, with at least 10 African countries, predominantly in West Africa, dealing with terrorism-related conflicts. 

Burkina Faso is the most affected of the West African countries, with 700,000 people displaced last year, up 61 percent from 2022.  

“A rising conflict is really contributing to the rising trend, and especially weather-related disasters, including floods, storms, and drought, are also contributing to pushing the figures to an all-time high,” said Vicente Anzellini, coordinator and lead author of the IDMC report. “So all of this is really a concerning trend. It’s important to underscore, however, that governments and humanitarian actors are taking more action and are producing more data. And this, of course, influences the trend.” 

Anzellini said governments need to improve their capabilities to resolve conflicts and cope with natural disasters.  

“What we’re really seeing in the region should be a reason for concern and more efforts need to be put in conflict resolution, of peace building, and disaster risk reduction across this region to reduce the trend that, again, highly influences the global trend,” Anzellini said. “So if internal displacement is addressed and reduced in Africa, the global trend will also successfully reduce. And it’s unfortunately not a trend that we’re seeing in the last couple of years. And for this to happen more government leadership and investments will be needed.” 

The Swiss-based agency says the overwhelming majority of the displaced stay in their own countries as they struggle to survive and rebuild their lives. 

For Hassan, it was too dangerous for her to stay, as armed groups started to loot her family’s home while she was working in the hospital in Sudan. 

“After two months or so, the Rapid Support team came and resided in our home,” she said. “Now they are living in our home. I don’t know how many of them there are, but they told us they are living there. They took my father’s car, and they are living there.” 

The IDMC says no country is immune to disaster displacement and that conflicts in Sudan, the DRC, and the Palestinian territories drove up the number around the world.

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Investors line up for South Africa’s nuclear energy technology

International investors have been lining up for South African nuclear energy technology this year. Two partnerships have been announced aimed at financing the manufacture of a new prototype, small-scale reactor developed in South Africa. One partner includes a collective of family farmers whose businesses are suffering from the country’s unreliable power grid. Marize de Klerk reports from South Africa’s capital, Pretoria.

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Kenyan climber found dead on Mount Everest in Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal — A climber from Kenya attempting to scale the world’s highest mountain has been found dead near the summit, officials said Thursday.

The body of Cheruiyot Kirui was found on Mount Everest, said Khim Lal Gautam, a government official at the mountain’s base camp. It was unclear when the body would be recovered because it would be difficult to carry at that altitude due to the low oxygen level.

The climb by Kirui, a 40-year-old banker at Kenya Commercial Bank, had been closely followed in Kenya, and fellow climber James Muhia had posted frequent updates about the attempt online.

“It is a sad day,” Muhia wrote Thursday on X. “Our brother is now one with the mountain. It will be a difficult time. Go well my brother.”

Kenyan foreign ministry secretary, Korir Sing’oei, said he had met with Kirui before his trip to Nepal, and described him as fearless and audacious.

“Really gutted by this news,” Sing’oei wrote on X. “I have been following his exploits until this unfortunate end. He is a fearless, audacious spirit, and represents the indomitable will of many Kenyans. We shall miss him.”

Officials said more than 450 climbers have scaled Mount Everest from the Nepali side of the peak in the south this season. Three climbers were reported killed and four are still missing on Mount Everest this season, which ends in a few days.

Most climbing of Everest and nearby Himalayan peaks is done in April and May when weather conditions are most favorable.

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Chad swears in president, ending years of military rule

DAKAR, Senegal — Chad swore in Mahamat Deby Itno as the president on Thursday after holding elections earlier this month, completing a disputed transition to democratic rule after he seized power three years ago. 

Deby Itno, also known as Mahamat Idriss Deby, took power after his father Idriss Deby Itno was killed fighting rebels in 2021 after ruling the country for three decades. The long-delayed May 6 election came after three years of military rule. 

His main rival, Succes Masra, who contested the results earlier this month, resigned from his post as prime minister on Wednesday. Masra had been involved in protests against Deby Itno’s decision to extend his time in power and fled the country in 2022. He was allowed to return last year and was appointed prime minister. 

Masra, who claimed to have won the election, filed an appeal to challenge the preliminary results, which showed Deby Itno had won, but it was dismissed. The oil-exporting country of nearly 18 million people hasn’t had a democratic transfer of power since it became independent in 1960, after decades of French colonial rule. 

In his first presidential address, Deby Itno said his government would focus on boosting Chad’s agricultural and farming sectors, and investing in education, access to water and health care. 

“I’ve heard your yearning for change, and I’ve understood you. Let’s all play our part, individually and collectively, to bring about the change we all hope, desire and expect,” he said. 

Western leaders congratulated Deby Itno despite irregularities in the vote, which included Chad’s decision to ban 2,900 EU-trained observers from monitoring the election. 

Chad is seen by the United States and France as one of the last remaining stable allies in the vast Sahel region following military coups in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger in recent years. The ruling juntas in all three nations have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance instead. 

“Although there were troubling shortcomings, we welcome the milestones in Chad’s transition process,” the U.S. State Department said last week. 

The British government also said the election marked an important milestone in the return to civilian rule. “The U.K. commends the engagement of the Chadian people and welcomes the largely peaceful way in which the elections and campaign were conducted,” it said in a statement. 

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US elevates security relationship with Kenya at state visit

The White House — The United States will designate Kenya as its first major non-NATO ally in sub-Saharan Africa, the White House said as President Joe Biden on Thursday welcomed President William Ruto for a state visit. The significant strategic move signals the shifting of U.S. security cooperation to East Africa just as U.S. troops prepare to depart Niger, leaving a vacuum that Russian forces have begun to fill.

The designation gives non-members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization access to military and financial advantages that NATO members enjoy, but without the mutual defense agreement that holds NATO together. A senior administration official told reporters late Wednesday that Biden would inform Congress of the designation, which takes 30 days to take effect.

The official said the move aims at “elevating and really acknowledging that Kenya is already a global partner of ours.”

In the meantime, Ruto and Biden are using their daylong deliberations to iron out Kenya’s plan to send 1,000 security officers to the fragile, chaotic Caribbean nation of Haiti. The initiative, toward which the United States has pledged $300 million in support, faces stiff political and legal challenges in Kenya. The mission was also delayed when Haitian armed gangs took control while the nation’s leader, Ariel Henry, was visiting Kenya in March. Henry resigned in April and has not returned to the island.

The official said that Ruto would meet with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss the mission but promised no progress.

“This is definitely an ongoing area of collaboration,” the official said.

And the White House on Thursday also rolled out a number of security-related agreements, which include training opportunities and military exercises, assistance in managing refugees, U.S. investments in Kenya’s security sector, counterterrorism efforts including increased information sharing and, on top of all this, 16 helicopters and 150 armored vehicles.

From bombs to bonbons

Washington also made millions of dollars of commitments toward a number of efforts the U.S. sees as key to development. Those include areas like democracy, health, education, arts and culture, climate management, trade, technology, and the one item Ruto said was his main priority on his four-day swing through the United States: work to restructure African nations’ crippling debt to the world’s largest creditor, China.

But the lengthy list of American pledges was absent the roads, bridges and railroad projects that African leaders have long said they need to keep up with their exploding populations. For those, they turn to China’s sprawling Belt and Road Initiative, which counts the African continent as the largest beneficiary of its massive, $1 trillion global project.

This, analysts say, represents Africa’s new stance as its young democracies mature, less than a century after liberation from colonialism: In a world of competition among the world’s great powers, they want to be somewhere in the middle.

“I think many U.S. officials see this very much as a zero-sum game in this kind of great power competition to gain influence,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “African countries don’t see it that way. They actually see the benefit of being able to partner with China on trade, with Russia on security and with Washington on development, and they don’t see any inconsistency in that approach.”

“And I think unless and until Washington becomes much more comfortable with seeing their privileged relationships become partnerized with other countries, I think it’s going to be very difficult for Washington to really chart a course forward with many of these countries,” he added.

This is the first White House state visit by an African leader in nearly 16 years, and that significance was not lost on first lady Jill Biden, who, ahead of her sixth state dinner, spoke of a glass-ceilinged pavilion set under the stars, of a gospel choir and shag carpets and “the glow of candles in a space saturated with warm pinks and reds.”

White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford narrated a menu of chilled green tomato soup touched with sweet onions and drizzled with white balsamic vinegar and fine Californian olive oil, of butter-poached lobster and seasonal bounties reminiscent of American summer. She lavished words on the bed of kale and roasted corn and corn puree and roasted turnips and sweet potatoes and squash but touched just briefly on the one item that is seen as a hallmark of a fine Kenyan feast:

“Red meat,” she said.

Specifically, she said, they are marinated and smoked short ribs, perched atop that farmers’ market worth of produce.

But it was the unnamed administration official who teased the star that could outshine all the others on this glittering night: the first and only American president of Kenyan ancestry.

When asked by a journalist if former President Barack Obama – born to a Kenyan father and an American mother – would make an appearance at the lavish dinner, the official hesitated.

“I’ll go to a quote from another former president, President Trump,” the official finally replied. And then: “‘We’ll see what happens.’”

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