Insecurity Puts Mali’s Historic Djenné Mosque at Risk

Experts say Mali’s struggle against Islamist militants is putting its World Heritage sites at risk. For the first time in modern history, officials say, the annual replastering of the mud mosque in the town of Djenné in central Mali will likely be canceled because of security concerns. The concerns cast doubt onto the government’s claim it is winning the fight against terrorism.

The Great Mosque of Djenné  is the largest mud brick building in the world and was a main attraction in Mali’s formerly thriving tourism industry.

Each year the mosque is replastered in an event known as the “crépissage.” This year, the event is on the verge of cancellation for the first time, as Mali’s decadelong conflict has gradually moved south into the center of the country.

A Djenné resident who wished to remain anonymous, speaking via a messaging app from Djenné, said that in recent weeks he saw ambulances circulating in town and military helicopters flying overhead, signs of unrest in neighboring villages. The Malian army said on its Twitter account this month that four soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack near the town.

He said that due to insecurity, village residents have decided not to hold the crépissage this year, an event he has participated in since he was a child.

Abdramane Dembele, deputy mayor of Djenné, said that the crépissage has not yet been officially canceled, but has been delayed due to insecurity. If rescheduled, it would need to be held before the rainy season begins in June. One of the objectives of the crépissage is to protect the building from rain.

Abdoulaye Deyoko is an engineer and city planner and founder of Bamako’s School of Engineering, Architecture, and Urbanism, and a tireless advocate for Mali’s mud architecture.

Deyoko explained that the mosque is built from “banco,” a mixture of mud and small pieces of rice bran.

When it rains, he said, these small pieces have a tendency to break away. Traditionally, villagers have a celebration, a type of ritual that allows them not only to repair the mosque but to celebrate.

Deyoko said that despite this, he thinks the Djenné mosque can hold up for a year or two without the crépissage, although he said the event is important for the social life of the town, not just for technical maintenance.

The Djenné mosque and surrounding mud brick town is on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.

Ali Daou, UNESCO’s culture program director in Mali, said Djenné, like all of Mali’s four World Heritage sites, is in danger because of the ongoing hostilities. It is not just the threat of direct conflict, he said, but the difficulty of conducting the annual crépissage that puts the site at risk.

In recent months, Mali’s military government has launched a highly publicized offensive against Islamists. Many locals, though, say that these military operations target civilians rather than extremists.

The army claimed to have killed 200 terrorists in the village of Moura in March, while residents said the majority of those killed were innocent civilians.

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Religious Violence in Ethiopia’s Gonder Opens Yet Another Wound 

An April mob attack in northern Ethiopia that left at least 30 Muslims dead and 100 injured has fueled revenge attacks on Christians. Witnesses and community leaders spoke with VOA about what they believe led to the violence. For VOA, Henry Wilkins reports from Gonder, Ethiopia.

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Dozen Journalists Held in Ethiopia Crackdown

At least a dozen journalists have been detained in a wave of arrests in Ethiopia, media workers and a rights group said Friday, in a crackdown that has sparked international concern.

Authorities in the Amhara region said more than 4,000 people had been detained in an anti-crime operation but press watchdogs and rights groups reported that journalists had also been targeted.

The latest arrests involved Temesgen Desalegn, editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language magazine “Fitih,” who was picked up by plainclothes security forces from his office Thursday, his colleague Misgan Zinabu told AFP.

“Initially, they took Temesgen to a local police station… later on security forces moved him to a secret location,” the editor said, adding that his current whereabouts was unknown.

Police also raided Temesgen’s house Thursday and seized magazines, disk drives and a camera, he added.

Another journalist and YouTuber, Yayesew Shimelis, was arrested at home in the capital Addis Ababa Thursday, his former colleague Bekal Alamirew told AFP.

“Yayesew is accused by police of incitement to violence through his work,” he said, adding the former TV host was produced in court Friday. 

The arrests come after the Nisir International Broadcasting Corporation and Ashara, both covering Ethiopian affairs on their YouTube channels said their studios in Amhara were raided last week and staff taken away, some to undisclosed locations.

Nisir said four employees, including journalists and back-office staff, were arrested and equipment seized from their workplace in the regional capital Bahir Dar.

The whereabouts of two other Nisir journalists remained unknown, it added.

Ashara Media said five of its staff were detained.

TV host Solomon Shumye, who has a show on YouTube, was also detained in Addis Ababa last week and accused of inciting violence, his sister Tigist Shumye said.

Narrowing space

The sweep has triggered international concern, with the U.S. State Department Tuesday expressing alarm over “the narrowing space for freedom of expression and independent media in Ethiopia.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders this week called for the immediate release of the journalists and urged the Ethiopian authorities to stop harassing the press.

Daniel Bekele, the chief commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a state-affiliated independent rights body, also urged the government to free the detainees.

“The arrest of media personnel is particularly alarming… and its repercussions extend beyond media space and freedom of expression,” Bekele said in a statement Friday.

Amhara authorities backed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his federal forces in a war with the neighboring Tigray region that began in November 2020. But divisions have since emerged over Abiy’s handling of the conflict.

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‘We Don’t Have Food’: African Leaders Meet as Crises Grow 

African leaders gathered for a summit Friday in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to address growing humanitarian needs on the continent, which is also facing increased violent extremism, climate change challenges and a run of military coups.

Leaders called for increased mobilization to resolve a humanitarian crisis that has left millions displaced and more than 280 million suffering from malnourishment.

For people in Djibo, a town in northern Burkina Faso near the border with Mali, any help can’t come soon enough.

The city in the Sahel region — the large expanse below the Sahara Desert — has been besieged since February by jihadis who prevent people and goods from moving in or out and cut water supplies. Few truckers want to run the jihadist gauntlet. Residents are suffering with no food or water, animals are dying, and the price of grain has spiked.

“The goods are not arriving anymore here. Animal and agricultural production is not possible because the people cannot go back to their villages,” U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator Barbara Manzi told The Associated Press from Djibo this week. “Unless (a solution) is found, it’s going to be really a tragedy for the entire group of people that are here.”

Increased insecurity

Djibo has been at the epicenter of violence, linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people. While Djibo — and Soum province, where the town is located — experienced periods of calm, such as during a makeshift cease-fire between jihadis and the government surrounding the 2020 presidential election, the truce didn’t last.

Since November, insecurity in the region has increased. Jihadis have destroyed water infrastructure in the town and lined much of Djibo’s perimeter with explosives, blockading the city, say locals.

The town’s population has swollen from 60,000 to 300,000 over the past few years as people flee the countryside to escape the violence.

Blockading cities is a tactic used by jihadis to assert dominance, and it could also be an attempt to get Burkina Faso’s new military junta, which seized power in January, to backtrack on promises to eliminate the jihadis, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory, a group that provides intelligence analysis.

“Militants resort to blockading when they see an opportunity to gain incentives in negotiating with the government and simultaneously send a message to their base that they are in control. It’s a bargaining card, and a winning one,” he said.

A U.N. team flew in briefly to assess the situation. The AP was the first foreign media to visit the town in more than a year.

“Today there is nothing to buy here. Even if you have cash, there is nothing to buy. We came here with four donkeys and goats, and some of them died because of hunger. We were forced to sell the rest of the animals, and unfortunately, prices of animals have decreased,” said cattle owner Mamoudou Oumarou.

The 53-year-old father of 13, who fled his village in February, said the blockade in Djibo has prevented people from coming to the market to buy and sell cattle, decreasing demand and lowering prices for the animals by half.

Before the violence, Djibo had one of the biggest and most vital cattle markets in the Sahel and was a bustling economic hub. Some 600 trucks used to enter Djibo monthly, and now it’s fewer than 70, said Alpha Ousmane Dao, director of Seracom, a local aid group in Djibo.

Widespread hunger

Burkina Faso is facing its worst hunger crisis in six years. More than 630,000 people are on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.

As a result of Djibo’s blockade, the World Food Program has been unable to deliver food to the town since December, and stocks are running out, said Antoine Renard, country director for the World Food Program in Burkina Faso.

Efforts to end the blockade through dialogue have had mixed results. At the end of April, the emir of Djibo met with Burkina Faso’s top jihadist, Jafar Dicko, to negotiate lifting the siege. Little progress has been made since then, however.

Locals say that the jihadis have eased restrictions in some areas, allowing freer movement, but that the army is now preventing people from bringing food out of Djibo to the surrounding villages for fear it will go to the jihadis.

The army denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, residents in Djibo say they’re risking their lives just trying to survive.

Dadou Sadou searches for wood and water outside Djibo in the middle of the night, when she says the jihadis are not around.

“We no longer have animals. We don’t have food to buy in the market. … If you have children, you don’t have a choice,” she said.

 

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Nobel Laureate Denounces Rape as Weapon of War

When asked if he is afraid for his life, Dr. Denis Mukwege responded candidly: “I am human.” Due to the nature of his work, the renowned gynecological surgeon has received death threats for years.

But the Congolese Nobel Peace Prize laureate said he draws his strength from the women he treats. Patients who come to him to heal after going through unimaginable horrors.

“The women I’m treating are so powerful,” Mukwege said in an interview with VOA’s Straight Talk Africa TV program. “What I’m doing is just a small sense if I compare what they [rape survivors have been through] in the situation of conflict where everyone wants to use them.”

He is now honoring the women he says inspired him, including his mother, in a new book titled “The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing.” In it, he reexamines the agency of women in spaces and platforms where decisions are made and at times despite some patriarchal societies that often fail women, he said, women continue to give back and nurture for a greater good.

Ukraine, Ethiopia rape survivors

Mukwege’s work is particularly relevant today as sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the globe. He used two examples to illustrate the urgency of the issue: Ukraine and Ethiopia.

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, his foundation had established contact with women in Donbas who were raped in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. There have been more than 700 reports of rape by Russian forces in Ukraine since the February invasion, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman said May 9. In northern Ethiopia, both government and Tigrayan forces have been accused of sexual violence. Nisha Varia, formerly the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, told VOA that rape in Tigray is being used as a weapon and is accompanied by ethnic slurs and other degradation.

Mukwege said when rape is used during conflicts, it is “used to humiliate, to just make the so-called enemy to feel powerless, to be in a situation that is completely humiliating and you can’t really fight against it. It’s a weapon, but it’s a strategy of war,” he said.

But he said he is heartened by an international outcry about the violence against women in Ukraine. He would like to see the same outcry against atrocities in other parts of the world.

“The international community should react in each conflict because the suffering is universal and the reaction against the suffering or to take care of the suffering people should be also universal,” he said, adding that “the case of Ukraine shows us that if there is a will, we have the capacity to stop atrocities.”

Mukwege said a universal sentiment connects most women who have been raped, whether he speaks to victims in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. He said perpetrators leave a sense of fear and that you hear victims saying, “they’ll kill me,” he said. “Most of the women have the impression that they don’t exist at all after being raped.”

Mukwege, who met with senior U.S. officials and first lady Jill Biden during his visit to Washington, is also calling for more efforts to prosecute perpetrators so women can receive justice.

 

“I think that justice is very important. It’s not revenge,” he said. “Justice is not only pressure against the perpetrators, but justice is needed for victims because in the process of healing, victims need really to be recognized as a victim. They need really to get someone with this power, this authority, to say you are not guilty. It’s not your fault.”

Justice and resilience

Death threats against Mukwege at times come from unknown sources and he has been forced to live at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC, where he treats rape survivors. “I can’t leave the hospital without an escort. I have the police who are taking care of me,” he said. “To get this kind of life living in the hospital with your patients and my family and so on. This is a terrible thing.”

Since 1999, Mukwege and his team have treated more than 50,000 survivors of sexual violence at the hospital he founded [[ https://panzifoundation.org/dr-denis-mukwege/ ]]. The hospital also treats the psychological trauma of women caught up in the ongoing violence between militia groups in the eastern DRC.

Mukwege said those resilient women are the best hope for some of the world’s war-torn regions. After they have healed, they demand change.

“When women stand up after being treated, they didn’t stand for themselves, they are standing for themselves and for their children, for their family. For me, this is really wonderful. Society can’t protect them, but when they get healing and stand up, they stand up and raise their voice for all the community.”

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Bank Predicts Slower Economic Growth, Rising Inflation in Africa

According to the latest African Economic Outlook report by the African Development Bank, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic pose huge challenges to the continent.

 

The bank’s president, Akinwumi Adesina, said at the launch of the report that it will take a great deal of effort for Africa to fully recover.

“The recovery for Africa will be very costly. Africa will need at least 432 billion dollars to address the effects of COVID-19 on its economies and on the lives of its people — resources it does not have.”  

An economist at the University of Ghana, Adu Owusu Sarkodie, told VOA that African economies could recover quickly from the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war by trading among themselves and investing more in agriculture.

The war cut off wheat exports from Ukraine, pushing food prices higher across Africa.   

“For Africa to get out of this mess they have to look into local production, our economy must be inward looking at this point in time. There are some inputs that are in short supply, a typical example is fertilizer and I think that African economies must be able to set up a fertilizer plant to produce their own fertilizer. Wheat supply is also in shortage therefore there must be an attempt to grow their own wheat.”

Sarkodie lauded the African Development Bank for recently approving $1.5 billion to avert a food crisis on the continent by providing seed and other supplies to 20 million farmers.  

“The last thing we want to see in Africa is food crisis… therefore this amount of money if available should be invested in agriculture inputs, encourage food production and build storage facilities to store the food so they can be available in lean season and build good roads… there is every need for us to start working towards ensuring food security now.”

As the war in Ukraine and coronavirus pandemic continue to bite, pushing millions of Africans into extreme poverty, locals are hoping initiatives by the African Development Bank and their governments will spark an economic rebound.

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Cameroon, Gabon Agree to Better Demarcate Border, Stop Conflict

Officials from Gabon and Cameroon have agreed to retrace their nearly 300-kilometer border and to stop frequent clashes between border communities. At a meeting in Cameroon’s capital Thursday night, the two sides also agreed to jointly deploy their militaries to stop arms trafficking across the border.

Officials from Cameroon and its southern neighbor Gabon ended a three-day meeting Thursday agreeing to better demarcate their border and improve border security.

The meeting, which included delegates from France, Germany, the UN, and other global groups, advised a three-year plan to define the border.

Aime Roger Mouloungui Maganga is secretary general of Gabon’s National Border Commission.

He says people along the border between Cameroon and Gabon have willfully or unknowingly removed or damaged border markers built by German and French colonial powers in the 19th century. Maganga says erosion and floods have also destroyed some of the markers. He says Gabon and Cameroon must retrace their border in a way that will satisfy both states.

While the two countries have never fought over their border, border security has been an issue.

Border communities have clashed over natural resources including minerals and sand, water, wood, and wildlife.

Cameroon says in March, villagers on its side blocked a bridge to Gabon in protest of Gabonese troops demanding customs duties, a charge Gabon denies.

Cameroon’s Territorial Administration minister Paul Atanga Nji says militaries from the two countries agreed to carry out joint border controls to stop arms trafficking.

Nji, who headed Cameroon’s delegation at the meeting, said Cameroon’s military has seized weapons along the border.

“We have terrorism, arms trafficking, illegal exploitation of our resources, and that is why it is important to increase surveillance and intelligence because we need information,” said Nji. “So, when we identify challenges and the security forces{military} are put in place, we can anticipate any danger.”

Majority French-speaking Cameroon has been fighting English-speaking separatists in its western regions since 2017.

Cameroon’s government last year said some fleeing separatist fighters disguised as displaced persons were arrested on its southern borders with Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Gabon in 2019 closed crossings to Cameroon after an attempted coup against President Ali Bongo, claiming coup leaders were hiding across the border.

At this week’s meeting, both sides agreed to use the border map drawn by former colonial powers as a guiding document.

The Gabonese delegation was led by Gabon’s senior minister of Interior, Lambert Noël Matha.

He says the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), has agreed to provide funding, technical assistance and equipment needed by Cameroon and Gabon for the demarcation of the border. Matha says experts who attended the meeting have agreed on a road map and that joint delegations from Cameroon and Gabon will soon visit hard to access areas of the border.

The boundary was established by German and French colonial powers in the late 19th century and finalized in 1908.

It has not changed after both states gained their independence in 1960.

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Sudan Women’s Activist Wins Human Rights Prize

Sudanese women’s activist Amira Osman Hamed has won a Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, the organization announced Friday.

The activist and engineer, now in her forties, has been advocating for Sudanese women for two decades, and was detained this year in a crackdown following the country’s latest coup.

She was among defenders from Afghanistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Mexico who also received the 2022 award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.

Osman “never deterred from her mission,” Dublin-based Front Line Defenders said in its awards announcement, “consistently (advocating) for democracy, human rights, and women’s rights.”

After first being charged for wearing trousers in 2002, she drew international support in 2013 when she was detained and threatened with flogging for refusing to wear a headscarf.

Both charges fell under morality laws during the rule of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir who took power in an Islamist-backed coup. Osman told AFP at the time that the morality laws had “changed Sudanese women from victims to criminals” and targeted “the dignity of Sudanese people.”

In 2009 she established “No to Women Oppression”, an initiative to advocate against the much-derided Public Order Law. It was finally repealed in 2019 after Bashir’s ouster following a mass uprising.

Women were at the forefront of protests that toppled Bashir, and hopes were high for a more liberal Sudan as restrictions were removed that had stifled their actions and public lives.

But many fear for the hard-won liberties gained since his ouster, after the October coup led by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.

A crackdown on civilian pro-democracy figures has followed, with at least 96 people killed in protests and hundreds detained.

In late January 2022, Osman’s team told AFP that “30 masked armed men” had stormed into her house in Khartoum in the middle of the night, “taking her to an unknown location.”

The United Nations mission to Sudan called for her release, tweeting that “Amira’s arrest and pattern of violence against women’s rights activists severely risks reducing their political participation in Sudan.”

She was freed in early February and an AFP correspondent saw her participating in a demonstration, kneeling on crutches due to a prior back injury.

The award has honored human rights defenders annually since 2005.

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Nigerian Albinos Demand Authorities Restore Free Cancer Treatment 

Nigerian Cynthia Ukachi, who has albinism, first noticed the changes on her skin in 2018. When she went to the hospital, she was told it was an early stage of skin cancer, and that it had started because of exposure to the sun.

Thanks to a government support scheme that offered free skin cancer care for albinos, she had surgery to remove the affected areas and was treated.

However, Ukachi says the malignant skin cells returned months ago, long after the government ended its free treatment plan.

“I have three on my neck, I have two at my back and I just have this on my forehead here,” she said. “It looks very small but it’s very painful and it can bleed.”

Without the government support, about 4 million albinos in Nigeria could be at risk of skin cancer, according to aid groups.

Too expensive for her

Ukachi says she cannot afford the treatment. Every affected skin area can cost up to $350 to treat.

“Noticing this issue again, I already knew what it was, but I couldn’t go back to the hospital, knowing I’ll be asked to pay, and the money is what I do not have,” she said. “If the government wants me to live, if the government wants persons with albinism to live, they should reinstate the free cancer treatment.”

Nigerian authorities started the program in 2007, and the Albinism Association of Nigeria says around 5,500 patients including Ukachi benefited from it before it was discontinued for lack of funding.

Jake Epelle, a skin cancer survivor and AAN’s president, said, “Even the current administration started the skeletal implementation at the beginning of their tenure but then reneged. The reason is simply the poverty of funds and the fact that they cannot continue to offer this treatment. The effect is that persons with albinism are dying in droves.”

Medical experts say albinos in sub-Saharan Africa are a thousand times more likely than the general population to develop skin cancer because of the partial or complete absence of melanin, a pigment responsible for eye, hair and skin color.

In Nigeria, myths and discrimination associated with the condition make it far more difficult for albinos to get jobs and afford skin cancer treatment.

Authorities respond

This month, during a national awareness day to remember people living with albinism, AAN renewed its call for the government to reinstate the free skin cancer treatment.

Nigerian authorities responded. James David Lalu, executive secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, said, “We had discussions with the permanent secretary of the federal ministry for health for us to be able to revisit this. We’re going to provide some funding support to do that. Additionally, by next year we’re going to provide proper budgetary allocation that will support this cancer treatment for our people.”

AAN cautions there is no time to lose as free treatment is the only lifeline for people around the country like Ukachi, who fears she will run out of time.

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Nigerian Albinos Demand Authorities Restore Free Cancer Treatment

The Albinism Association of Nigeria is petitioning the government to resume free cancer treatment for albinos. It was stopped years ago because of a lack of funding. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.

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US Offers $2M for Kenyans Wanted for Drug, Wildlife Trade

The United States has announced rewards of up to $1 million each for information leading to the arrest of two Kenyans wanted on charges of drug and wildlife trafficking.

Kenyan security agencies are searching for the two fugitives, Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh and Abdi Hussein Ahmed.

Speaking to reporters Thursday in Nairobi, the head of Kenya’s criminal investigation unit, George Kinoti, said the two Kenyan nationals were wanted for drug and wildlife trafficking worth millions of dollars.

“They were involved in transportation, distribution and smuggling of 190 kilograms of rhinoceros horns and 10 tons of elephant ivory from different countries in Africa, including our country, Kenya, and they transported these things to the United States,” Kinoti said. “They were also involved in transportation and distribution of one kilogram of heroin from Kenya to the United States.”

Kinoti said Saleh was arrested in June 2019 and arraigned in a Kenyan court, where he was released on bail. He was last seen in December 2019.

Kinoti made no mention of Ahmed.

Saleh and Ahmed were indicted in the United States in 2019 and the international police organization Interpol issued a red notice against the suspects.

Eric Kneedler, charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said in a statement that eradicating drug and wildlife trafficking was a priority of President Joe Biden’s administration and that the U.S. would work with Kenya to stamp out the crimes, which are affecting both countries.

Information on the reward offer can be found on the U.S. Embassy website.

In July 2020, another suspected wildlife trafficker, Abubakar Mansur Mohammed Surur, was arrested and extradited to the U.S. Surur is believed to have been involved in the illegal poaching of at least 35 rhinos and more than 100 elephants.

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Zimbabwe President Praises China, Slams West in Column

If there’s a new cold war brewing and both China and the United States are trying to get African countries on their side, it’s clear where Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allegiance lies.

In his latest column in the local Sunday Mail newspaper, the 79-year-old president slammed the West and lavished praise on Beijing.

“Unlike Western interests which have been exploiting our continent even well before its formal occupation,” the Chinese “have now come back to the continent they helped liberate as new, non-traditional investors,” he said, referring to Beijing’s backing of Zimbabwe’s independence war against white minority rule.

“Here in Zimbabwe, China has helped fund and implement several projects in the sectors of energy, air transport, water, real estate, industrial value addition, mining and defense,” the president said. “All these have secured and bolstered our independence while changing the structure of our economy in this season of punitive Western sanctions.”

The United States and European Union have maintained sanctions on Zimbabwean individuals and companies for two decades, since longtime president Robert Mugabe was accused of election rigging and human rights abuses in the early 2000s. Western nations have resisted calls to remove the sanctions, pointing to the ruling ZANU-PF party’s continued suppression of protests and opposition figures.

Beijing has stepped into the void left by Western powers — offering generous loans that aren’t dependent on democratic reform — to become the country’s top investor. It has invested heavily in the lithium-rich country’s mines and is funding the country’s massive new parliament building.

While Washington says it’s not in competition with China in Africa, officials have warned governments here against what are often dubbed China’s “debt trap” loans. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been trying to win support for its stance on the war in Ukraine — something that many governments on the continent, including Zimbabwe’s, have been loathe to give.

When asked about the war of words with the West, Zimbabwe government spokeswoman Monica Mutsvangwa echoed the president’s remarks.

“A number of Zimbabwe’s detractors have long hidden behind the false veil of democracy and human rights gauntlet. … This heinous policy has met its match in the sly and alert president,” she told VOA.

“More and better money is winning the day,” she added in apparent reference to Chinese investment.

Mutsvangwa pointed to several Chinese-owned lithium mines and a steel plant being built by Chinese mining giant Tsingshan Group Holdings as proof that Zimbabwe’s detractors had been “shunted by the wayside.”

Media Allegations

Zimbabwe’s state-run media, too, is echoing the government’s anti-U.S. stance, with articles accusing the country’s opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), NGOs and civil society organizations of being U.S. “proxies” intent on regime change.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Harare is adopting an increasingly shrill tone in tweets frequently accusing U.S.-backed organizations of paying journalists to write anti-China articles.

Last September, the embassy’s official Twitter page coined the hashtag  

“Mr1K,” retweeting an article in The Herald newspaper that claimed, “The United States is sponsoring a strategy to undermine Chinese investments in Zimbabwe … through disinformation, lies and sensationalism in independent media and on social platforms.”

The article in The Herald, which is closely aligned to Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, said the U.S. Embassy in Harare had funded a training session for independent journalists and that reporters who pitched negative stories on Chinese businesses were being paid $1,000 per article.

The Chinese embassy renewed its #Mr1K tweets this month after the Standard newspaper published an investigation into labor violations at a Chinese-owned coal mine, and declared reporting had been “supported by the U.S. Embassy’s public diplomacy section.”  

“Smearing Chinese investment hurts Zimbabweans’ interests and helps illegal sanctions. Clowns like #Mr1K & their master need to realize China-Zim friendship & cooperation is unshakable,” the embassy tweeted last week.

Asked about such comments, the Public Diplomacy Section at the U.S. Embassy in Harare replied to VOA by email.  “We routinely provide training and U.S. exchange opportunities to journalists and other professionals in Zimbabwe and around the world to build expertise.”

The embassy said it had supported a September journalism workshop on labor rights and natural resource governance reporting that “did not focus on any particular country, government, or company. “

But an article this week in China’s Global Times showed Beijing isn’t letting up.

“The U.S. is playing a part in smearing Chinese investment in Zimbabwe, in a malicious attempt to incite anti-China sentiment in the country and sabotage China-Zimbabwe economic and trade cooperation,” it read.

 

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Fire Kills 11 Newborn Babies at Senegal Hospital

Senegal’s President Macky Sall said on Wednesday that 11 newborn babies died in a fire at the neonatal section of a regional hospital in the town of Tivaouane, around 120 kilometers (74.56 miles) east of the capital Dakar. 

“I have just learned with pain and consternation the death of 11 newborn babies in the fire that occurred in the neonatology department of the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh hospital in Tivaouane,” Sall said in a tweet without giving further details about the fire. 

“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall, who is on a state visit in Angola, added. 

Senegal’s health minister, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, said on private Senegalese television TFM that “according to preliminary investigation, a short circuit triggered the fire.” 

Sarr, who is in Geneva for the World Health Assembly, said he would cut short the trip and return to Senegal immediately. 

Demba Diop Sy, the mayor of Tivaouane, one of Senegal’s holy cities and a transport hub, said police and fire service were still at the hospital, but did not provide further details. 

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Ivory Coast Chocolatier Strives to Sweeten Cocoa Processors’ Earnings

In Ivory Coast, an artisanal chocolatier blends good flavor and good intentions in his work. Axel-Emmanuel Gbaou trains women to get good taste and good profits from the cocoa beans they process, as Yassin Ciyow observes in this report narrated by Carol Guensburg.

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Somalia Prime Minister Suspends Foreign Minister Abdisaid Muse

Somalia’s prime minister has suspended his foreign affairs minister over allegations that he authorized an illegal shipment of charcoal to Oman. The Somali government banned charcoal exports a decade ago to prevent deforestation and the funding of conflicts.  However, analysts say the shipment was not the real reason for the suspension. 

The suspension of Foreign Affairs Minister Abdisaid Muse is equivalent to a dismissal and came after he authorized a ship to leave Somalia carrying a load of charcoal.  The shipment violates Somalia’s laws preventing charcoal exports.

However, Muse’s suspension was long expected because Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble is expected to be replaced by incoming Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. 

Isak Farhan, deputy director of Somali Public Agenda, a research group based in Mogadishu, notes that Muse was close to outgoing Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, and had ignored letters from the prime minister, including one that fired African Union Special Envoy to Somalia Francisco Maidera.  

Isak says the suspension could be seen as a result of poor cooperation between the minister of foreign affairs and the prime minister. He says, we know that minister was the national security adviser to the outgoing president, and with the confidence of the president, he was later appointed foreign minister. Apparently, he says, the minister did not report to the prime minister and did not listen to his suggestions.   

Isak says the export of charcoal is a highly sensitive issue in Somalia because makers of charcoal cut down trees and cause damage to the environment.

He says, it is illegal to export and log coal in Somalia because it contributes to land degradation, drought, and famine. Somalia is semi-arid, he says, so logging forests will exacerbate desertification.

Hassan Sheikh, a professor who teaches at Somalia’s universities, says Muse’s action sends a bad signal.  

He says, I find it particularly regrettable that some people are still involved with logging trees in Somalia, let alone a government official, such as the foreign minister, to permit a ship to carry charcoal to Oman.  He says that will certainly encourage those who were discouraged to continue logging the trees. 

The professor noted that charcoal exports were banned by both the Somalia government and the United Nations Security Council in 2012, and that U.N. monitors are particularly vigilant about enforcing the ban.  

He says, among the U.N. monitoring group’s work is the ban on charcoal, which threatens Somalia’s environment as it continues to become a desert, because Somalia is progressing towards desert.  

It is still a mystery why the foreign affairs minister authorized an illegal charcoal export, but it is no secret that many Somali politicians take advantage of transitions between administrations, by putting their own interests ahead of the general public’s.

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South African Flood Victims’ Shelters Damaged by More Rains

Flood victims in South Africa’s port city of Durban had yet to recover from last months’ historic rain when another storm hit this weekend. Victims and experts say it is a signal that better urban planning is needed to protect residents and their livelihoods from future extreme weather. Linda Givetash reports from Durban, South Africa.

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South Africa’s Ramaphosa: Russia Sanctions Hurt ‘Bystander’ Countries

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that “bystander countries” were suffering due to sanctions against Russia and called for talks as the African Union (AU) prepared a mission to foster dialog between Moscow and Kyiv.   

Ramaphosa spoke as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited South Africa on the final leg of a trip to the continent that aimed in part to rally diplomatic support for Ukraine. 

South Africa has close historical ties to Moscow due to the Soviet Union’s support for the anti-apartheid struggle. It abstained from a United Nations vote denouncing the invasion of Ukraine and has resisted calls to condemn Russia.    

The European Union has aggressively pursued sanctions and a severing of economic ties in a bid to punish Moscow for its military operations in Ukraine, a strategy which Ramaphosa said was causing collateral damage.   

“Even those countries that are either bystanders or not part of the conflict are also going to suffer from the sanctions that have been imposed against Russia,” he said during a news conference in Pretoria.   

Africa, which has already seen millions pushed into extreme poverty by the pandemic, has been hit hard by rising food costs caused in part by disruptions linked to the war.   

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat and barley, and two-thirds of the world’s exports of sunflower oil used for cooking. The conflict has damaged Ukraine’s ports and agricultural infrastructure and that is likely to limit its agricultural production for years.    

In an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle earlier on Tuesday, Scholz called on countries to increase oil and gas supply to curb global energy price increases.  

Standing beside Ramaphosa, Scholz said he was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss South Africa’s position on the war but underlined that what he called an attempt by Russia to alter international borders by force was unacceptable.   

“Mr. President, I think it is important that we continue these discussions intensively,” he said. “We are very concerned about the outcome of the war for Africa.” 

Senegal’s President Macky Sall — the current chairman of Africa’s top political bloc, the AU — said on Sunday he was preparing to visit Kyiv and Moscow to foster peace. 

Ramaphosa, who has been invited to attend the G-7 summit being hosted by Germany next month, said the only way to resolve the war is through dialog and Africa “does have a role to play because it has access to both leaders (of Ukraine and Russia). 

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Electric Fishing Boats in Kenya’s Lake Victoria Help Cut Emissions

The rising cost of fuel in Kenya is not only affecting motorists but also tens of thousands of fishermen, whose incomes depend on their boats. To reduce fuel needs, the Dutch company Asobo has been renting electric motors for boats on Kenya’s side of Lake Victoria and says it cannot keep up with demand. Juma Majanga reports from Rusinga Island, Kenya.

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Uganda ‘Overwhelmed’ with New DRC Refugee Influx

A Ugandan official says a new influx of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo is stretching the country’s resources to the breaking point.

On May 22, 2022, a joint operation by Congolese government soldiers and the U.N. peacekeeping mission MONUSCO against M23 rebels prompted hundreds of people to flee into Uganda. Hillary Onek, Uganda’s Minister for Refugees, said the fresh influx is taxing resources.

The refugees flocked toward the Bunagana border crossing with little or no belongings. The country already is home to close to 1.5 million refugees from across the region.  

“It is actually affecting even our population who are at the border,” Onek said. “Because, when people shoot, sometimes they shoot across the border. Frankly speaking, it’s overwhelming and we cannot satisfy the needs of those large influx of people and we are enabling what is feasible with respect to our meager resources.”  

The latest fighting took place around Rutshuru in North Kivu province. After clashes in the province last November, fresh fighting broke out late in March. It is estimated that about 17,000 Congolese refugees have since crossed into Uganda.  

Manishimwe Bernard, a Red Cross official in charge of aiding refugees in Uganda’s western Kisoro district, said most people arrive in desperate circumstances.  

“When war broke out, people started running without anything,” Bernard said. “You find a person has nothing, has no clothes, children are nearly hungry. So, emotionally, people run in stress. And of course, the panic and fear is still at large. Because fighting for now, from their stories, hasn’t stopped.”  

On Sunday, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General in the DRC, Bintou Keita, issued a statement condemning attacks by the M23 movement against the peacekeepers in Rutshuru.  

In the statement, Keita accused the rebels of deliberately attacking peacekeepers in eastern Congo, where fighting had resumed between the rebels and the Congolese army.   

Bintou stated that in response to the attack, the army and peacekeepers mounted a joint operation to clear the area of M23 fighters. He said the attack was in accordance with MONUSCO’s mandate.  

Speaking to VOA by phone, M23 spokesperson Willy Ngoma denied the rebel group attacked the U.N. base. He said it was MONUSCO who attacked first, and those who were caught up in the fighting with the army got confused and started running. After just 12 minutes, he said, MONUSCO sent two Cobra attack helicopters in the area of Runyoni, which targeted the M23 bases.  

The U.N. statement called on both the M23 rebels and the Congolese army to immediately cease all hostilities, in accordance with the commitments made in the Nairobi process.  

The Nairobi process is an effort to negotiate peace between the Democratic Republic of Congo government and about 30 rebels based across the mineral-rich African country.  

The M23 said that while they respect the Nairobi process, they are being attacked from various forces.  

 

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