Britain Proposes Bypassing Rights Laws to Let Rwanda Plan Take Off

Britain published draft emergency legislation on Wednesday that it hopes will allow its Rwandan migrant deportation plan to finally take off by bypassing domestic and international human rights laws that might block it.

The Safety of Rwanda Bill, published the day after Britain signed a new treaty with Rwanda, is designed to overcome a ruling by the United Kingdom Supreme Court that the government’s proposed initiative to send thousands of asylum-seekers to the East African country was unlawful.

The government said that the bill was “the toughest immigration legislation ever introduced” and that it would be fast-tracked through parliament. But it suffered a blow when the immigration minister resigned over it.

It shows the divisiveness of the proposals in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s governing Conservative Party, and it could also trigger further legal challenges.

“Through this new landmark emergency legislation, we will control our borders, deter people taking perilous journeys across the channel and end the continuous legal challenges filling our courts,” Sunak said in a statement. He has vowed that flights would begin in the spring next year.

“We will disapply sections of the Human Rights Act from the key parts of the Bill, specifically in the case of Rwanda, to ensure our plan cannot be stopped,” he said in the statement.

The bill will instruct judges to ignore some sections of the Human Rights Act and “any other provision or rule of domestic law, and any interpretation of international law by the court or tribunal” that might deem that Rwanda was not a safe country to send asylum- seekers.

Ministers alone would also decide on whether to comply with any injunction from the European Court of Human Rights, which issued an interim order blocking the first planned flight last year.

The Rwanda plan is at the center of Sunak’s immigration policy, and its success is likely to be key to the fortunes of his Conservative Party, trailing by about 20 points in opinion polls, before an election expected next year and with the issue one of the biggest concerns among voters.

It was not clear whether the bill will satisfy Sunak’s critics on the right of the party who have called for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. Earlier, former Home Minister Suella Braverman warned that a weak bill would lead to “electoral oblivion.”

Interior Minister James Cleverly confirmed that Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick had resigned from government after he was absent from a debate in parliament on the issue.

Meanwhile, conservatives who had warned they might not support a bill that flouts international law welcomed assurances from the government that the measures were legal.

“It is a bill which is lawful. It is fair and it is necessary, because people will only stop coming here illegally when they know that they cannot stay here,” Cleverly told parliament.

However, legal commentators said the new legislation would inevitably face challenges in the courts.

“If the government had wished to avoid legal challenges and had also had a high degree of confidence that Rwanda, in fact, is — and will continue to be — a safe place, it seems unlikely that it would have chosen to introduce a bill in this form,” said Nick Vineall, chair of the Bar Council.

The government says the Rwanda initiative would deter migrants from paying smugglers to ferry them from Europe across the channel to Britain. Almost 29,000 people have arrived on the southern English coast without permission this year, after a record 45,755 were detected in 2022.

Meanwhile, the cost of housing the 175,000 migrants awaiting an asylum decision is costing $10 million a day.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court said the plan would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation because deficiencies in the Rwanda asylum system meant migrants were at risk of being sent back to homelands where they were at risk of abuse.

The government said its new binding treaty, which replaced a memorandum of understanding, together with the new law, will satisfy those concerns.

Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta said it was important that the partnership with Britain was lawful.

“Without lawful behavior by the U.K., Rwanda would not be able to continue with the … partnership,” he said.

The opposition Labour Party’s home affairs spokesperson Yvette Cooper criticized the government’s new law, saying, “The only thing stopping the British government ignoring international law completely is the Rwandan government.

“[Cleverly] has a treaty and a law he knows will not stop dangerous boat crossings,” she said.

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COP28 Declaration Seen as Good News for World’s Small Farmers

Agriculture and climate experts say there is good news for the world’s small farmers in a declaration endorsed by 134 world leaders during the opening days of COP28, the global climate summit unfolding this month in Dubai.

In what is known as the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, the leaders have mobilized more than $2.5 billion to begin addressing agriculture-related climate issues, summit officials announced.

The declaration was accompanied by the announcement of several other initiatives, including a $200 million partnership between the host UAE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to go toward agriculture-related research.

“Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions, addressing both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the front line of climate change,” said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment, at the release of the declaration on December 1.

“Today’s commitment from countries around the world will help to build a global food system fit for the future,” she said.

Agriculture and climate experts have enthusiastically welcomed the recognition of the link between food and climate in the declaration, endorsed by countries representing more than 5.7 billion people and nearly 500 million farmers.

“If all this is well-managed with farmers at the center of operations, accompanied by civil society organizations, these resources and partnerships will enable farmers to scale up the sustainable food systems they are already practicing, but with limited means,” said Richard Ouedraogo, project manager for the Secrétariat Permanent des Organisations Non Gouvernementales (SPONG) from Burkina Faso.

“This will considerably reduce their vulnerability when it comes to food, and they will be able to take a greater interest in and give more of themselves to climate change issues by putting into practice and scaling up techniques to combat climate change,” he told VOA.

Rosinah Mbenya, country coordinator for a Kenyan network of agriculture-oriented nongovernmental orgranizations, was similarly hopeful in an interview on the sidelines of the Dubai conference.

The declaration “gives hope that the small-scale farmers and pastoralists will be at the center of climate action through increased attention on resilient programs and financing,” said Nbebya, whose group, known as PELUM Kenya, promotes agro-ecological principles and practices to improve the livelihoods and resilience of small-scale farmers and pastoralists.

The new funding is expected to boost the sort of initiatives already underway in places like Ethiopia, where a warning system has helped farmers save millions of dollars by avoiding losses from a crop disease.

Farmers in several African countries are also growing new varieties of crops that are more resilient to stress caused by climate changes.

But the experts say there is a growing gap between what farmers hope for and the resources available to help them. Climate models show that in Africa and Southeast Asia, where small family farms are vital for food and jobs, there could be a significant drop in food production, leading to greater poverty, hunger and economic inequality in these regions.

Edward Leo Davey, who has advised the COP28 presidency on food this year, said if leaders in the signatory countries move toward genuine implementation of the declaration in their nations, “this will represent a significant positive step forward in the lives of smallholder farmers.”

“Farmers across these regions and elsewhere require support and financing for extension services, including more resilient and diverse seed varieties,” said Davey, the London-based partnerships director for the Food and Land Use Coalition at the World Resources Institute.

He said they also have needs for “more resilient and diverse seed varieties; for digital technology and access to meteorological data; and for the kinds of infrastructure and access to capital that will enable them to get their products more quickly and safely to market in the context of a changing climate.”

Ewi Stephanie Lamma, a self-employed climate justice advocate from Cameroon, noted that the declaration encourages farmers to adopt sustainable farming techniques, such as agroecology, organic farming and agroforestry, as is being done by the Voices for Forests Alliance in her home country.

These environmentally friendly practices “help reduce the use of harmful agrochemicals, conserve water resources, and protect soil health,” she told VOA. “Adaptive measures, such as crop diversification, improved irrigation systems, enable farmers to better withstand climate-related risks.”

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Nigeria’s Probe of Drone Strike Not a Guarantee of Accountability

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu on Tuesday ordered security agencies and state authorities to investigate a bombing that reportedly killed at least 120 Muslim worshippers in northern Kaduna state on Sunday.

Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency announced that 85 people died in the bombing, mostly women and children, and said 66 others were seriously injured. Amnesty International said at least 120 people were killed, citing reports from field staff and local residents.

In his statement, Tinubu described the bombing as unfortunate, disturbing and painful. He called for calm and said survivors must receive proper medical attention.

The Nigerian military said a drone on routine patrol wrongly profiled and bombed local villagers in Tundun Biri while they were gathered to celebrate Maulud — the birthday of the Muslim Prophet Muhammed.

Nigerian forces often target the hideouts of armed groups with aerial bombardment.

Jabir Ibrahim, whose farm is near the site of the drone attack, said the government is making empty promises with its call for an investigation.

“Nothing will happen. It’s just noise,” he said. “The government will just go there, make noise and say unnecessary and useless things, and leave after two days. Nothing more. They’re just saying it for people to calm down.”

The Nigerian military also has ordered an investigation and promised the outcome will guide future operations to eliminate gaps in human and artificial intelligence.

Authorities also promised to compensate families.

But rights group Amnesty International says authorities have reneged on past promises made to families of errant military bombing.

“It’s becoming an impunity on the part of government not to hold those who do this accountable,” said Aminu Hayatu, Amnesty International’s conflict researcher. “And in the end, we will not hear the story again. The families of those who become victims of these airstrikes are not compensated in any way. It is really worrisome.”

Hayatu insisted that the government be held accountable this time.

“The civilians who have become victims are supposed to be protected by government,” she said. “We have consistently called on government to be accountable and transparent in the investigations — who is behind the airstrikes and what judicial procedures they will be subjected to.”

Nigeria is struggling to quell a 14-year-long insurgency in its northeast, as well as kidnap-for-ransom attacks by armed groups in the northwest and central states.

In January, 39 civilians were erroneously bombed in Nasarawa state near the capital, and authorities promised to investigate. But rights groups like Amnesty International are still demanding accountability for that strike and others.

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Gabon Coup Leader Visits Cameroon to Press for End to CEMAC Sanctions

Gabon’s military leader, General Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, visited Cameroon on Wednesday, asking central African states to lift economic sanctions on his country before the 2025 elections.

When Nguema ousted President Ali Bongo Ondimba in a bloodless coup on August 30, economic sanctions were imposed on the country by CEMAC, the six-nation Central Africa Economic and Monetary Community, which condemned the unconstitutional power shift and suspended Gabon. 

Nguema said Wednesday that he and Cameroonian President Paul Biya discussed the possibility of lifting economic sanctions before he transfers power to constitutional rule in October 2025. Nguema said he took power to save Gabon from a long rule that ruined the country, and he wants to ensure order is brought back to Gabon before handing power to civilians.

Nguema’s visit to Cameroon ended a tour that has taken him to Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo since he seized power in August.  

Jean Rene Oba, an international affairs lecturer at Omar Bongo University in Gabon, said Nguema has been able to convince central African leaders that a military coup was necessary to save Gabon from the Bongo family’s long and autocratic rule that impoverished civilians and created political and ethnic tensions.

“The president of the transition, Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, is totally mindful of the reality that here is no single country on earth that can live in its own bubble in the 21st century, so he started a campaign explaining the legitimacy of the action he took on behalf of the Gabonese people and I think the arguments that he has been making are very powerful and that is why we could see he is so welcomed and understood,” Oba said.

Nguema told several hundred Gabon civilians in Yaounde that he seized power to improve living conditions in their oil-producing nation because its citizens remained poor during the 56-year reign of Ali Bongo Ondimba and his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba.

Gabon’s military ruler reiterated that he would hold elections in August 2025.

He said a new constitution that is being prepared would be presented to all citizens in October 2024 and a referendum on its adoption would be held that same year.

Before the elections, Gabon’s military junta says it will fight corruption, accelerate economic reforms, ensure sustainable economic development, restore stability and revise the electoral code. 

Georges Mpaga, president of Gabon’s Network of Free Society Organizations for Good Governance, said Nguema’s insistence on executing so many projects looks like a plan to hold onto power.  

Mpaga said Nguema should give priority to Gabon’s supreme interest, which as of now is the quest for a return to constitutional order. He said Nguema should make sure Gabon has a constitution which grants and limits powers of government officials, and paves the way for democratic, credible, fair and transparent elections that meet international norms and standards.

Nguema said he will keep his pledge to hand over power to civilians and that he will never betray the confidence entrusted upon him by his country’s civilians and military, as well as a majority of political parties and civil society groups.  

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Chinese Authorities Host Food Festivals in Kenya

As a debate over loans and trade relations with China heats up in Kenya, the Chinese embassy in Nairobi is looking to boost cultural ties with Kenyans by launching food extravaganzas. Victoria Amunga has more from Nairobi. (Camera and Produced by: Jimmy Makhulo)

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Nigerian Press Advocates Hail ECOWAS Court Ruling on Media Laws

Nigerian press freedom advocates are praising a recent ruling from the court of West African bloc ECOWAS that ordered Nigerian authorities to review sections of the country’s Press Act.

The court said portions of the law discriminate against online and nonprofessional journalists. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed by two Nigerian journalists against authorities in 2021.

Nigerian journalists Isaac Olamikan and Edoghogho Ugberease approached the ECOWAS regional court two years ago after security operatives arrested the duo in separate incidents while they were gathering the news.

Olamikan was accused of practicing with an expired media license. Ugberease — a citizen journalist who often covers happenings in her local community in southern Nigeria’s Edo state — was told by authorities that she was not qualified to tell stories or carry out investigations.

But the three-member panel of the ECOWAS court ruled that three sections of the Nigerian Press Council Act imposed age restrictions and educational qualifications for journalists and therefore discriminated against online and citizen journalists.

The court said that technological advancements meant media space is evolving, but that Nigerian law failed to accommodate such changes.

Ahaziah Abubakar, a former director of news at Voice of Nigeria, said the ECOWAS ruling couldn’t come at a better time.

“I’m excited that … a court of competent jurisdiction has ruled on a thing like that,” he said. “Journalists have become [an] endangered species.”

Journalism advocacy group Reporters Without Borders says Nigeria is one of West Africa’s most dangerous and difficult countries for journalists, who are often monitored, attacked and arbitrarily arrested.

The group says that the Nigerian constitution protects freedom of expression, but that there are many laws with provisions that make it possible to obstruct journalism.

In its defense at the ECOWAS court, the Nigerian government said that the rights to information and freedom of expression are not absolute, and that the arrest of the journalists was in the interest of national security.

Abubakar said he’s worried about the implementation of the ECOWAS verdict.

“So many court pronouncements in Nigeria, the powers that be do not obey court orders,” he said. “Implementation is selective, as it suits the powers that be.”

President Aigbokhan, the legal counsel to the Nigerian journalists, said, “Ordinarily, the government will be recalcitrant, so I think civil society groups should take it from there. There should be more public engagement on how that law cannot stand, because as it is now, the sections of those laws have already been struck down, whether or not it is amended nationally.”

It’s not clear when, or if, Nigerian authorities will amend the law.

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Here Are Wikipedia’s Most Searched Topics in 2023

Millions around the world turn to Wikipedia when they want to better understand the world around them, and that apparently includes artificial intelligence — the most searched topic on the online encyclopedia in 2023.

“ChatGPT is one of the generative AI tools that is trained on Wikipedia data, pulling large amounts of content from Wikipedia projects to answer people’s questions,” says Anusha Alikhan, chief communications officer at the Wikimedia Foundation. “So, the fact that millions of people are going to Wikipedia to learn about ChatGPT is kind of an interesting twist.”

Wikipedia articles about ChatGPT garnered more than 79 million page views across all languages, according to the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that hosts and funds the site. The information found on Wikipedia is managed by volunteer editors around the world.

English-language Wikipedia drew more than 84 billion views in 2023, according to the nonprofit. The top five articles this year were ChatGPT; Deaths in 2023; 2023 World Cricket Cup; Indian Premier League; and the film “Oppenheimer.”

Cricket is a popular global sport, but this is the first time since Wikipedia started keeping track in 2015 that an article about the sport made the list.

The rest of the most popular topics in Wikipedia’s Top 25 include a couple of Indian movies, as well as the U.S. megahit film, “Barbie.” Two celebrities who died this year —Matthew Perry and Lisa Marie Presley — are on the list, as are two well-known people: singer Taylor Swift and businessman Elon Musk, who made headlines a lot this year. Sports events, the United States, and India also made the Top 25 list.

“It gives the world, in our opinion, a real deep dive into the topics that people were most interested in for the entire year,” Alikhan says. “We often say also that Wikipedia reflects the world.”

According to Wikipedia data, the top five countries that accessed the English Wikipedia in 2023 are the United States (33 billion page views); the United Kingdom (9 billion page views); India (8.48 million page views); Canada (3.95 billion page views); and Australia (2.56 billion page views).

Historical subjects that make the list are often connected to a current event, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb.

“The fact that number seven on the list is J. Robert Oppenheimer speaks to the fact that it was, of course, connected to the ‘Oppenheimer’ movie,” Alikhan says. “The article about him was also very highly trafficked, in addition to the film. So typically, if there’s a historical article in the Top 25, it’s because it was related to a current event.”

Top 25 English Wikipedia articles that received the most pageviews in 2023:

ChatGPT  49 million page views

Deaths in 2023  43 million

2023 Cricket World Cup  38 million

Indian Premier League   32 million

Oppenheimer (film)   28 million

Cricket World Cup 25.9 million

J. Robert Oppenheimer 25.6 million

Jawan (film) 22 million

2023 Indian Premier League 21 million

Pathaan (film) 19.9 million

The Last of Us (TV series) 19.7 million

Taylor Swift 19 million

Barbie (film) 18 million

Cristiano Ronaldo 17 million

Lionel Messi 16.62 million

Premier League 16.60 million

Matthew Perry 16.45 million

United States 16.24 million

Elon Musk 14.37 million

Avatar: The Way of Water (film) 14.30 million

India 13.8 million

Lisa Marie Presley 13.7 million

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (film) 13.3 million

Russian invasion of Ukraine 12.79 million

Andrew Tate 12.72 million


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UK Interior Minister Signs New Rwanda Treaty to Resurrect Asylum Plan

British interior minister James Cleverly signed a new treaty with Rwanda on Tuesday in an attempt to overcome a court decision to block the government’s controversial policy of sending asylum seekers to the East African country.

The Rwanda plan is at the centre of the government’s strategy to cut migration and is being watched closely by other countries considering similar policies.

The United Kingdom’s Supreme Court last month ruled that such a move would violate international human rights laws enshrined in domestic legislation.

The new treaty will include an agreement that Rwanda would not expel asylum seekers to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened – one of the court’s major concerns.

There will also be a monitoring committee to enable individuals to lodge confidential complaints directly to them and a new appeal body made up of judges from around the world.

Cleverly said there was now no “credible” reason to block the deportation flights because the treaty addressed all the issues raised by the Supreme Court and no extra money had been given to Rwanda to upgrade the deal from the existing memorandum of understanding.

“I really hope that we can now move quickly,” Cleverly told a press conference in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.

Many lawyers and charities said it was unlikely that deportation flights could start before next year’s election. The opposition Labour Party, which has a double-digit lead in the polls, plans to ditch the Rwanda policy if it wins.

Under the plan agreed last year, Britain intends to send thousands of asylum seekers who arrived on its shores without permission to Rwanda to deter migrants crossing the Channel from Europe in small boats.

In return, Rwanda has received an initial payment of 140 million pounds ($180 million) with the promise of more money to fund the accommodation and care of any deported individuals.


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure to cut net migration, which hit a record 745,000 last year, with the vast majority coming through legal routes.

“Stop the boats” is one of five goals Sunak set for his government, to end the flow of asylum seekers who pay people smugglers for their Channel crossings, often in overcrowded boats that are not seaworthy.

The Supreme Court ruled against the Rwanda plan because there was a risk that deported refugees would have their claims wrongly assessed or returned to their country of origin to face persecution.

The new treaty is expected to be followed later this week by the publication of legislation declaring Rwanda a so-called safe country, designed to stop legal challenges against the planned deportation flights.

However, this is likely to trigger a new round of political and legal wrangling. The first flight was scheduled to go last summer but was cancelled at the last moment because of legal challenges.

Sarah Gogan, an immigration lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis, said Rwanda’s human rights record meant the government’s policy would be challenged.

“Rwanda is an unsafe country and this is not a quick fix,” she said. “You cannot in a matter of weeks or months reform a country and turn it into one with an impartial judiciary and administrative culture.”

Yvette Cooper, Labour’s home affairs spokeswoman, dismissed the government’s latest plans as another “gimmick.”

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Military Drone Attack Kills 85 People in Nigerian Village

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu is calling for an investigation into a weekend military drone attack that killed 85 people.

The deadly attack occurred in the village of Tudun Biri in northern Kaduna state Sunday during a celebration of a Muslim holiday.  

Dozens of villagers were also wounded in the attack.  

President Tinubu’s office issued a statement expressing his grief over the incident, which he called “very unfortunate, disturbing and painful.”

The Nigerian air force has denied any involvement in Sunday’s attack.  

Nigeria’s military have used drones in their battle against Islamic extremists who have waged an insurgent campaign in the country’s northeast and northwest for several decades.  

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse. 

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A Decade After Mandela’s Death South Africa in ‘Decay’

Nelson Mandela was a global icon who inspired the world, spending 27 years in prison for his fight against the South African apartheid regime and going on to become the country’s first black president.

Former comrades, family and analysts say Mandela, who died 10 years ago, would have been disappointed in the state of South Africa today.

Mandela, arguably the world’s best-known and most beloved South African, died on Dec. 5, 2013, at the age of 95.

His greatest achievement was bringing freedom and democracy to South Africa with his African National Congress, or ANC, party, after decades of brutal white minority rule.

He forgave his former enemies and ushered in one of the world’s most progressive constitutions. South Africa was seen as a moral example and beacon of hope worldwide.

Mandela served one term in office.

Even before his death, however, while he was in retirement, his once-storied ANC had become embroiled in corruption scandals – most notably under one of his successors, former President Jacob Zuma.

Today, critics accuse the party of only caring about self-enrichment and failing to deliver a better life for most of South Africa’s impoverished citizens.

They say Madiba, as he was widely known, would have been disappointed.

Peter Hain was a friend to Mandela and noted anti-apartheid activist whom apartheid security forces attempted to assassinate with a letter bomb in 1972.


“He would have been absolutely appalled at the decay in the country, the continued rampant corruption, including by some Cabinet ministers…. who are members of his once proud African National Congress,” Hain said.

Many other ANC stalwarts and surviving Mandela contemporaries declined to comment.

However, one of the statesman’s grandsons, Ndaba Mandela, echoed the view that Mandela would have been disappointed.

“Of course, my grandfather Madiba would have been very disappointed to say the least, to see what’s happened with the current ANC, with this party that he loved so much,” he said. “Do I think some of the party members are letting down the ANC? Of course they are. We have ministers who are on a feeding frenzy.”

Lumkile Mondi, an economics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, described what he said are the main problems facing South Africa today.

“Levels of unemployment are very, very high, at about 32.5%; more importantly, inequality has deepened. So has poverty. Infrastructure, whether it’s water infrastructure, road infrastructure, energy infrastructure, has collapsed,” he said.

Next year marks 30 years since the first democratic elections in South Africa and voters will head to the ballot box once again. Numerous polls are suggesting the ANC will lose its majority for the first time. 


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UN Says Gender-Based Violence in DRC is Increasing

The United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA, says it is working with other humanitarian agencies to help mitigate and respond to increasing incidents of gender-based violence in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. 


The U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator for the DRC, Suzanna Tkalec, said at a briefing Monday in Washington that women and girls in the provinces of North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri continue to be exposed to alarming rates of gender-based violence due to the resurgence of violence between militant groups and government forces. 

Tkalec said a recent report from the aid organization Doctors Without Borders found that some 90,000 women and girls had sought medical assistance after being assaulted and raped this year. The report said those who came forward likely represent only a fraction of the total number of victims.

Tkalec says survivors may be unable to reach lifesaving gender-based violence services or report their abuse, out of fear of stigmatization by their communities or retaliation by perpetrators. 

“A lot of this is really, due to the extreme vulnerability of women and girls,” Tkalec said.

She says OCHA’s ability to help is largely inadequate because its 2023 humanitarian response plan is only 38% funded.

“Because there is always a competition among the new crises that arise, the DRC keeps falling down the line of international crisis that need attention,” Tkalec said.

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Niger Ends Security, Defense Partnerships with EU

Niger’s junta on Monday scrapped two key military agreements that the West African nation signed with the European Union to help fight the violence in Africa’s Sahel region as the country’s army leaders and a senior Russian defense official discussed military cooperation.

Before the coup that deposed the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, Niger had been the West and Europe’s last major security partner in the Sahel, the vast region south of the Sahara Desert that Islamic extremist groups have turned into the global terror hot spot.

In a memo, Niger’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said the government has decided to “withdraw the privileges and immunities granted” under the EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger that was launched in February and consequently “has no legal obligation” related to that partnership.

It also dismissed the EU Civilian Capacity-Building Mission established in 2012 to strengthen Niger’s internal security sector, effectively revoking its approval for the missions.

The developments are the latest in growing political tensions between Niger and the EU since the July coup.

In a rare visit on Sunday, a Russian delegation led by Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Yunus-Bek Yevkurov met with Niger’s junta leader, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, and Minister of State for National Defense Salifou Mody. The two sides held more meetings on Monday to discuss military and defense issues.

“At the center of the discussions is the strengthening of cooperation between the two countries in the field of defense,” Niger’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, hinting at formal political ties with Moscow, which has no embassy or military personnel in the country.

Most of Niger’s foreign economic and security allies have sanctioned the country, including France, which had 1,500 troops operating in Niger. All of them have been asked to leave.

Analysts say that although regional and international sanctions to force the junta to reverse its coup have squeezed the country, they have also emboldened the military government as it consolidates its hold on power and seeks new partnerships.

Russia has been active in parts of Africa through its private mercenary Wagner Group, from the Central African Republic, where the mercenary forces have helped provide security services to the government, to Mali, where they are partnering with the army in battling armed rebels and where the Yevkurov-led delegation also visited.

The Wagner Group was one of the first sources of help that the military leaders in Niger reached out to for support as they faced a possible military intervention from West Africa’s regional bloc of ECOWAS in a bid to reverse the coup.

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Ghana Court Jails Chinese National Over Illegal Gold Mining 

A Ghanaian court has sentenced a Chinese national to prison for illegal gold mining in the West African nation, her attorney said Monday, ending a case that started in 2017 and shed light on Chinese involvement in the activity. 

The court in Accra sentenced Aisha Huang to 4-1/2 years in prison and a fine of 48,000 Ghanaian cedis ($4,000) for running an illegal mining operation, the attorney, Hope Agboado, told Reuters. 

Huang, who could not be reached for comment, initially pleaded not guilty but changed her plea to guilty as the trial progressed. 

Agboado said he had asked the court to impose a fine and deport her instead of imposing jail time. He and Huang are still deciding whether to appeal, he said. 

Ghana, a gold, oil and cocoa producer, is facing a scourge of illegal mining, with Chinese nationals accused of leading some of the operations that have destroyed large areas of forest, polluted water bodies and sometimes encroached on the concessions of large-scale miners. 

Ghana’s cocoa regulator COCOBOD told Reuters in September that around 150,000 metric tons of cocoa was lost because of smuggling and illegal gold mining, locally known as galamsey, on farmlands in the 2022-23 season. 

Huang was known as the “galamsey queen” in the Ghanaian media. 

Several Chinese nationals were brought to court for similar cases in Ghana in 2021 and 2022. 

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Britain Persists with Rwanda Plan for Migrants

Britain is continuing its efforts to have migrants seeking asylum in Britain sent instead to Rwanda to seek asylum there. 

In the latest version, Britain would have British lawyers stationed in Rwandan courts to alleviate British concerns about the workings of the system in Rwanda.  

Britain’s Supreme Court has already ruled that an earlier government plan to send asylum seekers to the East African country is illegal. 

But that has not stopped some politicians from trying to devise a new way to implement the Rwanda plan. 

Reports say Home Secretary James Cleverly is to fly to Rwanda this week to sign an agreement that would pay Rwanda an additional 15 million euros to expand its asylum processing capacity, according to a Sunday Times report.  

Rwanda has already received 140 million euros from Britain for the asylum plan that was set to go into effect in 2020 but was blocked by legal challenges just days before it was to start. 

In November, the Supreme Court stopped the plan again because of human rights concerns and noted there was no guarantee that Rwanda would not return the asylum seekers to their home countries, which would place the migrants at risk. 

After last month’s ruling, the British government persisted with its Rwandan plan and said they would strive to sign a formal treaty with the African nation. 

Britain has experienced an ever-increasing number of migrants arriving to its border in recent years, as have other European countries.  

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Burkina Faso Suspends ‘All Distribution Methods’ of French Daily Le Monde

Military-ruled Burkina Faso on Saturday suspended “all distribution methods” of Le Monde daily after an article on a deadly jihadi attack in the north, in the latest measure against a French media organization.

“The government has decided to suspend all distribution methods of the newspaper Le Monde in Burkina Faso starting from Saturday, December 2, 2023,” Communication Minister Rimtalba Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo said in a statement.

He criticized a “biased article,” referring to a story published on Le Monde’s website Friday about a bloody jihadi attack on a military base in Djibo on November 26.

The United Nations says at least 40 civilians were killed in the attack claimed by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, while Burkinabe security sources spoke of a “few” military deaths.

“Contrary to what the newspaper Le Monde peremptorily claims, the Burkinabe government has never trapped itself in a propaganda mindset in the war we are waging against terrorism,” Ouedraogo said.

Le Monde “has chosen its side,” he added.

The Burkinabe authorities in recent months have suspended the French TV outlets LCI and France24 as well as Radio France Internationale and the magazine Jeune Afrique.

The correspondents of the French newspapers Liberation and Le Monde have also been expelled.

In April, Amnesty International urged the authorities to stop “attacks and threats” against press freedom in the West African country.

Relations between Burkina Faso and former colonial power France plummeted after the military seized power in a 2022 coup, citing failing efforts to quash a jihadi insurgency that erupted in 2015.

The junta has since turned away from its traditional ally, forcing it to withdraw its troops deployed against the rebels, and has turned toward Russia.

Insurgents affiliated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have fought the state since 2015 after a rebellion in neighboring Mali spilled over.

The fighting has killed thousands of civilians and members of the security forces and displaced many more.

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Tanzania flood, landslide death toll jumps to 47

The number of people killed by floods and landslides in northern Tanzania has jumped to 47, with another 85 people injured, following torrential rain, a senior government official said.

Severe flooding caused by a combination of the El Nino and Indian Ocean dipole weather phenomena has killed hundreds of people in Kenya and Somalia and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes since seasonal rains began in October.

Search and rescue operations were underway in the Manyara region as authorities fear some bodies might be trapped in the mud, Manyara region commissioner Queen Sendiga told reporters late on Sunday.

“As of the evening, we have rescued 85 injured persons who are continuing with the treatments and others have been discharged. The death toll has increased to 47 people,” she said.

Around 100 houses in the village of Katesh, Hanang district, were swallowed by a landslide, President Samia Suluhu Hassan said in a video message posted online by the ministry of health.

“We are very shocked by this event,” Suluhu said.

Climate change is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events, according to climate scientists.

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Floods Kill More Than 20 People in Northern Tanzania

At least 20 people have been killed by floods after heavy rain in the Manyara region of northern Tanzania, the ministry of health said on Sunday.

Severe flooding caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon has killed hundreds of people in Kenya and Somalia in recent weeks. The rains have also left a trail of destruction, ruining infrastructure like roads and submerging towns in East Africa, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.

“We are very shocked by this event,” President Samia Suluhu Hassan said in a video message posted online by the Tanzanian ministry of health.

She directed security agencies, the ministry of health and other relevant bodies to put in all efforts into ongoing search and rescue efforts to prevent more deaths.

The more than 20 people were killed in Katesh village in the Hanang district of Manyara, the president said.

The heavy rain on Saturday night caused landslides in some areas of Mount Hanang, domestic media outlets reported, adding that the waters also swept away livestock.

Climate change is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events, scientists say.

In response, African leaders are pushing for new global taxes and changes to international financial institutions to help fund climate change action.

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Nigeria Calls for Niger Junta to Free Ousted President

Nigeria is calling for the release of ousted Niger president Mohamed Bazoum and for the military junta to allow him to leave for a third country, its foreign minister said.  

Nigeria is current chair of the regional group Economic Community of West African States or ECOWAS which has imposed sanctions on Niger following the July coup that ousted Bazoum.

ECOWAS had been demanding Bazoum’s immediate return to the presidency, but the military junta has kept him in detention and says it may need up to three years for a return to civilian rule.

“We are asking them to release President Bazoum so that he will be allowed to leave Niger,” Nigerian Foreign Minister Yusuf Tuggar told local Channels TV news in an interview published on its website at the weekend.

“He will no longer be in custody. He will go to a third country that is mutually agreed. And then we start talking about the removal of sanctions.”

He said ECOWAS was still open to talks with Niger’s junta.

“You know, the opportunity is there. We are always ready, willing, and able to listen to them and the ball is in their court.”

ECOWAS leaders will meet in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on December 10 to discuss the region, where since 2020 coups have put military juntas in power in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger.

Last month, a failed coup attempt left 21 dead in Sierra Leone, another member of ECOWAS, according to senior officials in the country.

ECOWAS member Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said Saturday violence this week involving members of his country’s National Guard was an “attempted coup.”

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Solar Grid Brings Light, Progress to Rural Nigerian Community

In early November, Nigeria launched its first interconnected solar hybrid mini grid in Nasarawa State to make electricity more reliable, renewable and accessible. Gibson Emeka has this story from Abuja, Nigeria, Grace Oyenubi narrates.

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In Some Neighborhoods in Drought-Prone Kenya, Clean Water Is Scarce

As the sun rises in the Bondeni-Jua Kali neighborhood on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, dozens of women and men step out of their corrugated iron homes with yellow jerricans, skip over pools of sewage and make their way to a nearby water vending station.

There is no piped water or sewage system in the area and drought has made clean water supplies scarcer and expensive for locals. Twice a week, trucks with 5,000 to 10,000 liters (1,300 to 2,600 gallons) of water will fill up vending stations across Athi River where residents can buy 20 liters (five gallons) for 20 Kenyan Shillings ($0.16). A household of four needs about 20 liters a day, and weekly incomes are about $13, according to data from Kenya’s finance ministry.

But for those whose homes are kitted out with water filters distributed by a local nonprofit, the nearby river — polluted, prone to drought and usually unsafe for drinking — is becoming a cheaper and sometimes more reliable source of clean water. And while advocates say underlying issues like climate change-fueled drought and poor water management need to be urgently addressed, solutions like filters make a short-term difference because deliveries are often not enough for the neighborhoods’ needs.

Many rely on unsafe alternatives if they miss out on the trucked-in stocks.

“Sometimes, we get to the water vending stations and find that the queue is long and then the water finishes and you have to wait,” said 46-year-old resident Joyce Ngui. “Most of the time you don’t have money to buy even the salty water sold around. So we have no choice but to use the swamp water,” she said.

When The Associated Press met Ngui, she was heading to a swamp to draw water to clean her family’s clothes and for cooking. Part of the slimy swamp is clogged with overgrown water lilies. Ngui doesn’t have a water filter, so she can’t turn the swamp water into something suitable for drinking.

Ngui would like a filter, “so that we can be able to filtrate the dirty water and be able to drink it,” she said. Otherwise, “it just has germs and diseases.”

Bucket Ministry, a Christian nonprofit organization, has been providing communities around Nairobi and other parts of Kenya with the easy-to-use water filters. It provided over 600 filters, made by the water filtering company Sawyer, to households in the four neighborhoods in Athi River since August and plans to up that number to 6,000.

The devices are the size of a small water bottle and are fitted with a hose pipe onto a bucket. They can filter water from the river and nearby swamps into potable water that can be used by residents.

“It filters every germ or pathogen that causes water-borne diseases,” said Derrick Mesulamu, the country director for the group. “It is designed in such a way that it has micro holes that don’t allow those particles that cause water-borne diseases to pass through.”

Josephine Mutile, a resident with a water filter, is already seeing the benefits.

“I have been sick often and visiting the hospital where I am tested and told that I have typhoid, or an amoeba infection or diarrhea. Boiling water (to kill viruses and bacteria) is expensive because cooking gas is expensive,” Mutile said. “Now I have this filter, it will help me a lot.”

Data from the Machakos County health ministry, of which Athi River is part, says that four out of 10 cases at public health clinics in the area are related to water-borne disease. At least 10 people died following a cholera outbreak in Mavoko area in the region between October last year and March.

Machakos’ local government has been desilting and cleaning up the river, but most of the pollution, including plastic bags and bottles, happens upstream, where residents in poorer areas of Nairobi dump waste into the Nairobi River that then flows into the Athi River.

“Because of water scarcity, residents in Machakos have turned to rivers, shallow wells or other sources which are contaminated with pollutants — including human and animal waste,” said Machakos County Governor Wavinya Ndeti.

She told The AP that the county government is cracking down on industries that have been disposing of chemical waste and other pollutants into the Athi River.

Authorities “have put in place regulations to monitor and limit industrial pollution, but the effectiveness all depends on compliance and strict enforcement, which we will do,” she said.

Historically, Athi River is a water-scarce region, grasslands turned brown from the scorching sun and huge tracts of land were left untilled as residents couldn’t farm the drylands. Consecutive seasons of failed rains and drought, driven by human-caused climate change and consecutive naturally occurring La Nina weather phenomena, have worsened shortages.

“Climate change has had a very long term and short-term devastating impact on water resources in Kenya, and especially the drylands,” said Namenya Naburi, an environmentalist and climate change expert from the Africa Nazarene University. “We’ve seen most of resources, especially surface water, has been declining due to the effects of climate change.”

The loss of reliable water sources “have become a recurrent threat to our communities,” said Wavinya.

Experts say that while water filters are worthwhile, for a project like this to work it will need to be scaled up to reach millions of people in a similar situation to Athi River dwellers.

“These measures are just stop gap, a small dribble,” said Tobias Omufwoko from the WASH Alliance Kenya. “The main solution is for the government and all stakeholders to play their part in making sure that first and foremost that we conserve our sources of water.”

“There’s no shortcut,” he said.

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