Cameroon’s Biya Orders Enforcement of Bilingualism Law

Cameroon’s president has ordered officials to enforce a 2019 law on bilingualism and make life easier for English speakers in the French-speaking majority country. Complaints of discrimination against English speakers sparked a separatist conflict that, since 2017, has left more than 3,500 people dead.

Civilians assembled at Yaounde’s city council this week to complain about difficulties they encounter in Cameroon’s public offices because they speak only one of the central African state’s two official languages.

Emmanuel Ngong, a 26-year-old engineer, said he was denied service in a public office because he spoke English.

“Many government workers behave as if French should be the only language that should be spoken in Cameroon,” Ngong said. “I was irritated when I went to an office and I spoke in English and one man said “je ne connais pas votre Anglais la.”

The French sentence means “I do not know your English.”

Civilians who fled the fighting in western Cameroon between troops and separatists say they often face discrimination in public offices when speaking English.

A December 2019 law states that English and French have the same value and should be used equally in public offices, and says Cameroonians should be able to express themselves in either language.

Jean Marie Bodo, one of the officials dispatched to enforce the bilingualism law, said people abuse public office by refusing to attend to civilians who speak either in English or French.

Bodo said Cameroon President Paul Biya will no longer tolerate French-speaking workers imposing the French language on English-speaking citizens, and English- speaking workers should also be patient when they receive French speakers in public offices. Bodo said all official documents should be translated into both English and French languages and English and French speakers should be given equal access to jobs to stop marginalization that is causing tensions and threatening Cameroon’s unity.

Bodo said messages on all signboards should be in the two official languages, printed in the same character to stop giving the impression that one language is superior because characters are larger.

The government says after educating citizens on the importance of the two languages co-existing peacefully, it is now ordering people who do not speak the two languages to register in language schools. Signboards written in one language are being pulled down and replaced.

Among the 10 towns the delegation is visiting this week are Yaounde, Garoua, Maroua and Cameroon’s economic capital, Douala.

Tamandjo Jeanneaux, an official in Douala’s 5th district, said that to encourage living together and stop the dominance of the French over the English language, his council made it compulsory for French speakers to speak only English every Wednesday, and English speakers are expected to speak only French on Wednesdays. Tamandjo says many French speakers tell him that council workers are reluctant to speak English.

The crisis began in 2016 when English-speaking teachers and lawyers took to the streets to denounce the dominance of French.

The government responded with a crackdown and separatists took up weapons, saying they were defending civilians from government troops. Cameroon rights groups say at least 3,500 people have since died in five years of fighting.

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Who is Ibrahim Traore, the Soldier Behind Burkina Faso’s Latest Coup? 

As a heavily armed convoy drove through a cheering crowd in Burkina Faso’s capital on Sunday morning, the boyish face of the country’s latest military ruler, Captain Ibrahim Traore, emerged from the turret of an armored personnel carrier.

Sporting fatigues and a red beret, the 34-year-old smiled and raised his thumb as onlookers welcomed him, some by waving Russian flags.

Traore, a relatively low-ranking officer who days earlier was running an artillery regiment in a small northern town, has been catapulted onto the world stage since he and a group of soldiers overthrew President Paul-Henri Damiba in a September 30 coup.

Little is known about Traore and his colleagues, who since Friday have delivered statements on national television brandishing guns, ammunition belts and masks.

They face gigantic challenges to alleviate hardship in one of the world’s poorest countries where drought, food shortages and creaking health and education systems provide daily challenges for millions.

Yet the initial focus has been conflict and politics.

In an interview with Radio France International on Monday, Traore, a career soldier who has fought on the front lines against Islamist militants in the north, insisted he would not be in charge for long.

A national conference will appoint a new interim ruler by the end of the year. That leader, who could be civilian or military, will honor an agreement with West Africa’s regional bloc and oversee a return to civilian rule by 2024, he said.

“We did not come to continue, we did not come for a particular purpose,” he said. “All that matters when the level of security returns is the fight, it’s development.”

Still, an early picture has emerged of what Traore’s junta intends to do with its time in power.

Their moves, which may include army reform and ties to new international partners such as Russia, could alter politics in West Africa and change how Burkina Faso fights an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced millions to flee.

Army officers initially supported Damiba when he took power in his own coup in January, promising to defeat the Islamists. But they quickly lost patience. Damiba refused to reform the army, Traore’s junta said. Attacks worsened. Just last week, at least 11 soldiers were killed in an attack in the north.

Meanwhile, Russia has expressed support for the coup just as regional neighbors and western powers condemned it.

“I salute and support Captain Ibrahim Traore,” read a statement from Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of private military company Wagner Group, which has operations across Africa, including in Burkina Faso’s neighbor Mali.

Ties with Russia?

Ties with Russia would put a further strain on relations with former colonial power France, which has provided military support in recent years but has become the target of pro-Russian protests. Its embassy in Ouagadougou was attacked in the aftermath of Friday’s coup.

Wagner’s entry into Mali last year spelled the end to France’s decade-long mission to contain Islamists linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State who have since spread into Burkina Faso.

Wagner and the Malian army have since been accused by rights groups and witnesses of widespread abuses, including the killing of hundreds of civilians in the town of Moura in March.

Burkina Faso’s new leaders on Saturday stoked anti-French rioting when they said in a statement on television that France had sheltered Damiba at a military base and that he was planning a counter-offensive.

The French Foreign Ministry denied the base had hosted Damiba.

Traore is on a crash course in diplomacy. He downplayed the link between Damiba and France, and called an end to the protests. About ties with Russia, he was vague.

“There are many partners. France is a partner. There is no particular target,” he told RFI.

Meanwhile, he must juggle everyday problems. On Sunday, he arrived in military fatigues to a meeting with ministerial officials which was streamed online.

Can the junta guarantee the safety of schools that reopen this week, they asked their new leader. What is being done about a tender for a railway link to Ghana?

Traore, who had to consult with advisers, did not have all the answers.

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At Least 20 Killed in Triple Car Bombings in Central Somalia

At least 20 people were killed in a triple car bombing attack Monday in central Somalia, among them two local government officials. Witnesses said two vehicles loaded with explosives detonated in the morning, and a third in the afternoon.

The three explosions rocked the city of Beledweyne in central Somalia, killing at least 20 people and injuring dozens more.

Beledweyne police commissioner Bishar Hussein Jimale confirmed the attacks and the death of some local officials.

Jimale said the attacks were planned by al-Shabab, killing officials, civilians and soldiers. He said the victims including the deputy commissioner of finance in the Hiran region and MPs and ministers in Hirshabelle.

Jimale added that rescue operations were still in progress, working to find injured people who are trapped as well as to recover bodies.

“We mourn but we do not cry,” he said in Somali, “and we will take revenge against al-Shabab.”

The U.N. office in Somalia said in a tweet it condemned the attack and sent condolences to the families of the victims.

Two of the bomb attacks struck the Lama Galaay military base, which hosts the offices of the regional president and several local government officials.

One car bomb detonated near the entrance gate, then witnesses said a truck rushed toward the headquarters building and exploded. The third car bomb exploded while heading to the same target.

The attacks come barely a day after the Somali government announced the death of a senior al-Shabab commander identified as Abdulkadir Nadir in an airstrike in the Middle Juba region.

Nadir, who served as al-Shabab’s finance chief was touted to replace the group’s leader Ahmed Diriye, or Abu Ubaidah, who is reported to be sick. He had a $3 million bounty on his head from the U.S. government.

The Somali government described Nadir’s killing as a “thorn removed from the Somali nation.”

The Somali government is involved in a major counterterrorism offensive against al-Shabab in the central regions of the country. The operation has gained the support of local tribal militias in Hiran and Galgaduud who have joined forces with federal and state government authorities.

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DRC Refugees to Uganda Expected to Double as Conflict Rages

The government of Uganda and the U.N. Refugee Agency say a surge of refugees fleeing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo is tearing apart families and stretching aid resources.

The UNHCR says officials were prepared to help some 68,000 Congolese refugees expected in Uganda, but now 150,000 are predicted to arrive by year’s end. 

Congolese refugees stream across Uganda’s western border with the DRC to escape nearly a year of fighting between M23 rebels and DRC government troops.   

Senjiwuva Gasigwa Phillipe, one of many refugees crossing into Uganda, says people were forced to flee when gunfire woke them in the middle of the night. He was separated from family members as they fled, but recently has been reunited with them.  

Other refugees weren’t so lucky.     

Amani Gidide lost contact with three of her children, and is now moving from a transit center to a refugee settlement. With God’s love, she says, her children will be found. 

The UNHCR says 71,000 refugees have crossed into Uganda from the DRC since January, and that number is expected to more than double by the end of the year.    

UNHCR’s Uganda representative Matthew Crentsil says as a result, resources are overstretched.   

“If you look at the funding received now compared to the new needs, given the planning figure which has been reviewed, it’s only about 11 percent or so which has been received, which is woefully inadequate to cover the growing needs of these refugees,” Crentsil said.    

Ugandan officials say a holding center for refugees has been opened to support the overflowing transit center, which already hosts some 14,000 refugees.   

“We are operating two centers at a go,” said Daniel Kisamo, Nyakabande Refugee Transit and Holding Center refugee commandant. “The transit center being for those ones who are ready to move to the settlement. Then the holding center was designated for those ones who still need to make up their mind. Or in case to wait for their family members, because we know what war does.”    

The M23 rebels launched attacks on DRC forces in 2012, saying they were fighting for good governance. After being quiet for nearly a decade, the group resumed fighting in late 2021, seizing territory and causing refugees to flee the violence.   

Congo has repeatedly accused its smaller central African neighbor Rwanda of backing the M23, a charge Kigali denies.   

Meanwhile, Congolese refugees like Gidide wait, hoping to be reunited with family and return home soon.   

 

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Marchers Call for Peace in Cameroon, But Warring Sides at Odds on Talks

In Cameroon, thousands of people are marching to call for peace in the country’s separatist conflict. The daily peace marches, which began on Friday and are slated to continue through Tuesday, come on the third anniversary of talks designed to end the fighting. Marchers say authorities need to do more to return peace to the restive western regions, where fighting has killed about 3,500 people since 2017.

The protesters, a majority of them women, say hardly a day goes by without cases of killings, abduction, rape and torching of public edifices in the Northwest and Southwest regions.

Monday’s peace march was organized by a non-governmental organization called Cameroon, Peace and National Unity. Its president, Clementine Mvogo, said the peace march marks the third anniversary of government-organized peace talks called the Major National Dialogue.

“The culture of peace is still very much absent in Cameroon since the holding in Yaounde of a Major National Dialogue from September 30 to October 4 2019. The ongoing peace march in Yaounde is to make the quest for peace a daily struggle of all Cameroonians. All civilians and civil society movements should be concerned about the return of peace to Cameroon,” Mvogo said.

After that dialogue, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya implemented recommendations to give the Northwest and Southwest regions more power, including the creation of regional assemblies and elected regional presidents.

Zacchaeus Bakuma Elango, president of the Southwest regional assembly, said outreach efforts to the armed separatist groups continue.

“We’re doing everything we can to convince them to lay down their arms and come to the negotiation table. We have families who have been displaced, children who have not gone to schools for five years, so what becomes of them? Are we coming up with a generation of semi-illiterates?” said Elango.

Elango said some people have realized that war is not the answer.

“As the years go by, more and more people are beginning to understand that we are in the same country. There were problems and those problems progressively are being addressed and the situation is improving.”

As evidence of that, he notes that tens of thousands of people who fled the fighting have returned to Southwest towns and villages in Manyu, Lebialem, Meme, Ndian, Fako and Koupe Manengouba administrative units. Elango said several hundred schools sealed by fighters in the region have been reopened.

The government says after the dialogue, powers were given to a national commission for the promotion of bilingualism to give equal status to the English and French languages, in order to reduce domination by the French-speaking majority.

David Abouem a Tchoyi, a member of the commission, said the conflict still persists because many separatist leaders refused to take part in the dialogue.

“I regret bitterly that some of our brothers and sisters, especially those who are abroad, couldn’t be part of that jamboree. When I read the recommendations, I saw some of them which could be game changers and I think it is important to note that the head of state said that the recommendations should be implemented according to the means and the capabilities of the state.”

Three years on, the prospects for peace talks remain stalled. Some separatist groups say they are not ready for any dialogue, while others say the talks should be held outside Cameroon. Separatist leaders based in Europe and the United States have expressed concern they will be arrested on charges of terrorism if they come home for peace talks.

Cameroon maintains that the 2019 dialogue was successful and no talks will be organized outside the country.

The stalemate doesn’t bode well for peace in the western regions, and suggests that Yaounde will see more marches like the ones taking place this week.

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Ethiopia Tigray Rebels Withdraw from Parts of Amhara

Ethiopia’s Tigray rebels have said they are withdrawing from parts of the neighboring Amhara region, which they entered shortly after renewed hostilities broke out with federal government forces in August.

In a statement, the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) described the move as a “tactical” redeployment of its forces and said it was necessary to counter an “invasion” from the north. 

The fresh fighting has seen Eritrea renew its involvement in the war, on the side of Ethiopia’s federal government. Last month the Tigray forces said Eritrea had launched a “full-scale” offensive across the region’s northern border. 

“Accordingly, we have made geographical adjustments by withdrawing from Amhara areas we had entered in the direction of the south,” the latest TPLF statement said. 

It added that the withdrawal had been underway for three days and could be reversed if pro-government forces made further attacks on the southern fronts. 

Separately, Tigray spokesman Getachew Reda said on Twitter that his region’s forces had inflicted “tens of thousands” of losses on pro-government units. 

VOA was unable to verify these claims. The areas affected by the fighting are mostly cut off from phone and internet access, and journalists are currently barred from travelling there. 

Ethiopia’s federal government has remained tight-lipped amid the recent fighting and has not commented on the Tigray force’s latest statement. 

Eritrean forces fought alongside Ethiopia’s federal forces when the Tigray conflict first broke out in November 2020, before they were both forced to withdraw in June 2021. 

Asmara’s re-entry into the conflict has drawn international condemnation. 

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Car Bombs Rock Somali Town at Center of Mobilization Against Al-Shabab 

Heavy explosions rocked the central Somali town of Beledweyne, according to witnesses.

Residents told a VOA reporter in Beledweyne that two car bombs targeted Lamagalay, the local government headquarters in the eastern district. Lamagalay is where the offices of the deputy leader of Hirshabelle state, the governor of Hiran region and other local government officials are located. Sources say heavy casualties are feared following the attack.

Beledweyne, about 337 kilometers north of Mogadishu, has been the center of a recent local community mobilization against the Islamist militant group al-Shabab. Local officials including the governor of Hiran region, Ali Jeyte Osman, led community forces who fought alongside Somali government forces, seizing dozens of villages from al-Shabab.

Monday’s explosions came hours after the Somali government on Sunday evening reported that a senior al-Shabab official was killed in an operation in Haramka area in Middle Jubba region on October 1.

In a statement, the Ministry of Information said al-Shabab co-founder Abdullahi Nadir was killed in an operation by the national forces in collaboration with international partner forces.

Abdullahi Nadir, also known as Abdullahi Yare, is a senior al-Shabab official who held multiple posts within the group including the media, finance and preaching or “Da’wah” departments. Nadir has been a close ally of the late al-Shabab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane who was killed in a U.S. strike in September 2014, and the current emir Ahmed Umar Abu Ubaidah. The United States put $3 million bounty on Nadir’s head and $6 million on Ubaidah’s head.

Haramka is an area controlled by al-Shabab, an indication that the operation against Nadir likely involved airstrikes. The U.S. Africa Command, which conducts airstrikes against al-Shabab, has not yet commented.

And most recently, Somalia’s Interior Minister Ahmed Moallim Fiqi told local television that Turkey has “joined” in providing air support to the Somali government. Fiqi did not specify operations or specific dates for Turkish participation in attacks against al-Shabab. The Turkish government is yet to confirm the reports.

Somalia Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur hailed the reported killing of Abdullahi Nadir. He hinted that the reported killing of Nadir may have been retaliation for those killed by al-Shabab.

He said the killing of Abdullahi Nadir is the beginning of attacks in response to the killing of late Mogadishu police chief Brigadier General Farhan Mohamoud Adan who was killed Friday by an al-Shabab improvised explosive device, or an IED, near Mogadishu, and the killing of Elmi Hagar Gure in an al-Shabab attack near Moqokori town in Hiran region last week. Gure is a traditional elder who participated in the mobilization.

“Accountability is just beginning,” Nur posted on his official Facebook account in Somali before the explosions in Beledweyne.

Al-Shabab has not confirmed or denied the reported killing of Abdullahi Nadir.

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UN: Somalia Teetering on the Edge of Famine

The United Nations humanitarian office on Somalia says the country is still teetering on the edge of famine.  

Ian Ridley, head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, in Somalia says there are almost eight million people in need of assistance and over one million people who have been internally displaced.  

Somalia has already experienced four failed rainy seasons dating back to October 2020, Ridley told VOA’s Somali service.  

Although it should be the beginning of the rainy season in Somalia, Ridley said, the forecast indicates the period will not bring the much-needed moisture.  

“We’re all hoping and praying that the rains will come, but based on the recent patterns I think the weather forecast and the climatologists are telling us there’s a high probability that this next rainy season from October to December will fail,” he said in a telephone interview Sunday. 

“That increases the risk of famine, and I would say we are teetering on the edge of famine particularly in Baidoa, and Burhakaba and particularly amongst IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) in Baidoa.”  

He said humanitarian agencies are now focusing all efforts on Baidoa and Burhakaba districts.    

“The humanitarian community is really scaling up in support of the government to support people there to ensure that we can avert famine,” he said.  

Humanitarian groups threatened

He said agencies are facing challenges including security and accessibility, which increases worries about the humanitarian situation in areas controlled by the Islamist militant group, al-Shabab.  

“What we’re concerned about are people in the rural areas that are more difficult to reach, areas that are under the control of non-state armed groups, al-Shabab specifically,” he said. “We’re concerned about those areas, but we must continue to push out of the cities and towns into the rural areas and reach as many people as possible.”    

Last week, officials in Somalia’s Jubaland state said the al-Shabab militant group killed 12 people drilling a well in the vicinity of Geriley village. The attack was preceded by al-Shabab raids targeting water wells in Galmudug and Hirshabelle states which the group destroyed in apparent retaliation of the local populations’ mobilization in support of government operations.  

Meanwhile, a humanitarian worker in Somalia who requested not be identified for safety reasons told VOA Somali that on Saturday suspected al-Shabab militants also fired on a vehicle belonging a local aid organization in the south of the country.  

“That marks a worrying turn in the situation when humanitarians are targeted. We do get worried,” Ridley said. “We need to understand exactly what’s happened before we draw conclusions, but I think it is reasonable to assume that there are forces, non-state armed groups in these areas that don’t want humanitarians doing their work. So, it’s a huge concern.”  

Infrastructure at risk

On the recent clashes between the federal government forces supported by local fighters on one hand, and al-Shabab, Ridley said he is concerned that humanitarian workers can “get caught up” in the crossfire of the fighting. Another concern is that when there is a conflict in an area, telephone masts, clinics, schools, grain stores and water points are destroyed, he said.  

“So, this new conflict marks, if you like, an increase in the number of people that are requiring humanitarian assistance.”   

He said all sides to the conflict need to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to allow aid workers to get unfettered access to populations, and for civilians to have access to assistance as well.  

“Humanitarians shouldn’t be targeted, assistance should not be diverted, and humanitarian space needs to be given so that the national NGOs (non-government organizations), the international NGOs and the United Nations can get on with their work and serve people in need.” 

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Protesters Attack French Embassy as Ousted President Signs Resignation

On Sunday afternoon and throughout last night, large groups of protesters took to the streets of Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou, attacking the French embassy, burning tires and waving Russian flags. Chaos has descended on the city after a new military junta claimed power Friday but appears to lack full control of the country.

Explosions and gunfire outside the French embassy in Ouagadougou Sunday afternoon. Protesters had been filling the streets of the capital since the evening before when they began burning projectiles and throwing stones over the embassy walls. 

On social media, call-outs from unknown sources encouraged the protesters to take to the streets and prevent France from reversing Friday’s military coup in the country. Both the new junta and the French embassy have denied France has any involvement in the coup.

French forces inside the embassy responded by firing tear gas into the crowd and firing warning shots. 

VOA spoke to one of the protesters, Ali Nanema.

“We have to leave the French partnership with which we have been involved since the 1960s with mixed results on the ground,” said Nanema. “We have been facing a crisis for seven years but the collaboration with France does not give us satisfactory results. That is why we need another collaboration.”

Three hundred meters from the embassy, at the prime minister’s office, putschists emerged from a commandeered U.N. armored vehicle, waving a Russian flag, causing many on social media to speculate Russia may have had a hand in encouraging Friday’s coup.   There was no immediate official Russian reaction to the coup.

Constantin Gouvy is an analyst with The Clingendael Institute, a Netherlands based think tank. Asked if Russian disinformation could be blamed for events over the weekend, he replied.

“We have seen widespread disinformation on social media and pro-Russian civil society organizations trying to rally people to protest in recent days,” said Gouvy. “It’s still early to judge, as to how much influence this has had and if it added fuel to the fire, though we can’t blame everything on Russian disinformation either. Since yesterday, people have taken to the streets for a host of reasons and grievances. We have seen people unhappy with the worsening security situation. We have supporters on Zoungrana, who led a failed coup attempt in January, but also Sankarists [supporters of a left-wing ideological trend], as well as pro-Russians.”

Draped in a Burkinabe flag one man outside the embassy told VOA,  “Russia will come and save us from the mess we are in because all the countries that worked with Russia have succeeded. This gives us the courage to go toward Russia, in order to overcome the terrorists. Given the insecurity, we thought that Damiba would orient us to Russia… but we have been waiting in vain.”

Asked how intervention in recent months by mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group had affected the security situation in neighboring Mali, Gouvy said.

“Wagner’s involvement in Mali has made things worse on almost all indicators,” said Gouvy.

The French Institutes, French government-run cultural centers, in both the country’s second city and the capital — were also vandalized by protesters. Protesters wrongly believed a French special forces base on the outskirts of Ouagadougou was sheltering the ousted president Paul Henri Damiba.  

A news release Sunday afternoon said Damiba signed his resignation. On Saturday, there had been speculation he was planning to launch a counter-offensive against the putschist, as helicopters, still under his control circled the city. Local media has reported he has fled the country to neighboring Togo.

Daniel Gnienhoun contributed to this report

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Ousted Burkina Faso Leader Leaves Country for Togo

Burkina Faso’s ousted coup leader Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba left the country for Togo Sunday two days after he himself was overthrown in a coup, while the new junta urged citizens not to loot or vandalize.

Damiba’s departure was confirmed by two diplomats who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. It was not known whether Togo was his final destination.

Earlier Sunday, religious leaders who had mediated between the factions said that Damiba had offered his resignation as long as his security and other conditions were met. A junta representative later announced on state television that their leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore, officially has been named head of state following the Friday coup that ousted Damiba.

Their power grab marked Burkina Faso’s second military coup this year, deepening fears that the political chaos could divert attention from an Islamic insurgency whose violence has killed thousands and forced 2 million to flee their homes. It followed unrest in Ouagadougou, the capital, in which mobs on Saturday attacked the French embassy and other French-related sites, wrongly believing that they were sheltering Damiba.

Along with agreeing not to harm or prosecute him, Damiba also asked Traore and the new junta leadership to respect the commitments already made to the West African regional bloc ECOWAS. Damiba, who came to power in a coup last January, had recently reached an agreement to hold an election by 2024.

In a statement late Sunday, ECOWAS said it would be sending a team of mediators to Ouagadougou on Monday including former Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou.

The ECOWAS statement, signed by Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo, noted that Damiba had resigned “in order to avoid a violent confrontation and possible bloodshed.”

Earlier in the day, the new junta leadership had called for an end to the unrest that engulfed Ouagadouou in wake of Friday night’s coup.

In a statement broadcast on state television, junta representative Capt. Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho called on people to “desist from any act of violence and vandalism” especially those against the French Embassy or the French military base.

Anti-French sentiment rose sharply after the new junta alleged that interim president Damiba was sheltering at a French military base following his ouster. France vehemently denied the allegation, but soon protesters with torches thronged the perimeter of the French Embassy in Ouagadougou.

Saturday’s violence was condemned by the French Foreign Ministry, which denied any involvement in the rapidly developing events. French Institutes in Ouagadougou and the country’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, had also been targeted and French citizens were urged to be very cautious.

“The situation is very volatile in Burkina Faso,” a French spokeswoman told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Damiba came to power in January promising to secure the country from jihadi violence. However, the situation only deteriorated as jihadis imposed blockades on towns and have intensified attacks. Last week, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after a supply convoy was attacked by gunmen in Gaskinde commune in the Sahel. The group of officers led by Traore said Friday that Damiba had failed and was being removed.

To some in Burkina Faso’s military, Damiba also was seen as too cozy with former colonizer France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight Islamic extremists.

Some who support the new coup leader, Traore, have called on Burkina Faso’s government to seek Russian support instead. Outside the state broadcaster on Sunday, supporters of Traore were seen cheering and waving Russian flags.

In neighboring Mali, the coup leader has invited Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group to help with security, a move than has drawn global condemnation and accusations of human rights abuses.

Conflict analysts say Damiba was probably too optimistic about what he could achieve in the short term but that a change at the top didn’t mean that the country’s security situation would improve.

“The problems are too profound and the crisis is deeply rooted,” said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, adding that “militant groups will most likely continue to exploit” the country’s political disarray.

 

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Bukina Faso’s Traore: ‘The Fight We Are Engaged in Is Not About Power’

Burkina Faso’s new military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore told VOA in an interview Saturday he is not looking for a confrontation with Burkinabe forces that might be supporting the ousted junta.

“The fight we are engaged in is not about power,” he said.

Military officers Friday claimed to have ousted junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, saying he had failed to quash a growing Islamist insurgency.

“The fight we are leading is for Burkina Faso,” Traore said.

“You have to go deep into the bush to understand certain things. … Can you imagine that we go into villages and see all the leaves on the trees have disappeared because people are eating those leaves. People even eat grass. We are proposing solutions that could allow us to produce and protect these people, we are not being heard. We proposed so many solutions and I understood that in the end, we are playing politics,” he said.

“We want to protect our people. We want to get our people out of this misery, this underdevelopment, this insecurity. That’s the fight.”

Damiba took power in January, after a coup, replacing President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba had accused of failing to deal with the Islamist insurgency.

Agence France-Presse reports that the general staff of Burkina Faso’s army has dismissed the coup as an “internal crisis” within the military.

Damiba wrote on the presidency’s Facebook page that his rivals should “come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso doesn’t need.”

Traore told VOA, “We are waiting for a national forum that will choose a president. We are not here for power.” 

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Burkina Junta Chief Urges Putschists to ‘Come to Their Senses’

Burkina Faso’s junta leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba on Saturday urged junior officers to “come to their senses” after they said they ousted him in a reported coup that sparked deep concern among foreign leaders.

The officers on Friday said they had toppled Damiba, accusing him of failure to quell jihadist attacks. It is the second coup this year in the West African country, and the latest in the Sahel region, much of which is battling a growing Islamist insurgency.

Making his first comments since the putsch, Damiba in a written statement urged his rivals “to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso doesn’t need.”

He rejected allegations by the army officers who seized power that he was hiding in a French base but provided no further details about his location.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January. He installed himself as leader of the country’s 16 million people after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters. But the insurgency has raged on.

Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defense and security forces,” the junior officers said Saturday in a statement read out on national television and signed by Captain Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new leader.

In his comments on the presidency’s official Facebook page, Damiba called that claim an attempt “to manipulate opinion.”

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, via its embassy earlier Saturday also denied “any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours.”

It denied “rumors that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of the French military.”

The general staff of Burkina Faso’s army dismissed the coup as an “internal crisis” within the military, and said dialogue was “ongoing” to remedy the situation.

‘Burkina Faso needs peace’

Among a wave of international criticism, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue,” his spokesperson said.

“Burkina Faso needs peace, stability and unity to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” the U.N. statement added.

Jihadist violence has also prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.

The new Burkina Faso putschists said they were willing “to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism.”

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a contingent of military special forces based in Kamboinsin which is about 30 kilometers from the capital, Ouagadougou.

A few hours before the coup Friday, hundreds of people had rallied in the capital seeking the departure of Damiba, the end of France’s military presence in the Sahel and military cooperation with Russia.

Gunfire, helicopters

The situation in the capital was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and soldiers deployed in the streets.

Helicopters hovered above the city and shops shut their doors.

Late Saturday, a French government spokesperson strongly condemned “violence” against its embassy after an AFP reporter said he saw a fire outside the building in Ouagadougou.

Witnesses said there was also a fire in front of the French Institute in the western city of Bobo-Dioulasso.

African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the “unconstitutional change of government” in Burkina Faso.

The European Union warned the latest coup put in danger efforts towards restoring constitutional order by July 2024, while the U.S. government said it was “deeply concerned.”

Damiba accused of failure

Just before 8 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Friday, more than a dozen soldiers in fatigues appeared on the state television and radio broadcaster to announce Damiba’s removal.

They proclaimed 34-year-old Captain Traore in charge. He was previously head of the anti-jihadist special forces unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya.

“Damiba failed,” said Habibata Rouamba, a trader and activist.

“Since he came to power, the zones that were peaceful were attacked. He took power but then he betrayed us.”

The new leaders suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the transitional government and legislative assembly, and instituted a 9 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew.

More than 40% of Burkina Faso remains outside government control.

In the north and east, towns have been blockaded by insurgents who have blown up bridges and attacked supply convoys.

Thousands have died and about 2 million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015, when the insurgency spread to Burkina Faso from Mali.

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Burkinabes React to News of 2nd Coup in 8 Months

Soldiers took over Burkina Faso’s state broadcaster Friday night to announce they had deposed President Paul Henri Damiba, after just eight months in power.

In downtown Ouagadougou on Saturday afternoon, soldiers that helped bring about a military coup the night before lay prone behind cover at a strategic junction in the city. The day before, they had seemed at ease.Businesses were closing, as many feared retaliation against the putschists by a faction of the army that still supports the now-ousted president, Paul Henri Damiba.

VOA was able to speak to local people about the apparent change in leadership, as Army Captain Ibrahim Traore, becomes the new head of the country’s junta.

One trader, who declined to give his name, near where the soldiers had cordoned off the center of the city, told VOA he supported the coup.

“What we want is peace,” he said. “It is not about politics; we just want someone who will give us a better result [in terms of security]. When you look at the number of victims, it exceeds even that during the former [democratic] president’s time… It’s no use, [Damiba] hasn’t changed anything.”

The former junta, run by Damiba, justified the coup it instigated in January on the promise it would resolve the country’s security problem within two years, according to analysts. Data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project shows security has not improved in the last eight months.

Asked if he thought the new junta could improve the situation, another trader, who also said he supported the coup, told VOA, “I think we should always try; I think we shouldn’t say we can’t, because where there is a will, there is a way. So, I think that those who made the coup know that things are not going well within the army and that they will be able to bring peace.”

But many are not celebrating the arrival of the new junta. On Friday, Mathias Ouedraogo, leader of the civil society organization Generation de Veille Citoyenne, took to the street with other protesters in support of Damiba.

He said change at the top has never been a solution. “The changes in leadership since 2015 have not benefited us. So we remind our brothers in arms, our elder brothers, our younger brothers, and all Burkinabes. Let us not divide the army any further. With an army that is divided, the enemy will get the better of us.”

Michael Shurkin, an analyst with 14 North Strategies, a Washington-based consultancy, said the new junta is unlikely to do much to improve security.

“The chances that this captain, who is replacing him, has better ideas and will make better decisions is really very doubtful,” he said. “I think he’s kidding himself and there’s a failure to recognize the enormity of the challenges in front of them and how hard it is to accomplish all the things they’re going to have to accomplish in order to save their country.”

Saturday afternoon, members of the new junta appeared on TV again to claim that France is sheltering Damiba at a French special forces base on the outskirts of Ouagadougou and is looking to reinstate him as president. The French embassy had already released a statement officially denying the rumors earlier in the day.

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Chad to Further Postpone Transition to Democracy

Chad on Saturday extended the transition period to democratic elections, while keeping the head of the military junta on as head of state in the interim.

The decisions were made by a national reconciliation dialogue forum, which has been boycotted by most opposition members, two out of three key armed rebel groups and civil society organizations.  

The forum adopted by “consensus” a measure to “extend the transition for a maximum of 24 months.”  

The hundreds of delegates also decided that junta leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno would not only continue as transitional president but be eligible to run for the presidency when elections are held.  

Government spokesman Abderaman Koulamallah said there would be a debate on Monday before an official decision is announced. 

Deby took over in April last year after his father, Idriss Deby Itno, the country’s ruler for 30 years, was killed during a military operation against rebels.

He had pledged to hand back power to civilians after 18 months, a deadline that would run out this month.

He also pledged to Chadians and the international community that he would not run in the upcoming presidential elections.  

After coming to power, the junta of 15 generals, called the Transitional Military Council, scrapped the constitution, dissolved parliament and dismissed the government.

The international community had urged Deby not to extend the transition beyond 18 months before the return of civilian rule, and not to run for president in the eventual elections.

However, in June last year, the junta leader dealt a first blow to those hopes, envisaging another 18 months of transition “if the Chadians do not manage to reach an agreement” on the way forward.

He also said then that he would leave the question of his presidential candidacy to God. 

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Somaliland Lawmakers Vote to Extend President’s Term by Two Years

Lawmakers in Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland have extended President Muse Bihi Abdi’s current term of office by two years ahead of its expiration in November, the senate chairman said Saturday. 

The region’s electoral body said last month it had postponed a presidential election due in November to 2023 because of time and financial constraints, among other reasons. 

It was unclear whether that poll has now been scrapped.  

Saleeban Mahmoud Aden, Somaliland’s senate chairman, said 72 members of parliament voted Saturday to extend Abdi’s term by a “two-year period.” One MP objected. 

In August, deadly protests by opposition supporters broke out in the region with demonstrators demanding elections be held in November amid suspicions the president wanted to delay the poll and extend his term. 

There was no immediate reaction from the opposition to the parliament’s extension of the president’s term. 

Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence. The region has been mostly peaceful while Somalia has grappled with three decades of civil war. 

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Gunfire Erupts Again in Burkina Faso Day After 2nd Coup

Gunshots rang out Saturday in Burkina Faso’s capital and soldiers deployed in the streets as tensions lingered a day after military officers overthrew the man who had seized power in a coup only nine months earlier in the West African nation.

The whereabouts of ousted interim president Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba remained unknown, and his opponents accused him of seeking refuge at a French military base. France vehemently denied that it had anything to do with the developments in Burkina Faso, saying it never hosted Damiba in the military camp nor the embassy.

Capt. Ibrahim Traore, who was named in charge after the Friday evening coup was announced on state television, said in his first interview that he and his men did not seek to harm Damiba.

“If we wanted, we would take him within five minutes of fighting and maybe he would be dead, the president. But we don’t want this catastrophe,” Traore told Voice of America. “We don’t want to harm him, because we don’t have any personal problem with him. We’re fighting for Burkina Faso.”

Roads remained blocked off in Ouagadougou, the capital, where a helicopter could be heard flying overhead. An internal security analysis for the European Union seen by The Associated Press said there was “abnormal military movement” in the city.

As uncertainty prevailed, the international community widely condemned the ouster of Damiba, who himself overthrew the country’s democratically elected president in January. The African Union and the West African region bloc known as ECOWAS sharply criticized the developments.

“ECOWAS finds this new power grab inappropriate at a time when progress has been made,” the bloc said, citing the recent agreement that Damiba had made to return to constitutional order by July 2024.

After taking power in January, Damiba promised to end the Islamic extremist violence that has forced 2 million people to flee their homes in Burkina Faso. But the group of officers led by Traore said Friday that Damiba had failed and so was being removed.

The new junta leadership said it would commit “all fighting forces to refocus on the security issue and the restoration of the integrity of our territory.”

But it remains to be seen whether the junta can turn around the crisis. Concerns already were mounting Saturday that the latest political volatility would further distract the military and allow the jihadis to strengthen their grip on swaths of the once-peaceful country.

Damiba had addressed the nation in September, claiming “our efforts have begun to bear fruit at the military operational level.” Yet only two days later, a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in the north, killing at least 35 people.

This week, at least 11 soldiers were killed and 50 civilians went missing after gunmen attacked a supply convoy in Gaskinde in Soum province in the Sahel.

Friday’s developments felt all too familiar in West Africa, where a coup in Mali in August 2020 set off a series of military power grabs in the region. Mali also saw a second coup nine months after the August 2020 overthrow of its president, when the junta’s leader sidelined his civilian transition counterparts and put himself alone in charge.

Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkina Faso Movement for Human Rights, called the latest overthrow “very regrettable,” saying the political instability would not help in the fight against Islamic extremist violence.

“How can we hope to unite people and the army if the latter is characterized by such serious divisions?” Zougmore said. “It is time for these reactionary and political military factions to stop leading Burkina Faso adrift.”

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Burkina Faso Army Announces Overthrow of Military Government

Burkina Faso’s army captain, Ibrahim Traore, announced Friday evening that the army had seized power and ousted military leader Paul Henri Damiba, who himself had taken power in a coup only eight months ago.

Traore said in a statement that a group of officers who helped Damiba seize power in January had decided that the leader was no longer able to secure the country, which has been battling a mounting Islamic insurgency.

The statement signed by Traore was read on state television late Friday by another military officer.

“Faced with the deteriorating situation, we tried several times to get Damiba to refocus the transition on the security question,” Traore’s statement said.

When Damiba came to power in January, after ousting President Roch Kabore, he had promised to make the country more secure. However, violence in the country has continued, and political tensions have grown in recent months.

Damiba had just returned from addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The country’s new military leaders said they were dissolving the national assembly. They also announced that Burkina Faso’s borders had been closed and that a curfew would be in effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Before Friday evening’s announcement, troops in Burkina Faso had blocked streets in the capital, Ouagadougou, and state TV had stopped broadcasting.

At around 4:30 a.m. Friday, gunfire and a loud explosion were reported in Ouagadougou, in the vicinity of Camp Baba Sy, where Damiba is based. Witnesses said gunfire could also be heard coming from Kosyam, where the presidential palace is located.

A reporter for VOA who went to the capital’s city center Friday found a military blockade on Boulevard Charles de Gaulle. Many military members were wearing face masks and were reluctant to talk, while local police said they had no idea what was happening.

Just after 12 p.m. local time, the president’s office released a statement on Facebook, part of which said, “In view of the confused situation created as a result of a movement of mood by some elements of the national armed forces this Friday … negotiations are underway to bring back calm and serenity.”  

   

The U.S. Embassy warned Americans to limit their movements and stay informed of local media reports.

The events Friday came after rising frustration with the government’s inability to deal with insecurity caused by militant groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.

On Monday, a convoy carrying food and basic supplies to the northern town of Djibo, which has been under siege by militants for years, was ambushed. Eleven soldiers were killed, and more than 50 civilians were said to be missing.

The incident raised serious concerns about the government, with many citizens expressing their fears and doubts on social media.

Paul Melly, an analyst for Chatham House, a London-based think tank, said, “Burkinabe feel afraid about the continuing spread of jihadist violence.”

Henry Wilkins in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, contributed to this report, which also includes information from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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Mogadishu Police Chief Killed in Blast

A top Somali police official and several of his guards were killed Friday in a roadside bomb blast near the southern town of Balad, according to Somali authorities.

The attack involved a landmine that targeted Mogadishu Police Commissioner Farhan Mohamoud Adan, better known as “Qarole,” near the Balad district, 35 kilometers north of Mogadishu.

“The police commissioner stepped out of his bulletproof vehicle as he was visiting a government military post and then a landmine apparently planted there went off, killing the commissioner and an unidentified number of police officers accompanying him,” a government official who requested anonymity told VOA Somali. “It’s part of the ongoing efforts to eradicate al-Shabab. They will be remembered for their role in Somalia’s anti-al-Shabab operations.”

Somali police Major Sadiq Aden Ali-Doodishe, who spoke to VOA after the blast, confirmed the incident, but he could not provide further details about the nature of the blast or the number of casualties.

Ali-Doodishe said the attack occurred during security operations targeting the Basra village area on the border of the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions.

“The commissioner was in the middle of a successful operation that flushed out terrorists from these areas when he was targeted by a blast,” the police major said. “We ask God to have mercy on the martyrs who died, and may God bless those who were injured.”

Ali-Doodishe added that such attacks would never deter Somali soldiers in their fight against terrorism. “Terrorism is a threat to life. We will never be diverted from our goal of ensuring the security of the country and the elimination of terrorism,” he said.

Authorities blamed the al-Qaida-linked Islamist group al-Shabab for the attack, though no one had yet claimed responsibility.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud condemned the attack in a statement. “Commissioner Aden and [the] other valiant soldiers who have died in the blast dedicated their life for Somalia’s peace,” he said.

Speaking at a government-sponsored youth conference Friday in Mogadishu, Somali Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre called on Somali youth to unite in the fight against what he called “a ruthless enemy.” He was referring to al-Shabab, which has been waging a bloody insurgency in the impoverished Horn of Africa nation for more than 15 years.

“Somali religious scholars have made their positions [clear] on our fight against al-Shabab. Al-Shabab does not represent Islam nor Muslims. Therefore, there is a responsibility for Somali youth to participate [in] the efforts to eradicate al-Shabab so that the innocent Somalis suffering under al-Shabab’s enmity and ruthlessness will be freed,” Barre said.

Ethiopia coordination

Analysts say government counterterrorism operations were stepped up after the group’s brazen cross-border attack into eastern Ethiopia in late July.

On Friday, in Addis Ababa, Mohamud concluded his state visit to Ethiopia, where he held talks with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

It was Mohamud’s first visit to neighboring Ethiopia since he was elected in May. The top priority of his agenda was regional support in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.

In a joint communique, Mohamud and Ahmed agreed to strengthen ties, reiterating their intention to fight against a common enemy. They also applauded the Somali National Army’s gains in anti-al-Shabab operations, and they called on the U.N. Security Council to consider Somalia’s request to lift the arms embargo.

Middle, Lower Shabelle

The killing of Mogadishu’s police chief followed a government operation Friday that removed militants from multiple villages along the border between the Middle and Lower Shabelle regions.

Somalia Defense Minister Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur told the Somali National News Agency that troops also had razed several al-Shabab barracks in nine villages.

“These gains are achieved following well-coordinated operations in the early hours of this Friday,” Nur said.

In the Hiran region of central Somalia, a counterterrorism military campaign backing a pro-government local clan militia has been making significant gains, Somali National Army officials said Thursday. They said they had secured control of at least 50 villages and al-Shabab strongholds.

The anti-al-Shabab campaign follows the Somali president’s call for all Somalis to fight against al-Shabab.

Falastin Iman contributed to this report from Mogadishu.

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UN Report Targets Racism Against People of African Descent

A report by the U.N. human rights office finds systemic racism against people of African descent is deep-rooted and says urgent measures are needed to dismantle discriminatory systems.

It took the death of a Black man, George Floyd, 46, at the hands of a police officer in the United States in May 2020 to draw global attention to the problem of systemic racism. There was a groundswell of global support in the immediate aftermath of the event, which has since largely fizzled out. 

 

The United Nations reports some countries have taken steps to address racism. But those, for the most part, have been piecemeal. They fall short of what is needed to dismantle the entrenched, societal racism that has existed for centuries. 

 

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says people of African descent in many countries have less access to health, food and education, and they often are victims of enforced disappearance and violence. 

 

She says the U.N. report finds African migrants and migrants of African descent are victims of excessive use of force and killings by law enforcement officials. She says they are subject to punitive drug policies and arrests and are overly represented in prisons.

“Where available, the data continues to point to disproportionately high rates of death of people of African descent by law enforcement in different countries,” Shamdasani said. “And families of African descent continue to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes that they face in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives.”

The report focuses in detail on seven cases of police-related fatalities of people of African descent. They include the cases of Floyd and Breonna Taylor, an African American medical worker shot and killed by police in March 2020. 

 

Shamdasani said their families are still seeking justice, as are the families of five other people of African descent killed by police agents in France, Brazil, the United Kingdom and Colombia. 

 

“A year later, the report states that while there has been some progress toward accountability in some of these emblematic cases, unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion,” she said.

Shamdasani said the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been mandated by the U.N. Human Rights Council to follow the issue. She said the office would be producing annual reports on progress and on new violations that come to light.

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Kenyan Health Officials Investigate Suspected Ebola Case

Kenyan health officials are investigating a suspected case of Ebola in the country’s west near Uganda, where an outbreak of the deadly virus has been blamed for at least 35 cases and seven deaths.

Kenya is on high alert after one patient suspected to have Ebola is being treated at St. Mary’s Hospital in western Kenya.

St. Mary’s Hospital administrator Hildah Apwao told reporters the man recently traveled to Uganda and visited a health facility there for treatment of a cut. The man is now in an isolation unit at St. Mary’s hospital located in Mumias, Kakamega County awaiting laboratory results.

Kenya’s neighbor, Uganda, has recorded 35 Ebola cases and seven deaths since the first case was confirmed last week.

The current outbreak of Ebola is attributed to the Ebola Sudan strain and is believed to have started in the Mubende district in central Uganda.

Last week, Kenya issued health guidelines — like screening travelers from Uganda — following the outbreak. East African health experts advised against closing the border to deal with the virus.

Health officials in Kenya called for more awareness about the disease and better follow-up if symptoms are witnessed. Ebola is a disease spread through contact with an infected person’s body fluids. Symptoms include body aches, vomiting and internal bleeding.

Uganda recorded the presence of a different strain of the virus in 2019 and the Sudan strain was found in 2012.

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