Mogadishu Book Fair Drives Literary Revival

The Mogadishu Book Fair, an annual literary event that was launched in 2015, took place last week after a three-year break because of the COVID pandemic. The fair, meant to promote reading and Somali culture and heritage by bringing together literary creatives and young people, was held at the National Theatre of Somalia. Mohamed Sheikh Nor has more from Mogadishu.

your ad here

Nearly a Decade On, Over 80 of Nigeria’s ‘Chibok Girls’ Still in Captivity

Nigeria’s military this month rescued three more schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram more than nine years ago in northeastern Borno state. In that 2014 incident, Boko Haram raided a government secondary school in the town of Chibok and seized nearly three hundred schoolgirls. Many of the girls have been freed through negotiations, but scores more remain captive. From Abuja, Timothy Obiezu has this report, narrated by Vincent Makori.

your ad here

In Nigeria’s Hard-Hit North, Families Seek Justice as Armed Groups Seek Control

Christian Jonathan’s mother was holding the 9-month-old boy in her arms when she was shot dead during an attack on their village in northwestern Nigeria. The assailants cut off one of Christian’s fingers and abandoned him by the side of the road with a bullet wound in his tiny leg.

“They left him on the ground beside his mother’s body,” said Joshua Jonathan, Christian’s father. “They thought the boy was dead.”

The late-night attack in April in Runji in Kaduna State left 33 people dead, most of them burned alive or shot dead. Many more have been killed since in the continuing clashes between nomadic cattle herders and farming communities in northwest and central regions of the West African nation, including more than 100 this month in Plateau state.

The decades long violence is becoming deadlier, killing at least 2,600 people in 2021, according to the most recent data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project. Once armed with sticks, the groups now fight with guns that have been smuggled into the country.

Both sides accuse the government of injustice and marginalization, but the clashes have also taken on a religious dimension, giving rise to militias that side with the herders, who are primarily Muslim, or the farmers from Christian communities.

The growing security crisis presents a huge challenge for Nigeria’s incoming president, Bola Tinubu, who rose to power in Nigeria — Africa’s largest economy and among its top oil producers — promising to improve the lives of affected communities and address the root causes of the crisis by providing jobs and ensuring justice. Tinubu’s inauguration is scheduled for Monday.

If the violence isn’t reined in, analysts say, it could further destabilize the country and drive more of its 216 million people into poverty. U.N. agencies say the violence affects mostly children, who are already threatened by malnutrition, and women, who are often abducted and forced into marriage.

The response of security forces can be slow and arrests are rare, prompting a growing number of communities to defend themselves when they come under siege.

“There is a substantial loss of confidence in the government as a protector of citizens,” said Nnamdi Obasi, the senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group. Obasi warned that the failure of the incoming administration to speedily resolve the conflict would lead to “more people seeking their own self-defense, more proliferation of weapons, more criminal groups and a rise in organized armed groups.”

In Runji, an agrarian village, The Associated Press spoke to some survivors in hospital beds and others touring a mass grave and their razed houses. They said they were under attack for hours and that the gunmen fled long before security forces arrived.

Every household bears a scar.

Christopher Dauda’s family was trying to escape when the gunmen caught up with his wife and four children, killing all five. Danjuma Joshua’s two daughters were shot in the back while they tried to flee. In the home of Asabe Philip, who survived but has burns all over her body, the assailants burned five children alive as they cowered in one room.

Christian’s aunt has tried to fill the void left by the killing of his mother. His father said Christian cries a lot and barely sleeps, although his physical wounds are gradually healing.

“We try to manage with what we have left,” Joshua Jonathan said.

On the other side of the conflict, the herders say they are also under attack. They complain of cattle rustling and extrajudicial killings by local security groups working as community vigilantes.

Abdullahi Bello Bodejo, the president of the national herders’ association, denied that anyone in the group was responsible for the violence. Most of the herders belong to the Fulanis, an ethnic group.

“Fulanis are not the killers. Any person carrying out killings is not our member. Sometimes, when communities accuse us of killings, 75% is not true; they have their own crisis but always blame Fulanis,” said Bodejo.

Nigerian security forces say they have arrested dozens of gunmen and recovered their weapons. But the assailants are estimated to number in the thousands and can easily recruit new members, according to Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, a conflict researcher.

“There is a limit to the kinetic (military) operations, as it doesn’t address the socioeconomic issue that gave rise to banditry in the region in the first place,” said Oluwole Ojewale of the Africa-focused Institute for Security Studies. He said the incoming Tinubu administration must work with state governments to address unemployment, poverty and social injustice.

The recent violence has led to the formation of community, state and regional security outfits that experts say could create bigger problems for Nigeria’s security architecture if not properly monitored.

And their recruits are young.

Felix Sunday, a college student in Kaduna, said that he was 16 when he joined a local vigilante group in 2021, and that he struggles to combine the night watch with his studies.

Across much of West and Central Africa, porous national borders facilitate the smuggling of weapons. A survey-based report published in 2021 by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey in collaboration with the Nigerian government found that at least 6 million firearms may have been in the hands of civilians in the country at the time.

The military and police have recovered hundreds of firearms in Nigeria in the last year, but weapons dealers elsewhere are exacerbating the problem.

“Things have gotten considerably worse. Some are large military weapons imported from other countries,” said Confidence MacHarry with the Lagos-based SBM Intelligence security firm.

With sophisticated weapons, the gunmen have launched daring attacks in areas with a heavy security presence, including a military base and an airport in Kaduna, indicating that the problem may be the motivation of the security forces themselves.

Survivors of the attack in Plateau told the AP that the police didn’t arrive until the next day, echoing comments from people living in Runji, which has a security checkpoint nearby.

“When we call the soldiers, it is after the attackers have left that the soldiers come. Even if we hear they (the attackers) are coming and we report to the government, they don’t take proactive action,” said Simon Njam, a vigilante leader near Runji who uses bows, arrows and locally-made guns to secure the area.

Part of the problem is that the security forces are disorganized and unprepared to respond to the attacks, according to Kabir Adamu, the founder of Beacon Consulting, a security firm based in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.

“We don’t have a coordinated security sector that identifies and counters threats,” he said. “They need to work together to protect lives and currently, we are not seeing enough of that.”

The Nigerian military and police didn’t respond to written and phone inquiries seeking a response to the claims.

As more families mourn the loss of their loved ones, forced to replace farmland with graveyards, their priority is demanding justice.

“How can people just come and kill and nothing will happen?” asked Dauda in Runji, remembering his life with his wife and four children. “They cannot bring back my lost family, but the government can at least rebuild my home and ensure justice.”

your ad here

Nigeria’s Buhari Defends Election Outcome, Economic Record 

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Sunday defended his record on the economy and the outcome of a disputed presidential election, saying he was leaving a legacy of credible and fair votes, a day before he hands over power to his successor.

Buhari first came to office in 2015 after promising to reboot the economy and end corruption and insecurity, but many Nigerians say these issues have worsened under his watch.

Incoming President Bola Tinubu’s victory is being challenged by his two closest opposition rivals, and on Tuesday a tribunal will begin to hear the main arguments in the election petition.

Buhari, an ascetic 80-year-old retired general, said the February vote had helped entrench democracy in Africa’s most populous nation and that Tinubu, who ran on his ruling party’s ticket, was the best candidate to emerge from the election.

“I am leaving behind an electoral process which guarantees that votes count, results are credible, elections are fair and transparent and the influence of money in politics reduced to the barest minimum,” Buhari said in a farewell national broadcast.

Tinubu is inheriting anemic economic growth, record debt and shrinking oil output. Double-digit inflation, which has eroded savings and wages, is one of the biggest issues that will confront him when he is sworn into office.

But Buhari said his government had made some difficult choices to reset the economy, some of which “led to temporary pain and suffering for which I sincerely apologized to my fellow countrymen, but the measures were taken for the overall good of the country.”

Life is tough for Nigerians, and a tangle of protectionist economic policies and foreign currency interventions have caused dollar shortages and spooked investors. 

your ad here

Poachers Pluck South Africa’s ‘Succulent’ Plants for Chinese Market

South African customs officials recently became suspicious when they noticed that shipments of “Made in China” children’s toys were being sent, oddly, back to China.

On closer inspection, the packages did not contain toys at all but were filled with poached contraband.

Chinese criminal syndicates, often the very same ones that already have established smuggling routes in South Africa for illegal abalone or rhinoceros horns, have now moved on to trafficking in elephant’s foot.

But elephant’s foot is not what you think.

It is a type of succulent — unique plants with fleshy parts that retain water and grow in arid areas like South Africa’s vast Karoo — and its greyish wrinkled bulb bears a startling resemblance to a pachyderm’s pad.

It’s just one kind of succulent that’s being pulled out of the wilderness at what scientists say are alarming rates, and many of the rare plants — some of which are up to 100 years old and may only be found on a single rocky outcrop — are now nearing extinction.

Social media craze

The Succulent Karoo biome is a globally recognized biodiversity area that stretches all the way from Namibia right down into South Africa’s Western Cape province.

“We have incredibly special plants that occur nowhere else in the world, and it is part of South Africa’s heritage,” said Ismail Ebrahim, a scientist with the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

He said some species, particularly succulents like conophytums, are now “on the brink of extinction.”

Some 1.5 million South African succulents have been removed from the wild over the past three years, according to SANBI.

While succulents were always beloved by amateur botanists and collectors, they’ve gained a broader fan base since the pandemic, experts told VOA on a recent trip to the Little Karoo organized by WWF South Africa, which is coordinating efforts to combat the illegal trade.

With people in lockdown, isolated and unable to go out into nature, a trend for houseplants started on social media, with influencers — or “plantfluencers” — calling themselves plant moms and dads and extolling the virtues of ornamental houseplants.

“I would see the appeal of having something in my house because … they’re very unique,” said Emily Norma Kudze, senior scientific coordinator for the illegal succulent trade with SANBI. “Ornamental value is now becoming a thing. I think just because of how they grow has brought in the trendiness of having them in your homes.”

The number of plants confiscated by South African law enforcement has increased by more than 200 percent since 2018, with over 242,000 succulents seized last year alone, according to CapeNature, a government organization that looks after wilderness areas in the Western Cape.

The South African government has developed a national action plan to try and address the growing trade.

Smuggling syndicates

Paul Gildenhuys, a CapeNature enforcement specialist, has been involved with cracking down on smuggling syndicates.

The collecting and export of succulents without a permit is prohibited under South African law and those caught poaching them can face a fine or prison time, Gildenhuys said. The poaching of endangered flora carries the highest penalty, a 400,000 rand fine or 10 years jail.

More than 90 arrests were made last year according to CapeNature. Thanks to informants, the majority of people are caught in vehicles on the highway while transporting the plants.

But prosecutions often lead to relatively small fines and suspended sentences and those caught are usually on the lower rungs of the trafficking groups — locals working for international syndicates who go and dig up the plants.

Still, with high levels of unemployment and poverty in the area, succulent poaching can be an attractive option for South Africans despite the low amounts of money they make.

“The succulent Karoo is a very vast, very arid landscape and there are very limited economic opportunities,” said WWF-SA’s Katherine Forsythe. “[In] the illegal trade unfortunately, all of the benefit is going overseas, while people on the ground in South Africa aren’t receiving any benefit.”

The poached plants are sent to an address in China or Hong Kong — sometimes through Johannesburg’s busy O.R. Tambo Airport, but often simply through the mail or by courier, said Gildenhuys.

Officials VOA spoke to did not want to give exact monetary figures, to avoid encouraging the trade in succulents, but said the profits to be made by foreign-run smuggling syndicates were significant.

Carl Brown, another CapeNature enforcement officer, said while there’s some illegal trade of South African succulents to the U.S. and E.U., China dominates.

Of the almost 400,000 plants seized in the Western Cape between 2019 and 2022, 98.7% of all plants were destined for the Chinese market, according to CapeNature.

“Hundreds of thousands of succulents are going to China weekly,” he told VOA.

Brown said he thinks the demand in China is partially due to the growing urban middle class in the world’s second-largest economy.

“Now you have the average Chinese citizen with disposable income looking for things that they can decorate their house with, and if you’re living in a high-rise building, you only have a certain amount of space,” he said, adding that sometimes a houseplant is the only bit of green in a person’s home.

Chinese efforts to stop trade

Brown said buyers might not even be aware their plant was illegally pulled out of the ground in South Africa — and admitted the issue does not get people as worked up as something such as rhino poaching.

But he stressed that the trade is having devastating effects.

“A plant the size of my hand that’s being smuggled to China could be 150 years old, and that’s one of the plants that’s setting seeds to replace itself in the ecosystem that’s now been removed,” he said.

There are various pages on the internet that offer succulent plants for sale, such as eBay and Etsy, and Chinese social media, according to CapeNature.

Scientific books on succulent types have also been translated into Mandarin recently, so people know what they are looking for.

Asked by VOA what the country is doing to try to end the poaching, the Chinese Embassy in Pretoria replied by email saying South Africa and China have been cooperating on combating such crimes.

“Over the years, the law enforcement departments of the two countries have always maintained close cooperation in cracking down on crimes such as smuggling ivory, rhinoceros horns and rare plants. Our smooth cooperation has produced fruitful results, especially in intelligence sharing, evidence exchange and arresting suspects,” the embassy said.

Additionally, the embassy said, Chinese diplomatic missions in South Africa have repeatedly reminded Chinese citizens and tourists in South Africa to avoid picking wild plants at will.

your ad here

 US Conducts Air Strike on Al-Shabab in Somalia

The United States conducted an airstrike on al-Shabab militants Friday in Somalia, according to U.S. Africa Command.

The strike destroyed weapons and equipment “unlawfully taken by al-Shabab fighters,” the U.S. Africa Command said Saturday. The command did not report where the weapons and equipment were stolen from.

The strike against the militants, according to the command, was conducted near an African Union Transition Mission in Somalia forward operating base in Bulo Marer.

The command said the strike was conducted “in support of the Federal Government of Somalia and the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia.”

The command’s initial assessment of the operation was that no civilians were harmed or killed.

your ad here

Somali Leaders Reach Landmark Political Agreement

Somalia’s political leaders have agreed to reshape the country’s political system after four days of meetings in the capital, Mogadishu.

In a communique issued early Sunday, the National Consultative Council, which includes the federal leaders, including President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Prime Minister Hamza Abdi Barre, and Deputy Prime Minister Salah Ahmed Jama, as well as four regional leaders and the mayor of Mogadishu, have agreed to introduce direct elections as early as next year and unify the election schedules, and endorsed establishment of a presidential system for the country.

In a departure from clan-based power sharing, the leaders agreed that one-person-one-vote elections will take place once every five years. A 15-member national election and border committee will be formed to manage all local, regional and federal elections.

The local council elections will be the first to take place on June 30 of next year. This will be followed that year by regional parliamentary and regional leadership elections on November 30, the communique read.

The leaders have agreed that there will be only two political parties that compete for power in the country. The current political parties law does not limit the number of political parties.

Agreement abolishes premiership

Perhaps the most significant article in the agreement is the restructuring of the leadership system by abolishing the premiership.

In its place, the leaders endorsed a presidential system, with the president and vice president of the country elected directly on a single ticket. The same applies to the regional presidents and their respective vice presidents.

The endorsement of a presidential system will require a federal constitutional amendment, as the current constitution provides for a parliamentary system in which lawmakers elect a president, who then appoints a prime minister. Critics have argued for a long time that the parliamentary system brought endless political squabbles between the president and prime minister.

If popular elections take place nationwide next year, that will end a controversial clan-based system known as “the 4.5,” which has been used for power-sharing since 2000. That system allowed four main clans to have equal share in parliament, while a group of smaller clans got half of the share. The last election based on the 4.5 system brought Mohamud to power in May of last year.

Minister for Interior, Federal and Reconciliation Ahmed Moallim Fiqi, who read the communique hailed the agreement as “one step forward.”

“This is a historic agreement which brings an end to the system used since 2000,” he told VOA Somali. “It gives the Somalis the opportunity to have their say and entrust their vote with those representing them at different levels of local, regional and federal governments.”

The communique did not address what happens when the current president’s term ends on May 15, 2026.

But Fiqi said that next year’s election will be considered as a “midterm” election, where those elected will hold their posts for two years, until 2026, when the election calendar for both local, regional and federal levels will be unified.

Opponents call agreement ‘unconstitutional’

The new agreement was quickly criticized by some politicians who argued it would give term extensions to regional leaders whose terms in office currently end within months.

“Tonight’s communique by the National Consultative Council is an affront to Somalia’s provisional constitutional and the supremacy of our national laws,” said Mursal M. Khaliif, a member of the Federal Parliament.

“Whatever it’s called, this is an unconstitutional term extension for the Federal Member States and the Federal Government.”

The agreement was not signed by the president of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, Said Abdullahi Deni. Puntland this week held local council elections in which the people voted to elect their representatives, an exercise the rest of the country is working to emulate next year if this agreement is implemented.

your ad here

Truce Reduces Fighting in Sudan, but Little Relief for Humanitarian Crisis

Khartoum was calmer on Saturday as a seven-day cease-fire appeared to reduce fighting between two rival military factions although it has not yet provided the promised humanitarian relief to millions trapped in the Sudanese capital.

A truce signed on Monday by the two fighting parties – Sudan’s army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – aimed to secure safe passage for humanitarian aid and lead to wider talks sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia.


In addition, Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said Saturday it is willing to discuss the possibility of extending a cease-fire agreement with the Sudanese army that is due to expire on Monday.

The RSF “declares its full readiness to continue talks during the last two days of the truce under the auspices of the Saudi-American mediation to discuss the possibility of renewing the ceasefire agreement and humanitarian arrangements,” it said in a statement.

The warring factions signed a seven-day truce last Monday to secure safe passage for humanitarian aid and lead to wider talks sponsored by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The conflict, which erupted on April 15, has killed at least 730 civilians and caused 1.3 million Sudanese to leave their homes, fleeting either abroad or to safer parts of the country.

On Saturday, witnesses said that Khartoum was calmer, although sporadic clashes were reported overnight and in the afternoon in the city’s southern districts and Omdurman across the Nile.

In a statement on Saturday, the RSF accused the army of violating the cease-fire and destroying the country’s mint in an air strike. The army had accused the RSF on Friday of targeting the mint.

The army said meanwhile that its call on Friday for army reservists was a partial mobilization and constitutional measure, adding that it expected large numbers to respond to the call.

Those who remain in Khartoum are struggling with failures of services such as electricity, water and phone networks. Looters have ransacked homes, mostly in well-off neighborhoods. Food supplies are dwindling.

On Saturday, Sudanese police said they were expanding deployment and also called in able retired officers to help.

“Our neighborhood has become a war zone. Services have collapsed and chaos has spread in Khartoum,” said 52-year-old Ahmed Salih, a resident of the city.

“No one is bothered to help the Sudanese people, neither the government nor internationally. We are humans, where is the humanity?” he added.

The UN and aid agencies say that despite the truce they have struggled to get the bureaucratic approvals and security guarantees to transport aid and staff in safer parts of the country to Khartoum and other hot zones. Warehouses have been looted.

The U.N. World Food Program on Saturday tweeted it had begun providing food aid to people in Khartoum, but added that “safety, security, and access are critical so we can increase our support to 500,000 people.”

Rape reports

Fighting also flared in the city of Al Fashir, capital of North Darfur state which had remained calm in recent weeks after a separate local truce there.

Heavy artillery could be heard near the central market and eastern districts, forcing many residents to seek refuge elsewhere in the city, said local human rights monitor Mohamed Suleiman. Several people were injured, he said, but Reuters could not confirm the number.

Outside of Khartoum, the worst hit city is El Geneina, on the border with Chad, which has seen an onslaught of militia attacks that have destroyed its infrastructure and killed hundreds.

The governmental Combating Violence Against Women and Children Unit said late on Friday it had received reports of 25 cases of rape of women and girls in Darfur and 24 reports of rape in Khartoum since the conflict erupted.

It said that victims had described 43 of the men as wearing RSF uniforms and either riding vehicles with RSF licenses or located in RSF-controlled areas.

“The unit expresses its grave concern over reports of gang rape, kidnapping … and reports of women and girls facing sexual assault as they go out to seek food,” it said.

The RSF has denied reports that its soldiers are engaged in sexual assaults or looting.

Reuters could not independently verify the unit’s allegations.

your ad here

Sudanese Army Chief Seeks UN Envoy’s Dismissal, Says He Stoked Conflict

Sudan’s army chief, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, has accused U.N. special envoy Volker Perthes of stoking a brutal conflict with paramilitaries, the latest in a series of apparent moves to bolster his war effort.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was shocked by Burhan’s letter, which requested “the nomination of a replacement” to Perthes and accused him of committing “fraud and disinformation” in facilitating a political process that broke down into six weeks of devastating urban warfare. Guterres said he was “proud of the work done by Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative.”

Burhan and his former deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, were meant to meet for negotiations facilitated by the U.N. on April 15, the day they turned Khartoum into a war zone.

The meeting aimed to restore a transition to civilian rule disrupted since 2021 when Burhan and Dagalo together seized power in a coup before falling out. As their feud worsened, the international community tried to get them to reach a deal on integration of Dagalo’s RSF into the regular army.

Since late last year Perthes and the U.N. mission in Sudan, which he heads, have been the target of several protests by thousands of military and Islamist supporters who accused Perthes of foreign intervention and demanded his dismissal.

Similar protests have taken place in the eastern city of Port Sudan since the war started.

Perthes had maintained his optimism and said the war took him “by surprise.”

In the letter, Burhan said Perthes presented a misleading picture of consensus in his reports to the U.N., and “without these signs of encouragement, the rebel leader Dagalo would not have launched his military operations.”

It has not been possible to verify who fired the first shots.

The fighting across Sudan has killed more than 1,800 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The United Nations says more than a million people have been displaced within Sudan, in addition to 319,000 who have fled to neighboring countries, raising concerns for regional stability.

A one-week cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia expires Monday night.  

Burhan last week officially sacked Dagalo as his deputy in the ruling Sovereign Council, replacing him with former rebel leader Malik Agar.

But even after reports of Burhan’s letter emerged, Agar said he had spoken to Perthes about “ways to resolve the crisis and end the war.”

Perthes is in New York, where last Monday he briefed the Security Council on Sudan. He responded to those who “accuse the U.N.” by saying those responsible are “the two generals at war.”

Perthes “may not be allowed back into Sudan,” according to Sudanese analyst Kholood Khair, founder of Khartoum-based think tank Confluence Advisory.

“His visa will be a litmus test to gauge the resurgence of the Islamists,” she wrote on Twitter.

Pro-democracy voices have long accused Burhan of being a Trojan horse for Islamists from the regime of strongman Omar al-Bashir, whom the military ousted in 2019 after mass protests.

Several high-ranking officials from the Bashir era have found roles in Burhan’s administration since the coup.

During the fighting Burhan’s backing has grown clearer, including “a web of crony-capitalist corporations, from banks and telecom companies owned by Islamists and intelligence officers to companies owned by the military itself,” according to Sudan expert Alex de Waal.

Dagalo himself has called Burhan an “Islamist” and a “coup plotter” intent on reviving “the vestiges of the old regime.”

Dagalo, whose RSF are descendants of the notorious Janjaweed militia unleashed by Bashir in Darfur, has links to gold mines, and de Waal has said he has thrived in an environment “where money and guns determine everything.”

your ad here

Botswana President Launches Another Attack Against De Beers 

Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi has again criticized a 54-year-old partnership with world-leading diamond producer De Beers, saying his country will not back down on demands for an improved deal.

Under the current arrangement, due to expire next month, Botswana gets 25% of rough diamonds mined under its partnership with De Beers, and the company gets the rest. Negotiations on a renewal of the pact, in which Botswana is seeking a higher stake of the profits, are underway.

The stones are mined by Debswana Diamond Company, in which the two partners own equal shares.

Botswana provides De Beers with 70% of its rough diamonds.

Not ‘until death do us part’

Since February, Masisi has ramped up the pressure on the diamond giant. Speaking in Mmadinare, northeast of the capital, Gaborone, on Thursday, he did not mince words.

“This is not [about] ‘until death do us part’ or a permanent agreement,” Masisi said, speaking in the local vernacular, Setswana.

He hinted that the negotiations might stall.

“It is either we accept the situation as it is and continue getting leftovers, or alternatively we dig in and, no matter how tough it is, demand what is ours, even if we lose through litigation,” Masisi said.

No comment could be obtained from De Beers. The company has previously indicated it was confident a deal would be fleshed out, while acknowledging some complexities.

With Botswana due to hold its general election next year, Masisi said he would be willing to lose over the sensitive issue.

“I am not scared,” he said. “Yes, we are politicians and always lobby for votes, but if it means losing as a result of this issue, let it be.”

The current negotiations began in 2018 and were to end in 2021 but were extended until June 30, 2023, because of the pandemic.

Masisi said trade in all rough diamonds mined in Botswana could net up to $15 billion a year, but under the De Beers deal, the country gets “only $7 billion, or $8 billion if we are fortunate.”

Also, he noted, the current agreement restricts Botswana to trading only in rough diamonds. He said the country wants to be involved in the diamond value chain, which includes not just mining but also sorting, cutting, polishing, jewelry creation and sales.

Masisi said involvement in the value chain could earn Botswana nearly $100 billion, which is why it wants a better deal with De Beers.

The president said he finds it strange that if there is a deadlock in negotiations, the matter is referred to courts in England for arbitration.

“People cannot do what they want with our diamonds, leaving us in poverty, yet they get rich,” he said. “The $7 billion that we get … yet we can get close to $100 million. No, no.”

Masisi said that if Botswana reached a favorable deal with De Beers, poverty in the country could be eradicated in the blink of an eye.

“We have been shortchanged with our resources through these agreements, but now we can read, and our eyes are open,” he said.

Negotiating tactics

Belgium-based diamond expert Hans Merket said Botswana’s continued threats to pull out of the De Beers deal had left the industry skittish.

“It is hard to tell if the long-standing deal between Botswana and De Beers is in jeopardy,” he said. “As this continues to drag on and as we continue to hear strong statements from the Botswana side, many people in the diamond industry are clearly getting nervous.

“But the general expectation is that this is still part of the negotiating tactics to get a better deal rather than to risk breaking it. Common sense reasoning is that both De Beers and Botswana need each other to divorce.”

Merket said that because of Botswana’s prominent role in the sector, the value chain can be affected by protracted talks.

“Botswana is the largest diamond-producing country by value, and Debswana accounts for over 90% of that production. So we are talking about roughly 25% of the total world diamond production value,” he said.

“It is clear that any troubles with that supply would be felt globally, all the more given that diamond production from Russia, the other big producer country, is increasingly cornered following Western sanctions in the light of the war in Ukraine,” he said.

Botswana is second only to Russia in global diamond production. However, buyers have been shunning stones mined in Russia following Moscow’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

your ad here

UN Weekly Roundup: May 20-26, 2023

Editor’s note: Here is a fast take on what the international community has been up to this past week, as seen from the United Nations perch.

Seven-day cease-fire in Sudan

The United Nations welcomed the start on Monday of a U.S.-Saudi brokered 7-day cease-fire across Sudan, intended to allow civilians and humanitarians to move safely. While fighting has continued during previous cease-fires, this one was agreed upon during formal negotiations and has a basic monitoring mechanism. As of Friday, sporadic clashes had been reported between the warring Sudanese army and rival Rapid Security Forces in the capital, Khartoum and in West Darfur, which has seen deadly fighting.

7-Day Cease-Fire Starts in Sudan

The U.N. refugee agency is moving tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees in Chad away from the Sudan border into new camps. UNHCR’s visiting deputy says concerns about security and access to aid are increasing, along with the number of refugees. Watch this report from Henry Wilkins at the Gaga refugee site in Chad:

UN Moves Sudanese Refugees in Chad Away From Border

UN chief: Warring parties must protect civilians

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that the world is failing to live up to its commitments to protect civilians, an obligation that is preserved in international humanitarian law. Guterres said international humanitarian law “is the difference between life and death” in conflict zones.

UN Chief: Warring Nations Must Protect Civilians

Ukrainian exports at their lowest since grain deal began

Despite renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative on May 17, exports of grain and food from Ukraine have slowed to their lowest levels this month since they resumed under the deal in August, as Russian officials repeat complaints that Moscow is not benefiting enough from the initiative. The Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Center that oversees the implementation of the deal said Friday that only two of the three Ukrainian ports authorized to receive and send ships are working, no new vessels have been registered to participate in the initiative in nearly a month, and the number of daily ship inspections have dropped significantly.

Ukrainian Exports Under Black Sea Deal Hit Lowest Levels

UN rights chief urges Iran to decriminalize mandatory hijab for women

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights urged Iran on Wednesday to decriminalize mandatory veiling laws, warning that the harassment of women, including what they do or do not wear, appears to have intensified as street protests have died down. Volker Türk urged Tehran “to heed Iranians’ calls for reform,” and to begin by repealing regulations that criminalize violations of mandatory dress codes. Parliament is considering tightening penalties for people and institutions that fail to comply with regulations.

UN Rights Chief Urges Iran to Decriminalize ‘Mandatory Veiling Laws’

Funding for Horn of Africa drought-affected countries falls far short

Donors raised around $1 billion Wednesday in new commitments for the drought-stricken Horn of Africa during a pledging conference held at the United Nations but failed to close the gap on an appeal seeking $7 billion. The U.N. says the $7 billion is needed this year to assist nearly 32 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia who are facing acute food insecurity after five failed rainy seasons caused unprecedented drought.

UN: Substantial Funds Still Needed for Drought-Stricken Horn of Africa

In brief

— Secretary-General Guterres welcomed the arrest of Rwandan fugitive Fulgence Kayishema in South Africa, for allegedly committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda in 1994. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda charged him in 2001 with having orchestrated the killings of more than 2,000 people on April 15, 1994, at a church in Nyange, Kibuye Prefecture, in western Rwanda. A U.N. spokesperson said the arrest sends a powerful message that those who are alleged to have committed such crimes cannot evade justice and will eventually be held accountable, even more than a quarter of a century later.

— The humanitarian community appealed for $333 million on Tuesday to help 1.6 million people impacted by Cyclone Mocha in the Myanmar states and regions of Rakhine, Chin, Magway, Sagaing and Kachin. The U.N. says it’s in a “race against time” to provide people with shelter and prevent the spread of water-borne diseases.

— The World Health Organization will begin Africa’s largest polio vaccination campaign since 2020 on Saturday, aiming to immunize 21 million children under the age of 5. Vaccinations will begin in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic. The Lake Chad region has one of the highest proportions of so-called “zero dose” children – those who are unvaccinated or under-vaccinated. The campaign comes in response to 14 detections of the poliovirus this year.

Quote of note

“But the fact of the matter is that today’s world leaders have thus far failed miserably by putting selfish national interests ahead of urgent global needs. They have failed to see the big picture — that the world will sink or swim together — or they have decided to play a dangerous game of chicken — demanding that others do more to curb CO2 emissions.”

Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and current member of The Elders, regretting that his generation is passing the climate crisis to the next, during his commencement address to graduates at Harvard’s Kennedy School this week.

What we are watching next week

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is due to brief the Security Council on Tuesday. Rafael Grossi has been seeking a demilitarized zone around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant for months and has made several trips to Ukraine and Russia in its pursuit.

Did you know?

The U.N. marked the 75th anniversary of U.N. Peacekeeping on Thursday. The first U.N. mission of military observers was deployed to the Middle East in 1948. Since then, there have been 71 operations around the world. More than 2 million peacekeepers – or “blue helmets” as they are known for their distinctive colored head gear – from 125 countries have served. Women did not really participate until the 1990s. Today, women make up about 9% of the 87,000 peacekeepers serving in a dozen missions. It is not easy or safe work; more than 4,200 have died in the line of duty since 1948.

your ad here

Russia Offers Military Support to Somalia

Somali diplomats said Friday that Russia had offered to help support Somalia’s armed forces in their battle against the al-Shabab terrorist group.

The diplomats, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had made the offer during talks with his Somali counterpart, Abshir Omar Jama, in Moscow.

One diplomat said, “Russia was ready to provide Somalia’s army with military supplies, to strengthen the government fight against al-Shabab.”

The diplomats did not specify the kinds of materiel Russia was offering to Somalia, which is under a long-standing U.N. arms embargo.

The U.N. Security Council imposed the embargo in 1992 after the outbreak of civil war and factional violence. The embargo was partially lifted in 2013 to help Somalia’s security forces fight the Islamist militants.

Russia’s offer came hours after al-Shabab militants stormed a military base manned by African Union forces from Uganda in Bulo Marer, an agricultural town in the Lower Shabelle region, about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu.

Earlier, at the opening of the talks between the two foreign ministers, Lavrov emphasized the long relationship between the two countries, which goes back to quick Soviet recognition of Somalia after it gained independence in 1960.

He also said he and Jama would discuss preparations for the Russia-Africa summit scheduled for late July in St. Petersburg.

Diplomatic relations

In modern times, Russia and Somalia have had fairly routine diplomatic relations, with Russia sending humanitarian aid to Somalia several times.

In May 2010, Somalia reacted angrily to the way Russian marines handled their rescue of a tanker, the MV Moscow University, that had been hijacked 560 kilometers off the coast of Yemen.

Russian media reported at the time that 10 Somali pirates, who had taken the tanker and its crew hostage, were released on the open sea because there were no grounds to prosecute them in Russia.

Somali authorities said the pirates never made it ashore and likely died at sea.

Somalia’s Foreign Ministry statement at the time warned that relations with Russia might be harmed over the incident and demanded an apology from the Russian government.

Since then, two Somali prime ministers, Omar Sharmarke and Hassan Ali Khaire, have met with top Russian officials requesting assistance to strengthen the Somali National Army.

In recent years, Somali diplomats, who asked for anonymity, told VOA Somali that the Russian military has been eyeing Berbera port, located in the breakaway republic of Somaliland, as a potential base on the Red Sea.

Last November, Russia, China, Gabon and Ghana abstained from a Security Council vote to maintain an arms embargo on Somalia, in support of Mogadishu’s strong objections. The United States and Britain supported maintaining the ban, although the measure did loosen restrictions on some weapons like portable surface-to-air missiles in recognition of the government’s improved oversight of weapons and munitions.

your ad here

Rwanda Suspect Denies Killings but ‘Sorry’ Over Genocide

One of the Rwanda genocide’s most wanted remaining suspects, accused of ordering the deaths of 2,000 people hiding in a church, denied any involvement but said Friday that he was “sorry” for the 1994 killings.

On the run for two decades, Fulgence Kayishema was arrested Wednesday under a false name on a grape farm in South Africa where, according to a prosecutor, fellow refugees gave him up.

Entering court for a first hearing with a Bible and a book emblazoned with “Jesus First,” the 62-year-old was asked by a journalist if he had anything to say to victims.

“What I can say? We are sorry to hear what was happening,” he responded, coming up from the holding cells at Cape Town Magistrates’ Court.

“It was a war at that time. … I didn’t have any role.”

He was a fugitive from justice since 2001, when the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) indicted him for genocide over his alleged role in the destruction of the Nyange Catholic Church in Kibuye Prefecture.

An estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and Hutu moderates were killed during Rwanda’s genocide, orchestrated by an extremist Hutu regime and meticulously executed by local officials and ordinary citizens in the rigidly hierarchical society.

At the Nyange church, Hutu militia lobbed grenades then doused it with fuel to set it ablaze. When that failed, they knocked down the church with bulldozers. Most of those sheltering inside died.

Hiding among refugees

According to a charge sheet seen by Reuters, Kayishema faces five charges in South Africa, including two for fraud.

The fraud counts relate to applications he made for asylum and refugee status in South Africa, where the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) alleges he gave his nationality as Burundian and used a false name.

Serge Brammertz, chief prosecutor of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT), the successor to the ICTR, told the BBC broadcaster that Kayishema fled Rwanda after the genocide and was hiding among refugees.

“First, he went to the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) for a number of months, then he went to a refugee camp in Tanzania.

From there he moved to Mozambique. Then two years later to Eswatini and then in the late ’90s he ended up in South Africa,” Brammertz said.

The prosecution persuaded a small number of former Rwandan soldiers with false identities living in South Africa as refugees to provide information on Kayishema’s whereabouts, he added.

Kayishema briefly appeared in court Friday, accompanied by masked police officers with automatic weapons and bullet-proof vests. The NPA said the case was postponed to June 2 to allow it time for further investigation.

“While he was being arrested, more information came, which could mean us adding more charges,” NPA provincial spokesperson Eric Ntabazalila told journalists.

Ntabazalila said prosecutors would oppose bail should he seek it.

Kayishema will be held at Cape Town’s Pollsmoor Prison ahead of extradition to Rwanda.

your ad here

Al-Shabab Storms AU Peacekeeper Base in Southern Somalia

Officials in Somalia say Al-Shabab militants early Friday stormed a military base manned by African Union forces from Uganda, multiple sources said.

The dawn attack took place in Bulo Marer, an agricultural town in Lower Shabelle region, about 110 kilometers south of Mogadishu.

The militants detonated four to six explosions, including improvised bombs in vehicles driven by suicide bombers, three sources, including a local official and a security commander requesting anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, told VOA Somali.

According to the sources, the militants penetrated perimeters of the base after the explosions, which were followed by a fierce firefight. The militants were also seen inside the town. The base is just outside town.

The situation of a second base manned by Somali forces not far from the AU base that al-Shabab claims to have attacked is unclear.

The group sent a message via Telegram early Friday claiming they were “overrunning” the base. The Africa Union military command and the Somali government have not yet commented on the attack.

The group sent a message via Telegram early Friday claiming they were “overrunning” the base. The AU mission confirmed the attack, and said they are assessing the security situation.

An al-Shabab attack on the same base in April 2018 failed after the Ugandan forces held their positions. Somali officials said dozens of militants were killed at the time.

This latest attack comes as the Somali government prepares the second phase of military operations against al-Shabab. The first phase, launched in August, drove al-Shabab from vast territories in central Somalia.

The Somali government said it will raise enough forces to takeover security responsibilities from the AU peacekeepers by Dec 2024.

your ad here

In Sudan’s Capital, Residents Risk Death in Search of Water

Fighting in Sudan has left hundreds of thousands of Khartoum residents without running water, with some forced to risk their lives and seek it out during brief lulls in violence.

After nearly six weeks of street battles between forces loyal to rival generals and with temperatures regularly topping 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), many inhabitants of the capital’s northern suburbs are in desperate need of drinking water.

On April 15, when fighting broke out between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the station supplying several districts of North Khartoum with running water was damaged.

Since then, about 300,000 of its inhabitants have not seen a drop of water run from their taps. Some have reopened wells or used pots to draw water from the Nile River.

“At the start of the war, we took water from the wells of the factories in the industrial zone, but after a week, the paramilitaries captured it,” resident Adel Mohammed told AFP.

As clashes engulfed the area and battles were taking place in residential buildings and hospitals, Mohammed had to wait days before being able to venture out and fetch water.

Now, he and his neighbors wait for the clashes to momentarily subside to take an assortment of pots, basins and jugs to the banks of the Nile, which winds through Khartoum’s suburbs.

Together, they fill a van and return to distribute a few liters each to families remaining in the neighborhood.

But many others have left.

“It was the lack of water and not the bombardments and the fighting that forced me to abandon my house,” said Rashed Hussein, who fled with his family to Madani, some 200 kilometres (124 miles) south of Khartoum.

Hussein, one of more than 1 million Sudanese displaced during the conflict, said he could not bear seeing his children without clean water to drink or wash with.

Waiting for shooting to stop

Even before the war, 17.3 million Sudanese lacked access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

Waterborne diseases and poor hygiene are leading causes of death in children under five, the agency said.

Salah Mohammed, another resident of North Khartoum, stayed despite the fighting and found access to water by using a well at a nearby hospital, which treated its water for patients on dialysis.

But after a week, RSF paramilitaries took over the hospital, and he was no longer able to access the facility.

Rashida al-Tijani lives near another hospital, where she is able to find water.

She waits “for the shooting to stop to go to the hospital… as quickly as possible,” she said, taking as much water as she can for her family.

“I haven’t been able to wash a single item of clothing since the start of the war.”

Daily life and the economy have ground to a standstill since the conflict erupted, depleting Sudan’s already inadequate infrastructure and public services.

Civil servants are on indefinite leave and fighters occupy hospitals, factories and public buildings.

Shot while seeking water

Informal networks of neighborhood groups, known as resistance committees, have mobilized to set up field hospitals and food distribution stations, and deliver water.

These committees had organized before the war to oppose the military’s grip on political life.

“Since the beginning of the war, we have been providing the inhabitants with water,” said one committee member, requesting anonymity for fear of repercussions from the army or RSF.

On one journey to find water, “our friend Yassine was killed by a bullet,” he said.

Even in death, the lack of water pervaded.

“We were forced to bury him without being able to wash his body,” the committee member said.

your ad here

Destroyed Hospitals, Looted Medical Stores Compound Sudan’s Need for Medical Aid

The fighting in Sudan has destroyed hospitals and medical care in the country, and patients who fled the conflict are desperate for treatment. In the absence of medical aid, a Sudanese pharmacist who fled Sudan in recent weeks is doing what he can to help other refugees at a camp in neighboring Chad. Henry Wilkins reports from Koufrone, Chad.

your ad here

US Imposes Sanctions on Head of Wagner Group in Mali

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on the head of the Wagner Group in Mali, accusing the Russian private army of trying to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, and of working through Mali and other countries. 

The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement also accused Ivan Aleksandrovich Maslov, whom it described as the head of Wagner paramilitary units and the group’s principal administrator based in Mali, of working in close coordination with Malian government officials to execute the group’s deployment in Mali. 

“Treasury’s sanctions against the most senior Wagner Group representative in Mali identify and disrupt a key operative supporting the group’s global activities,” Brian Nelson, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement. 

The move comes after State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Monday said there were indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers and route those weapons through Mali. 

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, on Wednesday dismissed the U.S. allegations as a “hoax” in a news conference, and she urged Washington to examine the effect of its own military exports.

your ad here

Zimbabwe Journalists Aim to Avoid Violence in This Year’s Elections

As Zimbabwe prepares for general elections, journalists are hoping to avoid a repeat of the harassment and attacks they’ve faced while trying to cover past elections.

Borrowing a strategy successfully tried in Lesotho, Zimbabwean journalists met with top officials of the ruling Zanu-PF party this week to try to reach mutual understandings before campaigning starts. The journalists are also scheduled to meet with the political opposition and government entities like the army and police.

Years or even weeks ago, an outreach by journalists to Zanu-PF officials would have been unheard of. Just entering the party offices was unusual and highly difficult, especially for private and foreign media journalists.

Leopold Kudakwashe Mudhende, from privately owned, was one of the journalists who earlier this year was chased away from a Zanu-PF event.

“It was important to highlight the challenges and fears we have as journalists going into election,” he said of the session with Zanu-PF officials. “That way we can find solutions together with political parties. The most important thing about these political parties is that they ensure the safety and professional handling of journalists. Also, political parties get a chance to air their grievances with what we are doing as journalists and we can find amicable solution.”

Victoria Ruzvidzo, editor of The Sunday Mail, a government-controlled weekly newspaper, also attended the meeting. He said he thought the session “was very important because what we need are facts and factual information, and you can only get that through open lines of communication. It gives us a platform to air our concerns as media and for Zanu-PF to tell us where it thinks we are going wrong.”

Ruzvidzo said there were “perceptions and misperceptions about a lot of things. But if you sit down at such platforms, you get to understand each other and build a stronger relationship, which is better for the media in that when you need certain information, like what the SG [party secretary-general Obert Mpofu] said. We have access to him. We can get him any minute. We can get information.”

Mpofu said Zanu-PF was worried about journalists who he said were bent on tarnishing his party. He also said he wanted to see more stories that put Zimbabwe in a good light.

He assured journalists they would not be targeted by violence. “We want a peaceful Zimbabwe,” Mpofu said at the session. “Let’s act according to your expectations. But I want to thank you all, comrades, for coming to this round-table meeting and reiterate our assurances that Zanu-PF will always cooperate with you.”

Zanu-PF “is headed by this great man,” Mpofu said, pointing to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s portrait on the wall. “He abhors violence.”

In the presidential election, Mnangagwa is expected to lock horns with Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, among other candidates.

Perfect Hlongwane, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, said his organization was setting up meetings with political parties and some government agencies “because of the operating environment. What we saw is that our journalists are being violated, mostly at political rallies.” Political parties, he said, must be engaged with “so that they understand the way we operate as the media and to ensure the media is given or allowed space to operate without any hindrance.”

The next stops for the journalists will be the political opposition and then the army, in an effort to ensure that media members can be safe when elections take place, most likely in July or August.

your ad here

African Union Celebrates 60th Anniversary in Addis Ababa

Delegates from across the African continent gathered in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Thursday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Organization of African Unity, the alliance that later became the African Union.

In a statement, the AU said the ceremony — held at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa — commemorates May 25, 1963, when the heads of state from 32 independent African states gathered in the city to sign the charter that created the OAU, which the AU said was the first post-independence continental institution.

In its charter, the OAU said its main objectives included ridding the continent of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid; promoting unity and solidarity among African states; coordinating cooperation for development; safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states; and promoting international cooperation.

In 1999, OAU leaders meeting in Libya decided the organization needed to refocus its goals to focus more intensely on cooperation and integration of African states to drive the continent’s growth and economic development. They issued a declaration calling for the establishment of the African Union, which was officially launched in 2002.

In opening remarks to the delegates Thursday, AU Commission Chairman H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat called it an important day in the history of Africa, as it honors the organization’s founders, who laid the groundwork for “the African renaissance and its socioeconomic and political development.”

In his comments, Mahamat, the former Chadian prime minister, warned against interference by world powers in the continent’s affairs in what he called a “hegemonic struggle between the great powers” playing out internationally.

Mahamat said this threatens to make Africa the battleground of a “new version of the Cold War.” He called it a “zero-sum game where the gains of others would translate into losses for Africa.” He did not elaborate.

Some information for this report was provided by Agence France-Presse.

your ad here

DRC Displaced Struggle for Their Fair Share of Humanitarian Aid

Western leaders have provided Ukraine with financial and military support in its fight against Russian aggression. Some humanitarian organizations say that has affected the amount of aid going to other countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo. VOA’s Paul Ndiho visited the Sake camp for the internally displaced in the eastern province of North Kivu.

your ad here