South Africa presses to maintain preferred trade status with US

Johannesburg — Some members of the U.S. Congress have called for South Africa to be excluded from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a U.S. program that grants duty-free access to the enormous U.S. market for many South African exports. South Africa presses to remain eligible for the trade program and its evolving relationship with the U.S.

Sonwabile Ndamase remembers when U.S. President Bill Clinton came to Soweto in 1998. Ndamase, a fashion designer who created the iconic “Madiba” shirts worn by then-South African President Nelson Mandela, got a last-minute request from Mandela’s office.

“[T]hey wanted to give something as a gesture and as a gift to President Bill Clinton and then they called me. They said, listen, you need to do something — the president, Bill Clinton, would be coming in. So I had to go to the house of late President Nelson Mandela and deliver the shirt,” he said.

That was during a period of good relations between the U.S. and Africa as a whole and the U.S. and South Africa in particular. In 2000, Clinton initiated the African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, allowing duty-free access to the U.S. market for most agricultural and manufactured products from eligible African countries.

But times have changed. As U.S. lawmakers consider whether to extend AGOA past its September 2025 expiration date, there are calls in Washington to exclude South Africa due to its geopolitical stance on key issues, such as its refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling Israel’s actions in Gaza a genocide.

Political analyst Daryl Glaser from the University of Witwatersrand said tension has existed between the United States and South Africa’s longtime ruling African National Congress party since 2000.

“Yeah, there has always been a tension at the heart of ANC foreign policy between, on the one hand, a kind of human rights focus and a desire to appear to the West a human rights and democracy champion, and on the other side what you might call anti-imperialism or anti-Western imperialism, in particular combined with a kind of loyalty to the countries that supported South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle,” he said.

Those countries include Soviet-era Russia.

Despite the tension, South Africa has sent a delegation to Washington to advocate for its continued participation in AGOA.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2020, South Africa has become America’s largest trading partner in Africa, with over $20 billion in two-way trade volume.

Economist Dawie Roodt said South Africa cannot afford to lose AGOA, given the country’s high unemployment rate and slow economic growth.

He thinks a new coalition government, the result of inconclusive May elections, will help the country’s cause.

“I think what is important, what happened in South Africa in the last couple of weeks, South Africa now has a national government of unity and that’s the message that we need to send. Basically, it’s a coalition between the ANC and the DA, a political party slightly to the right. We’ve got a government now that is not a left-leaning government — it’s a government that is forming a coalition with a more business-friendly alliance partner,” he said.

If its status in AGOA is revoked, South Africa can still trade with the United States, but it won’t receive the preferential rates enjoyed by other African nations.

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Kenyans say Biden pulling out of presidential race was the right move 

Nairobi — Kenyans watching the U.S. presidential race say they agree with President Joe Biden’s decision to not seek a second term. But some say that choosing a replacement capable of defeating his opponent, former president Donald Trump, is going to be a big task for the Democratic Party.

On the streets of Nairobi, many people told VOA that while Joe Biden’s decision to step out of the race must not have been easy, it was the right decision for him to make.

James Owor said he was expecting Biden to step out of the race.

“A bit unsurprising just based on what I’ve seen in the news. He was obviously not very well. It might not be such a bad idea to take a back seat. He didn’t seem to have the energy he had,” he said.

Biden’s announcement Sunday followed a rising chorus within the Democratic Party urging him to “pass the torch” amid his declining national poll numbers and concerns raised by his shaky performance in the debate against Trump last month.

Brenda Okwaro said what President Biden has done is commendable because he put the needs of his country and party ahead of his need to retain power.

“This is a move that should be emulated by our African presidents. You don’t have to come to the race a second time and you know you are not going to deliver the expectations of the people who elected you. But if you feel you’ve done your best in your first term, you can just get out of the race, go home and rest and focus on other things. You can even give advice to people who are in leadership,” she said.

Africa is home to some of the longest-serving presidents in the world, several of whom, like Biden, are in their 80s. Cameroon’s Paul Biya is 91.

Martin Andati said he believes that if Biden had stayed in the race, it would’ve been difficult for him to beat Republican nominee Donald Trump.

“Biden had to drop out because all the odds are against him, he can’t beat Trump. So, to salvage the image and give the Democratic Party an opportunity, he had no choice but to exit the race,” he said.

President Biden’s announcement comes a little more than three months before the U.S. elections. Andati said he believes the Democrats still have a chance, but it all depends on who they pick to replace Biden, who has endorsed his vice president, Kamala Harris.

“The only challenge is that he exited and endorsed Kamala Harris. The numbers are not in favor of Kamala Harris. The question is do they retain Harris or what happens, those are the issues the Democratic party will have to grapple with,” he said.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations at United States International University in Nairobi, said that while it took Biden a little longer to drop out of the race, it was expected. 

“The signs were that he was not up to par, and it took time before his friends and people he respects to come and tell him [it’s] in the best interest of the country and himself, his own image was to step aside so that he’s not embarrassed in November,” said Munene.

The friends who persuaded Biden to step aside reportedly included Kenya’s favorite former U.S. president, Barack Obama. Obama is not eligible for a comeback because of the two-term limit in the U.S. Constitution.

Munene said he believes Democrats will nominate Harris.

“The question will be who’ll be her running mate in the hope they will make a dent on Trump’s bandwagon. For Harris, it’s a good opportunity if she does not win, she will not lose very badly. Then, it’s a preparation for a future encounter in case she doesn’t make it, she would’ve created a base for herself for the next time to run, maybe in 2028,” said Munene.

Democratic lawmakers, governors and financial donors have already expressed their support for Harris, who says she will work to earn the trust and backing of democratic delegates. The party’s candidate will be formally approved late next month when the party hosts its national convention.

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Police, troops block Ugandan opposition headquarters ahead of protests

Kampala, Uganda — Soldiers and police sealed off the headquarters of Uganda’s biggest opposition party on Monday in what a police spokesperson called a precautionary move ahead of anti-government protests planned for Tuesday despite a ban.

In posts on social media platform X, National Unity Platform party chief Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, said security personnel had surrounded NUP headquarters in the capital Kampala, barring anyone from entering or exiting.

Wine said several NUP leaders had been “violently arrested” and also showed pictures of military personnel at the premises alongside parked army trucks.

“The military and police have raided and surrounded the National Unity Platform offices …” he said. “The cowardly regime is so afraid of the people because they know how much they have wronged them!”

Police spokesperson Kituuma Rusoke did not immediately respond when sought for comment about the reported arrests.

Wine, 42, a pop star turned politician, has in recent years emerged as the biggest challenger to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, 79, who has led the East African nation since 1986.

Ugandan youth who have spearheaded recent protests are planning to march to parliament on Tuesday in defiance of a ban on the demonstration, which is intended to denounce alleged widespread corruption and human rights abuses under Museveni’s long-time rule.

Wine said his party was not organizing Tuesday’s protests, but it supported them.

Rusoke said security forces had taken precautionary steps against what he called NUP “mobilization for the protest.”

“We have been monitoring (this). Their activities raised a red flag and we took precaution measures,” he said.

Protests are constitutionally legal in Uganda but organizers must secure permits in advance from police, which are only rarely granted.

Opposition leaders and rights activists say embezzlement and misuse of government funds are widespread in Uganda and have long accused Museveni of failing to prosecute corrupt top-level officials who are politically loyal or related to him.

Museveni has repeatedly denied tolerating corruption and says whenever there is sufficient evidence, culprits are prosecuted, for example lawmakers and even ministers.

Museveni on Monday directed the Criminal Investigations Directorate “to arrest and prosecute all government officials linked to ghost civil servants on the payroll,” his government announced on X.

In a speech on Saturday, he warned Ugandan youth against the planned protests, alleging they were sponsored by foreigners.

“Some elements, some of them from the opposition, are always working with the foreigners to foment chaos in Uganda – riots, illegal demonstrations, illegal and inconsiderate processions, etc. These people … should check themselves or we shall have no alternative but to check them,” he said.

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Flooding drives Liberia to mull capital city move

Monrovia, Liberia — Severe flooding in Liberia has led a group of senators to propose relocating the capital city away from overcrowded and poorly managed Monrovia, a suggestion met with a mixture of enthusiasm and hesitancy in the West African country.

Flash floods triggered by torrential rains between the end of June and early July left nearly 50,000 Liberians in urgent need, the national disaster management agency said.

The flood-prone capital was particularly badly hit, owing in part to overpopulation, a poor sewage system, and a lack of building regulation.

Meeting to discuss the persistent flooding problem, a senate joint committee in early July suggested establishing a new city to replace Monrovia.

“It’s a good idea because our current capital city is a mess,” said Chris Kpewudu, a young motorbike driver in the capital.

“There is garbage all over the city and also when it rains, there is flooding everywhere, but with a new city, it will be well laid out and our capital city could look like, or more than, Abuja,” he added.

Nigeria’s Abuja is one of a handful of planned capital cities on the African continent.

Tanzania’s capital Dodoma and Yamoussoukro in Ivory Coast were also established as administrative capitals towards the end of the 20th century, with all three cities occupying geographically central positions in their respective countries.

Monrovia is home to 1.5 million people and lies on the Atlantic coast of Liberia, one of the poorest countries in the world.

The city is the economic, political, and cultural hub of the country, with the Freeport of Monrovia providing a gateway for Liberian exports including iron ore, rubber, and timber to reach the United States and Europe.

But the city’s poorly functioning infrastructure can barely keep up with its ever-expanding population.

The Ministry of Public Works told AFP it was carefully reviewing the proposal, adding that the the plan did not yet include an exact location for the move, and that any decision would come down to economic viability.

“Having a new city is capital-intensive,” said T. T. Benjamin Myers, the ministry’s communications director.

“As a country, our national budget is still around $600 million… so having a new city will require a lot of technical, financial, and economic factors to be seriously considered,” he added.

‘Not a quick fix’

The proposal to replace the capital is not a new one in Africa’s oldest republic.

In 2012, then-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf suggested relocating Monrovia to a new city called Zekepa in the center of the country.

“We were all enthusiastic and looking forward to that,” Marayah Fyneah, the national program officer of the Liberian Women’s Legislative Caucus, told AFP.

“But unfortunately, we did not even see a plan to show what the city would look like,” she added.

Fyneah said she was skeptical that a new Liberian capital would ever materialize in her lifetime, given the failure of the previous attempt.

Some residents interviewed by AFP were also hesitant and said the government should first prioritize improving infrastructure and tackling poverty before searching for a new capital.

“Our lawmakers are forgetting the issues that we have on hand as a country. Even the city of Monrovia is poorly managed in terms of sanitation and a lot more,” said one commentator, the journalist Princess Elexa VanjahKollie.

Experts have also warned of the extensive urban planning needed to create a viable new capital.

“To establish a new city is not a quick fix,” Christopher Wallace, an economics lecturer at the University of Liberia, told AFP.

“You want to consider the economic activities that would make the economy vibrant in that area, and you must have done zoning to have a clear layout of what such a city will look like,” he added.

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Malawi orphanage provides shelter to vulnerable children

In Malawi, according to the U.N.’s most recent numbers, over 15% of children under the age of 18 are orphans, due in part to the high prevalence of deaths from HIV and AIDS among caregivers. The Zoe Foundation is trying to give these at-risk children a future. Reporting from Ndodani village in Lilongwe, Malawi, Chimwemwe Padatha has more.

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Sudan, Iran trade ambassadors after 8-year rupture

Port Sudan, Sudan — Sudan’s de facto leader, army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, received an Iranian ambassador Sunday and sent his own to Tehran, the government said, cementing a rapprochement after an eight-year rupture.

Sudan and Iran agreed last October to resume diplomatic relations, as the army-aligned government scrambled for allies during its war with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). 

The Sudanese government, loyal to the army in its 15-month fight against the RSF, announced in a statement that Burhan had received Tehran’s new ambassador Hassan Shah Hosseini in Port Sudan. 

The Red Sea city has become Sudan’s de facto seat of government since Khartoum became wracked by fighting. 

This is “the beginning of a new phase in the course of bilateral relations between the two countries,” foreign ministry undersecretary Hussein al-Amin said as Burhan sent off Sudan’s new ambassador to Iran, Abdelaziz Hassan Saleh. 

Sudan broke off relations with Iran in 2016 in a show of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, after the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran was attacked following the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric. 

Several Saudi allies in the region also cut ties with Iran at the time. 

In March 2023, however, Riyadh and Tehran announced the restoration of their relations following an agreement brokered by China. 

Iran has since moved to cement or restore relations with neighboring Arab countries.  

Since Sudan’s war began in April 2023, several foreign powers have supported rival forces.  

In December, Sudan expelled diplomats from the United Arab Emirates on allegations that the Gulf state was funneling weapons to the RSF. 

The UAE has denied taking sides in the conflict. 

Egypt and Turkey have backed the army. 

The United States in February voiced concern at reported arms shipments by Washington’s foe Iran to Sudan’s military. 

Around that time, the army recovered some territory after months of defeats at the hands of the RSF. 

Sudan has also recently drawn closer to Russia, which experts say has reconsidered its previous relationship with the RSF, with which it had links through the mercenary Wagner group. 

Sudan under former strongman Omar al-Bashir, who was toppled in 2019, developed close relations with Iran’s clerical state. 

The war in Sudan has killed tens of thousands of people, with some estimates placing the death toll as high as 150,000, according to the U.S. envoy to Sudan, Tom Perriello. 

It has also created the world’s worst displacement crisis — with more than 11 million uprooted, according to the United Nations — and brought the country to the brink of famine. 

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Unregistered Senegal youth struggle for legal status

Dakar — It was only when 12-year-old Senegalese schoolboy Lassou Samb prepared to sit his end-of-year exams that his lack of any legal documentation finally caught up with him.

Like many young people in the West African country, Samb was never registered at birth, an oversight with potentially profound consequences for his education.

Hundreds of thousands of Senegalese pupils are sitting exams until Wednesday to mark the end of their school year.

But Samb almost did not take the test needed to move onto the next grade because he lacked the required birth certificate.

Every year, the exam period highlights a major failure to register births, not just in Senegal but across Africa.

Of the more than 300,000 students registered for the end of elementary school exams, almost 70,000 had no civil status documents, the examinations department said.

The issue has potentially serious consequences ranging from the protection of rights, access to public services and government policy planning.

Samb, one of six children born in a village in central Senegal, was the only one in his family not to be registered.

“Our (school) director often calls me into his office to remind me that I haven’t brought my birth certificate yet, but I don’t know what to tell him,” he said.

Samb “was born with a fractured hand at a time when things were hard for us,” said his father Malick, a factory worker.

“The priority then was to treat him.”

Like previous administrations, Senegal’s new government this year ignored the rule requiring a birth certificate for exams and allowed children to sit them without.

Unregistered children

“There is no question of sacrificing these children twice,” said Moussa Bala Fofana, Minister for Local and Regional Authorities. 

“Firstly by not declaring them at birth, and secondly by preventing them from sitting their exams because they have no papers, even though they have nothing to do with it,” he said.

While 98 percent of births are registered in Europe, the number stands at just 44 percent in Africa, according to a 2024 WHO report.

More than half of the world’s unregistered children live in Africa, totaling around 91 million, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF said in 2022.

Birth registration is a critical first step in access to healthcare, education and justice, and is also an essential tool in government planning for public health and development.

But long distances to registry offices, a lack of knowledge, local customs and, in some countries, discriminatory practices and fees can prevent parents from registering a birth, UNICEF said.

Some parents neglect or ignore the importance of birth certificates even though they have up to a year to register their child free of charge, said Aliou Ousmane Sall, Director of Senegal’s national civil status agency.

After this deadline, a court has to authorize the registration and parents must pay a fee of 4,000 CFA francs ($7).

Fraud

Obtaining a birth certificate can take several years due to the difficulty of accessing the necessary services, obsolete equipment and poorly trained officials.

“For most of our African countries, we had to make a transition from the colonial state to the post-colonial state,” said Oumar Ba, president of the country’s mayors’ association.

“As a result, many measures were not taken in time. Our states inherited a civil registry that was not well structured,” he added. 

The shortfalls are conducive to fraud, with concerns about identification number trafficking widespread in Senegal.

Seydina Aidara, 23, said he was about to sit his final high school exams when he discovered that his civil registration number had been stolen, preventing him from taking the test.

For Lassou Samb, a birth certificate would later allow him to get an identity card, passport or driving license.

But his father said that despite his efforts, he had not been able to complete the registration process.

The government has launched a plan to modernize and digitize the civil registry in a bid to improve access and minimize fraud.

Nineteen million records have already been digitized, said Sall, of the national civil status agency.

“With this program, the problems will soon be over,” he said.

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Five things to know about Turkey’s interests in Africa

Istanbul — Turkey is pushing for diplomatic and economic influence on the world stage — not least in Africa, where it announced plans this week to search for oil and gas off Somalia.

Over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two decades in power, Ankara has consolidated its foothold on the continent, quadrupling its number of embassies there.

Here are five of Turkey’s diplomatic and economic interests and strategies in Africa:

‘Alternative to the West’

At a time when many African countries are turning away from their former colonial rulers, Turkey has looked to fill the void left behind.

“Erdogan presents himself as an alternative to the West,” said Selin Gucum, author of a study on Turkish interests in Africa for Paris’s Observatory of Contemporary Turkey.

Gucum told AFP that Ankara often emphasizes the “sincerity” of its presence on the continent compared to that of Europeans, who bear the legacy of colonialism.

And Erdogan can be less squeamish about what partners he chooses, according to a report on Turkey’s defense accords with African countries by Teresa Nogueira Pinto, an analyst at Geopolitical Intelligence Services.

“Unlike the West, Turkey does not make this assistance conditional on governance or human rights commitments,” Pinto wrote.

Defense and security

Turkey has signed defense agreements with a number of states spanning the breadth of the continent, including Somalia, Libya, Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Those agreements have opened up contracts for Turkey’s defense manufacturers, notably for its reputedly reliable and inexpensive drones.

Popularly used in the fight against terrorism, Turkish drones have been recently delivered to Chad, Togo, and the junta-led Sahel trio of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

Fossil fuels and nuclear

Turkey is also expanding its interests in Africa’s energy sector.

In September or October it plans to launch an oil and gas exploration mission off the coast of Somalia, similar to the one it is carrying out in Libyan waters.

Ankara is also said to be coveting Niger’s abundant uranium deposits which it needs to operate its future Russian-built Akkuyu nuclear power station — although Ankara’s diplomats deny this.

Nonetheless, Erdogan has bolstered ties with Niger’s ruling generals since their 2023 coup d’etat. Niamey received Turkey’s intelligence chief and foreign, energy and defence ministers on Wednesday.

Infrastructure and construction

Ankara is generally seen as a “reliable partner”, said Didier Billion, Turkey specialist at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs — “particularly in the construction and infrastructure sectors.”

When Turkish companies build big-ticket projects like hospitals, airports, or mosques, “deadlines and budgets are met, he added.

That reputation means more demand: in 2023, Turkish contractors were involved in $85.5 billion worth of projects, according to the trade ministry.

Turkish Airlines also crisscrosses the continent, flying to 62 destinations in Africa.

In 2012, it became the first airline to return to Mogadishu, whose airport was rebuilt with Turkish funding and assistance.

Religion, schools and television

Turkey has accumulated considerable soft power in the region, notably through education, the media and its shared religion with Africa’s many Muslim countries.

The religious Turkish Maarif Foundation has expanded to a network of 140 schools and institutions catering for 17,000 pupils, while 60,000 Africans are students in Turkey.

Ankara’s powerful Directorate of Religious Affairs has stepped up its humanitarian activities and support for mosques and religious education across the region.

Billing itself as the first Turkish television channel on the continent, NRT boasts on its website that it serves 49 African countries, spreading the Turkish language.

Public broadcaster TRT also has programs in French, English, Swahili and Hausa and is developing training courses for future journalists. 

Turkey’s religious conservatism likewise resonates with many African countries, at a time when anti-LGBTQ laws are being adopted on the continent.

“When Erdogan denounces ‘LGBTQ people who undermine family values’, for many Africans, that’s music to their ears,” Billion said.

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Ugandan leader says anti-corruption protesters ‘playing with fire’

Kampala, Uganda — Ugandan protesters who said they would press ahead with a banned anti-corruption march on Tuesday are “playing with fire,” the country’s president warned.  

“Some elements have been planning illegal demonstrations, riots,” President Yoweri Museveni said in a televised address late Saturday.  

Museveni has ruled the East African country with an iron fist since 1986. 

He said the protesters included “elements working for foreign interests,” without elaborating. 

Earlier Saturday, Ugandan police had informed organizers that it would not permit the planned protest in the capital, Kampala, as authorities had intelligence that “some elements were trying to take advantage of the demonstration to cause chaos in the country.” 

“Demonstrations can only be allowed under our mandate as long as they are not causing public disorder and disrupting lives of lawful citizens,” Ugandan police operations director Frank Mwesigwa told AFP. 

The protest organizers told AFP they would press on with the demonstration. 

“We don’t need police permission to carry out a peaceful demonstration,” one of the main protest leaders, Louez Aloikin Opolose, said Saturday. “It is our constitutional right.” 

The protesters hope to take the march past parliament, which they accuse of tolerating corruption. 

“Our starting point in the fight against corruption is parliament … and the demonstration is on irrespective of what police is saying,” protester Shamim Nambasa said. 

The NGO Transparency International ranks Uganda low on its corruption perceptions index. With the least corrupt countries ranking highest, Uganda comes in at 141 on the list of 180 countries. 

The anti-corruption protesters have been keeping track of the sometimes deadly demonstrations that have shaken neighboring Kenya for more than a month. 

The Kenyan protests, which began as peaceful rallies against controversial tax hikes, turned into a wider anti-government campaign, with disgruntled activists also seeking action against corruption and alleged police brutality. 

At least 50 people have been killed and 413 injured since the demonstrations began on June 18, according to the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. 

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DR Congo summons Uganda diplomat over M23 conflict

Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo — Uganda again rejected United Nations allegations that it is backing M23 rebels in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo after Kinshasa summoned the Ugandan charge d’affaires over the issue. 

Since late 2021, M23 has seized large tracts of territory in North Kivu province, with a recent report commissioned by the U.N. Security Council alleging “active support” for the rebels by Ugandan army and military intelligence officials. 

On Friday, Uganda’s charge d’affaires, Matata Twaha Magara, denied his country was helping the group after he was summoned for talks with Congolese deputy foreign minister Gracia Yamba Kazadi. 

“Our position has been clear that in the East African community we need to work together to flush all the negative forces that are disturbing us,” Magara said. 

He referred to the joint operation in eastern DRC by Congolese and Ugandan troops against ADF rebels affiliated with the Islamic State. 

The ADF, originally made up of mainly Muslim Ugandan rebels, has established a presence over the past three decades in eastern DRC, killing thousands of civilians. 

Magara claimed that Kazadi “called me to inquire about issues regarding our bilateral relations. She wanted to know what is happening. 

“Of course I assured her our bilateral relations are cordial,” he said, noting that Kampala was still “waiting for the official communication from the U.N. office” to respond to the U.N. allegations. 

“The U.N. should give, first, the concerned countries the report so that they can respond to those accusations,” he said. 

In the report published on July 8, U.N. experts said they had confirmation of “active support” for M23 from members of Ugandan intelligence. 

The report said 3,000 to 4,000 Rwandan soldiers had been fighting alongside M23 rebels in the mineral-rich east, displacing millions of people, and that Kigali had “de facto control” of the group’s operations, a claim Rwanda denies. 

The experts also said they had evidence confirming “active support for M23 by certain UPDF [Uganda People’s Defense Forces] and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence officials.” 

Two days later Uganda’s deputy defense spokesperson Deo Akiiki told AFP the allegations against Kampala were “laughable, baseless and illogical.” 

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Washington touts 15-day Congo truce

washington — U.S. diplomats are working closely with African partners, the White House said Thursday, amid a fresh 15-day truce between the army and Rwanda-backed rebels in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. Experts on the ground say they’re holding their breath, citing the dire humanitarian consequences of spiraling violence in this fragile region.

The Biden administration believes this conflict in the northeast corner of the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa “poses a real threat to global peace and security,” a National Security Council spokesperson told VOA on Thursday.

In Congo, more than 940,000 people have been displaced this year, the United Nations says. And 7.3 million Congolese people – more than half women – are currently displaced. Conflict is the culprit more than 80% of the time.

This new truce, set through August 3, aims to quiet the constant thrum of violence that has plagued this resource-rich corner of Congo since the late 1990s. That’s when Hutu extremists with ties to Rwanda’s genocide fled over the Congolese border and began to organize militias along the shores of the massive Lake Kivu. That violence snowballed into a bloodbath that left millions dead across Congo in one of the worst civil wars of the 20th century.

Several rounds of United Nations peacekeeping missions have failed to stop the cycle of violence, which picked up anew after Congo’s violent elections in late 2023. Kinshasa accuses Kigali of backing one of the main combatant groups, M23, which is composed primarily of fighters from Rwanda’s minority Tutsi ethnic group.

State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel emphasized Washington’s diplomatic efforts.

“This is something that we are working closely on with the parties,” he said. “We’re going to work closely with the government of the DRC, Rwanda and Angola to support regional diplomatic efforts to reach a durable cessation of hostilities and set conditions for the voluntary return of displaced populations.”

He did not provide details when asked by reporters how the Biden administration plans to work with Rwanda’s government.

The last truce fell apart Monday, with an incident in the town of Bweremana that killed four children, according to media reports. White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson on Wednesday condemned those killings, while noting that “the parties to the conflict have largely respected the truce” – raising hopes that the children’s deaths may not provoke a slide into violence.

Analysts and humanitarian officials say the situation in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province – a shambolic but dynamic town in the shadow of the ever-smoldering Mount Nyiragongo – is unusually dire.

Onesphore Sematumba, a Goma-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, spoke in stark terms about a town accustomed to fielding knockout punches from both nature and humanity. In the past two decades, Goma has weathered an Ebola outbreak and multiple volcanic eruptions, all while facing a stream of violent militant groups, including an increasingly powerful Islamic State group offshoot.

Sematumba spoke Wednesday on a podcast on the subject, saying that the streets, roundabouts, storefronts and bars of Goma were thronged with desperate displaced people, among them women with babies on their shoulders and backs, begging.

“This crisis is massive,” he said in French. “This crisis is, I would say, gigantic, but as humanitarians rightly say, it is a forgotten crisis.”

Patel, of the State Department, also noted that Washington allocated more than $620 million in humanitarian aid to the nation in fiscal 2023.

Sematumba cited fears that if diplomacy fails to keep the peace, conflict could draw in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda, nearby Burundi and Tanzania and even – clear on the other side of DRC, the smaller Republic of Congo as well. And he voiced concerns that the two major diplomatic efforts conducted in Luanda, Angola, and Nairobi, Kenya, “are struggling to materialize.”

“We would be heading towards a catastrophe like we’ve never seen, even at the height of the 1996 war, which drained almost all African countries, all African armies, from the upper reaches of the continent and into Congo,” he said. “So everyone is holding their breath, and everyone is trying to hang on to all the diplomatic goings-on to avoid such a nightmarish scenario.”

Nike Ching contributed to this report from Washington; Isabella Dail provided translation assistance from Washington.

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Kenyan court suspends police ban on protests in Nairobi

nairobi, kenya — Kenya’s High Court on Thursday suspended a police ban on protests in the capital, stating citizens have a right to demonstrate peacefully. 

Before the high court’s decision, police had barred protests in Nairobi indefinitely, saying they lacked leadership that would ensure peaceful demonstrations. 

The suspension of the ban came before a planned protest, in which demonstrators were expected to march to the president’s office calling for his resignation over poor governance. 

Acting police inspector general, Douglas Kanja, in a statement said the lack of leadership had “made it difficult to enforce safety protocols.” 

Recent protests have left businesses counting losses after the lootings and burnings. 

Protests were yet to be seen Thursday, but major roads leading to the president’s office remained barricaded by the police. 

A month of protests

Kenya has seen a month of protests that started with calls for legislators to vote against a controversial finance bill that proposed higher taxes amid a cost-of-living crisis and ballooning public debt. 

At least 50 people have died since the protests began on June 18, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. 

President William Ruto said he wouldn’t sign the finance bill that was passed by parliament on June 25 — the day protesters stormed and burned part of the building, prompting legislators to flee. The president last week dismissed almost his entire Cabinet and the attorney general, as demanded by protesters who accused ministers of incompetence, corruption and display of opulence. 

The U.S. Embassy in Nairobi on Thursday urged police to protect the right of Kenyans to demonstrate and encouraged the government to “continue taking steps forward” toward national unity and reconciliation. 

Some businesses in Nairobi remained closed in anticipation of protests Thursday. Police remained heavily deployed around the central business district patrolling the streets.  

Government spokesperson Isaac Mwaura on Thursday said the economy had incurred loses worth 6 billion Kenyan shillings ($45 million) because of ongoing monthlong protests. 

Police accused of brutality

Police have been accused of brutality against protesters. Japhet Koome, the former inspector general of police, resigned on July 12 after calls from demonstrators for him to take responsibility for the shooting of protesters. 

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority on Wednesday said it had forwarded four of 10 cases of police brutality to the director of public prosecutions with recommendations. 

The watchdog had recorded witness statements and directed that various police officers to appear before it to give their testimony. 

Kenyan police officers have in the past been accused of brutality and a contingent of 400 officers is currently in the Caribbean nation of Haiti leading a U.N.-backed police mission to combat gang violence. 

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CAR officials say 300 rebels disarm as country tries to organize local elections

Yaounde, Cameroon — Officials in the Central African Republic say at least 300 rebels have dropped their weapons in the past month in an operation jointly organized by United Nations peacekeeping forces and government troops. Yet, while a total of about 5,000 fighters have put down their arms in the past decade, peace seems to elude the troubled nation. 

Officials in the country say the rebels who have dropped their weapons since June 10 belong to the Coalition des Patriotes pour le Changement, or CPC.  

The government sees the CPC as a network of six rebel groups created in 2020 to disrupt the country’s presidential and legislative elections in December of that year. 

Government spokesperson Balalou Maxime, speaking on state television Wednesday, congratulated the approximately 250 CPC rebels for dropping their weapons when attacked by the Central African Republic military. He said he wants other rebels still hiding in the bush to know that they will be killed if they do not do the same. 

This week, forces of the U.N. stabilization movement in the Central African Republic, or MINUSCA, said an additional 44 fighters of another rebel group, the UPC, laid down their arms in the southeastern town of Mboki. MINUSCA said many weapons were seized but gave no further details.  

Central African Republic officials say the operation to neutralize armed groups or get fighters to surrender is aimed at making the country more peaceful before local elections slated for October. 

These would be the first local elections in the country since 1988.  

At least 5,000 rebels have surrendered their arms within the past 11 years, officials say, but fighting has yet to stop. The U.N. says some of the rebels who surrender end up rejoining armed gangs due to hardship and poverty. 

Halidou Halale, president of Cattle Ranchers Union in the Central African Republic, stressed that rebels who are cattle ranchers are willing to drop their weapons in exchange for a few cattle or goats as a source of livelihood. He said rebels either refuse to surrender or they return to armed groups after surrender because of hunger. 

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have often reported that rebel and armed groups in the country commit war crimes, including deliberately killing civilians, raping women and girls, and destroying civilian property.  

In 2019, the government and 14 armed groups signed an African Union and U.N.-sponsored peace agreement. However, the deal failed to stop the fighting, as six of the 14 armed groups refused to honor their commitments following disagreements over power sharing and amnesty for arrested or fleeing rebels. 

The Central African Republic has been wracked with violence and instability since 2013, when a rebel group forced then-President Francois Bozize out of office.   

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US sanctions Sierra Leone man, seeks extradition in migrant smuggling

MEXICO CITY — The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions Thursday on a man from Sierra Leone who is suspected of smuggling thousands of migrants from Asia and Africa into the United States. 

The ring allegedly run by Abdul Karim Conteh provided false documents and drove migrants to the border and offered advice on how to cross, the Treasury said. It also allegedly moved some migrants through Nicaragua, the Central American country that has been used as a springboard for migrant smuggling because of its lax visa requirements. 

The smuggling ring’s customers came from a dozen countries, including China, Iran, Russia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. 

Karim Conteh was arrested on July 11 in Tijuana, Mexico. The United States is pursuing Conteh’s extradition on federal migrant smuggling charges. 

Also sanctioned Thursday was his Mexican wife, Veronica Roblero, as well as two other people from Sierra Leone and Togo. 

The department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control — the U.S. agency that combats illicit funds and money laundering — said the ring allegedly moved the money they charged the migrants for helping them cross the border illegally through the United States. 

The sanctions block the targets’ financial and other assets in the United States and prohibit U.S. citizens from having any transactions with them. 

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Eswatini’s pro-democracy movement undeterred as MPs sentenced to prison

Mbabane, Eswatini — The sentencing Tuesday in Eswatini of two former members of parliament to lengthy prison terms on charges of terrorism marks a significant escalation in the tensions between the monarchy and those advocating for democratic reform in the southern African nation. Human rights groups condemned the convictions, saying the court decision raises questions about human rights and political repression. Pro-democracy activists say they are undeterred.  

The convictions of Mduduzi Bacede Mabuza and Mthandeni Dube, who were sentenced to prison terms of 25 and 18 years respectively, sent shock waves throughout Eswatini and the international community. 

The two men were arrested in July 2021 during pro-democracy protests that were violently put down by security forces, leaving dozens of people dead. Demonstrators were pressing for reforms to a complex system of non-party elections that ensured Eswatini’s ruler, King Mswati the third, faced no meaningful dissent.  

Rights group Amnesty International urged Eswatini authorities to immediately quash what it called “the unjust and baseless convictions and sentences of the former members of parliament.”  

Alpheous Nxumalo, a spokesperson for the Eswatini government, told VOA’s English to Africa Service the convictions were “discharged through the provisions of the law, which guarantees the rights of each and everyone who has been sentenced to appeal to a higher court.” He added that Eswatini’s international partners and friends should respect the country’s sovereignty and rule of law. 

Thantaza Silolo, a spokesperson for the Swaziland Liberation Movement (SWALIMO), told VOA that despite the harsh sentences handed down by the Eswatini High Court, the country’s pro-democracy movement remains resolute in its pursuit of democratic reform. 

“These MPs were strong inside the chambers of parliament and outside in calling to say we need a prime minister that is elected by the people, not a prime minister that is being appointed by the King and for that reason, they were sentenced, they were arrested and charged with heinous offenses as if they were criminals, they were murderers and terrorists,” Silolo said. “Yet, these are just advocates for change. These are just people who have been calling for freedom and we maintain as a movement that … we will continue to push for their release.” 

Political analyst Sibusiso Nhlabatsi sees the sentences as a major setback for democracy and human rights in Eswatini. She said the sentences are a classic example of “guilty until proven innocent,” with mere allegations being enough to secure a conviction. 

“You can see that the intention was to induce fear and I think most of Emaswati will now live in that shadow of fear — we don’t want to do what these people did and even members of parliament will say we don’t want to do what the other members of parliament did because we might follow suit,” Nhlabatsi said. “I think through this judgment the state has successfully entrenched itself. It has successfully been able to threaten anyone who may want to raise a voice against the establishment.” 

According to human rights activist Lucky Dlamini, the harsh sentencing of the MPs signals a wider attack on democracy and human rights in Eswatini. He said the country is a dictatorship, with the monarchy using state security forces to suppress dissent and violate fundamental human rights. 

“We remain under a cruel system of government which is an absolute monarchy where there’s immunity [for] the security forces against human rights activists and political activists and human right defenders, where they cannot be able to access justice in the courts, where they cannot be able to hold on to demonstration, where they cannot exercise freedom of the right to political participation, the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of access to the media, the right to freedom of assembly,” he said. 

A lawyer for the two former MPs said they plan to appeal their sentences. 

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Uncertainty is the winner and incumbents the losers so far in a year of high-stakes global elections

LONDON — Discontented, economically squeezed voters have turned against sitting governments on both right and left during many of the dozens of elections held this year, as global power blocs shift and political certainties crumble.

From India to South Africa to Britain, voters dealt blows to long-governing parties. Elections to the European Parliament showed growing support for the continent’s far right, while France’s centrist president scrambled to fend off a similar surge at home.

If there’s a global trend, Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer said at a summit in Canada in June, it’s that “people are tired of the incumbents.”

More than 40 countries have held elections already this year. More uncertainty awaits — nations home to over half the world’s population are going to the polls in 2024. The world is already anxiously turning to November’s presidential election in the U.S., where an acrimonious campaign was dealt a shocking blow by an assassination attempt against Republican nominee and former president, Donald Trump.

Unpopular incumbents

Aftershocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and spiking prices for food and fuel have left dissatisfied voters eager for change.

“Voters really, really don’t like inflation,” said Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester. “And they punish governments that deliver it, whether they are at fault or not.”

Inflation and unemployment are rising in India, the world’s largest democracy, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party unexpectedly lost its parliamentary majority after a decade of dominance. Modi was forced to rely on coalition partners to govern as the opposition doubled its strength in parliament.

In South Africa, sky-high rates of unemployment and inequality helped drive a dramatic loss of support for the African National Congress, which had governed ever since the end of the apartheid system of white minority rule in 1994.

The party once led by Nelson Mandela lost its parliamentary majority for the first time and was forced to enter a coalition with opposition parties.

In Britain, the center-left Labour Party won election in a landslide, ousting the Conservatives after 14 years. As in so many countries, Prime Minister Keir Starmer faces a jaded electorate that wants lower prices and better public services — but is deeply skeptical of politicians’ ability to deliver change.

US-China tensions

Caught between world powers China and the United States, Taiwan held one of the year’s most significant elections.

Lai Ching-te, of the Democratic Progressive Party, won a presidential election that was seen as a referendum on the island’s relationship with China, which claims Taiwan as its own.

Beijing regards Lai as a separatist and ramped up military pressure with drills in the Taiwan Strait. Lai has promised to strengthen the defenses of the self-governing island, and the U.S. has pledged to help it defend itself, heightening tensions in one of the world’s flashpoints.

In Bangladesh, an important partner of the U.S. that has drawn closer to China, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won a fourth successive term in an election that opposition parties boycotted. The U.S. and U.K. said the vote was not credible, free or fair.

Political dynasties

In several countries, family ties helped secure or cement power.

Pakistan held messy parliamentary elections – under the eye of the country’s powerful military — that saw well-established political figures vie to become prime minister. The winner, atop a coalition government, was Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, younger brother of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif.

Opponents say the election was rigged in his favor, with opponent and former prime minister, Imran Khan, imprisoned and blocked from running. The situation remains unstable, with Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruling that Khan’s party was improperly denied some seats.

In Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest democracy, former Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto was officially declared president more than two months after an election in which he won over 58% of the vote.

His two losing rivals alleged fraud and nepotism — Subianto’s vice president-elect is outgoing leader Joko Widodo’s son, and Subianto was the son-in-law of Indonesia’s late dictator, Suharto. The country’s highest court rejected their arguments.

Some outcomes were predictable. Russian President Vladimir Putin was reelected to a fifth term in a preordained election that followed his relentless crackdown on dissent. Rwanda’s election extended the 30-year rule of President Paul Kagame, an authoritarian leader who ran almost unopposed.

Far right’s uneven march

The far right has gained ground in Europe as the continent experiences economic instability and an influx of migrants from troubled lands.

Elections for the parliament of the 27-nation European Union shifted the bloc’s center of gravity, with the far right rocking ruling parties in France and Germany, the EU’s traditional driving forces.

The EU election triggered a political earthquake in France. After his centrist, pro-business party took a pasting, President Emmanuel Macron called a risky snap parliamentary election in hope of stemming a far-right surge.

The anti-immigration National Rally party won the first round, but alliances and tactical voting by the center and left knocked it down to third place in the second round and left a divided legislature.

New faces, daunting challenges

A presidential election tested Senegal’s reputation as a stable democracy in West Africa, a region rocked by a recent spate of coups.

The surprise winner was little-known opposition figure Basirou Diomaye Faye, released from prison before polling day as part of a political amnesty.

Faye is Africa’s youngest elected leader, and his rise reflects widespread frustration among Senegal’s youth with the country’s direction. Senegal has made new oil and gas discoveries in recent years, but the population has yet to see any real benefit.

Mexico elected Claudia Sheinbaum as the first female president in the country’s 200-year history. A protege of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the 61-year-old former Mexico City mayor vowed to continue in the direction set by the popular leftist leader.

She faces a polarized electorate, daunting drug-related violence, an increasingly influential military and tensions over migration with the U.S.

Uncertainty is the new normal

On July 28, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro will seek to extend a decade-plus presidency marked by a complex political, social and economic crisis that has driven millions into poverty or out of the country. Opposition parties have banded together, but the ruling party has tight control over the voting process, and many doubt votes will be counted fairly.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, is scheduled to hold its long-delayed first elections in December. That would represent a key milestone, but the vote is rife with danger and vulnerable to failure.

Looming above all is the choice U.S. voters will make Nov. 5 in a tense and divided country. The July 13 shooting at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania, in which the former president was wounded and a rallygoer was killed, came as Democrats agonize over the fitness of President Joe Biden, who has resisted calls to step aside.

The prospect of a second term for Trump, a protectionist wary of international entanglements, is evidence of the world’s shifting power blocs and crumbling political certainties.

“The world is in the transition,” said Neil Melvin, director of international security at defense think tank the Royal United Services Institute.

“There are very broad processes on the way which are reshaping international order,” he added. “It’s a kind of anti-globalization. It’s a growing return to the nation state and against multilateralism.”

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US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Abuja, Nigeria — Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council’s effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatter with members of the U.S President’s Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they tour a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council’s three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council’s effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

“They’re doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria,” said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. “This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they’re really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional.”

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Usofi, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit. 

“We’re happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility,” Usofi said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria’s University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council’s top priorities.

“In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she’s also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities,” Laurent-Mantey said. “And I think for us it’s very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans.”

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

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Kagame opponents and critics say elections in Rwanda neither free nor fair

Kigali — Paul Kagame’s win in Rwanda’s presidential election this week was widely expected, although critics say the vote was neither free nor fair.

Lewis Mudge is the central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Mudge, who lived in Rwanda for several years, said elections there are a mere performance and always produce big wins for Kagame.

“Notwithstanding the economic progress that President Kagame has made, he’s effectively been in power since July of 1994. That progress has not been matched in terms of political and civil rights and that reflects open space for people to have an independent political platform that disagrees with the RPF,” he said.

Kagame won over 99% of the vote, according to preliminary results announced on Monday.

Earlier this year, like many analysts, Strathmore University lecturer Edgar Githua predicted the 66-year-old Kagame would win big but had no doubt the size of the victory would be greatly exaggerated.

“Rwanda is the paradox of Africa. Paradox of Africa because the Rwandese themselves are afraid to talk about their own elections. If you have a vote where 98% votes for one candidate, that is a red flag. Nobody is that popular in this world,” said Githua.

Kagame, who has held various roles since 1994, won by a similar margin in 2017. At a watch party organized by his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, he acknowledged that some people found his margin of victory this year suspicious.

“This is a strange thing, that’s why there are many who don’t understand it, criticize it, but instead it [votes] continues to increase. It’s the uniqueness of RPF and the uniqueness of Rwandans,” he said.

Indeed, Kagame’s supporters, including Samuel Kwazera, said they would vote for him forever if they could.

“During the genocide in 1994, I was four years old; now it’s 30 years until today you can see the progress and you can see democracy going on, I am proud. I wish myself as I love him that he can be forever, and ever,” he said.

Mudge said while there are Rwandans who will continue to vote for Kagame, this was not a free and fair election.

“For our point as an organization that defends civil and political rights of people in Rwanda to express themselves, our point is the context is very different if you want to express yourself differently, if you want to criticize government policy. There’s simply no space for them to operate,” he said.

Kagame faced two opponents — Democratic Green Party Candidate Frank Habineza and independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana. Both received less than 1 percent of the vote.

Other candidates, including some of Kagame’s most vocal critics, were barred from running for president, including Diane Rwigara.

One of the reasons was that she didn’t garner the 600 signatures of support needed in her application.

Mudge said in Rwanda’s political climate, Rwigara had no chance to get the signatures or a place on the ballot.

“For people like Rwigara and [Victoire] Ingabire, it’s not about this technical aspect of signatures. This is about not allowing compelling, articulate women to run, to take attention, and basically challenging the narrative,” he said.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, another critic of Kagame who was a presidential candidate in the 2010 elections, was arrested, tried, and jailed on charges of terrorism and threatening national security. She was released eight years later through a presidential pardon.

She said elections in Rwanda have long been predetermined.

“Persistent wins of presidential elections close to 100% is not a sign of popularity but of lack of competition. … I don’t understand why they refuse to allow the most credible challengers to participate against President Kagame in elections in Rwanda. Of course, this is not only in 2024 but it was the case in 2003, 2010 and 2017,” she said.

Recently Kagame called her a “genocidaire” and said her life will not end well.

“I was surprised to hear President Kagame talking about me being from a genocidaire family but those are accusations used by the government to intimidate everyone who challenges the Rwandan government,” she said.

Analysts acknowledge that Kagame does enjoy real popularity among Rwanda’s electorate, mainly for his ability to guide the East African country toward internal stability and economic progress since the 1994 genocide, when an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists.

At the same time, they say, Kagame continues to stifle dissent, as support for the president and his policies is not unanimous.

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Hunger drives starving Sudanese to seek refuge abroad

Geneva — Hunger and looming famine are driving a growing number of people to flee war-torn Sudan in search of refuge in neighboring countries, according to World Health Organization officials.

Dr. Shible Sahbani, WHO representative to Sudan, recently told journalists that he met Sudanese refugees on a recent mission to Chad who’d left home only because of hunger.

“They say it is not insecurity, it is not a lack of access to basic services, but because they have nothing to eat,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference in Geneva.

An acute food insecurity analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, in late June indicates that 14 months into the conflict, “Sudan is facing the worst levels of acute food insecurity ever recorded by the IPC in the country,” noting that the number of acutely hungry people has risen from 17.7 million to 25.6 million over the last six months.

“There is a risk of famine in 14 areas in greater Darfur, Greater Kordofan, Al Jazirah states and some hotspots in Khartoum if the conflict escalates further, including through increased mobilization of local militias,” says the report.

Sahbani has previously described refugees fleeing the Darfur and Kordofan regions as “disturbing, heartbreaking even,” explaining that women and children spoke of “loss of life, loss of belongings, hunger, disease, a lack of basic services and violence, including sexual violence.” All of this, he said, has led to a massive influx of refugees in the neighboring countries.

Displacement milestone

The United Nations humanitarian affairs agency, OCHA, on Tuesday said the conflict in Sudan “has reached another grim milestone” in its displacement crisis.

Citing the International Organization for Migration, it said 12.7 million people have become displaced since war broke out in mid-April 2023, with more than 10 million remaining inside Sudan and more than 2 million displaced as refugees in five neighboring countries.

Sahbani said that Chad, which is hosting more than 700,000 refugees from Sudan, reportedly is receiving between 500 and 700 new arrivals every day.

“The Chad government and the people of Adre have been welcoming. They have opened their system and their homes,” he said. “But this is a system already overstretched, and these are people who have nothing more to share.”

The WHO is calling for stepped up cross-regional efforts to provide lifesaving humanitarian aid to millions of people trapped in Sudan’s escalating and ever more brutal conflict. Officials are specifically calling for a humanitarian corridor from Chad so essential relief can reach millions of starving people in Sudan.

The U.N.-linked health agency also says the Darfur, Kordofan, Khartoum and Al Jazira states are “all but cut off from humanitarian and health assistance due to the relentless fighting.”

It says the situation is particularly alarming in El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur where more than 800,000 people are besieged and cut off from access to food, health care and medical supplies.

“The wounded cannot get the urgent care they need; children and pregnant and breastfeeding women are weak due to acute hunger,” WHO representative Sahbani said. “Access is crucially and immediately needed so that we can avert the disastrous health situation.”

Weather could make matters worse

He warned that the situation is likely to worsen with the approaching rainy season, which can affect access to health care across the region.

Sahbani said that he expects flooding to hamper the ability of the WHO and its partners to deliver humanitarian assistance, and that the international community will be needed to urgently “bridge the huge funding gap.”

OCHA said that 30% of the U.N.’s $2.7 billion Humanitarian Response Plan has been funded, “more than halfway through the year.”

“We urgently appeal to donors to make good on their pledges and increase their support,” it said.

Sahbani warned that urgent action and a cease-fire are needed to contain an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe.

“If we do not take action now, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Sudan could spiral out of hand, permitting the unchecked reign of diseases, malnutrition and trauma,” he said.

Commenting on the U.N.-mediated “proximity talks” with Sudan’s warring parties underway in Geneva, the WHO official said, “There were some promising signs.”

“Let us wait for the coming hours, days,” he said. “If we cannot get a cease-fire, we hope that at least we can get the protection of civilians and the opening of humanitarian corridors.”

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Indonesian volunteers teach young refugees

Cisarua, Indonesia — In a middle school level class, students are learning about planetary science from the gases of Jupiter to the exosphere on Mercury.

That might seem no different than lessons at many schools around the world, but this session is happening at a learning center for refugees in Indonesia.

Paying close attention is Afnaan Guleid, a 13-year-old whose family fled from Somalia to the Southeast Asian country. She said in her native country her family had to worry about violence, but now she can focus on her dreams.

“I want to be a scientist when I grow up because I love to do experiments and discover things,” Guleid said.

She is one of the 85 students at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center. The entire curriculum is in English, whether the students are learning math, science, social studies or basic life skills. And beginning this year, qualified students could join an online program to work toward an American high school diploma.

Massoud Azimi, 15, is one of them. Azimi is a refugee from Afghanistan who has been in Indonesia for eight years but, along with his family, is scheduled to be resettled in the United States within the next few months.

 “The programs at this learning center are helping me prepare for school in America,” Azimi said. “It’s strengthening my academic skills.”

Cisarua is a town in the hills, a few hours’ drive from the country’s largest city, Jakarta, which has become a hub for many refugees in Indonesia.

A spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency told VOA there are about 12,600 refugees and asylum seekers in the country and approximately 1,300 of them are in Cisarua.

Refugees said the town’s milder temperatures and lower cost of living compared with Jakarta make it an attractive place.

But most, if not all, of these refugees hope to eventually be resettled in a third country. The U.N. refugee agency said the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are accepting refugees from Indonesia, but the process typically takes at least seven years and placement is not guaranteed.

While Indonesia allows refugees to enroll in public schools, the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center offers its students a chance to focus on their English, which is a skill they will need if they are resettled.

“We are trying to prepare them for the next country that they are going,” said Reza Hussaini, the school’s principal, who is a refugee himself from Afghanistan.

The learning center has refugees who fled violence or persecution in countries in Asia and Africa, including Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, and Myanmar. “We have students from different cultures, students from different religions, students from different countries,” Hussaini said. “There is a diversity of culture here.”

Zahra Sakhawat is a 12-year-old from Afghanistan who dreams of becoming a doctor. She said the students at this learning center feel a connection because it fosters a sense of community.

“Everyone is very kind and dear with each other,” she said.

The facilities are basic, no high-tech science labs. The learning center is funded entirely by private donations. There are also English classes for adults, which often attracts parents of the students.

All the teachers are volunteers, and many are refugees themselves, including a 39-year-old man whose identity VOA agreed to conceal out of concerns for his family’s safety in his native Myanmar. He fled the country’s civil war just four months ago because Myanmar’s junta, which staged a coup in 2021 was about to conscript him into the army.

“They were going to force me to fight for their military. So, I will not do it because I will never help the military,” he said. He has a university degree in computer science and hopes he will have a chance to study artificial intelligence in a new country.

In the meantime, he said he is enjoying the opportunity to share his computer and math knowledge as a volunteer at the Cisarua Refugee Learning Center. The school started 10 years ago and has become a model for similar refugee programs that have opened elsewhere in Indonesia.

“All of the refugees deserve a chance to prepare for their futures,” Hussaini said.

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