UN Appeals for $2.6 Billion to Ease Hunger Crisis in Somalia

The U.N. is appealing for $2.6 billion this year to assist 7.6 million of the most vulnerable Somalis who are facing acute hunger and possible famine from conflict, high food prices, and unprecedented drought.

“Famine is a strong possibility from April to June this year, and of course beyond, if humanitarian assistance is not sustained, and if the April to June rains underperform as currently forecast,” Adam Abdelmoula, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, told reporters in a video briefing.

The country, along with other parts of the Horn of Africa, is in the throes of historic drought after five consecutive failed rainy seasons.

Abdelmoula said nearly 6.4 million people are currently facing high levels of food insecurity and that is expected to rise to 8.3 million between April and June, including 727,000 of them who are expected to experience catastrophic hunger levels.

The U.N. says those at highest risk are in Baidoa and Burhakaba districts and among the displaced populations in the Baidoa town of Bay Region and in Mogadishu. In addition, several areas and population groups in central and southern Somalia are at risk of famine.

Abdelmoula said the distinction between a declared famine and what millions of Somalis are already experiencing is “truly meaningless,” as children are already starving.

In 2011, after three failed rainy seasons, Somalia went through a famine that killed 250,000 people — half of them children. Now it is in its fifth failed rainy season and the forecast for the upcoming one is not promising.

“Don’t listen to those who tell you that this is the worst drought in 40 years,” Abdelmoula said. “This is the worst drought in Somalia’s recorded history, period.”

He urged donors to step up, noting that after the 2011 famine the international community said “never again.”

“If we truly want to honor that promise, there is no time to lose,” he said. “Every delay in assistance is a matter of life or death for families in need.” 

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Nigerian Supreme Court Suspends Currency Swap Deadline

Nigeria’s Supreme Court has suspended the government’s deadline to stop the use of old currency notes.

The Central Bank of Nigeria had ordered people to swap out old bank notes for currency with a new design by the February 10 deadline, but the directive led to cash shortages, protests and some attacks on banks.

The court ruling halts the move by federal authorities and the Central Bank of Nigeria to completely phase out the old 200, 500 and 1,000 naira bills by this Friday. The Central Bank has yet to respond to the court ruling, which comes ahead of another hearing next week.

The decision follows a lawsuit filed by three Nigerian state governors seeking to keep these bank notes in circulation a while longer.

Abdulhakeem Mustapha, the attorney who filed the suit on behalf of the Kogi, Kaduna and Zamfara state governors, said Wednesday the bid to transition to the new notes was causing political instability.

However, economist Emeka Okengwu said the central bank has been operating within legal parameters and that the high court should not be involved.

“Clearly we can see that the CBN is making efforts. All they need to do is be able to redouble their efforts,” Okengwu said. “I don’t think they should extend it, and I think we should start respecting the sanctity of institutions. The CBN is operating based on the laws and powers that it has. This is not arbitrary, so I don’t even think that the Supreme Court should have entertained that suit.”

In late October, the central bank redesigned the bank notes to curb crime, ransom payments to kidnappers, and counterfeiting and to regain control of the amount of money in circulation.

Authorities say the measure has been successful.

But millions of citizens across the country have been scrambling to get the new notes.

The situation has been especially challenging for some 40 percent of Nigerians in rural areas who have little access to banking services.

Daily struggles have resulted in protests and attacks on commercial banks.

The CBN has blamed the scarcity of the old money on sabotage by commercial banks and has been cracking down on institutions that are not compliant.

On Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari held a private meeting with the central bank governor and the head of anti-graft agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The closed-door meeting followed pleas for calm as citizens protested the cash shortages.

The situation comes ahead of elections set to begin later this month. 

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E-Trucks Expanding in Rural Rwanda With Expansion Plans in East Africa

Electric trucks tested two years ago in rural Rwanda have quickly expanded as the fleet reduced costs and with a lower impact on the environment. The British company, Ox Delivers, plans to introduce newer models this year and hopes to expand further into East Africa.  Senanu Tord looks at the challenges they face in this report from Kigali, Rwanda

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UN Refugee Commissioner Wants Better Ethiopia Funding

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi has appealed for more international aid to help Ethiopia’s war-displaced, saying only half of their required funding was met last year.

While visiting Ethiopia this week, the high commissioner said that addressing the needs of Ukrainian people affected by Russia’s invasion must not mean the needs of the rest of the world are neglected.

“Last year, UNCHR’s program in Ethiopia were only half funded,” Grandi said. “This is not acceptable and I hope that this year after the peace agreement, that there will be more attention and more support given to our programs.”

During his first visit to Ethiopia since the November peace deal was reached between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the high commissioner visited Mekelle, the capital of Tigray region, where he met with people displaced by the two-year war.

“I want to make a strong appeal here, where there is an opening created by the peace process, it is absolutely important that all necessary resources are mobilized to sustain the peace agreement,” he said.

The high commissioner also visited the new refugee site in Alemwach in the Amhara Region, which shelters 22,000 Eritreans.

“I think there’s quite a lot of work that we need to do on that particular site to make living conditions better. We had quite a good discussion with the representative of the refugees. We also have to recognize that Eritreans have gone through a very troubled time,” Grandi said.

Prior to the start of the war in Ethiopia, about 20,000 Eritrean refugees were sheltered in camps in Tigray. Both camps were destroyed when they came under attack during the war.

The high commissioner also raised the importance of supporting the U.N.’s work in Ethiopia in recognition of the country hosting the third largest number of refugees in the world, with 880,000 people. A majority of those refugees are South Sudanese, followed by Somalis and Eritreans.  

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Uganda Says It Will Not Renew Mandate of UN Human Rights Office

Uganda has said it will not renew the mandate of the United Nations’ human rights office in the East African country, citing the development of its own sufficient capacity to monitor rights compliance. 

In a letter by Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Ministry sent to Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on February 3 and seen by Reuters on Wednesday, the ministry noted progress Uganda had made in developing a domestic capacity to monitor rights as the main reason for its decision. 

“The ministry wishes to convey the government’s decision not to renew the mandate of the OHCHR Country office in Uganda beyond the current term,” said the letter, which the ministry confirmed to Reuters as authentic. 

OHCHR Uganda country office spokesperson Bernard Amwine told Reuters he had no comment. 

President Yoweri Museveni’s government has over the years been criticized by the opposition, human rights activists and Western countries for various rights violations including torture, illegal detentions and extrajudicial killings of opponents and critics. 

Officials have denied almost all of the accusations and said all security forces implicated in rights abuses have been duly punished. 

Museveni, 78, who came to power after a five-year guerrilla war, has ruled Uganda since 1986 and the opposition and critics have accused him of grooming his son, a general in the country’s military, to take over from him. Museveni has repeatedly denied doing so. 

The OHCHR Uganda office was established in 2006 and was initially allowed to focus only on human rights issues in conflict-plagued areas in Uganda’s north and northeast, according to the Uganda government. It was later allowed to cover the rest of the country. 

In the letter, the ministry said the government had since gained enough commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and that there was “peace throughout the country, coupled with strong national human rights institutions and a vibrant civil society.” 

Uganda’s next election is in 2026 and Museveni is widely expected to seek another term, although he has not indicated if he will stand. 

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Nigerians Vote Soon to Choose Next President, Lawmakers

Nigerians will vote on February 25 to choose their next president along with lawmakers in the House and Senate chambers. With 18 candidates vying for the job, experts at a panel discussion on Tuesday weighed in on the electoral dynamics and their implications for security, the economy and Nigeria’s foreign policy.

Among the main contenders are Bola Tinubu from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

But something is different this time, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Africa Security Initiative who convened Tuesday’s panel discussion. Besides representatives of the APC and the PDP, candidates include Peter Obi, the former governor of Anambra state who is representing the Labor Party and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, former governor of Kanu and former federal minister of defense of the New Nigeria People’s Party.

“This election is more competitive than has been the case certainly generating a lot of excitement just in terms of the electoral dynamics,” Felbab-Brown said.

Each candidate has a vision for Africa’s biggest economy and most populous nation. Tinubu, 70, said he will create wealth for the country.

“We will turn Nigeria and it will be our El Dorado,” he said when he accepted the party nomination, Reuters reported.

Abubakar, 76, who lost to President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 elections, has a message of inclusion. Buhari is stepping down after two terms.

“Every part of this country will be given a sense of belonging, no part will be sidelined, no part will be marginalized,” he said.

For Obi, 61, it’s time to build a new Nigeria that’s more attractive to its people.

“Those who left … even the young people who are today leaving, they will come back, we want to bring them back,” he said. “Nigerians are prepared to come back if they can find that they have a country to go back to.”

Obi has generated buzz among young Nigerians, panelists said. Matthew Page, associate fellow at Chatham House and author of the book, Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, said the election is a test of strength for the country’s kleptocratic ruling class.

“I think we are all watching in light of Peter Obi’s candidacy to see if the country’s powerful ruling elites who, regardless of their party, maintain their grip on the political system in Nigeria now since 1999,” Page said. “Will they retrench decisively and maintain their hold on the system, or will they face a strong challenge from candidate that are enjoying the support of younger Nigerians?”

According to the electoral commission, 93 million people have registered to vote, and voters age 18-34 make up about 40% of that total, said Cynthia Mbamalu, director of programs for Yiaga Africa.

Page said on the economy, Nigeria must pursue economic and fiscal policies that unleash the country’s human and economic potential.

“Nigeria is pretty much trapped in a problematic cycle of high inflation, currency devaluation and manipulation, wasteful spending and irresponsible borrowing,” he said. “Now Nigeria’s debt to GDP ratio remains relatively low, at the same time its debt servicing costs are incredibly high. So, for example, in its 2023 budget, debt servicing costs would account for 30% of the government’s budget.”

Other issues Nigeria faces, the panelists said, include crime, corruption, climate change and the need for good governance.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.

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Somali President Calls for Cease-Fire After Deadly Fighting

Somalia’s president has called for a cease-fire after clashes in a disputed town in the breakaway region of Somaliland left at least 13 people dead.

Both sides accuse the other of starting the fighting; Somaliland insisted it was defending itself from aggression.

“The reason for the confrontation is not due to animosity, but for political reasons,” Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on Tuesday. “Therefore, we are sorry and not happy about what is happening there. … Respect the interest of the people, lay down arms, and stop the fighting. Start negotiating.”

Tensions have been building in Las Anod, the capital of the contested Sool region, since December. The region has been a point of conflict between Somaliland and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, both of which lay claim to the territory.

“The fighting in Las Anod was ignited by a series of killings in the town and the lack of arrests of the perpetrators,” said Mohamed Abdulle, a security analyst and the founder of Daludug Security Services in Somalia. “Somaliland authorities made no arrests to ease the situation. That angered the public.”

Somaliland has been governing the Sool region since capturing it from Puntland in 2008. However, the region has witnessed a series of battles between the two sides. Abdulle warns the fighting in the Sool region could impede the ongoing campaign by the federal government in central regions.

“It is possible these clashes could undermine operations against al-Shabab,” said Abdulle. “Immediately clashes started, al-Shabab attacked a strategic village and briefly held it. Also, Somaliland uses the term terrorism against the locals fighting its soldiers, so that could increase the insecurity.”

Abdiaziz Issack, a security analyst with the cultural and research organization known as the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilization Center, told VOA that the conflict in the Sool region runs deep and cannot be solved without resolving the Somalia-Somaliland dispute.

“There is no single solution to the conflict in Las Anod and the Sool region at large,” he said. “However, it goes back to the dispute between Somalia and Somaliland. The two sides have to agree to a joint administration of the Sool region until the talks between Somalia and Somaliland are concluded.”

Clan elders, who had been meeting in Las Anod before the fresh fighting started, said in a communique that they reject the administration of Somaliland over the territory. They said that the region will be governed by the federal government in Mogadishu. Issack said that, while that stance acknowledges the authority of the federal government, President Mohamud will need to take a diplomatic path to avoid a dispute with Somaliland.

Issack said the federal government finds itself in a tight spot regarding the issue.

“While it might want to directly intervene, it guards against going into a collision with Somaliland,” said Issack. “Therefore, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud will just have to continue encouraging dialogue and cease-fire building on the goodwill of his government with the administration in Somaliland.”

The fighting in Las Anod has once again ignited the long-running debate over regional autonomy in Somalia. In the past, politicians in the Sool and Sanaag regions have pushed for the formation of a federal member state referred to as Khatumo, but that initiative has not gained recognition from the federal government.

As tensions flare again, the federal government and the break-away region might need to directly engage with one other to avert more killings and to create room for the resumption of long-delayed talks between Somaliland and Somalia.

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Dozens Killed in Eastern Somaliland Clashes

At least 38 people were killed, and more than 130 others injured following two days of fighting in Las Anod town, in eastern Somaliland.  

Health officials also reported Las Anod General Hospital, the town’s main medical center, was hit by suspected mortars. 

“We were hit by four incoming fires which destroyed some parts of our offices,” said Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, the hospital director.

Hassan said the hospital was targeted Monday and Tuesday and that some of the staffers and patients fled the facility to seek safety elsewhere. 

Hassan also said other hospitals recorded casualties, but he did not give additional figures because he was not in communication with those medical facilities. 

Somaliland declared its secession from Somalia in May 1991 but has not yet achieved international recognition. Despite the lack of recognition, Somaliland was widely praised by the international community for achieving stability and holding democratic elections. 

The clashes between Somaliland forces and local fighters comes after weeks of tension in the town following the killing of a local politician by masked gunmen. It was the latest in a series of assassinations in the town over many years, incidents which authorities blamed on al-Shabab fighters. 

Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi accused the “enemy of Somaliland” of being behind the killings. 

This latest fighting also comes amid a dispute over the future status of territories in eastern Somaliland, where a significant number of the locals appear to support unity with Somalia. 

Mutual recrimination

Each side accused the other of starting the fighting. 

On Monday, local elders who have been meeting in the town issued a declaration stating they are not part of Somaliland. The declaration stated the territories are part of the federal republic of Somalia and “stand for the unity and integrity” of Somalia. 

The Somaliland government dismissed the declaration.  

In a statement, Somaliland said its forces are fighting “international terrorist groups that have been planning on creating insecurity, and instability” in Las Anod, and it warned that the violence in Las Anod is threatening the stability of the region. 

In the same statement, Somaliland said it is prepared to resolve the situation in Las Anod through dialogue and consensus.  

The elders in Las Anod said they are not terrorists and that they elected 45 members to govern the area. They urged Somaliland to withdraw its forces. 

Calls for dialogue

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has called for the cessation of hostilities in Las Anod. He said in a speech the conflict in Las Anod requires a “political solution.”  

He said resolving the dispute will be part of the overall effort to gain the unity of Somalia. “Put down the weapons, cease the fire, start dialogue,” Mohamud said.

The federal government also said it welcomes the decision of the people of Las Anod to support solidarity with Somalia. 

Mohamud has urged respect for the wishes of the people. He said to continue to spill the blood of Somalis is “unacceptable.” 

Meanwhile, foreign diplomatic missions in Mogadishu, including the United Nations, the European Union, African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), and the United States, issued a brief statement calling for a peaceful settlement.

Separately, the U.N.’s deputy special envoy for Somalia, Adam Abdelmoula, said in a tweet the new clashes have displaced more than 80,000 people in Las Anod, and that international human rights law, where applicable, must be upheld.

Nuh Muse Birjeb contributed to this report.

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UN High Commissioner Visits Displaced in Ethiopia

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi traveled to Ethiopia’s Tigray region this week to meet with families displaced by conflict.

Since arriving in Ethiopia on February 5, Grandi also has met with the president of Ethiopia and with Eritrean refugees in Alemwach camp in Amhara.

Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia have faced targeted attacks over the past two years of war. In December, the UNHCR collaborated with partners to relocate 7,000 Eritrean refugees from Western Tigray to Alemwach. 

Though access for aid to Tigray has improved since a peace deal was signed in November between the federal government and Tigray forces, resources remain limited compared to needs, according to a U.N. report.

Grandi said through a statement made on Twitter that the peace agreement has allowed humanitarian agencies to deliver more aid in areas of Northern Ethiopia impacted by conflict.

Since the deal, the federal government has restored basic services and humanitarian aid to the region. As part of the agreement, Tigrayan fighters have handed over heavy weapons to the federal government, while Amhara special forces have left the Tigray region. On February 3, Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed met with TPLF leaders for the first time to discuss the implementation of the peace deal. 

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Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov Visits Mali

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Tuesday vowed that Russia will continue helping Mali improve its military capabilities in a joint press conference aired live on state television.

Standing alongside his Malian counterpart, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop, Russia top diplomat touted the August 2021 delivery of several fighter jets and helicopters, adding that more military support is assured.

“We have delivered very important aircraft,” he said, “and this has considerably increased the capacity of Malian armed forces to eradicate the terrorist threat.”

Russian support for the West African nation’s efforts to sustain a decade-long battle against al-Qaida and Islamic-State-linked militants has increased since France’s withdrawal from the country last year.

The French army intervened in Mali in 2013 after the north of the country was taken over by Islamist militants but withdrew last year on concerns about Mali’s military government working with Kremlin-backed Wagner Group mercenaries

The growing partnership between Moscow and Bamako has prompted Western concern. Mali has been under international scrutiny for cooperating with Russian Wagner mercenaries since last year, with the U.N. and several international human rights organizations calling for investigations of massacres committed by the mercenaries working with the Malian army.

Lavrov and Diop both referenced efforts by the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in Mali. Both ministers described those efforts as “neocolonial,” with Diop claiming they are an effort to “destabilize” Mali.

Rights groups and journalists reported human rights abuse allegations committed by Russian mercenaries several times last year. Following one investigation, French broadcasts were banned from the country.

Last week U.N. experts called for an investigation into “international crimes” committed by the Wagner Group in Mali.

Following testimony at a U.N. Security Council meeting on January 27, Mali’s military government expelled the chief of the U.N. mission to Mali’s human rights division for “destabilizing and subversive” actions against the Malian government.

Violence has continued to spread south in recent years, with several attacks in recent months near Bamako attributed to Islamist militants. In July of last year, Mali’s main military base in Kati, 15 kilometers from Bamako, was attacked by Islamist militants.

Lavrov’s visit comes as Moscow seeks to shore up relations with its allies amid Western isolation because of its invasion of Ukraine.

Russian news agency RIA quoted Lavrov as saying that Moscow hoped to start delivering wheat, fertilizers and oil products to Mali soon.

Lavrov has visited a series of African countries recently as Moscow, hit by Western sanctions over its war in Ukraine, seeks to strengthen ties and strategic partnerships elsewhere.

Some information in this report came from Reuters.

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Sub-Saharan Africa Is ‘New Epicenter’ of Extremism, Says UN 

The new global epicenter of violent Islamic extremism is sub-Saharan Africa where people are increasingly joining because of economic factors and less for religious ones, says a new report by the U.N.’s international development agency.

A significant increase of 92% of new recruits to extremist groups are joining for better livelihoods compared to the motivations of those interviewed in a previous report released in 2017, according to the UNDP report released on Tuesday.

Many Africans’ lives have been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, high inflation, and climate change, said the report.

There has been a 57% decrease in the number of people joining extremist groups for religious reasons, it said.

Nearly 2,200 people were interviewed for the report in eight African countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan. More than 1,000 interviewees are former members of violent extremist groups, both voluntary and forced recruits, said the report.

At least 4,155 attacks across Africa were documented since in 2017, said the report. In these attacks, 18,417 deaths were recorded in the continent with Somalia accounting for the largest number of fatalities.

The Somali government is currently carrying out what has been described as the most significant offensive against the al-Shabab extremist group in more than a decade.

Those interviewed were drawn from various extremist groups across the continent including Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia, which pledges allegiance to al-Qaida, and in West Africa Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, or JNIM, which is allied to the Islamic State group.

Sub-Saharan Africa has become the new global epicenter of violent extremism with 48% of global terrorism deaths in 2021, UNDP administrator Achim Steiner said in a press briefing ahead of the report’s launch.

This surge in extremism in Africa “not only adversely impacts lives, security, and peace, but also threatens to reverse hard-won development gains for generations to come,” he said.

Military campaigns to stamp out extremism are not proving to be successful, said Steiner.

Security-driven counter-terrorism responses are often costly and minimally effective, yet investments in preventive approaches to violent extremism are woefully inadequate,'' he said.The social contract between states and citizens must be reinvigorated to tackle root causes of violent extremism.”

About 71% of those who joined extremist groups were influenced by human rights abuses by state security forces, such as the killings or arrests of family members, said the report.

Security forces in some sub-Saharan countries have been accused of brutality and extrajudicial killings and weak judicial systems give victims little hope for justice, it said.

Nigeria’s Boko Haram and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa Province, have grown in influence by using money to entice impoverished communities, Hassan Chibok, a community leader in Nigeria’s Borno state where the conflict is concentrated told The Associated Press in a separate interview.

Those who left the extremist groups cited unmet expectations, particularly the lack of sustained financial benefits, and an absence of trust in extremist leaders as their main reasons for quitting.

Research shows that those who decide to disengage from violent extremism are less likely to rejoin and recruit others, said the report.

This is why it's so important to invest in incentives that enable disengagement,'' said Nirina Kiplagat, a UNDP specialist in preventing violent extremism in Africa.Local communities play a pivotal role in supporting sustainable pathways out of violent extremism, along with national governments’ amnesty programs.”

The UNDP report recommends better basic services including child welfare, education, and quality livelihoods to prevent people from voluntarily joining extremist groups. It also urged the creation of more exit opportunities and investment in rehabilitation and community-based reintegration services.

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Seeing Wrongdoing and Injustice, Ugandan Journalist Uses Reporting for Change

When asked how she made her breakthrough in investigative journalism, Cecilia Okoth says it came down to having a curious mind.

Assigned to cover a media briefing at a cancer treatment center in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, the reporter was intrigued by the patients waiting on the building’s veranda.

Many had traveled from across Uganda for treatment that is supposed to be free. But when Okoth spoke with the patients, she heard stories of irregularities in the care, with some patients saying doctors had asked them for bribes.

Because of her inquisitive nature, Okoth said, that “debut story became my main sort of breakthrough.”

Okoth went undercover to look into the allegations raised by patients. When her story was finally published by Uganda’s New Vision media group in August 2018, it made waves.

“Parliament acknowledged the article, and many people were able to share their experiences on social media about how they had been harassed by the same medical doctors that I caught on camera,” she told VOA. “That alone gives me the satisfaction that I was able to do something different for society.”

In more recent years, Okoth has reported on issues affecting children and young people — a focus that led her in 2023 to join the communications team at the charity ChildFund in Uganda.

She cites another of her investigative pieces as a turning point. It was 2019, and Okoth was in the Kenyan capital for a conference on child protection.

“We took a break to go and see what Nairobi was like. And then I noticed young girls from a particular ethnic tribe,” she said. “I was so curious.”

The reporter found that girls from Napak district in northern Uganda, some as young as 10, were being taken to Nairobi on the promise of school or work.

“But it was child trafficking. And most of these girls ended up being sexually abused,” she said.

As well as reporting on the case, Okoth was able to help rescue nearly 300 girls.

“[They] were brought back and taken to facilities for sort of rehabilitation … trying to get them to do things and learn skills,” she said.

For Okoth, “[It’s] not just about exposing the wrongdoing but being a story that will even wake up the government to say, ‘We didn’t know this is where our girls were ending up.’

“We must do a lot about looking at government solutions, and then journalists — the fourth estate and the voice for the voiceless — can change the narrative,” she said.

Fellow Ugandan journalist Solomon Serwanjja shares a similar view. In an interview with VOA last month, he said reporters can help bring change.

“Everyone talks about changing the world. But changing the world requires that we do something,” he said.

Doctors save lives, lawyers defend the weak, politicians pass good laws, said Serwanjja. “And fighting for freedoms is changing the world as an investigative journalist,” he said.

As journalists, “when we see something is going wrong, we have the platforms, we have the audience, we have the equipment, we have the knowledge, we have the skills to do something about it,” Serwanjja said.

But looking into corruption and wrongdoing can bring risks in Uganda. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report published in January, noted that authorities in Kampala often fail to hold security forces accountable for human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. The report found that journalists are also “routinely harassed and intimidated.”

Media rights organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, have also cited challenges for media, including attacks, kidnappings, and threats for those who report on influential figures.

But when asked about the risks she and others in Uganda face, Okoth said, “Tell me any profession that has no risks. If there’s something wrong, there must be someone to start that talk,” she said.

And the reward from bringing important issues to light keeps Okoth going.

“My journey in investigative journalism has paid off because I have been focusing on issues with children. The injustices and providing proper and workable solutions,” she said.

It is that interest that led Okoth to take a position at ChildFund.

She sees the work as a continuation of her reporting career, saying, “I wouldn’t have gotten there if I didn’t do these stories that expose the wrongdoings … it has enabled me to embark on a career that will help me continue my passion for children.”

Okoth would like to see more newsrooms encouraging female reporters to take on complex stories.

When she started in journalism, she didn’t think she would be qualified for investigative reporting.

“I often looked at it as something that was [reserved] for the seniors in the newsroom, and being a female was even worse because we know that investigative journalism is usually a bit complicated in safeguarding yourself,” Okoth said.

“The newsroom, like some organizations, is primarily male-dominated,” she said. “It is high time for editors to deliberately encourage their [female reporters] to go for these stories.”

This article originated in VOA’s English to Africa service.

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Proposed Sudan-Israel Peace Deal Triggers Protest in Khartoum

Scores of Sudanese protested in the capital Monday against diplomatic relations with Israel, after last week’s surprise visit by the Israeli foreign minister. 

Dozens of Sudanese protesters chanted “no normalization” with Israel, as they held banners blaming Sudanese military leader Abdul Fattah al-Burhan for committing a “betrayal.”

Monday’s protest comes days after Sudanese and Israeli officials announced that the two countries are moving toward normalizing ties.

The announcement was made Thursday after an official visit by the Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Eli Cohen, who met with Sudanese officials in Khartoum.

Speaking to VOA during Monday’s protest, Mohammed Al Safi said, he rejects any form of normalization with Israel.

Al Safi, who is a member of the self-described “popular campaign” against normalization with Israel, said al-Burhan’s decision doesn’t reflect the will of the Sudanese people.

“We are at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to raise our voice that Khartoum shall remain the town for ‘No to peace, no to normalization and no to recognition of Israel,” he said.

That policy, known as the ‘Three Nos,’ was established at a 1967 Arab League summit in Khartoum, soon after the 1967 Mideast War when Israel took control of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Another protester, Tamadur Omer, said she took part in the protest to reject the “illegality” of the decision taken by the Sudanese military leaders.

Speaking to VOA while wearing a Palestinian scarf around her neck, she said her religion doesn’t allow her to live in peace with the Israeli people. That is why the government’s decision doesn’t serve the interest of all Sudanese people.

“As a Muslim, I reject the normalization in principle and value,” she said. “And as a Sudanese people, we will not sell our country to Zionists. Such a decision can only be the mandate of an elected and a legitimate government.”

Another demonstrator, Al Fadil Abu Basher, said protesters will push to maintain the rejection of any ties with Israel.

“This is an unconstitutional and illegal decision and they, the military, do not have the right to take such a decision,” he said. “We are ready to face the illegal step with all the rejection [it] means. All means are open for us.

Abdulrahman Khaleel, the spokesperson of the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry, downplayed the protest, saying people are free to demonstrate. 

“It is normal that part of the Sudanese are against this. They have a right to express their opinion,” he said.

In 2020, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco all normalized relations with Israel as part of the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. Sudan separately announced plans to establish diplomatic ties with Israel in a deal brokered by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. 

In January 2021, Sudan’s government issued a declaration paving the way to normalizing ties with Israel, and later approved a bill abolishing a boycott of the country dating back to 1968.

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HRW: Thick Veil of Violence’ Around Nigeria’s Elections

Human Rights Watch said Monday that there is a “thick veil of violence” surrounding elections scheduled to take place in Nigeria later this month.  

The violence “undermines people’s fundamental right to vote,” said Anietie Ewang, HRW’s Nigerian researcher, who called on Nigerian officials to install secure systems that would allow Nigerians to vote safely.  

“It is important for the authorities to swiftly restore public confidence in their ability to hold those responsible for electoral violence accountable and ensure the safety and security of all Nigerians,” Ewang said in a statement.  

In the capital city of Imo state, Owerri, where violent secessionist groups have repeatedly attacked election authorities in an effort to disrupt elections, a human rights activist told HRW that people want to vote to be a part of the political process, “but this is severely challenged by the security issues which there appears to be little or no commitment to address.”   

The activist said there is “a strong sense of fear among voters.” 

Nigerians go to the polls February 25 to elect a new president and other politicians. 

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UN Peacekeeper Killed in Attack on Helicopter in DR Congo

A United Nations peacekeeper from South Africa was killed and another wounded in an attack on their helicopter in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday, the organization said.   

The aircraft came under fire at around 3:00 pm (1200 GMT) during a flight to Goma, the provincial capital of Nord-Kivu province, where it was able to land, a spokesman told AFP.   

The source of the fire that struck the helicopter was not yet known and its precise location had yet to be determined, said Amadou Ba, a spokesman for the UN mission in the DRC (MONUSCO).   

South Africa’s military also confirmed the incident.   

“An Oryx helicopter came under fire in Goma, the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Sunday February 5, 2023,” the South African National Defense Force (SANDF) said in a statement.    

“A crew member was fatally shot, another suffered injuries but managed to continue flying the chopper and landed safely at Goma Airport.    

“The SANDF is in the process of informing family members of the soldiers who were involved in this unfortunate incident.”   

MONUSCO chief Bintou Keita said she “strongly condemns this cowardly attack on an aircraft bearing the UN emblem”, adding that “attacks against peacekeepers can constitute a war crime”.    

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Congolese authorities “to investigate this heinous attack and swiftly bring those responsible to justice”, said his spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement.    

Raging conflict  

On March 29, 2022, eight UN peacekeepers — six Pakistanis, one Russian and one Serb — were killed when their helicopter crashed over a combat zone between the Congolese army and M23 rebels.   

Militias have plagued the mineral-rich eastern DRC for decades, many of them a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and the early 2000s.    

Since November 2021, the M23 rebel group has seized chunks of territory and come within miles of the east’s main commercial hub Goma.   

East African leaders called Saturday for an immediate ceasefire in eastern DRC, at an extraordinary summit called to find ways of calming the raging conflict.   

The talks were hosted in Burundi by the seven-nation East African Community (EAC), which is leading mediation efforts to end the fighting in the vast central African nation.   

The resurgent M23 has taken control of swathes of land in the mineral-rich east and fighting is continuing despite a peace roadmap hammered out in Angola last July, and the deployment of an East African Community force in November.   

The DRC is awash with minerals and precious stones, but the decades of war and chronic mismanagement mean that little of the vast wealth trickles down to the population of some 100 million. 

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Mali Expels UN Mission’s Human Rights Chief

The Malian interim government on Sunday said the head of the U.N. peacekeeping mission’s human rights division had 48 hours to leave the country as he had been declared persona non grata. 

In a statement, it said the decision to expel Guillaume Ngefa-Atondoko Andali was connected to his allegedly biased choice of civil society witnesses for U.N. Security Council briefings on Mali, the most recent of which was held on January 27. 

The U.N. mission in Mali MINUSMA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Andali could not be reached for comment. 

The Malian authorities have come under pressure for alleged human rights violations and abuses reportedly perpetrated by Malian armed forces in partnership with the Russian private military contractor Wagner Group in Mali. 

On January 31, U.N. experts called for an independent investigation into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by both these forces. 

The Malian government, which took power in a 2021 military coup, on Saturday released a statement that pushed back against some of the U.N. allegations and emphasized the authorities’ commitment to respecting human rights in accordance with international and national law. 

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South Africa Records 2 Imported Cholera Cases

South Africa has recorded two confirmed imported cases of cholera, the health department said Sunday, as it called for vigilance. 

The cases were of sisters who had in January traveled to Malawi, where a cholera outbreak since last year has claimed more than 1,000 lives as of January, the highest on record in the country. 

“Both patients had developed symptoms on their return to Johannesburg,” the health department said in a statement. 

“A close contact (household family member) of one of the patients was admitted to hospital on 4 February with diarrhea and dehydration, and is considered a possible case,” it said, adding laboratory test results were pending. 

Cholera is an acute diarrheal infection caused by the bacteria Vibrio cholerae and can be deadly if left untreated. It is mainly spread by contaminated food and water. 

Cholera is not endemic in South Africa, the health department said. The last outbreak in the country was in 2008-2009 when about 12,000 cases were reported following an outbreak in neighboring Zimbabwe which led to a surge of imported cases and subsequent local transmission. 

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Pope Francis Wraps Up South Sudan Trip, Urges End to ‘Blind Fury’ of Violence

Pope Francis wound up a peace mission to South Sudan on Sunday urging the people to make themselves immune to the “venom of hatred” to achieve the peace and prosperity that have eluded them through years of bloody ethnic conflicts.

Francis presided at an open-air Mass on the grounds of a mausoleum for South Sudan’s liberation hero John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash in 2005 before the predominantly Christian country broke away from Muslim Sudan in 2011.

The 86-year-old pope wove his homily around the themes that have dominated his trip to the world’s newest nation – reconciliation and mutual forgiveness for past wrongs.

The crowd sang, drummed and ululated as Francis entered the dusty area.

He begged the crowd of about 70,000 people to shun the “blind fury of violence.”

Two years after independence, South Sudan plunged into a civil war that killed 400,000 people. Despite a 2018 peace deal between the two main antagonists, bouts of fighting have continued to kill and displace large numbers of civilians.

At the end of the service, in a farewell address shortly before heading to the airport to fly home, the pope thanked the people of South Sudan for the affection they showed him.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I return to Rome with you even closer to my heart,” he told them. “Never lose hope. And lose no opportunity to build peace. May hope and peace dwell among you. May hope and peace dwell in South Sudan!”

The pope has had a longstanding interest in South Sudan. In one of the most remarkable gestures of his papacy, he knelt to kiss the feet of the country’s previously warring leaders during a meeting at the Vatican in 2019.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, leader of the global Anglican Communion, and Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, accompanied the pope during his visit to South Sudan.

The “pilgrimage of peace” was the first time in Christian history that leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Reformed traditions conducted a joint foreign visit.

Hope of a turning point

Earlier on his Africa trip, the pope visited Democratic Republic of Congo, home to the continent’s largest Roman Catholic community, where he celebrated Mass for a million people and heard harrowing stories from people harmed by war in the eastern part of the country.

Among the worshippers at Sunday’s Mass in the South Sudanese capital Juba was Ferida Modon, 72, who lost three of her children to conflict.

“I want peace to come to South Sudan. Yes, I believe that his visit will change the situation. We are now tired of conflict,” she said. “We want God to listen to our prayers.”

Jesilen Gaba, 42, a widow with four children, said: “The fact that the three churches united for the sake of South Sudan, this is the turning point for peace. I want the visit to be a blessing to us. We have been at war; we have lost many people.”

Francis made another appeal for an end to the tribalism, financial wrongdoing and political cronyism at the root of many of the country’s problems.

He urged the people to build “good human relationships as a way of curbing the corruption of evil, the disease of division, the filth of fraudulent business dealings and the plague of injustice.”

South Sudan has some of the largest crude oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa but a U.N. report in 2021 said the country’s leaders had diverted “staggering amounts of money and other wealth” from public coffers and resources.

The government dismissed the report and has denied accusations of widespread corruption.

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Three Killed in Attacks on Ethiopian Orthodox Church, According to Report

Three people have been killed Saturday in attacks on a church in southern Ethiopia, according to reports by a religious media outlet.

The violence erupted against a backdrop of tensions in the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church after rebel bishops created their own synod in Oromia, the country’s most populous region.

Abune Henok, Archbishop of Addis Ababa Diocese, described the incidents in the Oromia city of Shashamene as “shameful and heart-wrenching,” according to the Church-affiliated Tewahedo Media Center (TMC).

The TMC said two Orthodox Christian youths had been killed, and another four people injured, when Oromia special forces attacked the church in Shashamene, which lies about 250 kilometers (150 miles) south of Addis Ababa.

It later said there had been sniper fire on the church from nearby high-rise buildings that had killed a woman and injured others.

It was not possible to independently verify the reports.

Henok called on the authorities in Oromia, also the largest geographic region in Ethiopia, to stop the “persecution” of Orthodox Christians, according to the TMC.

A statement issued by the Holy Synod later urged clergy and the faithful to wear black in protest and called for peaceful demonstrations at churches at home and abroad on February 12.

The unity of the Ethiopian Church, one of the oldest in the world and which accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s 115 million population, is under threat after the move by the rebel clergy last month.

The Church, headed by Patriarch Abune Mathias for a decade, has declared the breakaway synod illegal and excommunicated the bishops involved.

It has also accused the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of interfering in its affairs and making comments that effectively recognized the “illegitimate group.”

Addressing cabinet members earlier in the week, Abiy — who is himself from the Oromo community — called for the rivals to engage in dialogue and said both sides had their “own truths.”

The breakaway bishops accuse the church of discrimination and linguistic and cultural hegemony, saying congregations in Oromia are not served in their native language, claims rejected by the patriarchate.

Orthodox leaders have long complained of religious persecution, including the burning of churches several years ago, and relations with the government have been tense in the past, including over the Tigray conflict.

The World Council of Churches issued a statement Friday voicing “deep concern” about the developments in the Ethiopian institution.

“We call upon all political leaders in Ethiopia to support the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in its efforts to achieve unity and peace among its members,” WCC general secretary Jerry Pillay said.

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41 Dead After Bandits, Vigilantes Clash in Nigeria

Authorities in Nigeria’s Katsina state have launched a joint security operation after 41 people were killed when a vigilante group clashed with bandits who attacked their village.

This is the latest violence ahead of the February 25 presidential and parliamentary election where insecurity has become a major concern of voters. 

Katsina state police spokesman Gambo Isah said that, as of Saturday, a joint security team that includes the military, air force and police were still searching for the perpetrators.

The bandits are believed to be holed up in the nearby Yargoje Forest, where many of the victims were found.

50 cows, 30 sheep stolen

The local vigilante group known as Yankasai was drawn from 11 communities in the Bakori area, where bandits stole 50 cows and 30 sheep before fleeing into the bush.

The vigilante group traced the suspects to the Yargoje Forest to recover the animals but were ambushed by the bandits, killing 41 and injuring two others.

“Our men are still there and as I am speaking with you presently an operation is ongoing,” Isah told Voice of America by phone. “But I cannot say there is no arrest being made but we’re waiting for the result of that operation.”

The bodies of slain vigilantes have been recovered and taken to the mortuary. The injured are being treated at the Kankara General Hospital.

Crime a concern

Katsina state is the home state of Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari, and one of the most affected by growing violence perpetrated by armed gangs in northwest Nigeria.

Attacks in the region have led to criticism of Buhari’s eight-year tenure built on a promise to fix insecurity in Nigeria.

The Katsina state special adviser on security said the village attack and the killings have sparked outrage in the community. Authorities have called for calm.

Last week, Katsina state residents hurled stones at the president’s motorcade during his visit to commission projects started by the state’s governor.

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