Nigeria’s Tinubu says country will no longer pay ransom to armed gangs

Abuja, Nigeria — Nigeria will no longer pay ransom to armed gangs that have plagued the country with kidnapping and extortion, President Bola Tinubu said in an opinion piece published Monday.

He made the statement as activists commemorated the 10th anniversary of the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok. Acknowledging that “legitimate concerns” over kidnappings persist, Tinubu said Nigeria must address the root causes of poverty, inequality, and a lack of opportunity if it hopes to eradicate the threat posed by criminal gangs.

In the Newsweek magazine piece, titled “Ten Years Since Chibok – Nigeria Will No Longer Pay the Price,” Tinubu said ransom payments to gangs only encouraged gangs to commit more crimes and said, “the extortion racket must be squeezed out of existence.” 

The president said instead of ransom, perpetrators of the violence will receive the security services’ counter actions. 

He cited the recent rescue of 137 school students kidnapped in Kaduna state. Their abductors had demanded $600,000 in ransom, but the president said no ransom was paid. 

Ndu Nwokolo, managing partner at Nextier, a public advisory firm with focus on security and economic issues, agreed that ransom payment emboldens perpetrators, but said Nigeria is not ready to take such a stance. 

“The Nigerian state is obviously very weak to do those things it says it wants to do. If you’re someone, you have your [relative] kidnapped and you know that the state security agents can’t do anything,” Nwokolo said. “How come you were able to retrieve those numbers of kids without shooting a gun, and we know that those guys demanded ransom? The entire thing shows that there’s no honesty, there’s no transparency.” 

Tinubu said the government’s response to the Chibok abduction in 2014 was slow. 

But, the president said, Nigeria must recognize the changing nature of the threat. He said criminal gangs behind more recent kidnappings are primarily after cash rewards, unlike Boko Haram, which sought to impose Islamist rule. 

In 2022 Tinubu’s predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, tried to criminalize ransom payments to kidnappers, but the decision was met with resistance from activists and the families of victims.  

Security analyst Senator Iroegbu said lack of accountability from authorities is the main concern. 

“There will not be ransoms in the first place if measures are on ground to prevent it,” Iroegbu said. “Why is it easy for kidnappers to kidnap Nigerians and keep them for long? Ten years after Chibok girls, why are the cases still rising? It’s not trying to blame victims who are desperate to do everything they can to rescue their loved ones. For citizens, that may be their last resort.” 

Tinubu said Nigeria must ultimately address the triggers for insecurity, including poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity. 

In the article, Tinubu also talked about his economic reforms. The Nigerian president said they were necessary to save public finances and encourage foreign investment.  

Tinubu scrapped fuel subsidies for the public and floated the naira just days after assuming office last year. The decisions sent prices soaring and were widely criticized, but have not been reversed.  

Tinubu said previous governments had failed to boost the economy, and 63 percent of Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. 

Iroegbu said blaming predecessors will not solve Tinubu’s problems. 

“This mentality of trying to blame past administrations, thinking you’re better while you’re not actually doing something different, needs to stop until there’s a result that Nigerians can see and testify,” Iroegbu said. 

The Nigerian president ended his article by saying, “there will be no more ransoms paid to kidnappers nor towards policies which have trapped our people economically.”

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Zimbabwe’s new gold-backed currency sliding on black market

Harare, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s recently introduced gold-backed currency is sliding on the local black market but officials insist the currency is getting stronger and has a bright future. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare.

Even songs are played on the radio encouraging citizens to embrace the currency, called Zimbabwe Gold — or ZiG — introduced on April 5 trading at 13.56 to the U.S. dollar.

Official statistics say ZiG is now trading at 13.41. But on the black market it is around 20.

Chamunorwa Musengi, a street vendor in Harare, is not optimistic about the new currency which for the moment is trading electronically, with notes and coins coming into circulation on April 30:  

“Let’s wait and see,” he said. “Maybe it will boost our economy for some time. But I do not see anything changing with the new currency, because things are really tight at the moment. We been through this before. When they introduced bond notes, things stabilized for a short time and then it started sliding on the market. They are saying ZiG is around 13 — it will end up around 40,000 against the dollar.”

Bond notes refer to the currency which was launched in 2019 after a decade of Zimbabwe using the U.S. dollar and other currencies.  The bond note had lost about 80% of its value and was trading at around 40,000 to the dollar before its official demise.

Samson Kabwe, a minibus conductor, says he cannot wait for the physical notes and coins of ZiG to be released.

“We are for ZiG, especially for change,” he said. “We had no small notes for change. If ZiG notes and coins come, the government would have done a great thing. We want it like now.”

The government says for now, commodities like fuel will still be bought and sold using U.S. dollars. 

Gift Mugano, an economics professor, predicts the new currency will go the way of the abandoned one.

“[In] 2016, we introduced bond notes which was backed by Afreximbank (African Export–Import Bank) facility of $400 million,” he said. “The Afreximbank is an international bank with reputation. But that was not be sufficient to guarantee the success of the bond notes. So it failed. Right? Why are we failing to guarantee stability? There is no sustained production in the economy because you defend the economy with production. Secondly, confidence issues. People do not trust this system because we have lost money several times.”

But John Mushayavanhu, the new governor or the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, predicts the currency will succeed because it is backed by reserves of gold and other minerals worth $175 million and $100 million cash.   

“We are doing what we are doing to ensure that our local currency does not die,” he said. “We were already in a situation where almost 85% of transactions are being conducted in U.S. dollars because [the] local currency was not living up to the function of store of value. We are going to restore that store of value so that we can start reviving our currency. So, we are starting at $80 million worth, and as we get more reserves, we will gradually be moving towards greater use of the local currency. It is my wish that if we get to the year (end) at 70-30, next year 60-40, the year after 50-50; by the time we get to 50-50 people will be indifferent as to which currency they are using. And that way we regain use of our local currency.”

While Mushayavanhu has that confidence, social media is awash with people and traders — including government departments — refusing to accept the outgoing Zimbabwe currency.

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Zimbabwe seeking to profit through lithium processing

Zimbabwe, with its rich deposits of lithium, is pinning its hopes for economic recovery on mining and processing the mineral, which is a key component in batteries for electric vehicles. Zimbabwe has Africa’s largest lithium reserves and is the world’s sixth-largest lithium producer and supplier. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Kamativi, about 700 kilometers from the capital Harare, where investors have poured millions of dollars into their lithium venture.

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Sudanese farmers strive for food sufficiency as conflict rages

Nairobi, Kenya — Today marks one year since the war between Sudan’s army and its paramilitary wing, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), began. The war has created widespread hunger, as fields lay uncultivated and aid agencies struggle to reach millions of Sudanese displaced from their homes. Despite the challenges, some farmers are getting support from a British aid organization. 

On April 15, 2023, Sudanese awakened to the sound of gunfire, shelling, and the roar of military aircraft as the Sudanese army and the RSF began fighting for control of the capital, Khartoum.

The fighting made it difficult for humanitarian aid organizations to distribute food, and hard for farmers in the conflict zones to plant crops. 

The spreading clashes killed thousands and displaced millions from their homes.

Practical Action, a U.K.-based aid group, is working with farmers in states not affected by the war to produce food, fight hunger and improve their economic conditions.  

The organization is supporting at least 200,000 farmers and families.

Muna Eltahir, the country director of Practical Action Sudan, says her organization is focused on easing food insecurity.    

 

“We have a project in Al-Gedaref and Kassala,” she said. “We have another project in the Blue Nile to support small farmers in increasing their production and productivity through the provision of seed seedlings and some knowledge for the farmers. And this is also successful and can bridge some gaps, but at a very limited scale because we are one of the very, very few organizations working on sustaining agriculture and farmers rather than distribution of relief.”  

According to the United Nations, more than 18 million Sudanese are food insecure, with most trapped in areas of active fighting.

The conflict has disrupted agricultural production, damaging infrastructure and farmers’ livelihoods. 

Jalal Babiker, leader of the Elekhia Farmers Association, told VOA that farmers in his area have increased production and are cultivating more land. 

He said using about 50 feddan of land — equal to about 50 acres — farmers cultivate a variety of crops including potatoes, grapefruit, lemons, bananas, and various vegetables. This year, in collaboration with Practical Action, he said, the farmers embarked on a potato cultivation project in Kassala state, planting approximately 24 feddan across three designated areas.

Residents of Kassala state previously depended on El Gezira and Khartoum for their potatoes and other produce, but the conflict has disrupted the supply chain, and the region is forced to be self-sufficient.

Babiker said the goal in planting potatoes in Kassala state is to improve the business situation of small farmers — planting potatoes to offer farmers cheap potatoes and seedlings and to create employment opportunities for the youth in the region.

Babiker is optimistic about the future of agriculture in his country. However, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned Monday of an escalation of the conflict as more armed groups join the fighting.

Eltahir worries that Sudan’s war will hinder her work with farmers.

“My nightmare is the conflict will expand to the safe areas where we have our activities,” she said. “Then they will loot the harvest, or they will destroy the cultivated land. And then that would be a real disaster. And everything is expected because, like yesterday, they attacked Al-Gedaref.”

Calls from the U.N. and international agencies — urging the warring parties to cease hostilities — so far, have been ignored.

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Activists, families remember Chibok schoolgirls 10 years later

Ten years ago, hundreds of schoolgirls were abducted in northern Nigeria by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram. Many escaped or gained freedom through negotiations, but the fate of 82 girls hangs on the hope of reviving a once-vibrant advocacy group. The “Bring Back Our Girls,” or BBOG, group dominated global headlines after the 2014 abduction. In the decade since the raid, mass abductions have become frequent, and activists have grown weary. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.

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A year since Sudan war began, now aid groups warn of mass death from hunger

CAIRO — On a clear night a year ago, a dozen heavily armed fighters broke into Omaima Farouq’s house in an upscale neighborhood in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. At gunpoint, they whipped and slapped the woman, and terrorized her children. Then they expelled them from the fenced two-story house.

“Since then, our life has been ruined,” said the 45-year-old schoolteacher. “Everything has changed in this year.”

Farouq, who is a widow, and her four children now live in a small village outside the central city of Wad Madani, 136 kilometers (85 miles) southeast of Khartoum. They depend on aid from villagers and philanthropists since international aid groups can’t reach the village.

Sudan has been torn by war for a year now, ever since simmering tensions between its military and the notorious paramilitary Rapid Support Forces exploded into street clashes in the capital Khartoum in mid-April 2023. The fighting rapidly spread across the country.

The conflict has been overshadowed by the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza Strip, which since October has caused a massive humanitarian crisis for Palestinians and a threat of famine in the territory.

But relief workers warn Sudan is hurtling towards an even larger-scale calamity of starvation, with potential mass death in coming months. Food production and distribution networks have broken down and aid agencies are unable to reach the worst-stricken regions. At the same time, the conflict has brought widespread reports of atrocities including killings, displacement and rape, particularly in the area of the capital and the western region of Darfur.

Justin Brady, head of the U.N. humanitarian coordination office for Sudan, warned that potentially tens or even hundreds of thousands could die in coming months from malnutrition-related causes.

“This is going to get very ugly very quickly unless we can overcome both the resource challenges and the access challenges,” Brady said. The world, he said, needs to take fast action to pressure the two sides for a stop in fighting and raise funds for the U.N. humanitarian effort.

But the international community has paid little attention. The U.N. humanitarian campaign needs some $2.7 billion this year to get food, heath care and other supplies to 24 million people in Sudan – nearly half its population of 51 million. So far, funders have given only $145 million, about 5%, according to the humanitarian office, known as OCHA.

The “level of international neglect is shocking,” Christos Christou, president of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, said in a recent statement.

The situation in fighting on the ground has been deteriorating. The military, headed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the RSF, commanded by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have carved up Khartoum and trade indiscriminate fire at each other. RSF forces have overrun much of Darfur, while Burhan has moved the government and his headquarters to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan.

The Sudanese Unit for Combating Violence Against Women, a government organization, documented at least 159 cases of rape and gang rape the past year, almost all in Khartoum and Darfur. The organization’s head, Sulima Ishaq Sharif, said this figure represents the tip of the iceberg since many victims don’t speak out for fear of reprisal or the stigma connected to rape.

In 2021, Burhan and Dagalo were uneasy allies who led a military coup. They toppled an internationally recognized civilian government that was supposed to steer Sudan’s democratic transition after the 2019 military overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir amid a popular uprising. Burhan and Dagalo subsequently fell out in a struggle for power.

The situation has been horrific in Darfur, where the RSF and its allies are accused of rampant sexual violence and ethnic attacks on African tribes’ areas. The International Criminal Court said it was investigating fresh allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region, which was the scene of genocidal war in the 2000s.

A series of attacks by the RSF and allied militias on the ethnic African Masalit tribe killed between 10,000 and 15,000 people in Geneina, the capital of West Darfur near the Chad border, according to a report by United Nations experts to the Security Council earlier this year. It said Darfur is experiencing “its worst violence since 2005.”

With aid groups unable to reach Darfur’s camps for displaced people, eight out of every 10 families in the camps eat only one meal a day, said Adam Rijal, the spokesman for the Coordination for Displaced Persons and Refugees in Darfur.

In Kelma camp in South Darfur province, he said an average of nearly three children die every 12 hours, most due to diseases related to malnutrition. He said the medical center in the camp receives between 14 and 18 cases of malnutrition every day, mostly children and pregnant women.

Not including the Geneina killings, the war has killed at least 14,600 people across Sudan and created the world’s largest displacement crisis, according to the United Nations. More than 8 million people have been driven from their homes, fleeing either to safer areas inside Sudan or to neighboring countries.

Many flee repeatedly as the war expands.

When fighting reached his street in Khartoum, Taj el-Ser and his wife and four children headed west to his relatives in Darfur in the town of Ardamata.

Then the RSF and its allies overran Ardamata in November, rampaging through the town for six days. El-Ser said they killed many Masalit and relatives of army soldiers.

“Some were shot dead or burned inside their homes,” he said by phone from another town in Darfur. “I and my family survived only because I am Arab.”

Both sides, the military and RSF, have committed serious violations of international law, killing civilians and destroying vital infrastructure, said Mohamed Osman, Sudan researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Food production has crashed, imports stalled, movement of food around the country is hampered by fighting, and staple food prices have soared by 45% in less than a year, OCHA says. The war wrecked the country’s healthcare system, leaving only 20 to 30% of the health facilities functional across the country, according to MSF.

At least 37% of the population at crisis level or above in hunger, according OCHA. Save the Children warned that about 230,000 children, pregnant women and newborn mothers could die of malnutrition in the coming months.

“We are seeing massive hunger, suffering and death. And yet the world looks away,” said Arif Noor, Save the Children’s director in Sudan.

About 3.5 million children aged under 5 years have acute malnutrition, including more than 710,000 with severe acute malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization.

About 5 million people were one step away from famine, according to a December assessment by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, considered the global authority on determining the severity of hunger crises. Overall, 17.7 million people were facing acute food insecurity, it found.

Aid workers say the world has to take action.

“Sudan is described as a forgotten crisis. I’m starting to wonder how many people knew about it in the first place to forget about it,” said Brady, from OCHA. “There are others that have more attention than Sudan. I don’t like to compare crises. It’s like comparing two cancer patients. … They both need to be treated.”

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12 dead, 50 missing in DR Congo landslide

Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo — At least 12 people were killed and more than 50 are still missing after heavy rain caused a ravine to collapse onto a river in southwest Democratic Republic of Congo, a local official and a civil society leader said Sunday.

The landslide occurred around midday Saturday in Dibaya Lubwe commune in Kwilu province. It sent a cascade of clay and debris down to the banks of the Kasai River, where a boat was docking, and people were washing clothes.

Interim provincial Governor Felicien Kiway said, 12 bodies had been pulled from the rubble so far, including nine women, three men and a baby.

“Around 50 people are missing but we are continuing to search through the clay,” he said, adding that the chances of finding survivors were thin as the incident had occurred 12 hours prior.

The coordinator of a local civil society group, Arsene Kasiama, said the landslide also fell on people shopping at a market.

He gave a death toll of 11, with seven seriously injured survivors and more than 60 people still missing.

Poor urban planning and weak infrastructure across the Congo make communities more vulnerable to extreme rainfall, which is becoming more intense and frequent in Africa due to warming temperatures, according to climate experts.

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A year in, no end in sight for Sudan’s ‘forgotten war’

A year since war broke out in Sudan, analysts foresee no end to the conflict and say the longer it drags on, the more likely Sudan will become a breeding ground for terrorist groups. VOA spoke via video to a volunteer at one of the last functioning hospitals in Omdurman. Henry Wilkins reports.

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Cameroon opens museum honoring oldest sub-Saharan kingdom

Foumban, Cameroon — To enter the Museum of the Bamoun Kings in western Cameroon, you have to pass under the fangs of a gigantic two-headed snake — the highlight of an imposing coat of arms of one of the oldest kingdoms in sub-Saharan Africa.

Thousands of Cameroonians gathered in the royal palace square in Foumban on Saturday to celebrate the opening of the Museum of the Bamoun Kings.

Sultan King Mouhammad Nabil Mforifoum Mbombo Njoya welcomed 2,000 guests to the opening of the museum located in Foumban — the historic capital of the Bamoun Kings.

The royal family, descendants of a monarchy that dates back six centuries, attended the event dressed in traditional ceremonial attire with colorful boubous and matching fezzes.

Griot narrators in multicolored boubous played drums and long traditional flutes while palace riflemen fired shots to punctuate the arrival of distinguished guests which included ministers and diplomats.

Then, princes and princesses from the Bamoun chieftaincies performed the ritual Ndjah dance in yellow robes and animal masks.

For Cameroon, such a museum dedicated to the history of a kingdom is “unique in its scope”, Armand Kpoumie Nchare, author of a book about the Bamoun kingdom, told AFP.

“This is one of the rare kingdoms to have managed to exist and remain authentic, despite the presence of missionaries, merchants and colonial administrators,” he said.

The Bamoun kingdom, founded in 1384, is one of the oldest in sub-Saharan Africa.

To honor the Bamoun, the museum was built in the shape of the kingdom’s coat of arms.

A spider, which is over 5,000 square meters (54,000 square feet), sits atop the building while the entrances represent the two-headed serpent.

“This is a festival for the Bamoun people. We’ve come from all over to experience this unique moment,” 50-year-old spectator Ben Oumar said.

“It’s a proud feeling to attend this event. We’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” civil servant Mahamet Jules Pepore said.

The museum contains 12,500 pieces including weapons, pipes and musical instruments — only a few of which were previously displayed in the royal palace.

“It reflects the rich, multi-century creativity of these people, both in terms of craftsmanship and art — Bamoun drawings — as well as the technological innovations of the peasants at various periods: Mills, wine presses etc.,” Nchare said.

Also on display are items from the life of the most famous Bamoun King, Ibrahim Njoya, who reigned from 1889 to 1933 and created Bamoune Script, a writing system that contains over 500 syllabic signs.

The museum exhibits his manuscripts and a corn-grinding machine he invented.

“We pay tribute to a king who was simultaneously a guardian and a pioneer… a way for us to be proud of our past in order to build the future” and “show that Africa is not an importer of thoughts,” Njoya’s great-grandson, the 30-year-old Sultan King Mouhammad said.

To commemorate his grandfather’s work, former Sultan King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya launched the construction of the museum in 2013 after realizing the palace rooms were too cramped.

The opening of the museum comes months after the Nguon of the Bamoun people, a set of rituals celebrated in a popular annual festival, joined UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

 

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Sexual assaults rise in Central African Republic 

BANGUI, Central African Republic — It was too late for the mother to shield her children when the two masked and armed Russian fighters burst into her home, held her at gunpoint and took turns raping her. Her five children were forced to watch in the dark. 

Seated in a restaurant in Central African Republic’s capital, to which she fled after the attack, she wiped away tears. Two years on, the assault has “stayed with me in my core,” she said. The Associated Press does not identify survivors of sexual assault. 

She blamed the Russians who are part of the Wagner mercenary group that operates alongside Central African Republic’s army and has been accused by locals and rights groups of abuses. She had seen them patrolling in her town of Bambari before. On the day of the assault, they were fighting rebels there. 

Gender-based violence is rising in Central African Republic amid ongoing conflict, weak legal and care systems, and the stigma attached to speaking up, locals and aid groups say. 

Since 2020, incidents have jumped from about 9,200 reported cases to 25,500, according to cases tracked by the U.N. and partners. 

But international funding for the country has dropped, with gender-based violence receiving some of the least support. The humanitarian request for about $14 million received less than 15% of that, according to the U.N. 

Central African Republic has been in conflict since 2013, when predominantly Muslim rebels seized power and forced the president from office. Mostly Christian militias fought back. A 2019 peace deal only lessened the fighting, and six of the 14 armed groups that signed later left the agreement. 

Wagner, a U.N. peacekeeping mission and Rwandan troops are all on the ground to try to quell the violence. 

“More than 10 years on since this crisis unfolded, many people are still displaced, vulnerable and live at the mercy of armed groups,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “A new dynamic has emerged as well whereby mercenaries aligned with the government are also, at times, preying on the local population.” 

Most likely don’t report

Doctors Without Borders, one of the main organizations working on gender-based violence, says it has seen an increase in patients due to the expansion of services and outreach. But it says the majority of survivors likely don’t come forward, often because help is not available where they live. 

The 37-year-old who fled to the capital, Bangui, said she received mental health treatment and assistance for her children from an international aid group. She’s too afraid to return home and survives by selling charcoal in the market and on handouts from friends. She never reported the attack to police because she thought it was futile. 

“Who can arrest the Russians in this country?” she asked. 

A local fighter who works with Wagner asserted that he saw six of the Russians rape a local woman in the tent where he was sleeping at their base in Bambari in early 2023. He said the Russians give women canned food like sardines or bottled water afterward. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. 

The Russian government didn’t respond to questions. 

Women don’t usually blame Wagner because its fighters are so entrenched in communities that they fear retaliation, aid groups said. During a visit by The Associated Press in March, Russians could be seen driving trucks around Bangui and walking in the western town of Bouar. 

Women who come forward find it hard to receive justice, said Lucie Boalo Mbassinga, vice president of the Association for Women Lawyers for Central Africa. She said they had 213 cases of sexual assault and rape reported in 2022 and 304 cases in 2023. Sometimes women open a case against local fighters but withdraw it because perpetrators’ families pay survivors not to proceed, she said. 

The challenges are compounded by funding cuts. 

In November, Mbassinga’s organization closed a program that was helping survivors across eight provinces, including in the capital, because there was no more money, she said. The cuts by the U.N. Development Program have prevented staff from reaching women in more rural areas, accompanying them to court, and providing medical and mental health support, she said. 

“Victims are abandoned,” Mbassinga said. She suggested having mobile courts to better reach rural areas. 

Donor fatigue and multiple global crises are part of the reason for cuts in funding, but some diplomats and aid workers say the presence of Wagner mercenaries embedded so closely with the government and in communities makes it hard to justify giving aid. There are concerns that funding could be associated with Wagner. 

Other culprits

But not only Wagner fighters are accused of rape. 

The AP spoke with three women who said they had been sexually assaulted. One blamed Wagner. One blamed an armed bandit. One, a security guard, blamed a U.N. peacekeeper. 

The 39-year-old security guard said she was assaulted in November while on the night shift in Bangui at the peacekeeper’s home. He left her about $65 when it was over, she said. 

She asked her supervisor to be transferred to another house but never reported the attack. Her pastor cautioned against it to keep her job. 

The U.N. mission didn’t receive any allegation of sexual assault involving its personnel last November, spokesman Vladimir Monteiro said, and stressed that the U.N. takes such allegations seriously. 

The U.N. has long wrestled with allegations of sexual assaults by U.N. peacekeepers in Central African Republic and elsewhere. Three years ago, the secretary-general ordered the immediate repatriation of the entire U.N. Gabonese peacekeeping contingent following credible reports of sexual abuse. 

The government’s justice ministry didn’t respond to requests for comment. The new constitution has measures to tackle the issue, saying authorities must ensure that sexual assault is eliminated. 

But that comes as little comfort for survivors. 

In December, a 29-year-old woman said she was assaulted at a market about 124 miles (200 kilometers) from Bangui. Three men with knives and machetes robbed her and one raped her. 

She didn’t report it because she didn’t know the man and thought police would refuse to investigate. 

Now the mother of two wants to move on. She finds comfort in a program run by Doctors Without Borders, meeting weekly with a dozen other survivors. 

“The advice I’ve been given is to not think about the aggressor and to stay busy,” she said.

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Nigerian families cope with trauma of more school kidnappings

KADUNA, Nigeria — His weak body stood in the doorway, exhausted and covered in dirt. For two years, the boy had been among Nigeria’s ghosts, one of at least 1,500 schoolchildren and others seized by armed groups and held for ransom.

But paying a ransom didn’t work for 12-year-old Treasure, the only captive held back from the more than 100 schoolchildren kidnapped from their school in July 2021 in the northwestern Kaduna state. Instead, his captors hung on, and he had to escape the forests on his own in November.

Treasure’s ordeal is part of a worrying new development in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country where the mass abduction of 276 Chibok schoolgirls a decade ago marked a new era of fear —with nearly 100 of the girls still in captivity. Since the Chibok abductions, at least 1,500 students have been kidnapped, as armed groups increasingly find in them a lucrative way to fund other crimes and control villages in the nation’s mineral-rich but poorly policed northwestern region.

The Associated Press spoke with five families whose children have been taken hostage in recent years and witnessed a pattern of trauma and struggle with education among the children. Parents are becoming more reluctant to send their children to school in parts of northern Nigeria, worsening the education crisis in a country of over 200 million where at least 10 million children are out of school — one of the world’s highest rates.

The AP could not speak with Treasure, who is undergoing therapy after escaping captivity in November. His relatives, however, were interviewed at their home in Kaduna state, including Jennifer, his cousin, who was also kidnapped when her boarding school was attacked in March 2021.

“I have not recovered, my family has not recovered (and) Treasure barely talks about it,” said Jennifer, 26, as her mother sobbed beside her. “I don’t think life will ever be the same after all the experience,” she added.

Unlike the Islamic extremists that staged the Chibok kidnappings, the deadly criminal gangs terrorizing villages in northwestern Nigeria are mostly former herdsmen who were in conflict with farming host communities, according to authorities. Aided by arms smuggled through Nigeria’s porous borders, they operate with no centralized leadership structure and launch attacks driven mostly by economic motive.

Some analysts see school kidnappings as a symptom of Nigeria’s worsening security crisis.

According to Nigerian research firm SBM Intelligence, nearly 2,000 people have been abducted in exchange for ransoms this year. However, armed gangs find the kidnapping of schoolchildren a “more lucrative way of getting attention and collecting bigger ransoms,” said the Rev. John Hayab, a former chairman of the local Christian association in Kaduna who has often helped to secure the release of abducted schoolchildren like Treasure.

The security lapses that resulted in the Chibok kidnappings 10 years ago remain in place in many schools, according to a recent survey by the United Nations children’s agency’s Nigeria office, which found that only 43% of minimum safety standards such as perimeter fencing and guards are met in over 6,000 surveyed schools.

Bola Tinubu, who was elected president in March 2023, had promised to end the kidnappings while on the campaign trail. Nearly a year into his tenure there is still “a lack of will and urgency and a failure to realize the gravity of the situation, or to respond to it,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior adviser for Nigeria at the International Crisis Group.

“There is no focused attention or commitment of resources on this emergency,” he added.

Treasure was the youngest of more than 100 children seized from the Bethel Baptist High School in the Chikun area of Kaduna in 2021. After receiving ransoms and freeing the other children in batches, his captors vowed to keep him, said the Rev. Hayab.

That didn’t stop his family from clinging to hope that he would one day return home alive. His grandmother, Mary Peter, remembers the night he returned home, agitated and hungry.

“He told us he was hungry and wanted to eat,” she said of Treasure’s first words that night after two years and three months in captivity.

“Treasure went through hell,” said the Rev. Hayab with the Christian association. “We need to work hard to get him out of … what he saw, whatever he experienced.”

Nigerian lawmakers in 2022 outlawed ransom payments, but desperate families continue to pay, knowing kidnappers can be ruthless, sometimes killing their victims when their relatives delay ransom payments often delivered in cash at designated locations.

And sometimes, even paying a ransom does not guarantee freedom. Some victims have accused security forces of not doing anything to arrest the kidnappers even after providing information about their calls and where their hostages were held.

Such was the experience of Treasure’s uncle Emmanuel Audu, who was seized and chained to a tree for more than a week after he had gone to deliver the ransom demanded for his nephew to be freed.

Audu and other hostages were held in Kaduna’s notorious Davin Rugu forest. Once a bustling forest reserve that was home to wild animals and tourists, it is now one of the bandit enclaves in the ungoverned and vast woodlands tucked between mountainous terrains and stretching across thousands of kilometers as they connect states in the troubled region.

“The whole forest is occupied by kidnappers and terrorists,” Audu said as he talked about his time in captivity. His account was corroborated by several other kidnap victims and analysts.

Some of his captors in the forest were boys as young as Treasure, a hint of what his nephew could have become, and a sign that a new generation of kidnappers is already emerging.

“They beat us mercilessly. When you faint, they will flog you till you wake up,” he said, raising his hand to show the scars that reminded him of life in captivity.

No one in the Peter family recovered after their experience with kidnapping.

Jennifer says she rarely sleeps well even though it’s been almost three years since she was freed by her captors. Her mother, a food trader, is finding it hard to raise capital again for her business after using most of her savings and assets inherited from her late husband to pay for ransoms.

Therapy is so costly, that the church had to sponsor that of Treasure while other members of the family are left to endure and hope they eventually get over their experiences.

“Sometimes, when I think about what happened, I wish I did not go to school,” said Jennifer with a rueful grin. “I just feel sorry for the children that are still in boarding school because it is not safe. They are the main target.”

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Hundreds rally in Niger’s capital to push for US military departure

NIAMEY — Hundreds took to the streets of Niger’s capital Saturday to demand the departure of U.S. troops, after the ruling junta further shifted its strategy by ending a military accord with the United States and welcoming Russian military instructors.

Marching arm in arm through central Niamey, the crowd waved Nigerien flags in a demonstration that recalled anti-French protests that spurred the withdrawal of France’s forces from Niger last year after the army seized power in a coup.

One hand-written sign in English read “USA rush out of Niger,” in a show of support for the junta and its decision in mid-March to revoke an accord that had allowed around 1,000 U.S. military personnel to operate on its territory out of two bases.

“We’re here to say no to the American base, we don’t want Americans on our soil,” said protester Maria Saley on the sidelines of the march.

Until the coup, Niger had remained a key security partner of France and the United States, which used it as a base as part of international efforts to curb a decade-old Islamist insurgency in West Africa’s Sahel region.

But the new authorities in Niger have joined juntas in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso in ending military deals with one-time Western allies, quitting the regional political and economic bloc ECOWAS and fostering closer ties with Russia.

The arrival on Wednesday of Russian military instructors and equipment was further evidence of the junta’s openness to closer cooperation with Moscow, which is seeking to boost its influence in Africa.

A few Russian flags were visible at the protest, but some citizens told Reuters Friday they did not want the welcomed Russian defense assistance to lead to a permanent presence in Niger.

“We must not subsequently see the implementation of Russian foreign military bases,” said Abdoulaye Seydou, the coordinator of the M62 coalition of civil society groups that led anti-French protests last year.

His concerns were echoed by student Souleymane Ousmane: “This is how the French and the Americans and all the other countries settled in Niger — from military cooperation, they ended up occupying large parts of our country.”

It is unclear, however, if or when the U.S. troops will leave.

In March, the top U.S. general appeared to suggest there was at least some support from within Niger’s junta for a continued U.S. military presence despite its announced revocation of the accord.

One of the U.S. programs in Niger is a drone base known as Air Base 201, which cost more than $100 million.

Violence in the central Sahel hit a high in 2023, with conflict fatalities in the region rising by 38% compared with the previous year, according to U.S.-based crisis-monitoring group ACLED, citing reports of over 8,000 people killed in Burkina Faso alone last year.

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Suspected Islamist rebels kill at least 10 in Democratic Republic of Congo

BENI, Democratic Republic of Congo — Suspected Islamist rebels killed at least 10 civilians in an attack Friday near the city of Beni in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, local authorities and a United Nations source said. 

The assailants fired guns at people working in fields in Mulekera commune outside Beni, Mulekera Mayor Ngongo Mayanga said Saturday. 

Seven bodies have been collected so far, including those of three women, with five more victims reported elsewhere, he said. 

“Certainly, there are other bodies that we will find as the search continues,” he said by phone, blaming the Allied Democratic Forces rebel group. 

The ADF originates from neighboring Uganda. Now based in eastern Congo, it has pledged allegiance to Islamic State and mounts frequent attacks, further destabilizing a region where many militant groups are active. 

A witness to the latest attack said he was working in a field when he heard bullets shortly after parting from his daughter-in-law. 

“My daughter-in-law went in the opposite direction, but unfortunately that’s when she was killed,” he said, describing how he fled into the forest and spent the night there out of fear of the attackers. 

Decades of conflict between the army and numerous rebel groups have destabilized eastern Congo and fueled a long-running humanitarian crisis. 

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Sudan faces catastrophic crisis as world looks away, aid agencies say

GENEVA — United Nations and international agencies warn that the lives of millions of people in Sudan are at risk as the world looks away from the enormous humanitarian needs facing the war-torn country. 

Sudan has endured a year of war, which humanitarian agencies agree is causing one of the world’s worst human-made disasters. The World Health Organization said, “The war has had a staggering human cost,” with more than 15,000 deaths and an estimated 33,000 people injured. 

“The number of casualties reported is likely an underestimate,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told journalists in Geneva Friday. 

“We also expect there will be more deaths across the entire population due to displacement, disease outbreaks and the inability to access care for other health issues, maternal and newborn health needs, and lack of access to food and water,” Lindmeier said. 

According to a new report by the International Organization for Migration, 20,000 people, half of them children, are forced to flee their homes in Sudan each day. 

Since war erupted a year ago on April 15, the IOM said, more than 8.6 million people have been displaced — about 6.6 million inside Sudan and 1.8 million as refugees in neighboring countries. 

Amy Pope, the IOM director-general, said, “Sudan is on a tragically fast track to becoming one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises in decades, and the conflict that has engulfed the country is creating pressure throughout the region.” 

The World Health Organization also warned that Sudan could soon become one of the world’s worst hunger crises because nearly 18 million people are suffering from acute hunger and 5 million more are on the brink of famine. 

And yet, WHO spokesperson Lindmeier said, “This is only the tip of the iceberg” of an increasingly desperate situation. 

“Time is running out. Without a stop to the fighting and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid, Sudan’s crisis will dramatically worsen in the months to come and could impact the whole region,” he said 

“Access for humanitarian actors is particularly constrained. Half of the states are not accessible from within Sudan. Darfur and Kordofan are inaccessible and cut off from humanitarian aid.” 

Sudan’s national army and the rival Rapid Support Forces militia began fighting on April 15, 2023, each seeking to control the government. The two sides have made it difficult for aid groups and relief supplies to reach civilians. 

“The situation in Sudan was already very fragile before the war, and it has now become catastrophic,” said Ozan Agbas, Medecins Sans Frontieres Emergency Operations Manager for Sudan. 

In a statement issued Friday, he said “In many of the areas where MSF has started emergency activities we have not seen the return of the international humanitarian organizations that initially evacuated in April.” 

MSF, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders, has accused the world of “turning a blind eye as the warring parties intentionally block humanitarian access and the delivery of aid,” thereby putting millions of people at risk. 

In the runup to the first anniversary of the conflict in Sudan, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is urging the warring parties to support a cease-fire and engage in dialogue “for the sake of humanity, for the people and children who are suffering.” 

Speaking in Mombasa, Kenya, IFRC Head of Delegation Farid Abdulkadir described the enormous toll the war has taken on the lives and livelihoods of the Sudanese people. 

He said that the conflict has shattered the basic fabric of everyday life across Sudan and that the country’s health system has collapsed and is unable to care for the population. 

“Vital infrastructure is destroyed; professionals across all sectors have lost everything. While over 700,000 children are at risk of being malnourished, the humanitarian consequence of the conflict is dire,” he said. 

“But worst of all is the people’s engagement in livelihood and food production, which has both an impact now and an impact in the future,” 

A report issued by the U.N. Development Program on Friday assesses the social and economic impacts of the armed conflict on rural communities. 

The UNDP study surveyed more than 4,500 rural households across Sudan, concluding that the country faces an accelerating food security crisis. 

It says food production and supply chains “have been disrupted by the ongoing war” and warns “that a famine in Sudan is expected in 2024,” particularly in the states of Khartoum and Al-Jazirah and in the Darfur and Kordofan regions. 

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Nearly 55 million face hunger in West and Central Africa

DAKAR, Senegal — Soaring prices have helped fuel a food crisis in West and Central Africa, where nearly 55 million people will struggle to feed themselves in the coming months, U.N. humanitarian agencies warned Friday.

The number facing hunger during the June-August lean season has quadrupled over the last five years, they said, noting that economic challenges such as double-digit inflation and stagnating local production had become major drivers of the crisis, beyond recurrent conflicts in the region.

Among the worst-affected countries are Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Mali, where around 2,600 people in northern areas are likely to experience catastrophic hunger, said the World Food Program, U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, and the Food and Agriculture Organization in a joint statement.

“The time to act is now. We need all partners to step up … to prevent the situation from getting out of control,” said Margot Vandervelden, WFP’s acting regional director for West Africa.

Due to the food shortages, malnutrition is alarmingly high, the agencies said, estimating that 16.7 million children younger than 5 are acutely malnourished across West and Central Africa.

The region’s heavy dependence on food imports has tightened the squeeze, particularly for countries battling high inflation such as Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Policies should be introduced to boost and diversify local food production “to respond to the unprecedented food and nutrition insecurity,” said Robert Guei, the FAO’s Sub-regional Coordinator for West Africa.

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National ID card issue hangs over planned South Sudanese elections

Juba, South Sudan — Since gaining independence in 2011, South Sudanese residents have been working to build their country, the world’s youngest nation.

However, many citizens fear a technicality — the lack of a required National Identification Card — may block them from participating in the country’s first planned democratic elections in December.

Registration for the polls begins in less than two months.

“I don’t think they will allow those without an ID to vote,” said a young man, who asked to be identified only as Alex for safety reasons.

Alex, who is a resident of Magwi in the state of Eastern Equatoria, told VOA he has made repeated trips to the immigration offices in the capital, Juba, to get a National Identification Card.

After three failed attempts, Alex became worried he would be locked out of the upcoming election.

“The first challenge I face is the distance,” he said. “Secondly is the finance, because traveling from this end to Juba is a bit costly.”

Leaders will identify voters

Ter Manyang Gatwech, the executive director of the Center for Peace in Juba, said getting an ID card should be a routine matter.

“Every citizen should have access to a national ID,” said Gatwech. “This is a concern because getting an ID in this country is quite expensive. For you to vote, you must have ID.”

Gatwech said the government should give citizens national IDs free of charge.

But South Sudan has no plans to issue ID cards to everyone. A spokesperson for the country’s elections commission, George Lemi, said that during voter registration, the commission may hire local administrators to confirm people’s identities.

“To be eligible to vote, you must be 18 years and above,” said Lemi. “You must be a national — which is having a national ID or passport.”

Lemi said that if one doesn’t have an ID card and is South Sudanese, local leaders can “come and prove and identify you, to give you [a] way or to approve you.”

Elections set for December

South Sudan’s elections were originally scheduled for 2015, four years after it separated from Sudan. However, the country’s civil war and delay in creating a constitution forced the election to be deferred several times.

Now, according to the South Sudan 2023 National Elections Act, voter registration will begin six months before elections, in June.

The elections are scheduled for December 22. For the first time, South Sudanese will get the chance to vote for a president, members of parliament, and several state and local offices.

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Will donors help prevent famine at Sudan support conference? 

new york — Humanitarians said an international support conference next week for Sudan must be a success, as 18 million Sudanese face crisis levels of hunger while funding for lifesaving programs is running out.

“It is essential that we get the levels of funding that will allow us to scale [up] to the extent required,” Michael Dunford, World Food Program regional director for East Africa, told reporters from Nairobi.  

On Monday, ministers will gather in Paris for a two-part conference co-hosted by the European Commission, France and Germany. There will be discussions on how to move toward a political solution to the conflict, and a separate meeting of humanitarians and international donors for a humanitarian conference for Sudan and its neighbors.

This will take place on the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the civil war, which has seen food insecurity surge and millions displaced. 

“As intense fighting continues, the humanitarian tragedy grows worse by the day,” Justin Brady, head of the U.N. office for humanitarian affairs in Sudan, told reporters from Port Sudan.

“Already, nearly 5 million people are one step away from famine,” he said. “Recent analysis indicates that famine is expected in parts of Khartoum and Greater Darfur – especially in hard-to-reach areas.”

Children are particularly affected, with an estimated 730,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition. Brady said more than 200,000 children could die in the coming weeks and months if they do not receive urgent assistance.

Humanitarians are especially worried because these are record-high numbers during the harvest season, when food should be available and affordable. But because of the yearlong war between rival Sudanese generals, farmers and pastoralists have fled and their crops and cattle have withered, died or been destroyed. 

 

The lean season will be upon Sudan in June, and then the number of people who are acutely food insecure will likely grow from the current 18 million people.

“This is why we are desperately concerned that the 5 million population in emergency levels of food insecurity are likely to move into catastrophic levels in the coming months,” said WFP’s Dunford. “This is really a very real risk of becoming the largest hunger crisis anywhere in the world — if not already.”

Despite dangers, bureaucratic difficulties, funding shortages and other constraints, Brady says humanitarians have reached more than 8 million people with aid since the war started.

That assistance is in jeopardy, though, as the U.N. humanitarian appeal for $2.7 billion is just under 6% funded. About $400 million is needed immediately so aid workers can pre-position supplies ahead of the lean season, and an additional $700 million to sustain the response in the coming months as humanitarians launch a famine prevention plan.

Neither of the warring parties is expected to be represented at the Paris conference, but members of Sudanese civil society have been invited to participate.

Sudan is now home to the world’s largest internal displacement crisis, with 6.3 million people forced from their homes in search of safety. Another 1.7 million have fled to neighboring countries. More than 70% of health facilities in conflict areas have stopped functioning.   

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Flooding in Kenya kills at least a dozen, displaces 15,000

NAIROBI, Kenya — Heavy rains pounding different parts of Kenya have led to the deaths of at least 13 people and displaced some 15,000 people, the United Nations said, as forecasters warn that more rains can be expected until June. 

The U.N Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing the Kenya Red Cross Society, said Thursday that nearly 20,000 people were affected, including an estimated 15,000 people displaced by heavy rains and flash floods across the country since the start of the wet season in mid-March. 

The East African country has seen thousands of people killed by flooding in previous rainy seasons, mostly in the lake regions and downstream of major rivers. 

The Kenya Red Cross Society said that five major roads were cut off by floods, including Garissa Road in northern Kenya, where a bus carrying 51 passengers was swept away on Tuesday. All passengers were rescued. 

Kenya’s disaster management agency issued a flood warning to residents of Lamu, Tana River and Garissa counties, which are downstream of Tana River, after flooding breached dams upstream. Residents have been urged to move to higher ground. 

So far, nine out of 47 counties in the country have reported flooding incidents 

Mudslides have been reported in the central regions. On Tuesday four people were killed in Narok county, in the western part of the country. 

The Kenya Red Cross Society’s secretary general, Ahmed Idris, told Citizen TV that “lifesaving assistance,” including shelter and clean drinking water, was being offered to those displaced and living in camps to avert outbreaks of waterborne diseases. 

The rainy season is expected to reach its peak toward the end of April and subside in June, according to the meteorology department. 

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13 arrested in Ethiopia over killing of Oromo opposition figure

Body of Bate Urgessa of the Oromo Liberation Front found on a road outside Meki on Wednesday

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Sudan’s silent suffering, a year into generals’ war

Port Sudan, Sudan — Millions displaced and on the brink of famine. Sexual and ethnic violence. Infrastructure destroyed. Aid workers say a year of war between rival generals in Sudan has led to catastrophe, but the world has turned away.

The northeast African country is experiencing “one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory” and “the largest internal displacement crisis in the world,” the United Nations says.

It is also on track to become “the world’s worst hunger crisis.”

Aid workers have called it the “forgotten war” affecting a country of 48 million — more than half of whom they say need humanitarian assistance.

“People have been killed and raped and assaulted and detained and beaten and taken away for months at a time. We’re used to it,” said Mahmud Mokhtar, who helped provide volunteer social services in the Khartoum area during the war before finally fleeing to Cairo.

Experts see no end in sight to the fighting, which began on April 15 last year between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Since then, thousands of people have been killed, including up to 15,000 in one West Darfur town alone, according to U.N. experts.

More than 8.5 million have had to flee their homes to seek safety elsewhere in Sudan or across borders in neighboring countries.

The war “is brutal, devastating and shows no signs of coming to an end,” said veteran Sudan expert Alex de Waal.

But even if the violence stops now, “the state has collapsed, and the path to rebuilding it is long and fraught,” de Waal said.

Before the bombing and pillaging began, Sudan was already one of the world’s poorest countries.

Yet the U.N. says that by January, its humanitarian response scheme had only been 3.1% funded and can barely reach one of every 10 people in need.

‘Milestone of shame’

“Before the start of the war, there were dozens of international organizations responding across the country,” according to Christos Christou, international president of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“Now, there are almost none.”

The health system has all but collapsed, and most agricultural land — the leading employer and once touted as a model for African development — is out of commission, researchers have said.

Gibril Ibrahim, finance minister in the army-aligned government, said in early March that Sudan had lost “80% of its income.”

Days later, the situation became even more precarious when the energy minister declared force majeure over a “major rupture” on an oil pipeline. Oil exports, via neighboring South Sudan, account for tens of millions of dollars in earnings each month.

For desperate civilians, virtually all that remains is mutual aid: volunteers organizing soup kitchens, evacuation plans and emergency health care.

“The world continues to look the other way,” said Will Carter, Sudan country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which alongside MSF is one of the few humanitarian organizations still operating there.

The war’s anniversary is “a milestone of shame,” he said, charging that the international community “has allowed this catastrophe to worsen.”

On the ground, the RSF now controls most of the capital and the western Darfur region.

The paramilitaries descended from the feared Janjaweed militia, unleashed by former strongman Omar al-Bashir’s government to quash an ethnic rebellion.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Bashir with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes dating from 2003, but Sudanese authorities never handed him over following his overthrow in 2019 after mass protests.

‘Pure evil’

During the current war, government forces have used their air power to bomb targets on the ground but failed to gain back much territory and have been blamed for striking civilians.

“A final victory is out of the question,” said a former army officer, requesting anonymity to speak freely.

Sudanese analyst Mohammed Latif agreed, telling AFP a win “is impossible” at this point for either side.

“Their troops are tired and their supplies drained,” Latif said.

There has, however, been no shortage of abuses against civilians, rights groups say.

“What is happening is verging on pure evil,” Clementine Nkweta-Salami, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, said earlier in the war.

Most recently, the army has taken over homes in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, according to a pro-democracy lawyers’ committee, after similar seizures by the RSF earlier in the fighting.

The lawyers’ committee, like other volunteer groups across Sudan, has spent the past year painstakingly documenting violations including summary killings, the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and the forced conscription of children.

The ICC, currently investigating ethnic-based killings primarily by the RSF in Darfur, says it has “grounds to believe” both sides are committing atrocities.

International mediation efforts yielded only truce announcements that were quickly violated.

A U.N. Security Council call last month for a cease-fire also failed to end the war, as did Western sanctions.

The war is “a vortex of transnational conflicts and global rivalries that threaten to set a wider region aflame,” said de Waal.

Both sides have sought regional support, experts say, and the United Arab Emirates has been painted as the RSF’s main foreign backer, though its leaders deny it.

Washington has signaled talks could restart around April 18, but army-aligned prosecutors have since moved against civilian leaders the international community had looked to as potential partners.

Still, according to de Waal, “it should not be difficult to reach a consensus across Africa and the Middle East that state collapse is in no one’s interest.”

Against those complex realities, Amer Sohaiel, a displaced man taking shelter in Darfur’s Abu Shouk camp, has a simple hope, “that God will help us achieve peace this year.”

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