More Than a Dozen Civilians Killed in DR Congo Massacre

More than 12 civilians were killed by members of a notorious rebel group in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo Saturday, the army and Red Cross said.

“We heard bullets at dawn in the village of Beu Manyama. When we arrived, it was already too late because the enemy ADF had already killed more than a dozen of our fellow citizens with machetes,” army spokesman Anthony Mualushayi told AFP.

Described by the so-called Islamic State as its local affiliate, the rebel Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) have been accused of killing thousands of civilians in DRC’s troubled east.

After the attack early Saturday, in the Beni region in North Kivu province, soldiers pursued the attackers and “neutralized seven ADF” and captured another, Mualushayi said.

Local Red Cross head Philippe Bonane put the civilian death toll at 21-24 and was supervising the transfer of bodies to the morgue.

The massacre comes after almost a month of relative calm in Beni, where the Congolese and Ugandan armies have been conducting joint military operations against the ADF since late November.

On Friday another Red Cross representative said that soldiers in the neighboring Ituri province had found 17 decapitated bodies, also believed to be victims of the ADF.

More than 120 armed groups roam eastern DRC and civilian massacres are common.

Both the North Kivu and Ituri have been under a “state of siege” since May last year. The army and police have replaced senior administrators in a bid to stem attacks by armed groups.

Despite this, the authorities have been unable to stop the massacres regularly carried out on civilians

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Children Among 31 Killed in Church Fair Stampede in Nigeria

A stampede Saturday at a church charity event in southern Nigeria left 31 people dead and seven injured, police told The Associated Press, a shocking development at a program that aimed to offer hope to the needy. One witness said the dead included a pregnant woman and many children.

The stampede at the event organized by the Kings Assembly Pentecostal Church in Rivers state involved people who came to the church’s annual “Shop for Free” charity program, according to Grace Iringe-Koko, a police spokeswoman.

Such events are common in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, where more than 80 million people live in poverty, according to government statistics.

Saturday’s charity program was supposed to begin at 9 a.m. but dozens arrived as early as 5 a.m. to secure their place in line, Iringe-Koko said. Somehow the locked gate was broken open, creating a stampede, she said.

Godwin Tepikor from Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency said first responders were able to bring the bodies of those trampled to death to the morgue. Security forces cordoned off the area.

Dozens of residents later thronged the scene, mourning the dead and offering any assistance they could to emergency workers. Doctors and emergency workers treated some of the injured as they lay in the open field. Videos from the scene showed the clothing, shoes and other items meant for the beneficiaries.

One witness who identified himself only as Daniel said many children were among the dead. Five children were from one mother, he told the AP, adding that a pregnant woman also died.

Some church members were attacked and injured by relatives of the victims after the stampede, according to witness Christopher Eze. The church declined to comment.

The police spokeswoman said the seven injured were “responding to treatment.”

The “Shop for Free” event was suspended while authorities investigated how the stampede occurred.

Nigeria has reported similar stampedes in the past.

Twenty-four people died at an overcrowded church gathering in the southeastern state of Anambra in 2013, while at least 16 people were killed in 2014 when a crowd got out of control during a screening for government jobs in the nation’s capital, Abuja.

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Algerian Dissidents: Victims of Crackdown or Outlaws?

Mohamed Benhalima looks wary and frightened as he is led off a plane at Algiers airport, handcuffed with a security officer’s arm wrapped around him. A team from Algeria’s Rapid Intervention Force then puts him in their vehicle and whisks him to an unknown destination.

The video was posted online March 24. Three days later, Algerians watched on television as the 32-year-old confessed to involvement with an organization that authorities have listed as an Islamist terrorist group plotting against the Algerian government.

Once a faithful servant of his homeland as a noncommissioned army officer, Benhalima became a supporter of Algeria’s pro-democracy movement, then a deserter who fled to Europe. Spain expelled him after Algeria issued a warrant for his arrest.

The confession scene was made public by Algeria’s General Directorate of National Security, in what could be seen as a warning to other soldiers or citizens.

Hundreds of Algerian citizens have been jailed for trying to keep alive the Hirak movement that held weekly pro-democracy protests starting in 2019, leading to the downfall of longtime Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The marches were banned last year by the nation’s army-backed government.

Authorities then expanded their sweep, linking some Hirak supporters to two groups added to Algeria’s terror list last year: Rachad, regarded as Islamist infiltrators whose leaders are in Europe, and MAK, a separatist movement in Kabylie, home of the Berbers.

“For the last two or three years, there have been thousands of legal cases against activists,” said well-known lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi. “Their only error is that they expressed their political opinions on social media … and are fighting for a state of law.”

For authorities of the gas-rich North African nation, guaranteeing the stability of the state is at the heart of their actions. For human rights groups, Benhalima and others are victims of an unjust, antiquated system of governance that views dissidents, or any critical voices, as criminals. They say that Algerian authorities use threats to national security to stifle free speech, including among journalists, and justify arrests.

A campaign on social media, with the hashtag #PasUnCrime (not a crime) was launched May 19 by dozens of non-governmental organizations against repression of human rights.

The U.S. State Department’s 2021 report on human rights in Algeria cited a long list of problems, including arbitrary arrests and detentions and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association. In March, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, asked Algeria to “change direction” to “guarantee the right of its people to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”

“To be a human rights activist in Algeria has become very difficult,” said Zaki Hannache, a Hirak militant recently temporarily released from prison. “To be an activist who refuses the system is complicated. It even means sacrifices.”

Hannache, best known for keeping track of Hirak-related arrests, was arrested and jailed in February on a string of charges, including defending terrorist acts.

The alleged confession of Benhalima captures the combination of evils that Algeria claims it is up against. He said that he was under the spell of Rachad and in contact with its London-based leader and his two brothers. The official APS news agency said Benhalima confirmed “the implication of the terrorist organization Rachad in abject plans targeting the stability of Algeria and its institutions by exploiting misguided youth.”

Rachad’s website claimed the police video showed the forced confession of a “hostage” in a security services propaganda exercise.

Rachad’s true goals are unclear, but it is a key target of Algeria’s crackdown. In December, Rachad said it had submitted a complaint to a U.N. special rapporteur over Algeria’s “arbitrary” classification of the group as a terrorist organization and asked U.N. authorities to urge Algeria to cease its “illegal practices.”

Spain expelled Benhalima based on national security interests and activities “that may harm Spain’s relations with other countries,” according to Amnesty International. Spain expelled another deserter, Mohamed Abdellah, a dissident gendarme, to Algeria last August. Amnesty International described him as a whistleblower.

Spain has a special interest in remaining on good terms with Algeria, which provides much of its gas needs.

According to the National Committee for Freedom for the Detained, some 300 people are behind bars in Algeria for their political opinions. Up to 70 were given provisional freedom at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but others have since been arrested.

In a case emblematic for Algerian journalists, the man who heads the outspoken Radio M and the online news site Algerie Emergent, Ihsane El-Kadi, risks three years in prison with a five-year ban on working for allegedly attacking national unity, among other things. He had raised the ire of a former communications minister with a column pleading for the protest movement Hirak not to divide itself over Rachad. The verdict is set for next week.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune recently launched an ill-defined initiative dubbed “outstretched hands,” described as an “internal front” to promote dialogue across all sectors of society. Army chief Said Chengriha suggested in several speeches that it is also to counter Algeria’s perceived enemies. The initiative precedes the July 5 celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence from France, which was won after a brutal seven-year war.

“No one can refuse” to take part in this initiative, said Abou El Fadl Baadji, secretary-general of the National Liberation Front, once Algeria’s sole political party. He was among the officials that Tebboune has recently met with on the subject. People “await with suspense the contents of this initiative … but we’re for this idea, even before knowing the details.”

Benhalima awaits a verdict of his appeal of a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted in absentia for invasion of privacy and attacks on state interests, linked to his online posts on the Algerian military, including confidential information on senior officers.

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Congo Summons Rwandan Ambassador Over Alleged Support for M23 Rebels

The Democratic Republic of Congo has summoned Rwanda’s ambassador and suspended Rwandair flights to Congo in response to what it says is Kigali’s support for M23 rebels carrying out a military offensive in eastern Congo.

Rwanda denies supporting the rebels, who advanced as close as 20 km this week to eastern Congo’s main city of Goma and briefly captured the army’s largest base in the area. 

Congo and U.N. investigators had also accused Kigali of supporting the M23 during a 2012-2013 insurrection that briefly captured Goma. Rwanda denied those charges.

Congo’s government spokesman, Patrick Muyaya, announced the suspension of flights by Rwanda’s national carrier and the summoning of the ambassador late Friday night, following a meeting of the national defense council.

He also said Congolese authorities had designated the M23 a terrorist group and would exclude it from on-and-off negotiations being held in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, between Congo’s government and militia groups active in the east.

“A warning was made to the Rwandans, whose attitude is likely to disrupt the peace process that is nearing its end with the discussions in Nairobi, where all the armed groups, except for the M23, are committed to the path to peace,” Muyaya said.

Rwanda’s government was not immediately available for comment on Saturday.

The fighting over the past week has forced more than 72,000 people from their homes, the United Nations said on Friday, compounding Africa’s worst displacement crisis.

Eastern Congo has experienced near constant conflict since 1996, when Rwanda and other neighboring states invaded in pursuit of Hutu militiamen who had participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide

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Insecurity Puts Mali’s Historic Djenné Mosque at Risk

Experts say Mali’s struggle against Islamist militants is putting its World Heritage sites at risk. For the first time in modern history, officials say, the annual replastering of the mud mosque in the town of Djenné in central Mali will likely be canceled because of security concerns. The concerns cast doubt onto the government’s claim it is winning the fight against terrorism.

The Great Mosque of Djenné  is the largest mud brick building in the world and was a main attraction in Mali’s formerly thriving tourism industry.

Each year the mosque is replastered in an event known as the “crépissage.” This year, the event is on the verge of cancellation for the first time, as Mali’s decadelong conflict has gradually moved south into the center of the country.

A Djenné resident who wished to remain anonymous, speaking via a messaging app from Djenné, said that in recent weeks he saw ambulances circulating in town and military helicopters flying overhead, signs of unrest in neighboring villages. The Malian army said on its Twitter account this month that four soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack near the town.

He said that due to insecurity, village residents have decided not to hold the crépissage this year, an event he has participated in since he was a child.

Abdramane Dembele, deputy mayor of Djenné, said that the crépissage has not yet been officially canceled, but has been delayed due to insecurity. If rescheduled, it would need to be held before the rainy season begins in June. One of the objectives of the crépissage is to protect the building from rain.

Abdoulaye Deyoko is an engineer and city planner and founder of Bamako’s School of Engineering, Architecture, and Urbanism, and a tireless advocate for Mali’s mud architecture.

Deyoko explained that the mosque is built from “banco,” a mixture of mud and small pieces of rice bran.

When it rains, he said, these small pieces have a tendency to break away. Traditionally, villagers have a celebration, a type of ritual that allows them not only to repair the mosque but to celebrate.

Deyoko said that despite this, he thinks the Djenné mosque can hold up for a year or two without the crépissage, although he said the event is important for the social life of the town, not just for technical maintenance.

The Djenné mosque and surrounding mud brick town is on the UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger.

Ali Daou, UNESCO’s culture program director in Mali, said Djenné, like all of Mali’s four World Heritage sites, is in danger because of the ongoing hostilities. It is not just the threat of direct conflict, he said, but the difficulty of conducting the annual crépissage that puts the site at risk.

In recent months, Mali’s military government has launched a highly publicized offensive against Islamists. Many locals, though, say that these military operations target civilians rather than extremists.

The army claimed to have killed 200 terrorists in the village of Moura in March, while residents said the majority of those killed were innocent civilians.

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Religious Violence in Ethiopia’s Gonder Opens Yet Another Wound 

An April mob attack in northern Ethiopia that left at least 30 Muslims dead and 100 injured has fueled revenge attacks on Christians. Witnesses and community leaders spoke with VOA about what they believe led to the violence. For VOA, Henry Wilkins reports from Gonder, Ethiopia.

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Dozen Journalists Held in Ethiopia Crackdown

At least a dozen journalists have been detained in a wave of arrests in Ethiopia, media workers and a rights group said Friday, in a crackdown that has sparked international concern.

Authorities in the Amhara region said more than 4,000 people had been detained in an anti-crime operation but press watchdogs and rights groups reported that journalists had also been targeted.

The latest arrests involved Temesgen Desalegn, editor-in-chief of the Amharic-language magazine “Fitih,” who was picked up by plainclothes security forces from his office Thursday, his colleague Misgan Zinabu told AFP.

“Initially, they took Temesgen to a local police station… later on security forces moved him to a secret location,” the editor said, adding that his current whereabouts was unknown.

Police also raided Temesgen’s house Thursday and seized magazines, disk drives and a camera, he added.

Another journalist and YouTuber, Yayesew Shimelis, was arrested at home in the capital Addis Ababa Thursday, his former colleague Bekal Alamirew told AFP.

“Yayesew is accused by police of incitement to violence through his work,” he said, adding the former TV host was produced in court Friday. 

The arrests come after the Nisir International Broadcasting Corporation and Ashara, both covering Ethiopian affairs on their YouTube channels said their studios in Amhara were raided last week and staff taken away, some to undisclosed locations.

Nisir said four employees, including journalists and back-office staff, were arrested and equipment seized from their workplace in the regional capital Bahir Dar.

The whereabouts of two other Nisir journalists remained unknown, it added.

Ashara Media said five of its staff were detained.

TV host Solomon Shumye, who has a show on YouTube, was also detained in Addis Ababa last week and accused of inciting violence, his sister Tigist Shumye said.

Narrowing space

The sweep has triggered international concern, with the U.S. State Department Tuesday expressing alarm over “the narrowing space for freedom of expression and independent media in Ethiopia.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders this week called for the immediate release of the journalists and urged the Ethiopian authorities to stop harassing the press.

Daniel Bekele, the chief commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a state-affiliated independent rights body, also urged the government to free the detainees.

“The arrest of media personnel is particularly alarming… and its repercussions extend beyond media space and freedom of expression,” Bekele said in a statement Friday.

Amhara authorities backed Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his federal forces in a war with the neighboring Tigray region that began in November 2020. But divisions have since emerged over Abiy’s handling of the conflict.

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‘We Don’t Have Food’: African Leaders Meet as Crises Grow 

African leaders gathered for a summit Friday in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to address growing humanitarian needs on the continent, which is also facing increased violent extremism, climate change challenges and a run of military coups.

Leaders called for increased mobilization to resolve a humanitarian crisis that has left millions displaced and more than 280 million suffering from malnourishment.

For people in Djibo, a town in northern Burkina Faso near the border with Mali, any help can’t come soon enough.

The city in the Sahel region — the large expanse below the Sahara Desert — has been besieged since February by jihadis who prevent people and goods from moving in or out and cut water supplies. Few truckers want to run the jihadist gauntlet. Residents are suffering with no food or water, animals are dying, and the price of grain has spiked.

“The goods are not arriving anymore here. Animal and agricultural production is not possible because the people cannot go back to their villages,” U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator Barbara Manzi told The Associated Press from Djibo this week. “Unless (a solution) is found, it’s going to be really a tragedy for the entire group of people that are here.”

Increased insecurity

Djibo has been at the epicenter of violence, linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people. While Djibo — and Soum province, where the town is located — experienced periods of calm, such as during a makeshift cease-fire between jihadis and the government surrounding the 2020 presidential election, the truce didn’t last.

Since November, insecurity in the region has increased. Jihadis have destroyed water infrastructure in the town and lined much of Djibo’s perimeter with explosives, blockading the city, say locals.

The town’s population has swollen from 60,000 to 300,000 over the past few years as people flee the countryside to escape the violence.

Blockading cities is a tactic used by jihadis to assert dominance, and it could also be an attempt to get Burkina Faso’s new military junta, which seized power in January, to backtrack on promises to eliminate the jihadis, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory, a group that provides intelligence analysis.

“Militants resort to blockading when they see an opportunity to gain incentives in negotiating with the government and simultaneously send a message to their base that they are in control. It’s a bargaining card, and a winning one,” he said.

A U.N. team flew in briefly to assess the situation. The AP was the first foreign media to visit the town in more than a year.

“Today there is nothing to buy here. Even if you have cash, there is nothing to buy. We came here with four donkeys and goats, and some of them died because of hunger. We were forced to sell the rest of the animals, and unfortunately, prices of animals have decreased,” said cattle owner Mamoudou Oumarou.

The 53-year-old father of 13, who fled his village in February, said the blockade in Djibo has prevented people from coming to the market to buy and sell cattle, decreasing demand and lowering prices for the animals by half.

Before the violence, Djibo had one of the biggest and most vital cattle markets in the Sahel and was a bustling economic hub. Some 600 trucks used to enter Djibo monthly, and now it’s fewer than 70, said Alpha Ousmane Dao, director of Seracom, a local aid group in Djibo.

Widespread hunger

Burkina Faso is facing its worst hunger crisis in six years. More than 630,000 people are on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.

As a result of Djibo’s blockade, the World Food Program has been unable to deliver food to the town since December, and stocks are running out, said Antoine Renard, country director for the World Food Program in Burkina Faso.

Efforts to end the blockade through dialogue have had mixed results. At the end of April, the emir of Djibo met with Burkina Faso’s top jihadist, Jafar Dicko, to negotiate lifting the siege. Little progress has been made since then, however.

Locals say that the jihadis have eased restrictions in some areas, allowing freer movement, but that the army is now preventing people from bringing food out of Djibo to the surrounding villages for fear it will go to the jihadis.

The army denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, residents in Djibo say they’re risking their lives just trying to survive.

Dadou Sadou searches for wood and water outside Djibo in the middle of the night, when she says the jihadis are not around.

“We no longer have animals. We don’t have food to buy in the market. … If you have children, you don’t have a choice,” she said.

 

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Nobel Laureate Denounces Rape as Weapon of War

When asked if he is afraid for his life, Dr. Denis Mukwege responded candidly: “I am human.” Due to the nature of his work, the renowned gynecological surgeon has received death threats for years.

But the Congolese Nobel Peace Prize laureate said he draws his strength from the women he treats. Patients who come to him to heal after going through unimaginable horrors.

“The women I’m treating are so powerful,” Mukwege said in an interview with VOA’s Straight Talk Africa TV program. “What I’m doing is just a small sense if I compare what they [rape survivors have been through] in the situation of conflict where everyone wants to use them.”

He is now honoring the women he says inspired him, including his mother, in a new book titled “The Power of Women: A Doctor’s Journey of Hope and Healing.” In it, he reexamines the agency of women in spaces and platforms where decisions are made and at times despite some patriarchal societies that often fail women, he said, women continue to give back and nurture for a greater good.

Ukraine, Ethiopia rape survivors

Mukwege’s work is particularly relevant today as sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the globe. He used two examples to illustrate the urgency of the issue: Ukraine and Ethiopia.

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, his foundation had established contact with women in Donbas who were raped in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. There have been more than 700 reports of rape by Russian forces in Ukraine since the February invasion, the Ukrainian parliament’s human rights ombudsman said May 9. In northern Ethiopia, both government and Tigrayan forces have been accused of sexual violence. Nisha Varia, formerly the advocacy director of Human Rights Watch’s women’s rights division, told VOA that rape in Tigray is being used as a weapon and is accompanied by ethnic slurs and other degradation.

Mukwege said when rape is used during conflicts, it is “used to humiliate, to just make the so-called enemy to feel powerless, to be in a situation that is completely humiliating and you can’t really fight against it. It’s a weapon, but it’s a strategy of war,” he said.

But he said he is heartened by an international outcry about the violence against women in Ukraine. He would like to see the same outcry against atrocities in other parts of the world.

“The international community should react in each conflict because the suffering is universal and the reaction against the suffering or to take care of the suffering people should be also universal,” he said, adding that “the case of Ukraine shows us that if there is a will, we have the capacity to stop atrocities.”

Mukwege said a universal sentiment connects most women who have been raped, whether he speaks to victims in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. He said perpetrators leave a sense of fear and that you hear victims saying, “they’ll kill me,” he said. “Most of the women have the impression that they don’t exist at all after being raped.”

Mukwege, who met with senior U.S. officials and first lady Jill Biden during his visit to Washington, is also calling for more efforts to prosecute perpetrators so women can receive justice.

 

“I think that justice is very important. It’s not revenge,” he said. “Justice is not only pressure against the perpetrators, but justice is needed for victims because in the process of healing, victims need really to be recognized as a victim. They need really to get someone with this power, this authority, to say you are not guilty. It’s not your fault.”

Justice and resilience

Death threats against Mukwege at times come from unknown sources and he has been forced to live at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the DRC, where he treats rape survivors. “I can’t leave the hospital without an escort. I have the police who are taking care of me,” he said. “To get this kind of life living in the hospital with your patients and my family and so on. This is a terrible thing.”

Since 1999, Mukwege and his team have treated more than 50,000 survivors of sexual violence at the hospital he founded [[ https://panzifoundation.org/dr-denis-mukwege/ ]]. The hospital also treats the psychological trauma of women caught up in the ongoing violence between militia groups in the eastern DRC.

Mukwege said those resilient women are the best hope for some of the world’s war-torn regions. After they have healed, they demand change.

“When women stand up after being treated, they didn’t stand for themselves, they are standing for themselves and for their children, for their family. For me, this is really wonderful. Society can’t protect them, but when they get healing and stand up, they stand up and raise their voice for all the community.”

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Bank Predicts Slower Economic Growth, Rising Inflation in Africa

According to the latest African Economic Outlook report by the African Development Bank, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic pose huge challenges to the continent.

 

The bank’s president, Akinwumi Adesina, said at the launch of the report that it will take a great deal of effort for Africa to fully recover.

“The recovery for Africa will be very costly. Africa will need at least 432 billion dollars to address the effects of COVID-19 on its economies and on the lives of its people — resources it does not have.”  

An economist at the University of Ghana, Adu Owusu Sarkodie, told VOA that African economies could recover quickly from the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war by trading among themselves and investing more in agriculture.

The war cut off wheat exports from Ukraine, pushing food prices higher across Africa.   

“For Africa to get out of this mess they have to look into local production, our economy must be inward looking at this point in time. There are some inputs that are in short supply, a typical example is fertilizer and I think that African economies must be able to set up a fertilizer plant to produce their own fertilizer. Wheat supply is also in shortage therefore there must be an attempt to grow their own wheat.”

Sarkodie lauded the African Development Bank for recently approving $1.5 billion to avert a food crisis on the continent by providing seed and other supplies to 20 million farmers.  

“The last thing we want to see in Africa is food crisis… therefore this amount of money if available should be invested in agriculture inputs, encourage food production and build storage facilities to store the food so they can be available in lean season and build good roads… there is every need for us to start working towards ensuring food security now.”

As the war in Ukraine and coronavirus pandemic continue to bite, pushing millions of Africans into extreme poverty, locals are hoping initiatives by the African Development Bank and their governments will spark an economic rebound.

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Cameroon, Gabon Agree to Better Demarcate Border, Stop Conflict

Officials from Gabon and Cameroon have agreed to retrace their nearly 300-kilometer border and to stop frequent clashes between border communities. At a meeting in Cameroon’s capital Thursday night, the two sides also agreed to jointly deploy their militaries to stop arms trafficking across the border.

Officials from Cameroon and its southern neighbor Gabon ended a three-day meeting Thursday agreeing to better demarcate their border and improve border security.

The meeting, which included delegates from France, Germany, the UN, and other global groups, advised a three-year plan to define the border.

Aime Roger Mouloungui Maganga is secretary general of Gabon’s National Border Commission.

He says people along the border between Cameroon and Gabon have willfully or unknowingly removed or damaged border markers built by German and French colonial powers in the 19th century. Maganga says erosion and floods have also destroyed some of the markers. He says Gabon and Cameroon must retrace their border in a way that will satisfy both states.

While the two countries have never fought over their border, border security has been an issue.

Border communities have clashed over natural resources including minerals and sand, water, wood, and wildlife.

Cameroon says in March, villagers on its side blocked a bridge to Gabon in protest of Gabonese troops demanding customs duties, a charge Gabon denies.

Cameroon’s Territorial Administration minister Paul Atanga Nji says militaries from the two countries agreed to carry out joint border controls to stop arms trafficking.

Nji, who headed Cameroon’s delegation at the meeting, said Cameroon’s military has seized weapons along the border.

“We have terrorism, arms trafficking, illegal exploitation of our resources, and that is why it is important to increase surveillance and intelligence because we need information,” said Nji. “So, when we identify challenges and the security forces{military} are put in place, we can anticipate any danger.”

Majority French-speaking Cameroon has been fighting English-speaking separatists in its western regions since 2017.

Cameroon’s government last year said some fleeing separatist fighters disguised as displaced persons were arrested on its southern borders with Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Gabon in 2019 closed crossings to Cameroon after an attempted coup against President Ali Bongo, claiming coup leaders were hiding across the border.

At this week’s meeting, both sides agreed to use the border map drawn by former colonial powers as a guiding document.

The Gabonese delegation was led by Gabon’s senior minister of Interior, Lambert Noël Matha.

He says the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), has agreed to provide funding, technical assistance and equipment needed by Cameroon and Gabon for the demarcation of the border. Matha says experts who attended the meeting have agreed on a road map and that joint delegations from Cameroon and Gabon will soon visit hard to access areas of the border.

The boundary was established by German and French colonial powers in the late 19th century and finalized in 1908.

It has not changed after both states gained their independence in 1960.

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Sudan Women’s Activist Wins Human Rights Prize

Sudanese women’s activist Amira Osman Hamed has won a Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk, the organization announced Friday.

The activist and engineer, now in her forties, has been advocating for Sudanese women for two decades, and was detained this year in a crackdown following the country’s latest coup.

She was among defenders from Afghanistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Mexico who also received the 2022 award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.

Osman “never deterred from her mission,” Dublin-based Front Line Defenders said in its awards announcement, “consistently (advocating) for democracy, human rights, and women’s rights.”

After first being charged for wearing trousers in 2002, she drew international support in 2013 when she was detained and threatened with flogging for refusing to wear a headscarf.

Both charges fell under morality laws during the rule of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir who took power in an Islamist-backed coup. Osman told AFP at the time that the morality laws had “changed Sudanese women from victims to criminals” and targeted “the dignity of Sudanese people.”

In 2009 she established “No to Women Oppression”, an initiative to advocate against the much-derided Public Order Law. It was finally repealed in 2019 after Bashir’s ouster following a mass uprising.

Women were at the forefront of protests that toppled Bashir, and hopes were high for a more liberal Sudan as restrictions were removed that had stifled their actions and public lives.

But many fear for the hard-won liberties gained since his ouster, after the October coup led by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.

A crackdown on civilian pro-democracy figures has followed, with at least 96 people killed in protests and hundreds detained.

In late January 2022, Osman’s team told AFP that “30 masked armed men” had stormed into her house in Khartoum in the middle of the night, “taking her to an unknown location.”

The United Nations mission to Sudan called for her release, tweeting that “Amira’s arrest and pattern of violence against women’s rights activists severely risks reducing their political participation in Sudan.”

She was freed in early February and an AFP correspondent saw her participating in a demonstration, kneeling on crutches due to a prior back injury.

The award has honored human rights defenders annually since 2005.

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Nigerian Albinos Demand Authorities Restore Free Cancer Treatment 

Nigerian Cynthia Ukachi, who has albinism, first noticed the changes on her skin in 2018. When she went to the hospital, she was told it was an early stage of skin cancer, and that it had started because of exposure to the sun.

Thanks to a government support scheme that offered free skin cancer care for albinos, she had surgery to remove the affected areas and was treated.

However, Ukachi says the malignant skin cells returned months ago, long after the government ended its free treatment plan.

“I have three on my neck, I have two at my back and I just have this on my forehead here,” she said. “It looks very small but it’s very painful and it can bleed.”

Without the government support, about 4 million albinos in Nigeria could be at risk of skin cancer, according to aid groups.

Too expensive for her

Ukachi says she cannot afford the treatment. Every affected skin area can cost up to $350 to treat.

“Noticing this issue again, I already knew what it was, but I couldn’t go back to the hospital, knowing I’ll be asked to pay, and the money is what I do not have,” she said. “If the government wants me to live, if the government wants persons with albinism to live, they should reinstate the free cancer treatment.”

Nigerian authorities started the program in 2007, and the Albinism Association of Nigeria says around 5,500 patients including Ukachi benefited from it before it was discontinued for lack of funding.

Jake Epelle, a skin cancer survivor and AAN’s president, said, “Even the current administration started the skeletal implementation at the beginning of their tenure but then reneged. The reason is simply the poverty of funds and the fact that they cannot continue to offer this treatment. The effect is that persons with albinism are dying in droves.”

Medical experts say albinos in sub-Saharan Africa are a thousand times more likely than the general population to develop skin cancer because of the partial or complete absence of melanin, a pigment responsible for eye, hair and skin color.

In Nigeria, myths and discrimination associated with the condition make it far more difficult for albinos to get jobs and afford skin cancer treatment.

Authorities respond

This month, during a national awareness day to remember people living with albinism, AAN renewed its call for the government to reinstate the free skin cancer treatment.

Nigerian authorities responded. James David Lalu, executive secretary of the National Commission for Persons with Disabilities, said, “We had discussions with the permanent secretary of the federal ministry for health for us to be able to revisit this. We’re going to provide some funding support to do that. Additionally, by next year we’re going to provide proper budgetary allocation that will support this cancer treatment for our people.”

AAN cautions there is no time to lose as free treatment is the only lifeline for people around the country like Ukachi, who fears she will run out of time.

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Nigerian Albinos Demand Authorities Restore Free Cancer Treatment

The Albinism Association of Nigeria is petitioning the government to resume free cancer treatment for albinos. It was stopped years ago because of a lack of funding. Timothy Obiezu reports from Abuja.

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US Offers $2M for Kenyans Wanted for Drug, Wildlife Trade

The United States has announced rewards of up to $1 million each for information leading to the arrest of two Kenyans wanted on charges of drug and wildlife trafficking.

Kenyan security agencies are searching for the two fugitives, Badru Abdul Aziz Saleh and Abdi Hussein Ahmed.

Speaking to reporters Thursday in Nairobi, the head of Kenya’s criminal investigation unit, George Kinoti, said the two Kenyan nationals were wanted for drug and wildlife trafficking worth millions of dollars.

“They were involved in transportation, distribution and smuggling of 190 kilograms of rhinoceros horns and 10 tons of elephant ivory from different countries in Africa, including our country, Kenya, and they transported these things to the United States,” Kinoti said. “They were also involved in transportation and distribution of one kilogram of heroin from Kenya to the United States.”

Kinoti said Saleh was arrested in June 2019 and arraigned in a Kenyan court, where he was released on bail. He was last seen in December 2019.

Kinoti made no mention of Ahmed.

Saleh and Ahmed were indicted in the United States in 2019 and the international police organization Interpol issued a red notice against the suspects.

Eric Kneedler, charge d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, said in a statement that eradicating drug and wildlife trafficking was a priority of President Joe Biden’s administration and that the U.S. would work with Kenya to stamp out the crimes, which are affecting both countries.

Information on the reward offer can be found on the U.S. Embassy website.

In July 2020, another suspected wildlife trafficker, Abubakar Mansur Mohammed Surur, was arrested and extradited to the U.S. Surur is believed to have been involved in the illegal poaching of at least 35 rhinos and more than 100 elephants.

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Zimbabwe President Praises China, Slams West in Column

If there’s a new cold war brewing and both China and the United States are trying to get African countries on their side, it’s clear where Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s allegiance lies.

In his latest column in the local Sunday Mail newspaper, the 79-year-old president slammed the West and lavished praise on Beijing.

“Unlike Western interests which have been exploiting our continent even well before its formal occupation,” the Chinese “have now come back to the continent they helped liberate as new, non-traditional investors,” he said, referring to Beijing’s backing of Zimbabwe’s independence war against white minority rule.

“Here in Zimbabwe, China has helped fund and implement several projects in the sectors of energy, air transport, water, real estate, industrial value addition, mining and defense,” the president said. “All these have secured and bolstered our independence while changing the structure of our economy in this season of punitive Western sanctions.”

The United States and European Union have maintained sanctions on Zimbabwean individuals and companies for two decades, since longtime president Robert Mugabe was accused of election rigging and human rights abuses in the early 2000s. Western nations have resisted calls to remove the sanctions, pointing to the ruling ZANU-PF party’s continued suppression of protests and opposition figures.

Beijing has stepped into the void left by Western powers — offering generous loans that aren’t dependent on democratic reform — to become the country’s top investor. It has invested heavily in the lithium-rich country’s mines and is funding the country’s massive new parliament building.

While Washington says it’s not in competition with China in Africa, officials have warned governments here against what are often dubbed China’s “debt trap” loans. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been trying to win support for its stance on the war in Ukraine — something that many governments on the continent, including Zimbabwe’s, have been loathe to give.

When asked about the war of words with the West, Zimbabwe government spokeswoman Monica Mutsvangwa echoed the president’s remarks.

“A number of Zimbabwe’s detractors have long hidden behind the false veil of democracy and human rights gauntlet. … This heinous policy has met its match in the sly and alert president,” she told VOA.

“More and better money is winning the day,” she added in apparent reference to Chinese investment.

Mutsvangwa pointed to several Chinese-owned lithium mines and a steel plant being built by Chinese mining giant Tsingshan Group Holdings as proof that Zimbabwe’s detractors had been “shunted by the wayside.”

Media Allegations

Zimbabwe’s state-run media, too, is echoing the government’s anti-U.S. stance, with articles accusing the country’s opposition Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), NGOs and civil society organizations of being U.S. “proxies” intent on regime change.

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Harare is adopting an increasingly shrill tone in tweets frequently accusing U.S.-backed organizations of paying journalists to write anti-China articles.

Last September, the embassy’s official Twitter page coined the hashtag  

“Mr1K,” retweeting an article in The Herald newspaper that claimed, “The United States is sponsoring a strategy to undermine Chinese investments in Zimbabwe … through disinformation, lies and sensationalism in independent media and on social platforms.”

The article in The Herald, which is closely aligned to Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, said the U.S. Embassy in Harare had funded a training session for independent journalists and that reporters who pitched negative stories on Chinese businesses were being paid $1,000 per article.

The Chinese embassy renewed its #Mr1K tweets this month after the Standard newspaper published an investigation into labor violations at a Chinese-owned coal mine, and declared reporting had been “supported by the U.S. Embassy’s public diplomacy section.”  

“Smearing Chinese investment hurts Zimbabweans’ interests and helps illegal sanctions. Clowns like #Mr1K & their master need to realize China-Zim friendship & cooperation is unshakable,” the embassy tweeted last week.

Asked about such comments, the Public Diplomacy Section at the U.S. Embassy in Harare replied to VOA by email.  “We routinely provide training and U.S. exchange opportunities to journalists and other professionals in Zimbabwe and around the world to build expertise.”

The embassy said it had supported a September journalism workshop on labor rights and natural resource governance reporting that “did not focus on any particular country, government, or company. “

But an article this week in China’s Global Times showed Beijing isn’t letting up.

“The U.S. is playing a part in smearing Chinese investment in Zimbabwe, in a malicious attempt to incite anti-China sentiment in the country and sabotage China-Zimbabwe economic and trade cooperation,” it read.

 

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Fire Kills 11 Newborn Babies at Senegal Hospital

Senegal’s President Macky Sall said on Wednesday that 11 newborn babies died in a fire at the neonatal section of a regional hospital in the town of Tivaouane, around 120 kilometers (74.56 miles) east of the capital Dakar. 

“I have just learned with pain and consternation the death of 11 newborn babies in the fire that occurred in the neonatology department of the Mame Abdou Aziz Sy Dabakh hospital in Tivaouane,” Sall said in a tweet without giving further details about the fire. 

“To their mothers and their families, I express my deepest sympathy,” Sall, who is on a state visit in Angola, added. 

Senegal’s health minister, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, said on private Senegalese television TFM that “according to preliminary investigation, a short circuit triggered the fire.” 

Sarr, who is in Geneva for the World Health Assembly, said he would cut short the trip and return to Senegal immediately. 

Demba Diop Sy, the mayor of Tivaouane, one of Senegal’s holy cities and a transport hub, said police and fire service were still at the hospital, but did not provide further details. 

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Ivory Coast Chocolatier Strives to Sweeten Cocoa Processors’ Earnings

In Ivory Coast, an artisanal chocolatier blends good flavor and good intentions in his work. Axel-Emmanuel Gbaou trains women to get good taste and good profits from the cocoa beans they process, as Yassin Ciyow observes in this report narrated by Carol Guensburg.

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Somalia Prime Minister Suspends Foreign Minister Abdisaid Muse

Somalia’s prime minister has suspended his foreign affairs minister over allegations that he authorized an illegal shipment of charcoal to Oman. The Somali government banned charcoal exports a decade ago to prevent deforestation and the funding of conflicts.  However, analysts say the shipment was not the real reason for the suspension. 

The suspension of Foreign Affairs Minister Abdisaid Muse is equivalent to a dismissal and came after he authorized a ship to leave Somalia carrying a load of charcoal.  The shipment violates Somalia’s laws preventing charcoal exports.

However, Muse’s suspension was long expected because Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble is expected to be replaced by incoming Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. 

Isak Farhan, deputy director of Somali Public Agenda, a research group based in Mogadishu, notes that Muse was close to outgoing Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, and had ignored letters from the prime minister, including one that fired African Union Special Envoy to Somalia Francisco Maidera.  

Isak says the suspension could be seen as a result of poor cooperation between the minister of foreign affairs and the prime minister. He says, we know that minister was the national security adviser to the outgoing president, and with the confidence of the president, he was later appointed foreign minister. Apparently, he says, the minister did not report to the prime minister and did not listen to his suggestions.   

Isak says the export of charcoal is a highly sensitive issue in Somalia because makers of charcoal cut down trees and cause damage to the environment.

He says, it is illegal to export and log coal in Somalia because it contributes to land degradation, drought, and famine. Somalia is semi-arid, he says, so logging forests will exacerbate desertification.

Hassan Sheikh, a professor who teaches at Somalia’s universities, says Muse’s action sends a bad signal.  

He says, I find it particularly regrettable that some people are still involved with logging trees in Somalia, let alone a government official, such as the foreign minister, to permit a ship to carry charcoal to Oman.  He says that will certainly encourage those who were discouraged to continue logging the trees. 

The professor noted that charcoal exports were banned by both the Somalia government and the United Nations Security Council in 2012, and that U.N. monitors are particularly vigilant about enforcing the ban.  

He says, among the U.N. monitoring group’s work is the ban on charcoal, which threatens Somalia’s environment as it continues to become a desert, because Somalia is progressing towards desert.  

It is still a mystery why the foreign affairs minister authorized an illegal charcoal export, but it is no secret that many Somali politicians take advantage of transitions between administrations, by putting their own interests ahead of the general public’s.

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