Africa's largest pop culture festival opened this week with a spotlight on home-grown superheroes including a black knight battling South Africa's rolling power cuts and a warrior inspired by the legendary Zulu king Shaka. Clad in superhero capes and sci-fi costumes, thousands of people flocked to a vast expo centre south of Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday for the first day of Comic Con Africa, which runs until Monday.The festival, in its fourth edition, has a dedicated 'Afro Geek' pavilion, showcasing comics reflecting African heritage and society. "The cartoons we used to watch, particularly Tarzan, had this colonial mentality around Africans... it would be a character in Africa but the Africans would be invisible," Trevor Ngwenya, an artist, told AFP. "It didn't sit well with me".Ngwenya's latest project is a superhero inspired by King Shaka, the 19th-century leader still revered for having united a large swathe of the country as the Zulu nation. Other 'Afro Geek' offerings include a paladin fighting the relentless power outages that have battered South Africa in recent years and a comic series inspired by African mythology. "Seeing superheroes that I look like brings more of a relatability to me. It makes me want to read the comics a little more," said Ethan Msithini, 26, an animator promoting the Kidwiz Inc series featuring the blackout busting hero. The festival has been praised for opening doors for cosplayers in a country and continent where the industry is not as established as in more developed parts of the world."I just really love that people of colour are taking back ownership of certain things like fantasy and sci-fi," said Abigail Backman-Daniels, a festivalgoer dressed as a Valkyrie from the Thor movie franchise.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted in his speech at the African Climate Summit in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, the enormous devastating effects of climate change on the continent despite not causing this crisis."This continent accounts for less than four per cent of global emissions. Yet it suffers some of the worst effects of rising global temperatures," Guterres said."Extreme heat, ferocious floods, and tens of thousands dead from devastating droughts, Guterres added, indicating that "the blow inflicted on development is all around with growing hunger and displacement."The UN Secretary-General affirmed that it was still possible to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but only with a quantum leap in climate action.He said that the largest emitters of greenhouse gases must lead the way and called on the G20 countries responsible for emitting 80% of these gasses to assume their responsibilities."They must also keep their promise to provide $100 billion a year to developing countries for climate support, and fully replenish the Green Climate Fund," the UN Secretary-General affirmed.He pointed out that "African leadership is also helping to generate innovative green economies anchored in renewable power.""Now is the time to bring together African countries with developed countries, financial institutions and technology companies to create a true African Renewable Energy Alliance," he added.The Secretary-General referred to the summit that will be held at the end of this month in preparation for the 28th session of the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 scheduled for later in the year.He said the summit aims to summon the worlds attention and committed action to climate change, and the need to support developing countries as they transition to a renewable future.Guterres stressed the need for all nations "to stand as one in defence of our only home. Lets deliver the climate justice that Africans, the world, and the planet we share, demand and deserve."The first-ever African Climate Summit of its kind began on Monday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, which aims to make the continent an emerging power in the field of renewable energy and call for allocating international financial aid to it to benefit from the resources and skills available to it. (QNA)
The Sudanese army announced that it contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to arrange the hand over soldiers captured during clashes with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).In accordance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, the Sudanese armed forces have contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross to hand over about 30 underage members of the rebel militia, the army said in a statement.The statement indicated that the operation will be carried out in Um Durman, once the military receives a response from the representatives of the ICRC in Sudan, whom the statement said it contacted on Aug. 28.At the same time, the army also plans to hand over 200 RSF fighters, the statement said, noting that it was awaiting the completion of the necessary formalities with the ICRC.Thousands of people, most of them civilians, have been killed, and bout 4 million people have been displaced inside and outside Sudan since mid-April due to the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), according to United Nations estimates. (QNA)
Bongo's family have ruled for 56 yearsJunta names General Brice Oligui Nguema as leaderFrom house arrest, Bongo appeals for supportFrance, with troops in Gabon, condemns coupMilitary officers in oil-producing Gabon said they had seized power on Wednesday, placing President Ali Bongo under house arrest and naming a new leader after the Central African state's election body announced Bongo had won a third term.Saying they represented the armed forces, the officers declared on television that the election results were cancelled, borders closed and state institutions dissolved, after a tense vote that was set to extend the Bongo family's more than half century in power.Within hours, generals met to discuss who would lead the transition and agreed by unanimous vote to appoint General Brice Oligui Nguema, former head of the presidential guard, according to another televised address.Meanwhile, from detention in his residence, Bongo appealed in a video statement to foreign allies, imploring them to speak out on his and his family's behalf. He said he did not know what was happening.Bongo's plight was a dramatic reversal from the early hours of Wednesday when the electoral commission declared him the winner of Saturday's disputed vote.Hundreds of people celebrated the military's intervention in the streets of the Gabonese capital Libreville, while the United Nations, African Union and France, Gabon's former colonial ruler which has troops stationed there, condemned the coup.The military takeover in Gabon is the eighth in West and Central Africa since 2020, and the second - after Niger - in as many months. Military officers have also seized power in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad, erasing democratic gains since the 1990s and raising fear among foreign powers that have strategic interests in the region."I am marching today because I am joyful. After almost 60 years, the Bongos are out of power," said Jules Lebigui, a jobless 27-year-old who joined crowds in Libreville.Bongo took over in 2009 on the death of his father Omar, who had ruled since 1967. Opponents say the family has done little to share the state's oil and mining wealth with its 2.3 million people.Violent unrest broke out after Bongo's contested 2016 election victory, and there was a foiled coup attempt in 2019.The Gabon officers, calling themselves The Committee of Transition and the Restoration of Institutions, said the country faced "a severe institutional, political, economic, and social crisis", and that the Aug. 26 vote was not credible.They also said they had arrested the president's son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, and others for corruption and treason.There was no immediate comment from Gabon's government.Bongo, 64, was last seen in public casting his vote on Saturday. Before the vote, he had looked healthier than his more frail television appearances after his 2018 stroke.Unlike Niger and other Sahel countries, Gabon, which lies further south on the Atlantic coast, has not had to battle destabilising Islamist insurgencies. But the coup is a further sign of democratic backsliding in the volatile region.A "contagion of autocracy" is spreading across Africa, said Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, the current chair of West African bloc ECOWAS. He said he was working closely with other African leaders on how to respond in Gabon.UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the African Union condemned the events and called on the military to ensure the safety of Bongo and his family, while China and Russia said they hoped for a swift return to stability. The United States said the situation was deeply concerning."We condemn the military coup and recall our commitment to free and transparent elections," French government spokesman Olivier Veran said.The coup creates more uncertainty for France's presence in the region. France has about 350 troops in Gabon. Its forces have been kicked out of Mali and Burkina Faso after coups there in the last two years.French miner Eramet, which has large manganese operations in Gabon, said it had halted operations.Gabon produces about 200,000 barrels of oil a day, mainly from depleting fields. International companies include France's TotalEnergies and Anglo-French producer Perenco.Concerns about the weekend election's transparency were raised by a lack of international observers, the suspension of some foreign broadcasts and a decision to cut internet service and impose a night-time curfew after the vote. Bongo's team rejected allegations of fraud.On Wednesday, the internet appeared to be working for the first time since the vote. The junta confirmed web access had been restored as well as all international broadcasts, but it said it would keep the curfew in place until further notice.Shortly before the coup announcement, the election authority declared Bongo the election winner with 64.27% of the vote and said his main challenger, Albert Ondo Ossa, had secured 30.77%.Gabon's dollar-denominated bonds fell as much as 14 cents on Wednesday before recovering to trade down 9.5 cents on the dollar.
Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan departed Tuesday on a flight to Egypt for his first trip abroad since fighting began with paramilitaries in April, the country's ruling Sovereign Council said.General Burhan would hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi "on the latest developments in Sudan and bilateral ties between the two countries", the council said in a statement.Burhan, who heads the council, was accompanied by intelligence chief Ahmad Ibrahim Muffadal and interim foreign minister Ali al-Sadeq, it added.The war between Burhan and his former deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has raged since April 15.It has spread from Khartoum and the western region of Darfur to Kordofan and Jazira state, killing thousands and forcing millions to flee their homes.For months, the RSF had besieged Burhan inside military headquarters in Khartoum, but last week the army chief made his first public foray outside the compound to review troops in parts of the war-scarred country.On Monday he was in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan where he made a fiery address to troops, vowing to fight the RSF who he branded mercenaries to "end the rebellion"."We are mobilising everywhere to defeat this rebellion, defeat this treason, by these mercenaries who come from all over the world," Burhan told cheering troops."There is no time for discussion now. We are concentrating all our efforts on the war, to put an end to the rebellion," he said.His comments came a day after Daglo released a statement detailing a 10-point "vision" to end the war and build "a new state".The plan calls for "civilian rule based on democratic norms" and "a single, professional, national military institution" -- the very sticking point which turned the former allies into rivals.Conservative estimates from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project show that nearly 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict. But the real figure is thought to be much higher, and the United Nations says more than 4.6 million people have been displaced by the fighting both inside and outside Sudan.Several efforts to mediate an end to the conflict, mainly by Saudi Arabia and the United States, have failed.In July, Egypt, which shares borders with Sudan and has been flooded by refugees from its neighbour, hosted a crisis meeting attended by African leaders to seek a solution.
Several regions of Kenya went without power on Friday and Saturday in outages that also left Nairobi international airport in darkness for several hours.Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) reported "a system disturbance leading to a loss of bulk power supply to various parts of the country" starting Friday night.Apart from the capital, with a population of five million, the main cities affected in the East African nation included Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret.By midday on Saturday, KPLC said power had been restored to most of the regions, but several areas of the capital and Mombasa, the second-largest city, were reportedly still without electricity.At Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta airport, one of Africa's busiest hubs, the Kenya Airport Authority said a generator serving the main terminals had failed to restart after the outage.KPLC said the airport supply had returned at 3:00 am (0000 GMT).No information had been released on how the outage affected flight departure and arrivals.Transport Minister Kipchumba Murkomen took to X, formerly Twitter, to declare: "There is no excuse worth reporting and there is no reason why our airport is in darkness."
With beaming smiles, their hair dyed a red ochre and adorned with a ceremonial headdress of ostrich feathers, the young Maasai men are busy taking selfies.They have just completed the first day of Eunoto, a traditional ritual marking the transition from young warrior to adulthood."Today we are becoming men," 22-year-old medical student Hillary Odupoy says proudly, wearing sunglasses and a string of pearls across his bare chest.Aged between 18 and 26, the young men came in their hundreds to the village of Nailare in southwestern Kenya, all from the same generation of "morans" ("warriors" in the Maasai language), a status they have held for a decade.Many left their homes in the region to work or study in the cities of Kisii or Nairobi, or like Odupoy, further afield in the town of Machakos that lies more than seven hours away by road."It is one of the biggest ceremonies we have in our life. We can never meet in such multitude. It unites the Maasai community," explains Odupoy.All wear red, the sacred colour of the Maasai -- from their hair which is coated in a mixture of ochre and oil to their traditional plaid cloth shukas.This rite of passage brings together the families of the morans as well as local inhabitants and officials, in all several thousand people.For five days, the Eunoto ceremony features traditional guttural chants, single-file dances on one leg, and the adumu -- the famous Maasai jump.Cows are sacrificed and their blood drunk by the young men, whose hair is shaved from their heads by their mothers.They then abandon the warrior's sword for the fimbo, the walking stick of the "elders".- Abandoned rituals -For centuries, Maasai men have gone through three rites of passage which have been inscribed since 2018 on the UNESCO list of intangible heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.Enkipaata is the transition from boyhood to moran status, Eunoto, the passage to "young elder", and finally Olng'esherr marks the start of eldership status.But such traditions of the Maasai, originally semi-nomadic herders living in southwestern Kenya and northern Tanzania, have had to adapt to the changes and demands of modern life.The morans no longer spend two years in an isolated village, called "emanyatta", but meet there during school holidays to learn Maasai history and traditions, as well as the rules of life in society."Apart from having the Western education, traditional education also matters," says agriculture student Peter Ledama Ntuntai, 24."Our culture teaches us good behaviour."Olerina Karia is one of the elders teaching these life lessons to the young Maasai."We teach them to be responsible citizens and members of society," says 52-year-old Karia."But all the traditions that were not the best for the survival of our community, such as killing a lion or the circumcision of girls, we teach them to get rid of them, especially if they collide with the law."The killing of lions was to prove the bravery of the Maasai men, but has been illegal in Kenya for decades to protect the threatened animal.The decline of the lion population was also threatening tourism, a precious source of income in the southwestern region of Kenya which is notably home to the emblematic Maasai Mara wildlife park.- 'Dynamics of society have changed' –In theory, young Maasai men can only marry after Eunoto, and their bride must have been circumcised.But female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM) has been banned in Kenya since 2011 and is officially no longer practised or recommended."You can be a Maasai without killing a lion and without going through FGM," says Hillary Odupoy.Nowadays, some morans do not wait for Eunoto to marry."The dynamics of society have changed. When they go to school, sometimes they meet their fiancées there, they marry," says Olerina Karia."We adapt, we adjust."For many, it is a matter of survival to preserve the traditions and culture of the most famous of Kenya's 45 tribes.The Maasai are the 10th largest tribal grouping in Kenya with a population of less than 1.2 million, according to the last census in 2019."It is our greatest fear that in the near future we may not be able to practise this culture," says Olerina Karia."Other communities and other people are commercialising it, while the real owners who know how to practise it are not in the limelight."
Gunmen killed at least 21 civilians in an attack on a village in central Mali's insurgency-hit Mopti region on Friday, two local sources said on Saturday.The unidentified assailants struck in the afternoon, targeting the village of Yarou near the town of Bandiagara, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity."It was real carnage, armed men burst into the village and fired on people. The toll is heavy between 20 and 30 killed and wounded," one of the sources said by phone.The second source said the reported death toll stood at 21 and included women, while 11 others were wounded.Reuters was not able to independently verify their accounts. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.The West African nation is battling a violent insurgency with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State that took root in its arid north following a Tuareg separatist rebellion in 2012.Militants have since spread to other countries in the Sahel region south of the Sahara, seizing territory, killing thousands and uprooting millions of people in the process.Frustration over the growing insecurity has spurred two military coups in Mali since August 2020. The junta has burnt bridges with traditional Western allies and turned to Russian mercenaries for help.Its unexpected demand in June for the departure of UN peacekeepers has raised fears the country could slide deeper into chaos.
Seventeen Niger soldiers were killed on Tuesday in an attack by suspected jihadists near the country's western border with Burkina Faso, the defence ministry said.An army detachment was "the victim of a terrorist ambush near the town of Koutougou", said a ministry statement published late Tuesday.It added that another 20 soldiers had been wounded, six seriously, with all the casualties evacuated to the capital Niamey.More than 100 assailants were "neutralised" during their retreat, the army said.A jihadist insurgency has plagued Africa's Sahel region for more than a decade, breaking out in northern Mali in 2012 before spreading to neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.The so-called "three borders" area between the three countries is regularly the scene of attacks by rebels affiliated with the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.The unrest across the region has killed thousands of troops, police officers and civilians and forced millions to flee their homes.Anger at the bloodshed has fuelled military takeovers in all three countries since 2020, with Niger the latest to fall to a coup on July 26 when President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted.Niger is also facing a jihadist insurgency in its southeast from militants crossing from northeastern Nigeria -- the cradle of a campaign initiated by Boko Haram in 2010.
Religious leaders and politicians in northern Nigeria have opened back-door channels in a frantic attempt to stave off military intervention in coup-stricken Niger.The crisis has sparked fears for ancient cultural, social and commercial links that bind southern Niger with seven border states in northern Nigeria -- Katsina, Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa, Borno and Yobe.Many people in the north are shocked by the threat from West Africa's regional bloc ECOWAS, which is chaired by Nigeria, to intervene militarily to restore Niger's elected president, Mohamed Bazoum."What we had in the last one thousand years has been lost in a matter of few weeks," Sule Lamido, Nigeria's former foreign minister and ex-governor of Jigawa state, said in an article published on Sunday.Bazoum, 63, was detained on July 26 by members of the presidential guard, in Niger's fifth coup since independence from France in 1960.The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave Niger's military rulers a one-week ultimatum on July 30 to restore Bazoum or face the potential use of force, but the deadline expired without action.The drumbeat of possible intervention sounded again on Thursday, when ECOWAS approved deployment of a "standby force to restore constitutional order" in Niger.But visits by representatives from northern Nigeria have also helped swing the pendulum back towards diplomacy.Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the influential former emir of Kano and Nigeria's former central bank governor, travelled to Niger on the eve of the ECOWAS summit for talks with the regime.His visit was followed at the weekend by that of a delegation of religious clerics.- Pressure on Tinubu -As West Africa's biggest economic and military power, Nigeria wields extensive clout.President Bola Tinubu, who came to power in May after disputed elections, has taken a hard line on stemming a cascade of coups that have now swept through four ECOWAS countries in three years.But concern in northern Nigeria of a potentially catastrophic intervention is heaping pressure on him to exercise restraint.Hundreds of residents in the Rijiyar Lemo neighbourhood of Kano took to the streets last week after Friday prayers in protest against any military operation.Raising the flags of both Nigeria and Niger, the protesters chanted anti-French slogans and dragged a mock French flag along the dusty road, accusing Niger's former colonial power of prodding Nigeria to go to war with its neighbour.On August 5, all 58 Nigerian senators across party lines from the north denounced planned military intervention in Niger, warning of dire consequences for seven border states.On August 9, a group of northern academics, retired senior military officers and politicians wrote to Tinubu, cautioning him of the risks of intervention in an already deeply unstable region.Nigeria's many security challenges -- from jihadist insurgency and farmer-herder conflict to banditry and kidnapping -- would be inflamed by the flow of arms and spread of violent extremism and banditry, they warned.- Trade ties -Nigeria's closure of its land border with Niger is already costing northern states around 13 billion naira ($13.5 million) every week, according to Arewa Economic Forum (AEF), a northern economic think-tank.In 2022 the volume of formal trade between Nigeria and Niger stood at $234 million while informal trade, which is mostly in perishable commodities, was $683 million, according to Ibrahim Shehu Dandakata, head of the AEF."Nigeriens depend on Nigeria for most of the essential commodities they consume. Nigerian businesses also rely on transit points for importation from Niger Republic," Dandakata said at a conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Sunday.More than 2,000 containers laden with goods belonging to Nigerian traders are stuck at the border"Our customers from Niger, Benin, up to Central Africa, have stopped coming to buy our goods due to the closure of the border and this is affecting us," said Shamsu Bala, a textile trader at the Kantin Kwari textile market in Kano."We want this issue to be resolved amicably. War will only make the situation worse for everyone."
Sudan's war has left university lecturer Ali Seif without pay for months. To make ends meet, he has turned to making soap in his room at a makeshift displacement camp.Out of work as fighting rages between the forces of rival generals, many Sudanese have been forced to find creative ways to support themselves and their families.Until April 15, when the conflict erupted between the army headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo's paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, Seif had worked at a Khartoum university.Now the engineering lecturer and his family live in Wad Madani, a city where most of the nearly three million people displaced from the capital fled for safety with the few belongings they could bring.Wad Madani has been spared the violence so far, but air strikes and fighting are taking place around 150 kilometres (95 miles) to the north.Like many others, Seif said his house was "robbed" by paramilitaries, and he told AFP he has not received a salary since March with banks closed.In order to survive, he has started selling soap."Misfortune makes you creative," said Seif."I noticed there was no soap left on the market even though everyone wanted some, so I decided to make soap bars," he recalled, surrounded by plastic pots he uses to mix soap paste before pouring it into ice cube trays to mould the bars.- 'No choice' -Like Seif, Michelle Elia Moussa used to stand in front of a classroom full of students.But since the war turned her life and country upside down, she has spent her days standing in front of a stall at Al-Hasaheisa market, halfway between Khartoum and Wad Madani."I've given up hope and shelved my ambitions of being a brilliant teacher," she said, glasses on her nose and apron around her waist, as she looks over her cakes."Without a job, I can't support myself," she said, in a poverty-stricken country where the spectres of famine, epidemics and widespread war crimes now loom large."It's the first time I've worked in a market," she told AFP."I'm not comfortable, I'm ashamed, but it's a war. I have no choice," she added, expertly spreading a light dough on cast-iron plates to make thin wafers with holes.Eshraqa Mousa, another woman who fled Khartoum, has opened a small stall to sell tea. Without it, she said, she could "only provide one meal a day" for her children.- Leaving 'everything behind' -Her family's hasty departure from the capital at the start of a war that has killed at least 3,900 people and displaced four million is still fresh in Mousa's memory."We left everything behind... so I came here and bought this little stall to sell tea," she said, draped in her long, multicoloured veil.In a conservative society where tea sellers, though numerous, are often stigmatised and harassed, the move was an act of bravery she had never imagined she would achieve.But with the war, such taboos were shattered, and survival and resourcefulness took over."We were forced to find alternatives," said Mohammed Ali.A former civil servant in the capital, he "teamed up with some colleagues to open a small mobile food stall", he said.Made of white sheet metal and powered by a generator, it's "in the style of those you find in Khartoum, which don't exist in Wad Madani."Every day, he now sells mashed beans, falafel and other snacks loved by his compatriots, and he makes enough to feed his family.That is, until the next storm: the streets of Wad Madani are buzzing with speculation that the war could soon come to this city.
The Somali National Army launched a military operation to enhance security and stability in areas of the Middle Shabelle Governorate, southeast of the country.The Somali News Agency (SONNA), quoted Commander of the Somali National Army Brigadier General Ibrahim Sheikh Muhyadin as saying that the aim of the planned military operation, which was carried out by the Khalid bin Al-Walid Brigades, the 17th Battalion of the "Gurgur" commando forces, and the 19th Battalion of the Presidential Guard, is to enhance security and stability in the areas of Ron Nergod. And Hewley missed.It added that this operation comes within the framework of the military operations aimed at eliminating the remnants of the "Khawarij militias.For more than 10 years, the Somali government forces have been fighting the armed movements, which have carried out many attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and security personnel. Their repeated attacks also target government facilities and hotels in the capital, Mogadishu. (QNA)
Kenya's government and the opposition launched fresh talks Wednesday aimed at resolving a bitter political feud following a spate of violent protests over the high cost of living and calls for electoral reforms.But even as the formal dialogue kicked off in Nairobi, both sides insisted there would no form of power-sharing to resolve the crisis in the East African powerhouse.Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga has organised 10 days of demonstrations against the government of President William Ruto since March -- blighted by sometimes deadly confrontations with the police.At least 20 people have been killed in the clashes, according to official figures, although rights campaigners put the toll much higher. The unrest in one of the region's most stable democracies has provoked alarm at home and abroad and spurred calls for mediation to end the standoff."Dialogue, peace, stability and prosperity in whose name we gather here are not party issues. These are Kenyan issues," said Kalonzo Musyoka, the head of Odinga's delegation. "We shall not negotiate for any form of power sharing with (Ruto's) Kenya Kwanza alliance or put any personal interest ahead of the interest of the people."The talks are taking place at the Bomas of Kenya, a tourist site which was also the venue for the announcement of the results of the tightly fought poll held a year ago today.No timeframe has been set for the duration of the negotiations and even the exact agenda is the subject of contention.Odinga's Azimio La Umoja coalition said it wants to discuss the rising cost of living as well as electoral reforms after the opposition stalwart lost his fifth bid for the presidency to Ruto, claiming he was cheated of victory.However an initial draft agenda did not include the economic crisis nor a raft of tax hikes introduced in July, angering Kenyans suffering from spiralling prices for basic goods such as fuel and food.Critics accuse Ruto of breaking promises made during the election campaign, when he declared himself the champion of impoverished Kenyans and pledged to improve their economic fortunes.Odinga called off demonstrations in April and May after Ruto agreed to dialogue through a similar process, but those talks broke down and protesters returned to the streets.- 'Good faith' -Cecily Mbarire, head of the Kenya Kwanza delegation, said it would put the interest of Kenyans first and expressed optimism that "issues before us can be discussed and solutions found"."We are here as Kenya Kwanza because we know our country is important than all of us," she said."We come in good faith and determined to find long-lasting solutions for Kenyans," she added, without elaborating on the agenda.Opposition demonstrations that erupted after Odinga's election loss in 2017 continued until he brokered a surprise truce the following year with former president Uhuru Kenyatta that became known as "the handshake".Ruto declared Wednesday that he would not entertain talk on a power-sharing agreement. "Elections were done and no discussion will be held for another leader to find work," he told a rally, referring to speculation about the establishment of an office for Odinga.His rival has vowed to return to the streets if opposition demands are not met. "If there is no agreement after 30 days, Kenyans will take a different course of action," Odinga said at the weekend.Inflation in Kenya has remained stubbornly high, at an annual rate of 7.3 percent last month, while the Kenyan shilling has plummeted to record lows of around 143 to the dollar.Ruto has insisted the controversial tax hikes are needed to create jobs and fill government coffers as the country teeters under a debt mountain of more than $70 billion.
Ethiopian troops appeared to be pushing back militia fighters in two cities in the conflict-hit Amhara region, residents said Wednesday, after local authorities reported that "relative peace" was being restored.There has been no official casualty toll from the Amhara violence, but two hospital doctors told AFP that a number of civilians have died and many injured.Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government last week declared a six-month state of emergency in the region after clashes erupted between local fighters and federal troops.The fresh unrest in Africa's second most populous country comes just nine months after the end of a devastating two-year war in the neighbouring Tigray region that also drew in Amhara fighters.Tensions have been boiling since April, when the federal government announced it was dismantling regional forces across Ethiopia, triggering protests by Amhara nationalists who said the move would weaken their region.The United States has expressed concern about the fighting, and several Western nations have advised their citizens against travelling to Amhara.Amhara's regional administration said late Tuesday calm was being restored, although some residents reported continuing gunfire Wednesday."The violence that happened recently in some areas of our region, which was aided by extremist and predatory power-hungry groups, is returning to relative peace and stability in all areas of the region," the Amhara government said.Ethiopian Airlines also announced it was resuming flights to the region's capital Bahir Dar and the city of Gondar from Thursday after suspending operations on Tuesday.- Situation 'changing' -Local residents contacted by AFP on Wednesday said federal troops appeared to be pushing back militia fighters in Gondar and Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for its ancient rock-hewn churches.Access to Amhara is restricted for journalists and it is not possible to independently verify the situation on the ground."Things seem to be changing today," said Simachew, a Gondar rickshaw driver.The Ethiopian army, backed by tanks and armoured vehicles, "is taking control of most parts of the city after heavy fighting for the past couple of days". He said Fano militants were "now restricted" to one area of Gondar and that fighting was ongoing there."Since Thursday evening, I had been hearing consistent daily sounds of gunfire... but since yesterday evening I have stopped hearing sounds of gunfire," said another resident who did not want to give his name.A Lalibela resident who gave his name only as Ayalew said Ethiopian troops were now based on the airport road."Fano has left the city and are in the forest," he said, but added that he could still hear heavy artillery being fired.- 'Running out of medicine' -A doctor at Gondar University Hospital told AFP there had been many casualties."About 20 died after reaching the hospital and more than 190 people were injured and were brought to the hospital, most of them were civilians," the doctor said on condition of anonymity."We also running out of food and medicine," the doctor added. "In this facility patients are dying due to a lack of oxygen and blood."In Bahir Dar, a doctor at Felege Hiwot hospital said they had received 130 injured civilians and that 10 people had died."People are coming here by foot with their families carrying them on their shoulders taking their own risks on the roads," the doctor said, also on condition of anonymity."Ambulances have stopped due to the heavy risk in the city," the medic said, adding that the situation in Bahir Dar appeared calm with Ethiopian troops patrolling the city.The World Health Organization said Sunday the violence was affecting humanitarian operations in Amhara, which was caught up in the war between government-backed forces and Tigray rebels.UK charity Save the Children also warned Wednesday about the risk to civilian lives in Amhara."We call upon warring parties to prioritise the safety of civilians and allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need including 580,000 people in the region already displaced by previous conflict," it said in a statement.The November deal that silenced the guns in Tigray was not welcomed by many in the Amhara community, the second largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, and once its economic and political elite.
A former rebel leader and politician in Niger has launched a movement opposing the junta that took power in a July 26 coup, a first sign of internal resistance to army rule in the strategically important Sahel country.Rhissa Ag Boula said in a statement seen on Wednesday that his new Council of Resistance for the Republic (CRR) aimed to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been in detention at his residence since the takeover.The CRR supports regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and any other international actors seeking to restore constitutional order in Niger, according to the statement.A CRR member said several Nigerien political figures had joined the group but could not make their allegiance public for safety reasons.The launch of the CRR comes as diplomatic efforts to reverse the coup appeared stalled after the junta rejected the latest diplomatic mission and the army governments of neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, which back the armed takeover, appealed to the United Nations to prevent any military intervention.Niger's coup leaders denied entry to African and UN envoys on Tuesday, resisting pressure to negotiate ahead of a summit on Thursday at which ECOWAS heads of state will discuss possible use of force.The UN, Western powers and democratic ECOWAS member states such as Nigeria want the junta to reinstate a civilian government that had been relatively successful in containing a deadly Islamist insurgency devastating the Sahel region.But Mali and Burkina Faso, ECOWAS members that have rejected Western allies since their own juntas took power in coups in the past two years, have vowed to defend Niger's new army rulers from any forceful attempt to remove them.
It was the news Kenya's timber industry had waited over five years to hear: a ban on logging was over, and the country's forests were once again open for business.But conservationists were dismayed at the announcement in July by President William Ruto, who had cast himself as a champion of the environment, and made planting 15 billion trees a centrepiece of his climate change agenda.The government defended lifting the ban, insisting that only mature trees in state-run plantations would be felled, and that Kenya's most biodiverse and carbon-rich wild forests would remain untouched.The explanation did little to quash charges of hypocrisy, with Ruto just weeks away from hosting a international climate conference in Nairobi."Kenya has been a clear leader here, investing in clean green growth and raising forest cover. Now the country is busy clearing its forests while at the same time hosting climate change negotiations," said opposition leader Raila Odinga.- 'Ruto to the rescue' -Ruto, who was deputy president when the ban was introduced in 2018, said it was "foolishness" to let trees rot while businesses were importing timber.The temptation to assist a sector that employs 50,000 people directly -- and 300,000 indirectly -- would have been strong at a time when anti-government demonstrators are protesting rising prices.In Molo, a highland town northwest of Nairobi, sawmill owner Bernard Gitau said Ruto had "come to the rescue" after he was forced to lay off workers and curb output because of the ban.His factory is still only half operational, with machinery laying idle and coated in sawdust.But a skeleton crew of 50 has been sanding doors and planing lumber as he waits for business to rebound."Some of them came and were praying outside my gate there, saying we thank God now that this sawmill has come back to life," said Gitau, who is also chairman of the Timber Manufacturers Association of Kenya, an industry group."The economy of this town is going to improve."The ban was introduced at a time when Kenya's forests were being cleared at a rate of 5,000 hectares a year, depleting water supply in the drought-prone country, and contributing to global warming.Forests have slowly started recovering since the ban took effect but, without it in place, questions are being asked about how Ruto can more than double the nation's tree cover by 2032 as he's promised."This time you're talking about planting, tomorrow you're talking about cutting. It does not add up," said Godfrey Kamau, chair of the Thogoto Forest Family, a conservation group protecting 53 hectares of native forest outside Nairobi.Environmentalists won a reprieve on August 1, when a court temporarily barred the government from issuing logging licences until a legal challenge is fully heard.- 'Rampant corruption' -The move has also revived scrutiny of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), the state agency tasked with policing the scheme and allocating logging permits.KFS said the process would be transparent, and replanting carried out in cleared areas.But critics say the KFS has not undertaken adequate reforms since being accused of "rampant corruption" as well as the "wanton destruction" and "plunder and pillaging" of forests by a government taskforce in 2018.Sawmill owner Gitau said concerns over native forests being logged were misplaced.The timber industry was only interested in the fast-growing trees introduced during British colonial rule like pine and eucalyptus, he said, not indigenous species found in protected forests."We know the law," he said. "It is prohibited."But in the nearby Mau Forest, a vast mountain ecosystem and crucial water source, Environment Minister Soipan Tuya said trees were being illegally cleared just days after the ban was lifted.She ordered additional KFS rangers to Mau and other threatened hotspots as part of a "ruthless" campaign to stamp out illegal logging."People who imagine that our forests are available for encroachment should forget it," she said.The mixed messages from the government undermine community efforts to discourage logging, said Kamau, whose organisation works with locals to protect Thogoto Forest."The president stood and said that logging has been allowed... The common wananchi (people) will decide now it's time to start cutting a tree," he told AFP in Thogoto, which is hemmed in by hundreds of acres of plantation forest.He lamented the focus on replanting and extracting timber rather than indigenous trees that attract wildlife, store carbon and support nature for generations to come."It feels like you have been doing zero work at the end of a day."
Ethiopia's government declared a six-month state of emergency on Friday in the country's second-largest region, Amhara, following days of clashes between the military and local Fano militiamen, giving it powers to impose curfews, restrict movement and ban gatherings.The fighting that broke out earlier this week has quickly become Ethiopia's most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in Tigray region, which neighbours Amhara, ended in November.Amhara's regional government requested additional help from federal authorities on Thursday to reimpose order."It was found necessary to declare a state of emergency as it had become difficult to control this outrageous activity based on the regular legal system," Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office said in a statement.The unrest is the latest spasm of violence to hit the country, the second most populous in Africa after Nigeria, since Abiy took office in 2018. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea.Friday's order gave the government powers to impose curfews, restrict movement, ban the carrying of guns and other sharp objects, ban public gatherings, and to make arrests and conduct searches without warrants.The government could also close or limit the movements of media outlets it deems to be operating contrary to the emergency orders, the Government Communication Service said in a posting on the messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter.The orders applied to Amhara for now, but could be imposed in other areas if needed, the government said.Fano, a part-time militia that draws volunteers from the local population, was a key ally of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) during the Tigray war.But the relationship has soured, in part over recent efforts by federal authorities to weaken regional paramilitary groups. Some activists say this has left Amhara vulnerable to attack by neighbouring regions.U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke of progress in implementing the cease fire in the north but expressed concern about the situation in Amhara and Oromo regions in a call with Abiy on Friday, the State Department said.They discussed establishing a humanitarian aid distribution system with strengthened oversight to allow food aid to resume, it said. Concerns that food was being diverted prompted the United States to suspend such aid to Ethiopia in June.Two residents of Amhara's second-biggest city, Gondar, said on Friday that intense fighting took place the previous day near the university."ENDF first controlled the university, but they were pushed back by Fano. They were trying to advance to the centre of the city, but they couldn't," said one resident.The other, a local official, said the military had pulled back from the university but did not say why. Both asked not to be named for security reasons.A Fano member, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the militiamen were trying to encircle Amhara's capital Bahir Dar. He said they had captured Merawi, a town 30 km (18 miles) south of Bahir Dar.Reuters could not independently confirm his claims.An ENDF spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.However, Education Minister Berhanu Nega told a news conference that 16,000 students in Gondar were unable to do their leaving exams on Thursday.Mobile internet remained down in the region, residents said. Ethiopian Airlines cancelled flights to three of the four airports it flies to in Amhara, an airline spokesperson said.Violent protests erupted across Amhara in April after Abiy ordered that security forces from Ethiopia's 11 regions be integrated into the police or national army.Protesters said the order was meant to weaken Amhara. The federal government denied this and said the objective was ensuring national unity.Since coming to power, Abiy has tried to centralise power in a country whose regions each have a measure of autonomy.The war in Tigray was rooted in tensions between regional and federal authority as well as old grievances between ethnic groups. Tens of thousands of people were killed and millions forced from their homes before a truce was signed.
The coup in Niger that toppled the democratically elected president has led to several nations and international agencies suspending aid -- a move that will hit one of the world's poorest countries really hard. What does Niger receive?Niger, which has a population of 26.2 million, received $1.8 billion in aid in 2021, according to the latest figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).That is more than any other West African country except its large neighbour Nigeria, which received $3.5 billion for a population nearly 10 times bigger.In Niger, half the population lives below the poverty line -- less than $2.15 a day. The country struggles with repeated food shortages and has one of the worst ratings on the human development indices in the world.International organisations such as the World Bank have long supported the country, funding various projects on the ground.Much of that financial support is in the form of military aid to fight repeated attacks from jihadist forces linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated groups.Troops from several Western countries are stationed on its territory, including soldiers from former colonial power France.Foreign money accounts for a quarter of Niger's public spending, and international aid -- donations or loans at very favourable rates -- represents nine percent of its GDP, according to Dominique Fruchter, an economist covering West Africa with French insurance company Coface, which specialises in credit insurance and risk management. The European Union says that only 62 percent of Niger's budget is funded domestically.Who has announced what?France on Saturday was the first to announce it was suspending development aid to Niger, which last year totalled 120 million euros and was due to increase this year. Germany followed on Monday, suspending a two-year package of aid last negotiated in 2021 worth 120 million euros but said it would continue to supply food aid.London also said that Britain would maintain "critical" humanitarian aid, while suspending its long-term development aid.The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has announced the "immediate suspension of budgetary support" and security cooperation with Niger.The bloc's 2022-26 aid package is worth 2.3 billion euros.The United States has so far said little about suspending its own aid -- though US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that it was contingent on the country maintaining "democratic governance".US aid to Niger was set at $233 million for 2023.West African nations have already imposed an economic blockade on Niger, while the World Bank announced on Wednesday evening that it was suspending aid other than private-sector partnerships "until further notice".How will this affect Niger's economy?"To give up on this support, is to commit hara-kiri," Niger's Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told broadcaster France24 on Sunday, referring to the Japanese term for ritual suicide. Sanctions were going to be "a disaster" for the country, he warned.For Fruchter however, it was far from clear that all aid would dry up. "If you look at what has happened elsewhere, (aid) has not entirely disappeared," said the economist. In Mali, for example, where the military junta defied international condemnation of their 2021 coup, some programmes -- notably those funded by the World Bank -- have continued.The Washington-based World Bank said Wednesday that although it has halted disbursements for all operations there until further notice, private sector partnerships "will continue with caution".But the cuts announced are already enough to severely hit Niger's economy.The new regime may be placing some of its hopes in the fact that a new oil pipeline is due to come online by the end of the year.On the basis of estimates drawn up by the government they ousted, the increased oil extraction should give enough of a boost to the country's GDP to offset some of the lost international aid.
Alexandre MARTINS LOPES Nigeria, leader of a key west African bloc and a continental economic powerhouse, has intensified its efforts to reverse the coup gripping neighbouring Niger, presenting Abuja with opportunities as well as risks.The ECOWAS bloc, currently chaired by Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, said on Sunday that coup leaders had a week to restore Mohamed Bazoum to Niger's presidency after he was toppled by his presidential guard.But the organisation took many by surprise when it threatened the possible "use of force" to restore constitutional order."It's time for action," Tinubu said.Nigeria's chief of staff Christopher Musa echoed the commander in chief, warning in an interview on RFI Hausa that if ordered, his forces were ready to intervene.Burkina Faso and Mali, both led by military officers after coups, have warned that military intervention in Niger to restore Bazoum would be seen "as a declaration of war" against them. Resolving the crisis is a "survival test" for regional leaders, said Confidence MacHarry, a security expert at SBM Intelligence. "If the plotters are allowed to get away with it, other countries will live under the shadow of coups," he said.Tinubu lived through three decades of military dictatorship before Nigeria's return to democracy in 1999 and as such is seen as critical of a coup in a neighbouring country. - Jihadism, economic crisis -As Africa's most populous country with 215 million people, Nigeria will likely want to regain its status as a regional player as well as preventing issues on its soil. "Nigeria would have the most to fear from Niger's destabilisation as it shares a 1,000-mile border that Nigerian security forces are too overstretched to properly secure," said James Barnett, a researcher at the Hudson Institute in Washington. Tinubu said he feared a spill over of jihadist groups into Niger and an influx of refugees. Nigeria is already facing widespread insecurity, including criminal gangs in the centre and northwest, jihadist groups in the northeast and separatist unrest in the southeast. The multiple fronts are already straining the Nigerian army, one of the largest in the region that is in reality underfunded and under-equipped, and which is already failing to pacify the homeland. If there is a military intervention in Niger, "Nigeria would send soldiers. It is normal," MacHarry said. "But the government doesn't have the resources for that, not prepared."- 'Disastrous outing' -While President Bola Tinubu has made clear his determination to return Nigeria to the diplomatic map, declaring "Nigeria is back", he still faces immense challenges at home. Experts doubt he has the means to fulfil his ambitions at a time when the country is in the grip of a severe economic crisis. At home, huge social anger is rumbling on, with threats of nationwide strikes and protests. His first reforms aimed at reviving the economy have caused an inflationary surge in the country where nearly half the population lives in extreme poverty. Tinubu was elected president of Nigeria in a vote contested by his two main opponents. Their appeals are still being examined by the courts. Experts doubt that Nigerian soldiers will even agree to be deployed in Niger, given the strong links between the two armies, which are made up of many Hausa -- an ethnic group present across the Sahel. "It is unthinkable that Nigerian soldiers will go into Niger and fight its soldiers which we see as our brothers," said a senior military official who asked not to be named. "It is most likely be a disastrous outing because the troops will not have the courage to execute the mission." Experts are asking whether the threat of intervention itself could resolve the crisis. Barnett, the researcher, said that if Niger's military wavers, a return to civilian rule is possible. But if the junta follows through on its threat to rally the population to its cause, "things could get quite ugly".
Niger's new junta on Monday accused former colonial ruler France of wanting to "intervene militarily" to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum."In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien national guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorisation needed," said a statement read out on national television.In another statement, the putschists accused the security services of an unnamed Western embassy of firing teargas Sunday on pro-coup demonstrators in the capital Niamey.It said six people had been hospitalised after the incident.French President Emmanuel Macron had Sunday vowed "immediate" action if French citizens or interests were attacked in Niger, after thousands of Nigeriens rallied outside the French embassy.Anti-French sentiment runs high in some former African colonies as the continent becomes a renewed diplomatic battleground, with Russian and Chinese influence growing.France has some 1,500 troops in the West African nation, which is one of its last allies in the Sahel region, after French forces had to withdraw from neighbouring Mali earlier this year.Following Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger has become the third country in the Sahel to be undermined by jihadist attacks linked to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda.