Malawi farmers reap rewards of ditching tobacco farming

The World Health Organization says more farmers in Malawi have begun to benefit from shifting away from tobacco cultivation, just months after the country ratified a treaty that aims to address public health risks associated with tobacco. However, some farmers say there are challenges due to a lack of markets for their crops. Lameck Masina reports from Blantyre.

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7 killed, dozens missing after gunmen attack in northern Nigeria

Maiduguri, Nigeria — At least seven people were killed and 100 kidnapped on Saturday night when gunmen attacked a rural community in Nigeria’s northwestern Katsina state, residents and police said Sunday, the latest attack against residents in the north of the country.

Armed gangs, known locally as bandits, have frequently raided communities in the northwest, kidnapping residents, students and motorists for ransom.

Residents said gunmen on motorbikes arrived in Maidabino village in Danmusa local government area of Katsina, and started shooting sporadically, forcing residents to flee.

Hassan Aliyu told Reuters by phone that the attack took residents by surprise and dozens of women and children were confirmed missing.

“They killed seven people, including burning two children,” Aliyu said. “They spent more than six hours destroying our properties.”

Auwalu Ismail, another resident, said the gunmen first blocked all roads leading to Maidabino before the attack.

“They burnt down our shops, vehicles, and took away our livestock. They also kidnapped my wife and more than 100 women and children,” he said.

Katsina state police spokesperson Abubakar Aliyu Sadiq confirmed the attack and the seven deaths but would not say whether anyone was missing. He said the police were investigating.

“The remaining men who did not flee are living in fear … and waiting to hear news about their abducted loved ones,” said Muhammad Sani, whose sister was abducted.

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Kenya’s Ruto ready for ‘conversation’ with protesters

Nairobi — Kenya’s President William Ruto said Sunday that he was ready for “a conversation” with thousands of “peaceful” young protesters who held nationwide demonstrations this week to oppose proposed tax increases.

Organized on social media and led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans who have livestreamed the demonstrations, the protests have caught Ruto’s government off-guard, as discontent mounts over his economic policies.

“I am very proud of our young people… they have stepped forward peaceful and I want to tell them we are going to engage them,” Ruto said in his first public comments on the protests.

“We are going to have a conversation so that together we can build a greater nation,” Ruto said during a church service in the Rift Valley town of Nyahururu.

His characterization of the protests as “peaceful” came after rights campaigners reported two deaths following Thursday’s demonstrations in Nairobi.

There was no immediate response from the protesters, who have called for a national strike on June 25.

The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, but officers fired tear gas and water cannon throughout the day to disperse protesters near parliament.

According to a Kenya Human Rights Commission official, 21-year-old Evans Kiratu was “hit by a tear gas canister” during the protests and died in hospital.

On Friday, a police watchdog said it was investigating allegations that a 29-year-old man was shot by officers in Nairobi after the demonstrations.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) said it had “documented the death… allegedly as a result of police shooting” on Thursday.

Several organisations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said that at least 200 people were injured in the protests in Nairobi, as thousands of people take to the streets across the country.

Cash-strapped government

Ruto’s administration has defended the proposed levies as necessary for filling its coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.

Following smaller-scale demonstrations on Tuesday, the cash-strapped government agreed to roll back several tax hikes laid out in a new bill.

But Ruto’s administration still intends to increase some taxes, defending the proposed levies as necessary to raise money.

Kenya has a debt mountain, and servicing costs have ballooned due to a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, leaving Ruto with few options.

The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with many already struggling as the cost of living surges and well-paid jobs remain out of reach for young people.

“Tuesday 25th June: #OccupyParliament and Total Shutdown Kenya. A national strike,” read a poster shared widely online, adding that “Gen Z are granting all hard working Kenyans a day off. Parents keep your children at home in solidarity.”

After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership as well as financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a 200-billion-shilling ($1.5-billion) shortfall.

The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.

Kenya is one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 51.5 million people live in poverty.

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Niger planned on China-backed oil pipeline — then troubles began

ABUJA, Nigeria — A China-backed pipeline that would make Niger an oil-exporting country is being threatened by an internal security crisis and a diplomatic dispute with neighboring Benin, both a result of last year’s coup that toppled the West African nation’s democratic government.

The 1,930-kilometer pipeline runs from Niger’s Chinese-built Agadem oil field to the port of Cotonou in Benin. It was designed to help the oil-rich but landlocked Niger achieve an almost fivefold increase in oil production through a $400 million deal signed in April with China’s state-run national petroleum company.

But it has been stalled by several challenges, including the diplomatic disagreement with Benin that led to the pipeline’s closure last week. There also has been an attack this week by the local Patriotic Liberation Front rebel group, which claimed to have disabled a part of the pipeline and is threatening more attacks if the $400 million deal with China isn’t canceled.

The group, led by Salah Mahmoud, a former rebel leader, took up arms after Niger’s junta came to power, posing further security threats to the country, which is already struggling with a deadly security crisis.

Analysts say the crises could further hurt Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries which funds most of its budget with now-withheld external support in the aftermath of the coup.

Niger currently has a local refining capacity of only 20,000 barrels per day (bpd) for local demands while the pipeline is to export up to 90,000 barrels daily — a feat officials and analysts have said would help the country shore up its revenue and emerge from the coup sanctions that had isolated it from regional neighbors and hurt its economy and people.

“It is a completely messy situation and the only way for a resolution is if both administrations directly engage and resolve issues,” said Ryan Cummings, director of Africa-focused security consulting company Signal Risk.

One major concern is how the stalled pipeline operation might impact Niger’s overall economic growth. The World Bank had projected that the West African nation’s economy would rebound and grow the fastest in Africa this year at a rate of 6.9%, with oil exports as a key boost.

The diplomatic tensions with Benin date back to July when Niger’s president, Mohamed Bazoum, was deposed in a coup, resulting in West African neighbors closing their borders with Niger, and in the formation of the so-called local liberation group now threatening more attacks on the oil project.

Benin, alongside other neighbors, has reopened its border with Niger, but Nigerien officials have refused to open theirs, accusing Benin of hosting French troops that pose a threat to the country after Niger severed military ties with France. That has led Benin’s president, Patrice Talon, to make the oil exportation through its port conditional on the reopening of the border.

Both countries are losing out economically, with Benin also being deprived of millions of dollars in transit fees. Observers say the impasse is worsening regional tensions since the coup, which came after a string of other military takeovers. It has pitched Niger against the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, which usually mediates on such issues.

With Niger tilting towards Russia in its diplomatic shift and Benin aligned with France and the West African bloc, China has tried to step in and resolve the impasse and benefit from its investment in the project.

But even Beijing’s efforts, which resulted in the first lifting of oil from the Agadem field in May, collapsed as the diplomatic spat escalated further.

Benin this week convicted and imprisoned three of five Nigerien oil workers it recently arrested at the Beninise port after they crossed from the border and were accused of “use of falsified computer data.” Their arrests prompted Niger to shut the pipeline last week, with a senior government official alleging that their oil is being “stolen by other people.”

A big concern for Niger’s military government at this stage is “whether they have the requisite fiscal capacity to keep paying for public services” following the coup, which has made it unable to meet some of its financial obligations such as debt repayment and infrastructural funding, Cummings said.

The junta in Niger “definitely have to be more cautious in handling the financial position of the country” amid the ongoing crises, he said.

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In South Africa, traditional healers join fight against HIV

BUSHBUCKRIDGE, South Africa — The walls of Shadrack Mashabane’s hut in the rural South African town of Bushbuckridge are covered with traditional fabrics, with a small window the only source of light. What stands out among the herbs and medicines in glass bottles is a white box containing an HIV testing kit.

Mashabane is one of at least 15 traditional healers in the town who, in a pilot study, have been trained by University of Witwatersrand researchers to conduct HIV testing and counseling in an effort to ensure as many South Africans as possible know their status.

It’s part of the largest known effort in the country to involve traditional healers in a public health goal and study the results. Later this year, at least 325 other healers will undergo the training and become certified HIV counselors. Researchers will compare rates of HIV testing by healers and clinics.

Most traditional healers were already knowledgeable about HIV — some from personal experience — and were eager to get involved, researchers said.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. Stigma remains in many communities around the disease and its treatment — even though HIV antiretroviral medication and pre-exposure prophylaxis are free. Concern about privacy at clinics also keeps people from seeking help.

Many people in rural areas see traditional healers as their first point of contact for illnesses, and the project hopes they can help change attitudes.

South Africa’s large younger population is a special concern. A government study released in December showed that people living with HIV had fallen from 14% in 2017 to 12.7% in 2022, but HIV prevalence rose among girls between 15 and 19, a phenomenon largely attributed to older men sleeping with them.

Around 2,000 traditional healers operate in the Mpumalanga province town of Bushbuckridge, home to about 750,000 people, providing traditional and spiritual services.

Mashabane said patients at first found it difficult to believe he was offering HIV testing — a service they had long expected to be available only at health clinics.

“Many were not convinced. I had to show them my certificate to prove I was qualified to do this,” he said.

The process includes the signing of consent forms to be tested, along with a follow-up with Mashabane to ensure that patients who test positive receive their treatment from the local clinic.

He said breaking the news to a patient who has tested positive for HIV is not that difficult because the illness can be treated with readily available medication. But in many cases, he has to accompany the patient to the clinic “to make it easier for them.”

Florence Khoza is another traditional healer who has been trained to test for HIV. She said risky sexual behavior is common. She often dispenses traditional herbs and medication to treat gonorrhea, but now she goes further by advising patients to test for HIV.

“I tell them it is in their best interest,” she said.

Khoza said many patients fear going to the clinic or hospital and having other community members see them collecting HIV treatment.

“In many cases I collect the HIV medication on their behalf,” she said.

Ryan Wagner, a senior research fellow with the study, said testing and treating via traditional medicine practitioners could “ultimately lead to the end of new HIV cases in communities such as rural Mpumalanga, which has some of the largest HIV burden globally.”

Researchers hope their findings will inspire South Africa’s government to roll out such training across the country. 

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CAR charges European aid worker with terrorism, security issues

BANGUI, Central African Republic — Authorities in the Central African Republic charged a European aid worker who was arrested last month with terrorism and undermining state security, the public prosecutor’s office said.

Martin Joseph Figueira, a Belgian-Portuguese consultant for the American nongovernmental organization FHI360, has been accused of being in communication with armed groups to plot a coup, thereby jeopardizing national security.

On Friday, the prosecutor charged him with six crimes, including undermining the internal and external state security, as well as terrorism. If found guilty, he faces a sentence of forced labor for life.

Among Figueira’s alleged crimes, the prosecutor’s office listed “the existence of several contracts with the leaders of armed groups, supply of strategic information on the different positions of the Central African Armed Forces, money and weapons, being identified as an alleged employee of an American nongovernmental organization carrying out research on Fulani herders.”

Figueira also allegedly “defended war crimes and crimes against humanity; the propaganda of armed groups while encouraging them to create an international terrorist branch like the Islamic State,” the statement said.

Figueira holds Belgian and Portuguese passports. On his Belgian passport he goes under the name of Martin Joseph Edouard.

FHI360, a public health organization that manages projects related to family planning and reproductive health, confirmed that one of its workers is in custody in the Central African Republic.

Figueira was arrested last month in Zemio, a town in southeastern Central African Republic that has been plagued by fighting between local ethnic militias and anti-government rebels for over a decade.

“We are working to secure our consultant’s immediate release,” FHI360’s spokesperson Jennifer Garcia told The Associated Press immediately after his arrest.

So far, The Associated Press has not been able to contact Figueira, and none of his lawyers commented on Friday’s statement.

Mohamed Ag Ayoya, deputy special representative of the U.N. secretary-general in charge of humanitarian action, told the AP he was monitoring the situation.

“We learned of the news and the prosecutor’s press release through the press,” Ayoya said. “We have no comment to make. But what I can tell you at this level it is his embassy in Bangui which is managing the file.”

Authorities have warned foreign charity workers against taking part in activities that could jeopardize national security or they could face judicial proceedings.

Following Figueira’s arrest, the military was deployed to Zemio, after more than six years of absence from the town. The Russian mercenary group Wagner, which for years has had a significant a presence in the Central African Republic, was also deployed there at the same time to train local militias and recruit them for the army. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Wagner forces were still present in the city.

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

A U.N. peacekeeping mission and Rwandan troops are currently deployed in the Central African Republic to try to quell the violence and protect civilians.

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2 dead in Kenya youth protests

Nairobi, Kenya — A 21-year-old man died after being hit by a tear gas canister during protests in Kenya this week, a human rights official and the victim’s relative said Saturday, in the second fatality in connection with the youth-led demonstrations. 

Led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans who have livestreamed the demonstrations against tax increases, the protests have been galvanized by widespread anger over President William Ruto’s economic policies. 

Thursday’s demonstrations in Nairobi were mostly peaceful, but officers fired tear gas and water cannons throughout the day to disperse protesters near parliament. 

According to a Kenya Human Rights Commission official, 21-year-old Evans Kiratu was “hit by a tear gas canister” during the demonstrations. 

“He was rushed to hospital around 6 p.m. on Thursday … and died there,” Ernest Cornel, a spokesperson at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, told AFP. “It is tragic that a young person can lose his life simply for agitating against the high cost of living.” 

The victim’s aunt told national broadcaster Citizen TV that her nephew had died in the hospital before she was able to see him. 

“We are demanding justice for my nephew,” she said. 

The rallies began in Nairobi on Tuesday before spreading across the country, with protesters calling for a national strike on Tuesday. 

Kiratu’s death comes on the heels of another fatality reported Friday, when a police watchdog group said it was investigating allegations that a 29-year-old man was shot by officers in Nairobi after the demonstrations. 

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority said it had “documented the death … allegedly as a result of [a] police shooting” Thursday. 

According to a police report seen by AFP, a 29-year-old man was taken to the hospital in Nairobi around 7 p.m. Thursday, “unconscious with a thigh injury” before “succumbing” to his injuries, without giving further details. 

Several organizations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said that at least 200 people were injured in Nairobi after Thursday’s protests, which saw thousands of people take to the streets across the country.

Following smaller-scale demonstrations in Nairobi earlier in the week, the cash-strapped government agreed to roll back several tax increases laid out in a new bill. 

But Ruto’s administration still intends to increase some taxes, defending the proposed levies as necessary for filling its coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing. 

The tax increases will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with many already struggling to survive as the cost of living surges and well-paid jobs remain out of reach for young people. 

Organized largely through social media, the protests have caught the government by surprise, with demonstrators now calling for a nationwide shutdown. 

“Tuesday 25th June: #OccupyParliament and Total Shutdown Kenya. A national strike,” read a poster shared widely online, adding that “Gen Z are granting all hard-working Kenyans a day off. Parents keep your children at home in solidarity.” 

After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases and car ownership as well as financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a 200 billion shilling ($1.5 billion) shortfall. 

The proposed taxes were projected to raise 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion), equivalent to 1.9% of GDP, and reduce the budget deficit from 5.7% to 3.3% of GDP. 

The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country battling high inflation. 

Kenya is one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa, but a third of its 51.5 million people live in poverty. 

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Floods kill 21, wreck homes as rainy season arrives in Niger

NIAMEY, Niger — Floods in mostly arid Niger have killed 21 people and affected more than 6,000 others during just the first few weeks of the African country’s rainy season that runs through September, a government official said.

Thirteen people were killed when their homes collapsed and eight died by drowning following heavy rains, Colonel Boubacar Bako, the director-general of civil protection, said on national TV on Thursday evening.

From the Maradi region of south-central Niger, 35-year-old resident Ali Abdou told The Associated Press by phone that heavy rains destroyed houses in his community.

“It is only the first rain of the season, and our houses are already down,” Abdou said.

The rainy season, which lasts from June to September, regularly claims many lives in Niger, including in desert areas.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that floods and heavy rains hitting the country in recent years are the result of climate change. Last year, 52 people died and 176,000 were affected by floods in Niger, the Interior Ministry said.

Niger’s population struggles with periodic droughts and heat waves during the dry season.

The Maradi region has been most affected by the floods so far this year, accounting for 14 of the 21 deaths, Bako said during his televised announcement.

Niger’s capital, Niamey, and its 2 million inhabitants, usually hit by deadly floods, have been spared so far.

But in a suburb of Niamey, the mud-brick house of resident Maiga Harouna, 56, collapsed during the torrential rain.

“We desperately need help from the government before the second rain arrives,” Harouna said.

The government has not yet announced any plans for relocating people who lost homes because of the floods.

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UN agency: Foreign investment in Africa drops; energy sector receives biggest deals 

nairobi, kenya — Africa became less attractive to foreign investors last year and finance deals declined by 50 percent to $64 billion, according to a new report.  

 

The World Investment Report, released Thursday by the U.N. Trade and Development, said foreign investment remains subdued by the global economic slowdown and rising geopolitical tensions.  

 

On the continent, central African countries recorded the largest drop in foreign investment, 17 percent, and West Africa recorded the lowest dip, 1 percent. 

  

Bruce Nsereko-Lule, a general partner at Seedstars Africa Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in high-growth companies, said conditions in Western economies have contributed to the reduction in foreign direct investment in Africa.

“We have seen very high interest rates in Western economies,” he said. “With the devaluation of the currency, we saw this is partially driven by the same factor. Investment in these developing markets, emerging markets, even became less attractive as the companies effectively had to work significantly hard to generate a return that would make a good return for Western investors.”

Researchers say that the lack of financial inflows to Africa and other countries affected sustainable development, with new funding dropping by 10 percent globally. Lack of financing for development programs will hinder countries from achieving the 2030 agenda, which covers economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection.

The reduction of foreign investments is also blamed on protectionist policies by African governments and on regional realignments, which investigators say are disrupting the world economy, fragmenting trade networks, regulatory environments and global supply chains.

Some governments’ actions have undermined the stability and predictability of global investment flows, creating obstacles and isolating opportunities.  

 

Samuel Nyandemo, economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, said the behavior of some African governments is turning away investors.

“There is corruption, there is bureaucracy in investments, the red tape bureaucracies, and then the marginal rates of returns from investments are not forthcoming,” he said.

The fall of foreign direct investment in Africa is blamed on insecurity in some African countries, the weakening of local currencies, a harsh business environment, corruption and political uncertainty. 

  

However, Africa has received investment in a growing share of greenfield mega projects worth $5 billion, plus wind and solar energy production worth $10 billion. And Morocco, a North African nation, is getting $6.4 billion to manufacture electric vehicle batteries.

Nyandemo said Africa needs to create an environment where investors feel safe with their businesses. 

“They need to have investor confidence, create a conducive macroeconomic environment for investments and enable investors to repatriate their profits appropriately without any bureaucratic procedures, and minimize taxation,” he said. “Create a tax regime which is conducive for investment.”

The U.N. report predicted that despite challenges, financial conditions in Africa are expected to improve. Governments can address low investments by creating transparent and streamlined business environments.

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Guinea media regulators jailed over junta bribery claim

Conakry, Guinea — Two media regulators in Guinea were sentenced Thursday to eight months in prison after claiming the heads of popular outlets were bribed by the ruling military, their lawyer said.

The ruling followed months of a junta-led crackdown on media freedom across Guinea that saw four private radio stations and two private television channels banned in May.

Djene Diaby and Tawel Camara — two of the 13 commissioners of Guinea’s media regulator, the High Authority for Communication — were also fined 1 million Guinean francs ($116) each, lawyer Kemoko Malick Diakite told reporters.

He said that he intended to appeal.

During the trial, prosecutor Mohamed Bangoura called for a one-year sentence, saying that the commissioners committed “very serious” acts.

One of the defense lawyers, Bakary Millimouno, asked the court for leniency, describing his clients as “first-time offenders.”

In comments to reporters on June 12, Diaby and Camara accused the owners of the now-banned media organizations of receiving money from the junta in return for favorable coverage.

However, those media organizations continued to criticize the junta, which led to them being banned last month, the commissioners claimed.

Diaby and Camara were charged with defamation against the head of state and detained in Conakry’s central prison, their colleague Amadou Toure told AFP.

The two commissioners appeared in court in Conakry Wednesday where they apologized and said they had no proof of their claims.

In her earlier contested comments, recorded and published on social media, Diaby said she had “no compassion” for the media bosses.

“Each one of them got money … at the presidency. Each one of them signed,” Diaby said.

Both commissioners also described junta members as indifferent to legality and capable of anything to retain power.

The High Authority for Communication suspended Diaby and Camara for “gross misconduct” on June 13.

The directors of the Hadafo Medias, Djoma Media and Frequence Medias groups said they were lodging a complaint against the two officials. Their media outlets are among the radio and TV stations whose licenses were withdrawn by the authorities on May 22.

Opposition voices have been largely stifled since the colonels seized power in a 2021 coup, overthrowing elected President Alpha Conde.

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Africa defense chiefs to gather in Botswana for US military conference

Gaborone, Botswana — Defense chiefs from 30 African countries will gather in Botswana next week for a two-day military conference to discuss the continent’s security and stability challenges. The meeting, organized by the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM, will be the first to be held in Africa since the inaugural conference in 2017 

“The aim [is] to tackle the pressing security challenges on the African continent and to find ways to work together for a safer, more secure Africa,” said Lt. Commander Bobby Dixon, a spokesman at AFRICOM.  “From counterterrorism efforts to cyber threats and peacekeeping missions, this conference will cover it all. Experts and military leaders will share insights, strategies, and forge partnerships that will strengthen the collective defense capabilities for all of Africa. This is more than just a conference — it’s a significant step towards a unified approach in safeguarding the African continent.”

AFRICOM says the meeting will build on the success of previous conferences. Last year’s meeting held in Rome, Italy, attracted the highest turnout, with 43 countries in attendance.

“It is evident that Africa faces a series of challenges,” said Jakkie Cilliers, a political scientist at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria. “It is not always clear that the model that the U.S. presents is appropriate for Africa. In recent years, we have seen a variety of coups in Africa, sometimes executed by African forces that have been trained in the U.S., the U.K. and France. And it is also evident that a number of U.N. peacekeeping missions, such as that in the DR Congo and Mali, are withdrawing from Africa.

“On the other hand, the role of Russia and the so-called Africa Group [pls check the audio; it is usually called the Africa Corps] is expanding. So, it’s clear that Africa is facing a security challenge, and partners can and should do as much as possible to help.”

Cilliers added that there is a need for the Gaborone conference to come up with effective solutions to the continent’s security challenges. 

“Are we seeing a new model developing where African governments are considering alternative security arrangements, mostly by other African countries?” he said. “And of course, the role of private companies is also increasing. These events occur at a time of significant shifts in the global balance of power, and Africa again is an area of competition. One hopes all these issues will be discussed at the upcoming conference in Gaborone, and that real solutions will come to the fore.”

In March, following its Peace and Security Council meeting, the African Union expressed “deep concern” over the scourge of conflicts on the continent and their impact on socioeconomic development.

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Namibian court declares laws banning gay sex unconstitutional

WINDHOEK — A high court in Namibia on Friday declared unconstitutional two colonial-era laws that criminalized same-sex acts between men, in a landmark win for the LGBTQ community in the southern African nation.

The case was brought by Namibian activist Friedel Dausab with the support of UK-based non-governmental organization Human Dignity Trust.

Dausab told Reuters after the court’s decision he was “just happy”. “It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Rights campaigners say that while convictions under the laws on “sodomy” and “unnatural sexual offences” were relatively rare, they have perpetuated discrimination against the LGBTQ community and made gay men live in fear of arrest.

Namibia inherited the laws when it gained independence from South Africa in 1990, though same-sex acts between men were initially criminalized under colonial rule.

South Africa has since decriminalized same-sex sexual activity and is the only country on the African continent to allow LGBTQ couples to adopt children, marry and enter civil unions.

Last year, Uganda enacted one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ laws, which included the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, despite widespread condemnations from the West.

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Amnesty International concerned for safety of LGBTQ+ people in Namibia

Windhoek, Namibia — Amnesty International has called on authorities in Namibia to ensure the safety of the LGBTQ+ community as a court prepares to rule in a case challenging the laws that criminalize homosexual conduct.

In November 2020, the Law Reform Commission of Namibia recommended discarding laws related to sodomy as they relate to intimate same-sex practices between homosexual men.

However, the parliament of Namibia has been slow to repeal these laws, which prompted gay activist Friedel Dausab to sue the government on the ground that the sodomy law is not consistent with the Namibia constitution.

The High Court of Namibia will rule on this matter Friday.

“There were many pieces of laws that have been in the law books for many years, basically since before independence, many of which really did not make sense any longer and they are just not compatible with the modern times,” said Etuna Joshua, the chairperson of the Law Reform and Development Commission of the Ministry of Justice.

Linda Baumann, an LGBTQ+ activist, said the community has taken extra security measures to ensure its safety during and after the proceedings on Friday.

Baumann said Namibia has seen an increase in violence against LGBTQ+ persons, which she says is directly linked to a Supreme Court ruling that said marriages between same-sex couples performed out of the country were valid.

She said that since that ruling, religious and faith-based groups have incited violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

“Amnesty [International] is not exaggerating,” said Baumann. “What we are doing as a movement is to alert ourselves around the issue around safety and security because we have anti-groups. … We’ve also seen murders of LGBT people in six months. Six people, six months.”

A local daily newspaper recently published a report on a string of killings where LGBTQ+ people were the victims. However, some critics say Namibia has a high number of killings in general and the killings cannot be regarded as hate crimes.

Mercedez Von Cloete, a transgender activist who successfully sued the state for a transphobic assault at the hands of a police officer seven years ago, said the community is at risk of targeted violence if the sodomy law is repealed by the High Court.

“It was targeted violence as a result of not only political but also religious hate speech as well as mob organizing that has made LGBTQ people — especially in the last couple of months — feel unsafe. … And I applaud Amnesty International for the fact that they were able to at least raise an alarm.”

Amnesty International human rights lawyer Mandipa Machacha told VOA that “while Namibia traditionally had tolerance towards LGBT persons compared to other countries [in Africa], there has always been a certain level of hostility, and the situation deteriorated significantly following the 2023 ruling which recognized same-sex unions.”

She said Amnesty International fears Friday’s ruling may drive homophobia against members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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UN rapporteur: Fundamental freedoms systematically repressed in Eritrea

Geneva — A human rights expert says the Eritrean government is maintaining its iron grip

on society by systematically repressing the fundamental rights and freedoms of its people through violent and threatening means.

“The human rights situation in Eritrea remains dire. Patterns of gross human rights violations, including the widespread use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention and enforced disappearance persist unabated,” Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, told the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday.

“The authorities continue to enforce a system of indefinite military national service that amounts to forced labor and has been consistently linked to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment,” he said.

This is the fourth report on Eritrea submitted by Babiker to the council since he was appointed special rapporteur in September 2020. Regretfully, he observed that nothing has changed over the years.

The same issues of concern continue to be raised time after time, he said, noting that no measures have been taken to improve and change “policies and practices

that perpetuate the human rights crisis in the country.”

The report finds that “due process rights continue to be systematically violated,” that hundreds of dissidents, human rights defenders, religious leaders, journalists and other perceived government critics are arbitrarily detained “for indefinite and prolonged periods without ever being charged or tried.”

The report says civic space continues to be completely closed in Eritrea; that there is no freedom of expression, association, and assembly; no independent media; and that dissent is systematically suppressed, “including through arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance.”

The special rapporteur told the council that “the stifling of civic engagement and

suppression of critical voices by the Eritrean authorities also extends to Eritrean

communities worldwide.”

He said Eritrean authorities have developed a pattern of “transnational

repression” to control diaspora politics and silence pro-democracy activists abroad through methods such as kidnappings and enforced disappearances, surveillance, violence, threats, harassment and smear campaigns.

“Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed an escalation of violence and

polarization in the diaspora, which is hurting Eritrean communities and society at large,” he said. “Clashes between Eritrean government supporters and detractors in dozens of cities across the globe have resulted in several Eritreans killed, hundreds injured, dozens arrested, and public property being destroyed.”

Despite the accumulating dangers abroad, Babiker said that Eritreans

continued to flee the grave human rights situation in their country, noting that an estimated 17% of the population has sought asylum as of 2024.

Commenting on another issue, Babiker noted that Eritrean forces continue

to be present in parts of the Tigray region of Ethiopia, though Eritrea is not party to the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which purportedly ended the war in that region.

Babiker said Eritrean forces in Tigray “continue to be involved in human rights and international humanitarian law violations,” including extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and forced labor.

The presentation of the special rapporteur’s report to the council coincided with

Eritrea’s “Marty’s Day,” a day of remembrance for those who perished in the war

while fighting for Eritrea’s independence between 1961 and 1991.

That fact was not lost on Habrom Zerai Ghirmal, charge d’affaires at the Permanent Mission of Eritrea in Geneva, who responded to Babiker’s report “with a heavy heart.”

He lashed out at the special rapporteur for participating in “the annual ritual of

demonizing Eritrea” on this day of “immense historical importance.”

He said that “Eritrea abhorred that once again, the very countries today sponsoring the resolution against Eritrea were the very same states that prolonged the border conflict by refusing to uphold their moral and legal obligations as guarantors and witnesses of the agreements signed.”

“Those states that engineered the country-specific mandate, the nine-

year-long illegal and unfair United Nations sanctions…did not have the moral

authority to talk about the promotion of human rights in Eritrea,” he said.

Undeterred by the reprimand, Babiker called on member states to maintain international scrutiny of Eritrea.

“The international community must not forsake Eritrean victims of violations,” he said, while urging the Eritrean government to take “meaningful steps toward

reform.”

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