Jihadists Abduct Aid Worker, Local Officials in Nigeria 

A humanitarian aid worker and two local officials have been abducted by Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) fighters in conflict-plagued northeastern Nigeria, two security officials said Wednesday.Jihadists kidnapped them at a checkpoint in the village of Wakilti in Borno state on Monday, the sources told AFP, in the latest incident in a region that has been in the grip of an Islamist insurgency for more than a decade.”The hostages included two local officials and an aid worker, but it is not clear which organization he works for,” one security source said.The two officials were returning to the regional capital, Maiduguri, from the town of Mobbar, where they had gone for local elections held on the weekend, the second source said.In June, five humanitarian workers were killed a few days after being abducted by ISWAP, whose stronghold is on the edge of Lake Chad.The local elections in Borno state were the first held since Boko Haram launched its insurgency in 2009.In the bloodshed since, more than 36,000 people have been killed and over 2 million have fled their homes.In 2016, Boko Haram splintered into two groups, the Islamic State-affiliated ISWAP and one that remained loyal to historic leader Abubakar Shekau.The U.N. said the country’s most violent attack took place Saturday, when Boko Haram fighters said they killed nearly 80 farmers in a rice field not far from Maiduguri, slitting the throats of many of the victims. Although officials initially said that 43 people had been killed in the attack, the U.N. later said searchers had recovered more bodies.

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Uganda’s Wine Demands End to Interference in His Presidential Campaign

Presidential candidate Bobi Wine filed a complaint with Uganda’s election commission after police fired tear gas and rubber bullets Tuesday at his supporters, sending at least five to the hospital.In a three-hour closed-door meeting Wednesday with the commission, Wine, a singer-turned-politician whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, said he had to briefly halt his campaign because of police attacks on him and his supporters.The meeting was held under heavy security, with police and military personnel surrounding the commission offices.Wine said he went to the Electoral Commission because it had been silent since police arrested him last month, just after he entered the presidential race.Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Wine shared photos of what he said were police and soldiers brutalizing his supporters.“These are the people that are being shot dead by the police and the military and some goons, that move around with guns but in plain clothes,” he said. “These are the scenes of our campaign meetings marred with violence, tear gas and live bullets.”A man peers through the shattered windscreen of the car of Ugandan pop star and presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, in Jinja, near Kampala, Uganda, Dec. 1, 2020.Wine said he made several requests to the Electoral Commission.”We wanted to tell the Electoral Commission that the police and the military are trying to kill us,” he said. “We have tasked them to take charge or resign. We’ve asked them to prevail over the police and the military — to tell them to keep out of this election, especially the military. We have asked them to ask the police to stop blocking the roads for us.”Authorities have accused Wine and his party of violating COVID-19 restrictions with large gatherings.Electoral Commission Chairman Simon Byabakama said Wednesday that every candidate must commit to complying with and abiding by the measures put in place by the commission to prevent the spread of COVID-19.Regarding the violence, Byabakama said, “We have also committed to ensuring that the heightened environment is mitigated. And one of those ways is for both parties to take responsibility. Therefore, I do not see why security will have to come in with a strong hand in order to enforce these guidelines when the people are compliant.”Wine is scheduled to resume his campaign Thursday in eastern Uganda. He is one of 10 candidates challenging longtime President Yoweri Museveni in the January 14 election.

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Nigeria Soldiers Detain VOA Hausa Journalist for 5 Hours    

A journalist for VOA’s Hausa language service was detained for five hours Saturday while on assignment near Port Harcourt, Nigeria.  Grace Alheri Abdu was in Oyigbo, a town near the Rivers State capital Port Harcourt, to cover a story about protests in Nigeria and to speak with business owners and families affected by violence.  On her way back, she passed a police station that protesters had burned down. Abdu introduced herself to an officer there, and says she had her microphone and ID, showing she was a journalist.  But when she walked past the building to take photographs, a second soldier stopped her and demanded to know who she was and where she was going.  Abdu said the soldier knocked her phone to the ground, took away her microphone and threatened her. A group of about 10 soldiers detained and threatened to beat her, accusing her of being “enemies of the country.” Army spokesperson Col. Sagir Musa referred VOA to his deputy for comment. The deputy did not respond to calls and a text message Wednesday. VOA did not receive a response to an email requesting comment, sent to an address listed on the army’s social media platforms. A person who witnessed the incident sent an account of what he saw to a contact at the West African Journalist Association and asked them to contact the U.S. Embassy, to try to get help for the journalist.  In his account, which was later shared with VOA, the person said he saw the journalist walk toward soldiers in a tent, to ask their permission, and then proceed to take photos. “Suddenly the soldiers rushed her and seized her phone. They were cursing and insulting her,” his account said. VOA has not named the person because he feared retaliation. Abdu says the soldiers took her to where they were stationed outside the burned police station. “Most of them looked high on something,” she said, and all were armed.   The journalist was held for five hours before being released without formal arrest or charge. She says soldiers accused her of lying and asked her to delete the images on her phone.    At one point, a commandant said Abdu would be released after she agreed to write a letter of apology. Abdu refused, saying, “I’m not apologizing for something I haven’t done.” Eventually, Abdu was released and one of the soldiers flagged down a delivery driver to take her to her hotel. Later that night, some of the soldiers called and asked her not to tell anyone about what happened because they could get in trouble.  Abdu, who is usually based in Washington, D.C., was in Nigeria to cover protests against police violence.  Being detained by military was a first for Abdu, but she says the experience gave her the opportunity to speak with Nigerians about their lives. VOA Hausa journalist Grace Alheri Abdu stands next to a bakery delivery van on Nov. 28. A delivery driver named only as Peter, drove the journalist to Port Harcourt in Nigeria after Abdu was detained by soldiers. (VOA Housa)“Riding with the delivery man offered me a rare opportunity to get a more deeper insight into the daily life and struggle of people like Mr. Peter, which I wouldn’t have heard in my two-day stay in Port Harcourt,” she told VOA. “The delivery van became a classroom for both of us.” Abdu added, “My interaction with some of the military officers while under their custody made me sympathetic to their working conditions. My time with the delivery driver was priceless.”  It’s not uncommon for journalists at VOA or other networks under the U.S. Agency for Global Media to face intimidation or arrest. The reporters can face risks daily, and some are harassed or imprisoned for their work. Elez Biberaj, acting director of VOA, said, “This incident is a reminder of the risks Voice of America journalists face in covering news in hostile environments. We will continue to aggressively cover the situation in Nigeria and in other trouble spots to bring fair and accurate stories to our audiences around the world.”    

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Ethiopian Refugees Worry about COVID-19 Outbreak in Sudanese Camps

Thousands of Ethiopians who fled the fighting in Tigray to camps in Sudan face a new threat – a COVID-19 outbreak. Naba Mohiedeen reports from Al Qadarif, Sudan.Producer: Bronwyn Benito, Jon Spier

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UN Appeals for Record $35 Billion as COVID-19 Wreaks Havoc

The United Nations is appealing for a record $35 billion to provide a humanitarian lifeline to 165 million of the world’s most vulnerable, needy people in 56 countries.U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock calls the crisis gripping the world one of the bleakest and darkest ever experienced by a huge slice of humanity.”That is a reflection of the fact that the COVID pandemic has wreaked havoc across the whole of the most fragile and vulnerable countries on the planet,” he said. ” Those where humanitarian organizations are most involved in their day-to-day work.”Lowcock says this disaster comes on top of escalating and protracted conflicts and increasing extreme weather events including storms, floods and drought due to climate change.”Those two things together, together now with disease outbreak are what has caused this huge increase over recent years in the number of people who may not survive in the absence of humanitarian assistance.”The United Nations reports 235 million people globally will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021.  This is an increase of 40 percent in one year.  This past year has been particularly difficult.  The number of people displaced by conflict in 2020 both as refugees and internally displaced has reached a record high of 85 million.U.N agencies report extreme hunger is surging globally, with several countries and areas on the brink of famine.  Four that are most at risk include Yemen, Burkina Faso, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.Lowcock says the COVID-19 crisis has plunged millions of people into poverty and sent humanitarian needs skyrocketing.  While the rich world can see the light at the end of the tunnel, he says the same cannot be said for the poorest countries.He is appealing to the humanity and generosity of international donors to safeguard the lives of those who cannot fend for themselves.

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Journalists Struggle Through Information Blackout in Ethiopia

As fighting erupted in the Ethiopian region of Tigray in early November, the northern part of the country was cut from internet, mobile phone and landline communications. Journalists say the government-imposed blackout made it virtually impossible to get accurate information about the conflict.   “We’ve had journalists, publication houses speaking out and saying that essentially it’s incredibly difficult to document what’s happening on the ground,” said Muthoki Mumo, the Committee to Protect Journalist’s sub-Saharan Africa representative. “Because you’re unable to contact sources, it’s difficult to verify what you’re hearing, and it’s in this kind of environment where the work of journalists becomes difficult, perhaps where you might even see misinformation going unchecked.” At crucial moments such as the push in recent days by the Ethiopian military to retake the northern city of Mekelle, news outlets were unable to verify basic information. Exact numbers of casualties remain elusive. FILE – An Ethiopian refugee who fled fighting in Tigray province sits holding a radio in the shade of a straw shack at the Um Rakouba camp in Sudan, Nov. 18, 2020.The federal government said the Tigray incursion is a limited military action against some members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after it attacked a military base. But the TPLF calls it a war against Tigray, one that its forces continue fighting. Federal forces said they had retaken the airport in Mekelle and a key military post while avoiding civilian casualties. TPLF said there were widespread civilian casualties and that federal forces were shelling the city center. The government says it is now in control of the region and has declared victory. But due to blackouts and curbs on reporting, major news outlets run disclaimers saying they cannot independently verify claims. “The jobs that journalists do are most crucial at moments like this,” Mumo said. “It’s at moments like this that we must be jealously guarding the gains that we’ve had in freedom of the press … we need journalists shining a light on what’s going on.” Not first blackout This is not the first time the Ethiopian government has switched off communication when tension flared in the country. In 2019 there were widespread communications blackouts following a coup attempt in the Amhara region. In June of this year, the government FILE – A man reads The Reporter newspaper, with the cover showing the Peace Nobel Prize ceremony for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in Addis Ababa, Dec. 11, 2019.Samuel is concerned that Ethiopian journalists will leave the profession, making way for foreign journalists to mostly cover the news. “When passionate people leave the media, it ends up being [public relations], mostly Chinese companies implementing their ideas and pushing us to be like them,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with being like China, but many of us prefer to be like Ethiopia. We might take different ideas from here and there, but we are passionate. I mean we are born here.” Samuel urged the international community not to give up on Ethiopian journalism and Ethiopian progress. He said over the last two years he was fortunate enough to cover positive stories about reforms in the country. “I think many of us were tired of reporting sad stories about Ethiopia forever,” Samuel said. “And we were beginning to see hope. And I hope that hope will come back because the last two years since 2018, with the exception of this year, was, I think, the greatest Ethiopian years I have seen in my generation.” 
 

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