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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Boat capsizes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, killing at least 4

SRINAGAR, India — A boat carrying a group of people capsized in a river in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Tuesday, drowning four of them, news agency Press Trust of India reported.

The boat capsized in Jhelum river near Srinagar, the region’s main city. Most of the passengers were children, and rescuers were searching for many others who were still missing.

Heavy rains fell over the region in the past few days, leading to higher water levels in the river.

Boating accidents are common in India, where many vessels are overcrowded and have inadequate safety equipment.

Last year, 22 people drowned when a double-decker boat carrying more than 30 passengers capsized near a beach in Kerala state in southern India.

In May 2018, 30 people died when their boat capsized on the swollen Godavari River in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

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Zimbabwe seeking to profit through lithium processing

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

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Sudanese farmers strive for food sufficiency as conflict rages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Activists, families remember Chibok schoolgirls 10 years later

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

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Pakistan investigates shooting death of suspect in 2013 killing of accused Indian spy

LAHORE, Pakistan — Pakistani authorities are investigating the shooting death of a man who had been acquitted of killing accused Indian spy Sarabjit Singh in a Lahore prison in 2013, a police official said Sunday.

Pakistan has previously accused India’s intelligence agency of being involved in killings inside Pakistan, saying it had credible evidence linking two Indian agents to the deaths of two Pakistanis last year.

The man who died in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday was Amir Tamba. He was a suspect in the death of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian national who was convicted of spying in Pakistan and handed a death sentence in 1991.

But Singh died in 2013 after inmates attacked him in a Lahore prison. His fate inflamed tensions between the two South Asian nuclear-armed rivals.

Tamba and a second man went on trial for Singh’s death but were acquitted in 2018 due to lack of evidence.

The deputy inspector general of police in Lahore, Ali Nasir Rizvi, said gunmen entered Tamba’s house and shot him. They fled the scene on a motorbike. Officials from Pakistan’s army and intelligence agency reached the site and removed Tamba’s body, taking it to the city’s Combined Military Hospital.

Rizvi said a case had been lodged against unidentified assailants but gave no further information about the case, including a possible motive for the attack.

There was slow coverage of Tamba’s death in Pakistan’s media. However, Indian outlets were quick to report on the shooting. There was no immediate comment from the Indian authorities.

Singh was arrested in 1990 for his role in a series of bombings in Lahore and Faisalabad that killed 14 people. His family said he was innocent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many flee repeatedly as the war expands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aid workers say the world has to take action.

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

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12 dead, 50 missing in DR Congo landslide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Heavy rains set off flash floods, killing 33 people in Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD — Heavy flooding from seasonal rains in Afghanistan has killed at least 33 people and injured 27 others in three days, a Taliban spokesman said Sunday.

Abdullah Janan Saiq, the Taliban’s spokesman for the State Ministry for Natural Disaster Management, said Sunday that flash floods hit the capital, Kabul, and several other provinces across the country.

He added more than 600 houses were either partially or completely destroyed while around 200 livestock perished.

The flooding also damaged around 800 hectares of agricultural land, and more than 85 kilometers (53 miles) of roads, Saiq said.

Western Farah, Herat, southern Zabul and Kandahar are among the provinces that suffered the most damage, he added.

The weather department has warned that more rain is expected in the coming days in most of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

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Cameroon opens museum honoring oldest sub-Saharan kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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