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Kenyan President Fails to Show for Election Debate

NAIROBI — 

Kenyan opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga on Monday fielded questions alone on stage after his rival, President Uhuru Kenyatta, failed to show up for a debate between the two.

Odinga, who is the flagbearer for the National Super Alliance coalition, said his top priorities if elected in the Aug. 8 general election would be to lower food prices and rent and tackle youth unemployment.

“First is the issue of putting food on the table, reducing the cost of living for the people. This is our priority number one. We address the issues of flour, so tha t we can lower the prices of maize flour, sugar,” he said.

He said to lower rent he would enforce the existing rent restrictions act.

“This law is meant to protect the poor from exploitation by the landlords,” Odinga said.

The office of Kenyatta, who is running for a second and final five-year term in office, gave no explanation for his absence.

On Sunday, he answered questions online and pledged to create 6.5 million jobs in the next five years if elected, adding that his administration would continue to invest in infrastructure, education and training, small businesses and a high-tech economy, a statement from his office said.

Kenyans are also due to choose on Aug. 8 legislators and local representatives for the first time since 2013, when the elections passed peacefully after the opposition challenged the results in court.

The presidential television debate is the second ever held in the country after a similar one in 2013.

A separate debate was held earlier in the evening among three other candidates and three more who did not show up.

The debate organizers said the earlier debate was for candidates who polled 5 percent or less in two national opinion polls.

According to polling firm IPSOS, Kenyatta and Odinga are likely to take about 90 percent of the vote, while none of the six independent presidential candidates is polling above 1 percent.

Opinion polls show the gap between Odinga and Kenyatta has closed.

Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party has also promised to provide free, quality primary healthcare for all Kenyans; free secondary education; affordable housing and connect every citizen to the electricity grid by 2020.

The opposition coalition National Super Alliance manifesto also promises to reform the public sector, set up a universal health service fund and tackle corruption.

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UN Urges Nigeria to Rescue All Chibok Girls, Ensure Schooling

GENEVA — 

A United Nations human rights committee called on the Nigerian government on Monday to step up efforts to rescue all women and girls abducted by Boko Haram and to ensure they return to school without stigma.

Roughly 100 of the 270 girls abducted by the Islamist militants at their secondary school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria in April 2014 have been released and another 60 have escaped, but about 100 are still believed to be in captivity.

Nigeria was one of eight countries whose records were examined by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women at a three-week session.

Nigeria should “intensify its efforts to rescue all women and girls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents, ensure their rehabilitation and integration into society and provide them and their families with access to psychological and other rehabilitation services,” said the U.N. panel of 23 experts.

Boko Haram has killed 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million during a seven-year insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate. Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases are neglected, aid groups say.

Girls who were abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok and Damasak in Borno State in April and November 2014, “continue to be subjected to rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage and impregnation by Boko Haram insurgents,” the panel said.

Nigeria’s presidency referred a request for comment to the ministry of women’s affairs. The ministry was not immediately available for comment. In May, Nigerian officials said that the Chibok girls found last year would be going back to school in September.

“Of course we commended [Nigeria] for the rescue of 100 of them who are currently, we’re told, kept in Abuja, going through psycho-social counseling,” panel member Hilary Gbedemah told Reuters.

Many girls in the northeast have dropped out of school due to the insurgency and schools must be secured to protect students, the panel said.

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Kenyan Girls to Fly to Google Headquarters After Inventing App to End FGM

NAIROBI — 

Animated chatter spills out from a corner of tech giant Google’s Nairobi offices as five Kenyan schoolgirls discuss their upcoming trip to California where they hope to win $15,000 for I-cut, an app to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).

The five teenagers, aged 15 to 17, are the only Africans selected to take part in this year’s international Technovation competition, where girls develop mobile apps to end problems in their communities.

“FGM is a big problem affecting girls worldwide and it is a problem we want to solve,” Stacy Owino told the Reuters, while snacking on chocolate on a break from boarding school before flying to the United States on Aug. 6.

“This whole experience will change our lives. Whether we win or not, our perspective of the world and the possibilities it has will change for the better.”

The five girls from Kenya’s western city of Kisumu call themselves the “Restorers” because they want to “restore hope to hopeless girls,” said Synthia Otieno, one of the team.

One in four Kenyan women and girls have undergone FGM, which involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, even though it is illegal in the East African nation.

Although the girls’ Luo community does not practice FGM, they have friends who have been cut.

“We were very close, but after she was cut she never came back to school,” said Purity Achieng, describing a classmate who underwent FGM. “She was among the smartest girls I knew.”

I-cut connects girls at risk of FGM with rescue centers and gives legal and medical help to those who have been cut.

Its simple interface has five buttons — help, rescue, report, information on FGM, donate and feedback — offering users different services.

Kenya is one of the most technologically advanced countries in Africa, known for its pioneering mobile money transfer apps.

Technovation, which is sponsored by Google, Verizon and the United Nations, aims to teach girls the skills they need to become tech entrepreneurs and leaders.

“We just have to use this opportunity as a stepping stone to the next level,” said schoolgirl Ivy Akinyi who plans to become a computer programmer.

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Deepening Food Crisis Pushes Nigeria's Northeast Closer to Famine

DAKAR — 

Famine could soon strike tens of thousands of people in northeast Nigeria as food stocks run low, prices soar and aid supplies dwindle due to the Boko Haram insurgency, a leading humanitarian agency said on Monday.

The hunger crisis is set to worsen by late August as the lean season before harvest takes its toll, driving up the number of people in need of food aid by at least half a million to 5.2 million, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

About 50,000 people are predicted by the United Nations’ food agency to be at risk of famine, yet the situation could be far worse with many areas cut off from help due to the threat of Boko Haram, said Cheick Ba, the NRC country director in Nigeria.

The jihadist group’s eight-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in northeast Nigeria has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes.

The militants have been driven out of most of the territory they held in early 2015, yet continue to carry out bombings and raids in northeast Nigeria, as well as in Cameroon and Niger.

“Armed conflict and violence are driving this food crisis,” Ba said in a statement. “Innocent families are bearing the brunt … even after they have escaped horrific violence.”

“We [NRC] were forced to reduce the food basket we provide to families this month, to make up for the increased price of rice beans and millet,” Ba added, explaining how prices in conflict-hit areas were 150 percent higher than in 2015.

A funding shortfall recently forced the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) to cut back emergency food aid for about 400,000 people, and just focus on helping the 1.4 million most in need.

The WFP’s regional director told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in May that hundreds of thousands of people in the northeast could starve to death this year due to the shortfall.

Nigeria’s aid response plan for 2017 has been less than half funded to date — $444 million of a requested $1.05 billion – according to the U.N.’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS).

“Providing people with food is only a short term solution,” said Ba of the NRC. “The crisis will only end when the conflict has been resolved and communities can safely return to their land to rebuild their lives.”

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Libya Eastern Commander Haftar, UN-backed Premier to Meet in Paris

CAIRO, EGYPT — 

Libya’s eastern commander Khalifa Haftar and the head of the U.N.-backed government Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj plan to meet on Tuesday for French-organized talks on a deal to resolve the country’s crisis, a diplomatic source said on Sunday.

“I know Haftar is in Paris already, Serraj is due to arrive soon. They are aiming for Tuesday,” the source told Reuters.

The two held talks in Abu Dhabi in May, the first in more than a year and a half, about a U.N.-backed deal Libya’s Western partners hope will end the factional fighting that has dominated Libya since the 2011 fall of Moammar Gadhafi.

Haftar has so far rejected the authority of the U.N.-backed government as his forces gain ground in the east of the country supported by Egypt and United Arab Emirates. French President Emmanuel Macron wants France to play a larger role in bringing Libya’s rival factions together.

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