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For Africa's Poorest, Cutting-edge HIV Drugs for $75 a Year

[unable to retrieve full-text content]In a landmark deal, HIV patients in Africa will now have access to the latest drugs for $75 a year. The arrangement is a major victory for the poorest nations fighting AIDS, a health epidemic with unrestrained glob…

Somali PM meets Qatar FM in New York

HE the Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani held a meeting with Prime Minister of Somalia Hassan Ali Khayre, on the sidelines of the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly. During the meeting, they discussed bilateral relations and means of boosting them as well as a number of issues of common concern. The […]

The post Somali PM meets Qatar FM in New York appeared first on Shabelle.

Released Chibok Girls Return to School After Months of Rehabilitation

[unable to retrieve full-text content]Some of the girls who were released after being abducted from the Nigerian town of Chibok in 2014 by the extremist group Boko Haram are returning to school after years of recovery. Grace Alheri Abdu filed this repo…

As Africa Warms, Mosquito Carrying Zika, Dengue More Likely to Thrive

DAKAR, SENEGAL — 

From deadly droughts and destroyed crops to shrinking water sources, communities across sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to withstand the onslaught of global record-breaking temperatures.

But the dangers do not end there. Rising heat poses another threat, one that is far less known and studied but could spark disease epidemics across the continent, scientists say.

Mosquitoes are the menace, and the risk goes beyond malaria.

The Aedes aegypti mosquito, which spreads debilitating and potentially deadly viruses, from Zika and dengue to chikungunya, thrives in warmer climates than its malaria-carrying cousin, known as Anopheles, say researchers at Stanford University.

In sub-Saharan Africa, this means malaria rates could rise in cooler areas as they heat up, but fall in hotter places that now battle the disease. In those areas, malaria, one of the continent’s biggest killers, may be rivaled by other vector-borne diseases as major health crises.

“As temperatures go past 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit), you move away from the peak transmission window for malaria, and towards that of diseases such as dengue,” said Erin Mordecai, an assistant professor at Stanford.

“We have this intriguing prospect of the threat of malaria declining in Africa, while Zika, dengue and chikungunya become more of a danger,” she said.

Besides a warming planet, scientists fear growing urbanization across Africa could also fuel the transmission of diseases carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which flourishes in cities and slums, the opposite of the country-loving Anopheles.

Half of Africans are expected to live in cities by 2030, up from 36 percent in 2010, according to World Bank data.

A soaring number may become prey to vector-borne viruses like dengue, which have struck Africa at a record pace in recent years, fuelled by urbanization, population growth, poor sanitation and global warming, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

“We see poorly planned development in Africa, not just with megacities but smaller settlements … which often lack proper water and sanitation,” said Marianne Comparet, director of the International Society for Neglected Tropical Diseases.

“Climate change, disease and the interaction between man and habitat — it is a crisis going under the radar … a time bomb for public health problems,” she added.

Neglected diseases

Last year was the hottest on record, for the third year in a row, with global temperature rise edging nearer a ceiling set by some 200 nations for limiting global warming, according to the European Union’s climate change service.

Parts of Africa were among the regions suffering from unusual heat.

As temperatures keep rising, mosquitoes in low-latitude regions in East African countries are finding new habitats in higher altitude areas, yet malaria rates are falling in warmer regions, such as northern Senegal in the Sahel, studies show.

So as cooler parts of sub-Saharan Africa gear up for the spread of malaria, hotter areas should prepare for future epidemics like chikungunya and dengue, experts say.

While not as lethal as malaria, chikungunya lasts longer and can lead to people developing long-term joint pain. Dengue causes flulike symptoms and can develop into a deadly hemorrhagic fever.

There is a danger that the global drive to end malaria, which absorbed $2.9 billion in international investment in 2015, has left African countries ill-prepared to deal with other vector-borne diseases, said Larry Slutsker of the international health organization PATH.

“Diseases such as dengue and chikungunya have been neglected and under-funded,” said Slutsker, the leader of PATH’s malaria and neglected tropical diseases programs. “There needs to be much better surveillance and understanding.”

Malaria kills around 430,000 people a year, about 90 percent of them young African children.

Dengue, the world’s fastest-spreading tropical disease, infects about 390 million annually but is often badly recorded and misdiagnosed, health experts say.

Some experts believe the global alarm triggered by Zika, which can cause birth defects such as small brain size, may see more money pumped into fighting neglected tropical diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, especially after outbreaks in Angola, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau in the last year.

Although 26 African nations, almost half of the continent, have strategies in place to fight vector-borne diseases, most of them only target malaria, according to data from the WHO.

Malaria rates have been slashed in recent decades through the use of bed nets, indoor spraying and drugs. But there are no dedicated treatments or vaccines for chikungunya and dengue.

“The most important preventive and control intervention is vector management, particularly through community engagement,” said Magaran Bagayoko, a team leader for the WHO in Africa.

Disentangling data

However, efforts to beat back mosquitoes are hampered by a lack of quality and affordable climate data that could help predict outbreaks and indicate risks, said Madeleine Thomson of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.

“What countries really want to know is what they can do to improve their programs, as well as the capacity of their health workers,” said the scientist at the Columbia University-based institute.

But to do that, “climate information must be put into practice,” Thomson added.

African nations also must improve coordination between their health ministries and meteorological agencies, said the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), a new continentwide public health agency launched this year by the African Union.

“They are not linked, or talking to each other,” said Sheila Shawa, a project officer at the Africa CDC headquarters in Ethiopia. “There needs to be better communication in order to model neglected diseases, such as chikungunya, across Africa.”

Yet climate scientists and health experts warn of the difficulty of analyzing the impact of rising temperature on mosquito-borne diseases without looking at other factors.

“We have a major challenge of isolating effects of rising temperatures — which are really variable — from all the other aspects like rainfall patterns, humidity, mobility and migration, as well as socioeconomic factors,” said Stanford’s Mordecai.

“They are all changing at the same time, making individual drivers very difficult to isolate and disentangle for analysis.”

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UN Study Finds Government Action a Main Factor of Extremism in Africa

Many African leaders used their speeches at the U.N. General Assembly this week to express concerns about the growing threat of violent extremism in Africa.

Several leaders from the continent called upon the international community to help better equip regional anti-terror forces to combat terrorism, especially at a time when jihadists, defeated in Middle East as Islamic State loses strength and territory there, will return to their African home countries.

“We want an Africa in peace and security; an Africa that does not serve as a sanctuary for terrorist groups fought and defeated elsewhere,” President Macky Sall of Senegal told world leaders at the 72nd annual U.N. assembly Wednesday.

But a study conducted by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) this month has found that measures deployed by African governments to combat terrorism actually impel more people to join violent groups.

“Journey to Extremism,” a two-year study conducted by the UNDP, was based on interviews with more than 700 people, nearly 600 of whom were voluntary or forced recruits of extremist groups in Kenya, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Cameroon and Niger.

The study cited poor family circumstances, lack of education and poverty as factors behind people’s embrace of violence and extremism.

State violence and abuse of power serve as a “final tipping point” for the people to join extremist groups.

“Militarized responses to violent extremism have only served to deepen long-standing mistrust and alienation,” the U.N. report said, adding that many African countries have used counterterror agendas to limit the space for political opposition and suppress civil society and the media.

The study suggested that compared to a solely security-focused approach, good governance by African governments would ultimately be more effective at countering terrorism and extremism in the region.

Religion not a reason

The U.N. study found that religion played a less significant role in attracting people to extremist groups. On the contrary, it said, longer than average religious schooling appeared to be a source of resilience in the face of extremism.

“These findings challenge rising Islamophobic rhetoric that has intensified in response to violent extremism globally,” the report said. “Fostering greater understanding of religion, through methods that enable students to question and engage critically with teachings, is a key resource for [preventing violent extremism].”

The 2016 Global Terrorism Index suggested that sub-Saharan Africa was the region most affected by extremist groups after the Middle East and North Africa. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO); Boko Haram in Nigeria; al-Shabab in East Africa; and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa were the most active extremist groups in the continent.

Those groups are reportedly spreading their activities across state borders and luring more groups and people to pledge allegiance to their ideology and conduct violent attacks.

The U.N. organization estimates violent extremism has killed more than 33,000 people in Africa in the past six years and caused widespread displacement among civilians.

In northeast Nigeria alone, where Boko Haram has been active, it is estimated that more than 20,000 people have been killed and more than 2.6 million displaced since the terror group emerged in 2009.

Threat to development

The U.N. has warned the terror threat could reverse development gains made in sub-Saharan Africa and undermine prospects for development for decades to come. Insecurity caused by terror groups has already significantly impeded tourism and trade between countries such as Kenya and Nigeria.

The threat has encouraged those countries to increase their counterterrorism efforts at home and cooperate on a regional and global level to tackle the cross-border violence.

Earlier this year, leaders of the G5 Sahel bloc — Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — established a multinational military force of about 5,000 troops in coordination with France and the United Nations.

Despite the regional efforts and international support, however, extremist groups remain resilient in the region while more civilians become affected by continued conflict and violence.

Human rights organizations have often criticized the heavy-handed measures adopted by authorities to tackle terrorism.

Amnesty International has accused the Nigerian military of committing torture, harsh military detention and forcible eviction of people from their homes in its fight against Boko Haram.

Human Rights Watch has said the extrajudicial killing, disappearances, torture and beating of individuals suspected of links with al-Shabab has worsened in Kenya.

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New African Art Museum Aims to Provoke, Question

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA — 

The new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is, in a word, ambitious.

The museum opens its doors Friday, Sept. 22, 2017. The building is itself a work of art, a century-old grain silo on Cape Town’s historic waterfront that has been slickly overhauled by star British architect Thomas Heatherwick to house the continent’s largest collection of contemporary art — in the case of this museum, all of it made after the year 2000.

The nine-floor museum strives to show that African contemporary art — so long overlooked on the international stage — is worthy of appreciation and attention. It attempts to thrill visitors with its array of exhibits. Some are inventive, some confrontational, some whimsical, and some, puzzling.

But, says curator Mark Coetzee, the museum’s true ambitions are grander still.

“I think the first and foremost gesture of the museum is a political one,” he told VOA. “And that is to say that for a very long time, the narrative of Africa and the representation of Africans has been defined by others, by outsiders. And the museum’s motivation is to say, let’s create an institution where people from Africa, whether we were born here thousands of years or whether we immigrated yesterday, can contribute to the writing of our own history. Let us also define how we want to be represented to the world.”

He says their work gives rise to many pressing issues in the modern world.

“What contemporary art museums do is, basically, they give us the tools to be able to negotiate the time that we are living in,” Coetzee said. “So, artists ask very difficult, complex questions of society: ‘Why is there separation of wealth and power? Why does the ability to represent culture or represent people rely on a few people’s input and and not a holistic group of people? How do we negotiate difference in society when we have different religions, or different genders, or different orientations?’

“And so what a museum does is, it’s a very safe space to discuss very difficult issues which impact all of us in the 21st century.”

Dragons, Zebras and Cows

But, Coetzee says, if you’re not inclined toward deep thought, the art is pretty cool too. The museum houses the private collection of Jochen Zeitz, a German art collector and philanthropist, and former CEO of athletics brand Puma.

Visitors will be greeted by a massive dragon, made of bicycle inner tubes, with a 100-meter-long tail, the work of South African artist Nicholas Hlobo. They’ll be dazzled by the whimsical, eye-searingly bright images of zebras and balloons and richly costumed figures, composed by South African photographer Athi-Patra Ruga.

They will be dragged into the undertow of “Ten Thousand Waves” — a video exhibition by of British installation artist Isaac Julien that assaults the senses on nine screens. They’ll be able to touch — and take home — prints of the stark, bold images of Angolan photographer Edson Chagas. And they’ll be haunted by room after room of ghostly cow hides, plastered into ethereal shapes by Swaziland’s Nandipha Mntambo.

Time for African Art

What visitors will not be able to do — at least not on opening weekend — is linger. That’s because when the museum offered 24,000 free passes for two-hour blocks during the grand opening, they were snapped up in just nine minutes.

  • Museum occupies nine floors of a historic grain silo
  • It was built in 1921, remodeled by architect Thomas Heatherwick
  • It is the largest art museum built on the continent in more than 100 years
  • It consists of 100 gallery spaces within 42 tunnels carved out of the silo
  • Exhibits occupy 6,000 square meters of space
  • Work of nearly 50 artists, from 18 countries is displayed
  • Adult tickets cost R180 (about $13)
  • Children enter for free
  • Citizens of African nations enter for free on Wednesdays

In the last few years, African contemporary art has started to receive its due, says Hannah O’Leary, head of modern and contemporary African art for international auction house Sotheby’s. While the market is still new, she says, and African artists have yet to command top dollar price, the auction house’s first auction earlier this year brought in $3.8 million (2.8 million pounds).

In doing do, it broke multiple records, including the highest sales in a single auction of contemporary African art. While South Africa has always had a vibrant art scene, she says other African countries are on the rise — both in making art, and in consuming it.

“From the results of our first sale, we had buyers from 29 different countries, in six different continents,” she told VOA, from London. “And that’s really very significant. We’re not talking about just selling South African art to South African buyers. We are taking the greatest art from across the continent and we know that that has an international appeal, so we are are selling to collectors in Africa , but also in North America and Europe. Anyone who is a collector and can appreciate great contemporary art should also be looking at Africa.”

Coetzee says visitors should not be intimidated, though, by the museum’s $38-million renovation, its untold millions of dollars worth of art, or its elegant exterior. Nor, he says, should they be scared away by the $13 ticket — citizens of African nations get free admission every Wednesday, and children’s passes are always free. That’s because, he says, art is something everyone needs.

“The thing that separates us from animals, the thing that makes us unique is our identity. It’s the pride in who we are. And I think that if you remove cultural representation, and say it’s not a basic need, where does that leave us? What meaning does that give us in life?”

Deep questions, indeed. And one that the museum hopes to provoke — if not to answer — when it opens its doors.

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Facing Crime Wave, Residents in South Sudan Capital Pay Police for Protection

JUBA — 

Residents of South Sudan’s capital say they are collecting cash to pay police unofficially to patrol their neighborhoods, amid a crime wave and a cash crunch that means authorities often cannot pay their wages.

Robbers killed more than 60 people last month in Juba, twice as many as in July, according to the Community Empowerment of Progress Organization, a civil society organization in Juba that tallies violent incidents.

In one incident this month, around 50 gunmen in army uniforms attacked homes. Armed residents repulsed them and there were no known casualties, the organization said. It was unclear whether the attackers were members of the security forces.

Edmund Yakani, head of the Progress Organization, said security was improving in some areas since communities began collecting cash to pay for police patrols.

South Sudan’s nearly four-year-old civil war has slashed oil production and the cash-strapped government struggles to pay security forces. It has asked foreign donors for help, but the request is unlikely to be granted since rights groups accuse security forces of torturing, raping and killing civilians.

The war has displaced a third of the East African nation’s 12 million people and spilt into neighboring states.

At a community meeting last week in the Juba neighborhood of Kator East, dozens of residents each agreed to give 100 South Sudanese pounds (just under $1) to hire police to join youth volunteers in patrolling, said Lucy Ramada, 38.

“Every household was asked to contribute … for the payment of extra police personnel that will assist our youth at night,” she said. Since the patrols began with the paid police, she added, “there is no sound of gunfire and no robberies.”

Police spokesman Daniel Boulogne said he was unaware of residents offering police extra pay. A South Sudanese police officer is paid about 1,500 South Sudanese pounds on average, about $83 at the current exchange rate.

“We have not asked for any [extra] incentives because it is our duty to do our best to give them security,” he said. He did not comment on police wages.

Monthly inflation has reached triple digits, and the scramble for food forces many people into crime, said James Okuk, a lecturer at Juba University.

“The situation is forcing people to become robbers,” he said. “The situation has been made worse by the government not paying salaries to its employees, including those carrying guns, for some months.”

Defense Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk told Reuters that some members of the army and police were under investigation for robbery but the number was small.

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Top Cocoa Producers to Create Buffer Stock to Influence World Prices

ABIDJAN — 

Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world’s top cocoa producers, plan to create a buffer stock of beans with the aim of exerting more influence over world prices, a senior Ivorian government official told Reuters on Thursday.

The two West African neighbors produce over 60 percent of the global supply of the chocolate ingredient but have been hit hard by a sharp drop in world prices caused mainly by a glut resulting from bumper crops this season.

The International Cocoa Organization (ICCO) forecasts a global surplus of 371,000 tons this season.

“The countries agreed that we needed specialized warehouses to allow us to conserve cocoa so that we can regulate supply and push up prices,” Narcisse Sepy Yessoh, chief of staff to Ivory Coast Trade Minister Souleymane Diarrassouba, told Reuters.

He said the two governments submitted a request in May to the Abidjan-based African Development Bank for a $1.2 billion loan to pay for the infrastructure. They hope the financing will be approved before the end of this year to allow for stocking in the 2018/19 season, he added.

Under the plan, Ivory Coast will build six warehouses with total capacity of 250,000 tons near to the main growing areas. Yessoh declined to comment on the infrastructure planned for Ghana.

Ivory Coast is on track to produce a record 2 million tons of cocoa this year, but Yessoh said the government planned to limit output going forward and focus its efforts on improving quality.

“Must we continue on this path, flooding the market with beans in abundance and driving down prices to the detriment of our economies and people? We don’t think so,” he said on the sidelines of an ICCO meeting.

The two nations, along with Africa’s third-largest producer Cameroon, said on Thursday they would seek to modify the International Cocoa Agreement, the founding document of the ICCO — the world body of producer and consumer countries.

The ICCO’s Executive Director Jean-Marc Anga said the body would open talks between the producers and the European Union in partnership with the cocoa and chocolate industry to reach a deal on a revised agreement.

The declaration made by the three nations at the ICCO meeting did not offer details. But Yessoh said the countries would seek to reinstate a clause creating a buffer stock that was included in the original agreement signed in 1973 but later removed.

“How much are we going to stock? These are quotas to be defined between producer countries. These questions are still with the politicians. We’re waiting for them to decide,” he said.

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Somalia Rebukes Its States for Breaking With Qatar

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA — 

Somalia’s government rebuked its three semiautonomous regions Thursday for cutting ties with Qatar, saying it was determined to stay neutral in the Gulf nation’s dispute with other Arab states.

The region of Galmudug issued a statement Wednesday saying it stood with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the regional row, following similar declarations last month by the regions of Puntland and Hirshabelle.

Somalia’s federal government responded by saying only it had the authority to speak on foreign affairs.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut political and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of supporting terrorism and their foe Iran — charges that Doha denies.

The spat about it in volatile but strategically located Somalia illustrated how far the political ripples from Qatar’s dispute have spread.

Somalia’s open stance is important for Qatar — Somalia’s airspace remains open for Qatar Airways, a critical lifeline amid the blockade.

Gulf Arab states have meanwhile been pouring resources into the semiautonomous regions.

Unsurprising choice

“[The Arab states] are trying to give more energy and emphasize more their relations with these regional governments, trying to pressure them to go against the federal government,” said Nairobi-based Somalia expert Ahmed Roble.

The choice by those regions to break from the federal governrment and reject Qatar is unsurprising, Roble added.

Somalia’s position also underlines its delicate position — dependent on trade from Saudi Arabia, but increasingly close to Turkey, which is backing Qatar in the dispute.

Saudi Arabia is Somalia’s top export partner, and the United Arab Emirates supplies the Horn of Africa country with key imports, from electronics to building materials.

Turkey has poured in more than $1 billion in aid since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Somalia in 2011 and is expected to open a military base in Mogadishu this month.

“The cabinet reaffirms the federal government’s decision in June … that Somalia is neutral about the conflict of Gulf countries,” read a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.

The statement called on “the conflict be solved brotherly, peacefully and diplomatically.”

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Anti-Zuma MP Quits South Africa's 'Corrupt' ANC

JOHANNESBURG — 

African National Congress (ANC) MP Makhosi Khoza, a strident critic of scandal-plagued President Jacob Zuma, quit South Africa’s ruling party on Thursday, labelling Nelson Mandela’s 105-year-old liberation movement “alien and corrupt.”

The 47-year-old Zulu linguistics expert, an ANC supporter since the age of 12, denounced Zuma in July as a “dishonorable and disgraceful leader” due to the litany of scandals he has attracted during his eight years in power.

Her comments earned her death threats and a provincial party disciplinary hearing, but Khoza said she was not prepared to sit around and wait for the verdict from a party she said was willfully blind to the failings of its leader.

“Why haven’t we charged Zuma? Why are we charging Makhosi Khoza? We are making a mockery of the rule of law. We are making a mockery of the ANC constitution,” she said in an interview on
the SABC, the state broadcaster.

“Charge Zuma. Fire Zuma from the ANC, then I will know that you are serious about self-correcting.”

Khoza is believed to have been one of around 30 ANC members of parliament who voted against Zuma in an ultimately unsuccessful Aug. 8 parliamentary no-confidence vote conducted by secret ballot.

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa did not answer calls to his mobile phone.

The most serious allegations against Zuma relate to his friendship with the Guptas, a family of Indian-born businessmen accused of using political influence to secure lucrative contracts with state-run companies and remain above the law.

Zuma and the Guptas, who employ Zuma’s son, Duduzane, as a director of at least one of their companies, have denied any wrongdoing and say they are the victims of a politically motivated witch-hunt.

Rule of law suspended?

Zuma’s time at the helm of the ANC comes to an end in December when the party chooses a new leader, although he will remain head of state until 2019 unless the ANC removes him early, as it did with President Thabo Mbeki in 2008.

As Khoza fulminated on air, Zuma’s former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was sworn in behind closed doors as a member of parliament, cementing the belief she is his preferred successor against challengers led by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The parliamentary seat gives Dlamini-Zuma, ex-chairwoman of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, a platform from which to raise her profile ahead of December’s party leadership conference.

Separately, the Pretoria High Court delivered a blow to the Gupta’s media-to-mining commercial empire, throwing out its attempt to block India’s Bank of Baroda, the last bank in South Africa prepared to handle its money, from pulling the plug.

Judge Hans Fabricius dedicated eight pages of his verdict to the allegations against the Guptas, questioning why police and prosecutors had failed to act despite years of stunning media revelations and numerous formal criminal complaints.

“I could not help wonder whether, unbeknown to me, democracy and the rule of law had somehow been suspended,” he said, lamenting the decline from the optimism and idealism of the self-styled “Rainbow Nation” immediately after apartheid ended.

“Could it be possible that the future, so bright in 1994, was now only history?” he continued. “Do the various investigating bodies of the police service … still remember their constitutional duty to combat and investigate crime?”

Gary Naidoo, editor of the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper and the family’s de facto spokesman, was not available for comment.

Reporting by Ed Cropley and Nqobile Dludla; editing by Andrew Roche

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