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'Digital Democracy’ Gathers Pace Across Africa As Citizens Engage Online

It’s been dubbed ‘digital democracy’ – a whole new way of scrutinizing the government and those on the public payroll. Across Africa websites and mobile apps are offering citizens the chance to engage more closely in politics – everything from complaining about poor service to whistleblowing on corruption. Henry Ridgwell has more.

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Africa 54

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Ketumile Masire, Former Botswana President, Dies at Age 91

JOHANNESBURG — 

Botswana on Friday announced three days of mourning after the death of 91-year-old Ketumile Masire, a former president who led the country for nearly two decades.

Masire died “peacefully” and surrounded by family members at a hospital in Gaborone, the capital, on Thursday night, Masire’s family said in a statement. He had been critically ill.

Botswana will officially mourn Masire until Sunday, and information about his funeral will be released in coming days, President Ian Khama said. The president’s father, Seretse Khama, was Botswana’s first president after independence from Britain in 1966.

Masire was Botswana’s second president and was in office from 1980 to 1998. He presided over the southern African country’s economic growth and record of clean governance on a continent frequently buffeted by turmoil.

The diamond trade and wildlife tourism are major sources of revenue for the country of 2 million people, which nevertheless faces poverty, a high HIV/AIDS rate and other problems.

In neighboring South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Friday cited comments by Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first black president, at a state banquet for Masire in 1996.

“Our country has much to learn from Botswana — both from your towering successes and your efforts to deal with the difficulties,” said Mandela, adding that Masire was “a natural and capable leader of the region’s collective efforts towards growth and development.”

After his presidency, Masire became involved in reconciliation efforts and election monitoring in other African countries. In 2007, he started a foundation that seeks to promote development in Botswana and the region.

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UN: Food Aid Dwindling in World's Fastest-growing Refugee Crisis

KAMPALA, UGANDA — 

Food aid soon will run out for nearly a million South Sudanese sheltering in Uganda in what has become the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis, the United Nations refugee chief said Friday.

“Disturbing shortfalls are emerging in critical areas such as food, shelter and education,” Filippo Grandi told a global summit seeking $8 billion for the crisis over the next four years. “Malnutrition rates among refugees are alarming. The World Food Program told us yesterday that the food pipeline here in Uganda will dry up soon.”

The East African nation now hosts 950,000 people from South Sudan. Most have arrived in the past year. Officials say host communities are near the breaking point.

Already, food rations have been cut in half for some refugees.

Uganda last year received three times more refugees from South Sudan than the number of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said.

Guterres on Friday called the refugee influx “the biggest exodus of refugees in Africa since the Rwanda genocide” of 1994. He has urged South Sudan’s leaders to end the civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed since late 2013. More than 1.8 million people have fled into neighboring countries.

The U.N. chief also made a plea for protection of refugees around the world, saying some richer countries haven’t been as tolerant as some in Africa.

“I have seen the hearts of Ugandan people open, but not all doors are open in the world. Not all refugees are accepted. Some are rejected, and sometimes the country is much richer than Uganda,” the U.N. chief said. Uganda has been praised for its generous policy toward refugees, including the allocation of plots of land for growing food.

But Grandi, the refugee chief, said that “regrettably, the hospitality of host countries is not adequately matched by financial contributions” from the international community.

The U.N. children’s fund in Uganda this week said it requires nearly $50 million this year as well as $30 million each year from 2018 to 2020 to provide critical services to both refugees and host communities.

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UN Launches Inquiry Into Congo Atrocities

GENEVA — 

The United Nations Human Rights Council launched an international investigation on Friday into killings and other atrocities in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The 47-member Geneva forum adopted by consensus a resolution brought by African countries which also called on the Kinshasa government to cooperate with the team of international experts.

U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has called repeatedly for the inquiry and said on Tuesday that a militia linked to government has committed a string of ethnically-motivated attacks in recent months, including cutting off toddlers’ limbs and stabbing pregnant women.

Congo’s government has been fighting insurgents in Kasai since last August, triggering fears of a wider conflict in the large central African country, which is a tinderbox of ethnic rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources.

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Gunmen Kill 3 in Suspected Extremist Attack in Kenya's North

NAIROBI, KENYA — 

Officials say three people have been killed and three others wounded in a suspected Islamic extremist attack in Kenya’s Mandera County, which borders Somalia.

Northeastern Regional Security Coordinator Mohamud Saleh said Friday four gunmen shot dead two civilians and a policeman at a bank in Elwak. Saleh says three others were wounded before the gunmen drove off toward Somalia.

Kenya’s border with long-chaotic Somalia is mostly unguarded.

In a separate incident, the Kenya Red Cross says two people escaped unhurt after their car ran over a homemade bomb in Mandera.

Saleh says al-Shabab extremists from Somalia are suspected to be behind both attacks.

Al-Shabab has said its attacks in Kenya are payback for the country deploying troops to Somalia to fight the extremist group in 2011.

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Nigerian Refugees Trapped By Uptick in Boko Haram Violence

Thousands of Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram atrocities are trapped in difficult humanitarian and security conditions near Cameroon’s northern border. They are crammed in a makeshift camp not far from another camp hosting 2,000 internally displace…

Blackwater founder’s FSG signs security deal with Somali region.

Frontier Services Group (FSG) , co-founded by Erik Prince who created the U.S. security firm Blackwater, said on Thursday it would provide logistics, aviation and security services for a regional development project in Somalia. Hong Kong-listed FSG said the deal was signed with the Free Zone Investment Authority of the South West State of Somalia, …

Red Cross: Safe Burial Practices Helped Prevent Spread of Ebola in West Africa

GENEVA — 

A new study by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says that safe burial practices may have helped prevent the transmission of thousands of cases of Ebola during the epidemic in West Africa between 2013 and 2016.

More than 11,300 people died from Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea before the epidemic was stopped in those countries in 2016.

Ebola is highly contagious and spread by direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids. Symptoms include a sudden fever, aching muscles, diarrhea and vomiting.

Red Cross study

A co-author of the Red Cross Federation study, Amanda McClelland, says the traditional burial practice of washing and touching the dead was a major mode of transmission of Ebola during the outbreak in all three countries.

While isolating patients is key to preventing the spread of the disease, she says early burial is crucial to keeping Ebola in check.

“They can really produce super-spreading events where we get very large chains of transmission well beyond what a live case would cause in the community,” she said. “So, the infectiousness of the bodies increases. The virus is at its peak when a person dies. So, we see a much higher transmission from a body than we do from a live person.”

McClelland says the Red Cross had to change its approach in dealing with communities that adhered to traditional burial practices. Aid workers stopped talking about management of the remains and instead spoke about safe and dignified burials, she said.

Local volunteers

Burial teams made up entirely of local volunteers, gained the trust of the communities, which was critical to success, she said. In all, the teams provided more than 47,000 safe burials, accounting for more than 50 percent of all burials in the three countries during the outbreak.

This action, McClelland said, may have prevented more than 10,000 people from becoming infected with the virus, which is named for the Congolese river near where it was first identified in 1976.

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Spiraling Violence in Central African Republic Isolates Neediest

DAKAR — 

Escalating violence between rival armed factions in Central African Republic is cutting off humanitarian access to civilians most needing help, while emboldened fighters are now infiltrating camps for the displaced, agencies said on Thursday.

As many as 100 people may have been killed on Tuesday in the diamond-mining town of Bria, 580 km (360 miles) northeast of the capital Bangui, one day after militias signed a peace deal aimed at ending years of bloodshed.

Thousands have died and about a fifth of the former French colony’s 5 million people have fled their homes in a conflict that broke out after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Recent fighting in Bria and the towns of Bangassou and Alindao has uprooted more than 100,000 people, in the worst displacement since the nation plunged into chaos four years ago.

Militias emboldened

Armed with heavy weaponry and destroying bridges and roads, the militias are becoming emboldened and unpredictable, spreading fear among civilians and making it harder to support the displaced and those most in need, aid agencies say.

“Access is the main humanitarian issue … it not possible to reach many of those people who are suffering the most,” Donaig Le Du, spokeswoman for the U.N. children’s agency (UNICEF), told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

The U.N. agency this month had to deliver aid by plane to Bangassou — a more costly and complicated option than using trucks — as it could not find any drivers willing to travel by road due to fear of attack, Le Du added.

Tuesday’s clashes in Bria broke out near a camp for people who had been forced to flee previous violence, while aid agencies’ offices were looted during the fighting, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

A dangerous country

“Armed groups are targeting and even infiltrating IDP (internally displaced persons) camps … it is becoming a very serious concern,” said Joseph Inganji, OCHA’s country director.

“We are worried that many of the country’s IDP camps (more than 90) are losing their civilian character,” he added.

Central African Republic is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid agencies, with at least 33 attacks on aid workers in the first quarter of 2017, OCHA says.

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