Sunday, July 31, 2016

Europe’s New Best Friend In Africa Is An Indicted Genocidal War Criminal

Instead of calling Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir out for his abuses, the EU has hired him to police Europe-bound migrants.


LONDON — “The calamities of a people are the gifts of another.” So says an Arabic expression common in Sudan that could easily be the country’s motto. Tragic events have a knack for conspiring to extend the longevity of the Sudanese regime — or rather, the Sudanese regime has a knack for leveraging tragic events to stay in power.

The latest calamity to benefit the government of Omar al-Bashir, who became an international pariah when he invited Osama bin Laden and other terrorists to Sudan in the 1990s and later earned the distinction of being the first sitting head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed in Darfur, is the massive refugee crisis gripping Europe. In exchange for cooperating with the European Union to halt the movement of migrants and refugees through Sudanese territory, Bashir’s government is being quietly invited in from the cold.

For almost three decades, Khartoum has faced crippling U.S. and EU sanctions. And since his ICC indictment in 2009, Bashir has been a fugitive from justice in much of the world — only able to visit a handful of countries in Africa and the Persian Gulf without fear of arrest. Now Bashir’s government is set to receive a generous chunk of the EU’s $2 billion “Emergency Trust Fund for Africa,” which aims to combat migration at its source by promoting development and strengthening border security. For Sudan, the refugee crisis has been a godsend.

For a combination of reasons — its strategic location next to Libya and Egypt, its largely ungoverned hinterland, and its porous borders — Sudan has become a major transit hub for refugees and migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Syria who are hoping to reach Europe. Historically, the Sudanese government has been rather relaxed about migration through its territory. But presented with the carrot of EU funds, and the possibility of normalization of relations with European nations, it has suddenly become far more disciplined about policing the movement of people within its borders.

Refugees in Sudan say officials who previously accepted bribes from people on the move now appear unwilling to do so, and Khartoum’s notoriously chaotic police force has suddenly gotten more organized when it comes to apprehending migrants, particularly from Eritrea. In May, close to 1,000 Eritreans were reportedly rounded up in Khartoum and either taken to prisons there or deported back to Eritrea. Then in June, Sudan captured Mered Medhanie, an Eritrean smuggler thought to be responsible for the 2013 drowning deaths of almost 400 migrants near the Italian island of Lampedusa, and extradited him to Italy.

This awakening of good global citizenship was no coincidence. In April, Neven Mimica, the EU commissioner for international cooperation and development, formally announced a roughly $110 million aid package to Sudan through the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, ostensibly earmarked for reducing poverty, creating jobs, and improving the delivery of basic services in marginalized and conflict-affected areas. “Our new support of [$110 million] will essentially focus on improving the living conditions for those who call Sudan home, helping returnees to the country to reintegrate back into society, and improving security at the borders,” Mimica said in a statement.

Mimica surely hoped the world would take note of the first two items he highlighted, but it is the last one — border security — that prompted the uneasy rapprochement with Brussels in the first place and has absorbed the bulk of the funds. In May, Der Spiegel and the New Statesman obtained secret documents revealing that the EU had earmarked funds to train Sudanese border police and planned to provide equipment such as cameras, scanners, and servers to the Sudanese government so it can register incoming refugees and build two closed “reception centers” in the eastern towns of Gadaref and Kassala. It’s not clear if these funds were part of the $110 million aid package announced in April or part of a separate $45 million grant, also from the Emergency Trust Fund, that the Sudanese government is set to receive a portion of in exchange for managing migration. Either way, Sudan is effectively being funded to stanch the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe — and to build open-air prisons to house them.

It’s an unsavory deal for Europe to say the least. Outsourcing the management of migrant routes to a cash-strapped government with a miserable human rights record will not only mean more suffering for desperate migrants and refugees. It will strengthen a regime whose demise many wish to hasten, including, presumably, European countries whose sanctions have cut Khartoum off from international financial markets. A spokesperson for the EU’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development wasquoted by the news service IRIN as saying the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa was “designed to improve migration management” and that “no funding will be channeled through the beneficiary countries’ government structures.”

This statement is misleading at best and at worst an outright lie. In countries like Sudan, where the line between public and private is often blurred, money does not have to travel through official channels to reach government pockets. Even if funds are only disbursed to nonprofits and other private partner organizations, the Sudanese government will control every aspect of the process, right down to who gets to bid for construction tenders and contracts to install and operate the surveillance equipment. There is little accountability or transparency when it comes to the Sudanese government’s fiscal policies, and it’s hard to imagine the EU looking too closely at the money trail, so long as the migration route via Sudan is effectively patrolled and sealed off.

Moreover, the entities that will enforce the new migration measures designed by the EU — the police, the border control, and the so-called Rapid Support Forces (RSF) — are very much a part of the government. A paramilitary force that supports the beleaguered Sudanese army, the RSF in particular stands accused of horrific human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and mass rape. It was formed in 2013 from elements of the janjaweed, the notorious militias that carried out the government’s genocide in Darfur, and answers directly to the National Intelligence and Security Service. The idea was to create a nimble and decisive force to address the country’s regular rebel uprisings and serve as a bodyguard for the central government. RSF troops regularly patrol Khartoum, a city that is increasingly becoming a garrison town, securing it against potential rebel attacks — and now enforcing immigration policies dreamed up in Brussels.

It is troubling that those who perpetrated the Sudanese government’s crimes in Darfur now form Europe’s first line of defense against unwanted refugees. But even more troubling is the fact that the EU is now arming Khartoum with international credibility at a time when its domestic legitimacy is arguably at an all-time low. Cash-strapped because of low oil prices and sullied in the eyes of many of its citizens by its brazen use of extrajudicial killings and detentions, Sudan is facing its largest student protests in recent memory — protests that at times have devolved into bloody clashes with security forces. But instead of amplifying the pressure on Bashir by calling out his abuses, European governments are quietly letting his government escape its previous international isolation. In June, for instance, Marta Ruedas, the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator for Sudan, paid Bashir a visit at the presidential guesthouse in Khartoum. She was the highest-ranking U.N. official to meet with the president for several years. Mimica himself visited Sudan and met with the first vice president, as well as Sudanese officials in the ministries of International Cooperation, Foreign Affairs, and Interior. Presumably, a visit with the president was still a bridge too far — optically at least.

This is not the first time that a foreign tragedy has proved a boon to the Sudanese regime. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bashir’s government began quiet but close cooperation with the United States on intelligence. In exchange, Khartoum gained additional leverage over U.S. sponsored peace negotiations with southern Sudanese rebels, as well as promises of sanctions relief once South Sudan achieved independence in 2011. The United States backed away from its promise of sanctions relief after new conflicts erupted in 2011 in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, but it continued to work closely with Sudanese intelligence officials. Today, in private, many U.S. officials say they’d like to remove Sudan from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, a move that has proved politically impossible to date.

Now Sudan has a new set of bargaining chips: desperate refugees willing to risk their lives to get to Europe. It’s unlikely that all or even most of the sanctions will be lifted anytime soon — the optics are still too bad for most Western powers — but cooperation on the refugee front is a clear first step toward rehabilitation for Bashir. If Sudan is coming in from the cold, however, the Sudanese people will remain stranded on the outside for the foreseeable future, bearing the brunt of international sanctions until they are lifted and the brutality of their government long after that.

Friday, July 29, 2016

We Must Build Up Africa, Not Diminish It


Africa has been much maligned. As I track a discussion across three countries, I am amazed at the illogic of educated agnostics. Europe says the Zika virus is from Africa and blacks think this a racist slur. Whites identified the virus in Uganda monkeys in 1947; humans in Nigeria in 1954 and Cameroon in 1975. Our people must learn to face reality with optimism. Where are Africa’s scientists? Africa has not distinguished itself for 3,000 years, and bad things in Africa — witchcraft, face and body scarring, FGM, and other evil had a place back then, so do not apologise or feel bad for Africa. It is the birthplace of humans, still evolving; diamonds like tennis balls, rare ores as Coltan for computers; fauna, flora. Dessicating winds cross the Atlantic with disease — Zika, ChikV, Lassa, Aids, Ebola; what else lies beneath? Conspiracy theorists aver these were created by the white man — maybe so, but we still know little about Africa from Africans.

Since 1000 BCE it is behind other continents — Asia, Europe, Americas, Australasia — and we disrespected our well-adapted hair, face, derrières; our levity ridiculed; it has no critical mass of experts to align our human evolution with history. Is there a rule that all peoples should be on the same page at the same time? Could Africa be on a different trajectory with reason? Song and dance move us, not toil or production. Should we accept that our pleasure trumps national goals and be allowed to live? It’s not on as we still want the fruits of hard work. Colonialism was good as it upset the trajectory of Africa’s languid secular evolution and forced interface with fast-paced capitalism. But bad as the master class in military, commercial, person power from its returning diaspora had a price. Africa had no curiosity for far horizons or stars, but guns, tools, consumer goods seduced them to trade their most prolific commodity — black bodies. Accidents may lead to change. Diaspora convergence on Africa — Arab from east, north and Europe from the west upset their comfort level. Darwin (

Origin of the Species) found plants adapt fast in extremes and animals become hirsute or smooth with pores as the iron rule of DNA is survive, reproduce, live! Arabs came with swords in the 7th century; Africa compromised and lived. Europeans came seven centuries later with capitalism; Africa joined for profit, military and consumer goods.

Africa is extraordinarily diverse and beautiful but lacks a portable faith, military might or resolve when faced with white men who left family and sailed unknown seas to get rich. The role of Indians and Arabs in Africa’s prehistory was a leisurely trade in blacks for domestic servitude over millennia; Atlantic slavery was intense, brutal over two centuries to provide labour for cutting-edge sugar works in the West Indies. More Africans were sold via trans-Sahara and the Indian Ocean than Atlantic slave trade, but who cares? In Africa, life was cheap in 1000 BCE, in 1600 CE and still is today. Millions of kids have been orphaned by Aids, Ebola and Lassa. Tribal wars are now raised by teens and supported by transactional sex, but who cares? Yet Africa should not be disrespected as there are reasons; it was not ready when the ancient diaspora returned to make deals. The real Roots is not yet written. The volumes of McIlwaine’s Africa Bibliography shows Africans are not writing history, so we may never know their side.

Humans of red, brown, white skins, originated in Africa — the world is African. Over millennia they trekked to icy lands; pigmentation adapted, they innovated and those remaining stagnated. Indians and Arabs did not go far and returned to Africa centuries later to buy people. Those who went far north to Europe adapted to punishing environments and went back to Africa in the 16th century seeking labour to make sugar in the West Indies. They had no recall of ancestors. Evolution is slow, and those who remained had no pressure to change as Sahara slave trades were unhurried and fitted the culture. The Atlantic trade was revolutionary as with greed for guns, beads, and mirrors, a devilish pact between Europeans and Africans was struck with native leaders. Pressured by shareholders for profit, bankers for interest, insurers for premiums on ships and mutinous seamen for pay, the returnees had a purpose. Africa was clueless. Trade meant Africa had modernity without effort. Sounds familiar? Export slavery was revolutionary in the 17th century. It ripped young and old, men and women into a capitalist vortex by the greed of their leaders. Might it have been different? Yes! But in life we play the cards dealt. Would it have spawned modern science, a global religion and defined nation states? There is no sign of curiosity or desire. Romantic West Indians like to conflate Egypt with sub-Sahara Africa. The insecure seek warmth in another’s sun, but nature is ‘red in tooth and claw’ and progress moves inexorably over the unready. Modern African diasporas can’t claim American progress as black just because Obama is president — the root is not of Africa.

In pre-history, Africa was well-off compared to ice-bound continents, which had only three months to produce food to last the entire year. African trekkers up north became visionary, innovative and productive. Those who remained had no such energy and became stagnant. Africa is not a caring, diligent fatherland to its modern diasporas, but how can we help? There is wealth, conspicuous consumption; hurt, mass disease, wars and death. A modern western sector is emerging and though not as resourced, we have a burnished profile; we punch above our weight and so we can help. We must disaggregate Africa and begin to market individual nations on their strengths and flaws. The world must discuss Ghana, Nigeria as they do France, England, Spain — bespoke personalities and not mindless, disrespectful aggregation. A name denotes identity, selfhood. If someone knows your name he respects you. We must fight to make African nations differentiated and memorable. We are not rich, but we are well-branded, and African nations need a champion. As for the West, we see them as they can’t see themselves. Our duty is to put Africa on the map, one nation at a time. Africa is rising! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon) is a strategist and project manager.

Pope Visits Auschwitz, Begs God To Forgive "So Much Cruelty"

A sign reading "stop" in German and Polish is seen in the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, Friday, July 29, 2016. Pope Francis paid a somber visit to the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau Friday, becoming the third consecutive pontiff to make the pilgrimage to the place where Adolf Hitler's forces killed more than 1 million people, most of them Jews.

Pope Francis walks through the gate of the former Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, Friday, July 29, 2016. Pope Francis paid a somber visit to the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau Friday, becoming the third consecutive pontiff to make the pilgrimage to the place where Adolf Hitler's forces killed more than 1 million people, most of them Jews. (Filippo Monteforte/Pool Photo via AP)

OSWIECIM, POLAND (AP) — Pope Francis paid a somber visit in silence to the Nazi German death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau on Friday, with his only public comment a guest book entry begging God "forgiveness for so much cruelty."

The Argentine-born pontiff made an early morning pilgrimage to the place where Adolf Hitler's forces killed more than 1 million people, most of them Jews, during World War II. Francis entered the camp on foot, walking slowly in his white robes beneath the notorious gate at Auschwitz that bears the cynical words "Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you free)."

After meeting briefly with 11 death camp survivors, he moved on to nearby Birkenau, a sprawling complex where people were murdered in factory-like fashion in its gas chambers. There he greeted 25 Holocaust rescuers.

Altogether, it was a deeply contemplative and private visit of nearly two hours that Francis passed in total silence, except for a few words he exchanged with the survivors and rescuers. Vatican and Polish church officials explained that Francis wanted to express his sorrow in silence at the site, mourning the victims in quiet prayer and meditation.

However, he did express his feelings, writing in the Auschwitz memorial's guest book in Spanish: "Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!" He then signed with his name in Latin, "Franciscus" and added the date "29.7.2016."

Francis is the first pope to visit Auschwitz who did not himself live himself through the brutality of World War II on Europe's soil. Both of his predecessors had a personal or historical connection to the site. St. John Paul II, born in Poland, witnessed the unspeakable suffering inflicted on his nation during the German occupation during the war. His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who visited in 2006, was a German who served in the Hitler Youth for a time as a teenager.

Francis prayed silently for more than 15 minutes before greeting survivors, one by one, shaking their hands and kissing them on the cheeks. He then carried a large white candle to the Death Wall, where prisoners at Auschwitz were executed.

At the dark underground prison cell that once housed St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish friar who sacrificed his life to save that of a fellow prisoner who had a family, Francis prayed again. A few shafts from a tiny window were the only light cast on the pontiff.

He then traveled 2 miles (3 kilometers) to Birkenau, the vast satellite camp where the Nazis murdered Jews, Roma and others from across Europe. Invited guests, among them camp survivors and Christian Poles who saved Jews during the war, stood in respect as the pope arrived, his vehicle driving parallel to the rail tracks once used to transport victims to their deaths there.

At one point the deep silence was broken by the wailing of an infant. When Francis arrived, the hundreds of guests applauded. Francis slowly observed each of the memorial plaques in the 23 languages used by the inmates.

Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, then recited, in Hebrew, Psalm 130, which starts: "From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord." Francis clasped his hands and bent his head as the psalm was read, first by the rabbi and then by a priest in Polish.

John Paul's visit to the site in 1979 made history because it was the first ever by a pontiff, part of the Vatican's historical efforts at reconciliation with Jews. As a pope hailing from another continent, Francis's presence highlights visit the universal importance of a site that in recent years has drawn ever more visitors from around the world. The millions who now visit have put increasing stress on the site's aging barracks, prompting urgent conservation efforts that are being funded by governments worldwide.

Francis' visit is also different in that it had a private character with no speeches. Benedict, for instance, spoke there in 2006 in Italian — pointedly avoiding his native German language — in a speech questioning why God was silent at the slaughter of so many.

The pope's visit to Auschwitz came on the third day of a five-day visit to Poland that includes meetings with young pilgrims taking part in World Youth Day, a global celebration of faith. Friday is devoted to the theme of suffering. Later in the day Francis will visit a children's hospital in Krakow and take part in a Way of the Cross with the young people.

Gera reported from Warsaw. Monika Scislowska in Krakow contributed to this report.

Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter/fdemilio.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Africa's Growing And Neglected Cancer Problem: We Will All Suffer


Uganda's only radiation treatment machine broke down in April earlier this year, provoking widespread public criticism and leaving an estimated 30,000 new cancer patients stranded.

Yet the lack of adequate cancer care was hardly unique in the region: 80 percent of Africa's one billion people have no access to radiotherpy although half of all cancer patients need it.

The lack of adequate cancer care also is hardly unique to Africa. Worldwide, it is estimated that an additional 5,000 radiotherapy machines  are needed to treat cancer.

While infectious diseases like AIDS and Ebola have received the lion's share of Western media attention, noncommunicable diseases, including cancers, are surging in Africa and other low- and middle-income countries. This is fueled by population growth, longer lifespans, related infectious diseases, and health and environmental factors, such as increased urbanization and smoking. Cancer, which kills one in eight people worldwide, is on the verge of becoming a global pandemic with a staggering economic toll: Cancer treatment already costs almost US$1 trillion a year.

Yet developing countries lack the resources – from machines to trained personnel to operate them – to cover more than a small portion of today's cases, let alone the rising numbers projected for the future.About 15 African countries have no radiation therapy available at all.

Our studies and research on nonproliferation of nuclear weapons actually led me to investigate this problem further, as it has an effect not only on millions of people but also on the world's security and safety, as I will explain in greater detail.

Lack of radiation therapy equipment will cost lives and money

Tackling this challenge is important from both a humanitarian and an economic perspective. Worldwide, two-thirds of the 8.2 million cncer deaths in 2012 occurred in developing countries, with that proportion anticipated to grow dramatically in the years ahead. Many of these deaths could be delayed or avoided altogether with adequate rdiation treatment as well as better diagnostic and screening techniques. For example, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer in the United States is 90 percent, but it is only 50 percent in Uganda.

With 80 percent of the world's cancer burden, these developing countries receive only 5 percent of the resources directed toward cancer care.

Investing additional funds in cancer care will save not only lives but also money. It would enable a larger workforce able to contribute to the economy.

Increased radiation treatment, a recent landmark study concluded, could lead to savings in tens to hundreds of billions of dollars. After all, working-age patients who in developed countries would likely survive and continue to lead productive lives are essentially left for dead in poorer countries.

Unfortunately, the major public health and development communities have yet to focus sufficiently on the problem. To be sure, the United Nations last year approved sustainable development goals that called for a one-third reduction by 2030 of deaths from noncommunicable diseases, such as cancer, and increasing prevention and treatment.

However, when it comes to cancer, little money has been put behind this goal, and next to noneit for treatment. The major public development and health organizations, such as the World Bank and World Health Organization, and private donors, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have preferred to focus their funding on infectious diseases.

Some funders have begun to consider some near-term funding for forestalling some of the more preventable cancers, such as cervical cancer through the HPV vaccine. This is no help, however, for those who already have been diagnosed. The unfortunate victims who find out they have cancer have little recourse but to succumb to the disease – or to bankrupt their families to pay for palliative care
Even in those few poor countries that have limited access to a radiotherapy equipment, the technology these countries are using is antiquated and less effective, from a medical perspective. Richer countries and better-off developing countries generally employ linear accelerators. These machines allow doctors to administer highly targeted doses of radiation to patients. They destroy tumors and yet limit damage to surrounding tissues.

But poorer countries have had to make do with old fashioned machines that use highly radioactive material (cobalt-60).Such machines not only provide less effective medical treatment, but also pose a security risk – cobalt 60 can be used to make a radiological weapon, such as a dirty bomb.

By helping countries acquire linear accelerators and train associated personnel, the international community therefore has the opportunity to improve public health and security simultaneously.

Not an easy fix – but a needed one

To be sure, it will face challenges in doing so, and not just financial ones. For example, it is more difficult to operate linear accelerators, which need steady supplies of electricity and water. This is particularly difficult in the challenging environments of some low- and middle-income countries. In addition, there is a shortage of trained oncologists and other cancer workers, and training them will take time. Sierre Leone, for example, has no oncologists, let alone a radiation oncologist.

But concerned groups are already working on ways to address these challenges. For example, the European laboratory CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, which operates the largest accelerator in the world, is looking at ways to make a more rugged and inexpensive accelerator for medical use.

Meanwhile, cancer professionals have launched an International Cancer Expert Corps to link medical experts in better off countries with their poorer colleagues. Last year, private companies launched an initiative supported by the White House to use smartphones and other readily accessible technologies in poorer countries to improve diagnostic and screening procedures. Such efforts could save lives and make radiation therapy more effective by catching cancer earlier. Today, many patients in remote areas only travel to cancer treatment facilities in major cities when the disease has progressed to a point where doctors can only ease their pain not cure the disease.

For example, a health care provider can take cellphone pictures of the cervix to screen for cancer. These images are then remotely analyzed by a gynecologist, which allows that doctor to see many women without physically being present. Such an approach, which has been utilized in a partnership between the University of Pennslyvania Perelman School of Medicine and Botswana, may also lessen sociocultural barriers to screening.

Given the scale of the current and future challenges, such initiatives, however inspiring, are simply not enough. Both greater political leadership and financial resources are needed from the international community to meet the sustainable development goals. Developing country governments, the major international development organizations, and major private public health donors all need to do more to tackle cancer in the world's poorest countries and help make a healthier and more secure world.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

US Woman Gets 3 Years In Gambia; US officials 'Outraged'

Ebrima Jawara poses with his daughters Sarah, left, and Aminata, while holding a picture of his wife Fanta Darboe Jawara, who is being held in Gambia's notorious Mile 2 Central Prison, as they anxiously await her return to their Frederick, Md. home. Jawara says his wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has been wrongfully sentenced to three years imprisonment in Gambia following her arrest during an anti-government protest where her husband says she was a bystander during a visit to her homeland. (Bill Green/The Frederick News-Post via AP, File)

HAGERSTOWN, MARYLAND  (AP) — Four Maryland congressional members expressed outrage Thursday after a court in Gambia sentenced a state resident to three years in prison following her arrest there during an anti-government protest led by her prominent dissident uncle.

Fanta Darboe Jawara's conviction and sentencing made a mockery of civil rights guaranteed by the Gambian constitution, said the joint statement from senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski and representatives Chris Van Hollen and John Delaney, all Democrats.

"She has done nothing wrong and this outcome is completely unacceptable," the officials said. "We are in touch with the State Department to learn more about the appeals process in Gambia, and are committed to doing our part to ensure Mrs. Jawara's timely release and return to her husband and children in Maryland."

The State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs didn't immediately respond an emailed query from The Associated Press about the case. Ebrima Jawara said his wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was peacefully observing the demonstration when she was arrested along with 19 others April 16 near Banjul, the capital city of the West African nation. He has said Mrs. Jawara was visiting her homeland, leaving him and their two daughters home in Frederick.

Amnesty International said in a statement that 19 of the 20 people arrested at the demonstration were sentenced to three years in jail Wednesday after a court convicted them of unlawful assembly and related counts, and acquitted them of incitement to violence.

Among those convicted and sentenced was Ousainou Darboe, Mrs. Jawara's uncle, a leader of Gambia's opposition United Democratic Party. Mr. Jawara emailed the AP what appeared to be a partial transcript of the proceeding in which the court found that Mrs. Jawara apparently did not participate in the protest, but refused to defend herself against the charges.

"The evidence was that my wife wasn't part of it," Mr. Jawara said in a telephone interview. He said she didn't offer a defense because she has no lawyer. Mrs. Jawara has been detained since her arrest. The four Maryland congressional members last month demanded her release.

The State Department has expressed concern about Mrs. Jawara's treatment while she's being held by the government of President Yahya Jammeh. Mr. Jawara is a grandson of Jammeh's predecessor, Dawda Jawara, who was ousted in a 1994 military coup. Human rights groups criticize Jammeh and say he tortures opponents and persecutes gays.

Two Weeks In Nigeria

The Players Tribune

This hasn’t been the easiest off-season for me professionally. When you’re a free agent this late in the process, there’s a lot of uncertainty. That’s just the nature of this job for the majority of players in the league. One day (or even season) you’re on top of the world with a whole city behind you, the next, you’re a just another unemployed guy searching for work. It’s easy to sit around and stew when you’re thinking about the future. But there’s an old saying that goes “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” So with this in mind, rather than sit around waiting, I spent some time this off-season helping people in a much, much worse situation than myself.

My father was born in Isuikwuato, Nigeria, and after immigrating to America started Living Hope Christian Ministries. For nearly 30 years, my parents have traveled to rural villages in Nigeria with a team of American doctors, nurses and volunteers with the sole goal of saving lives. Living Hope works for weeks in these villages, removing hernias, lipomas, cataracts and extracting teeth.

This summer I traveled to Nigeria— along with my older brother, Sam, who plays for the Bears, and his teammate De’Vante Bausby — on a humanitarian mission with Living Hope. Even though this wasn’t my first trip to Nigeria, it was special in many ways. When I reflect on the experience as a whole, there are the eight main lessons I walked away with that I’d like to share with you.

1: In America we re overwhelmingly blessed, but have underwhelming gratitude

I’ll be first to say I am often guilty of this. We often take for granted that the only reason we enjoy a high standard of living is because others paved the way for us. I truly believe I live in the greatest country in the world, but my two-week stay in Nigeria made me realize how much of my privileged way of life I take for granted.

2: Fear of the unknown is no excuse

There are many people who are probably interested in making a humanitarian trip similar to mine, but who may be hesitant because of the inherent dangers associated with traveling to a foreign country. But the fact is, bad things happen everywhere. We easily forget that there are many dangers that Americans face at home. Look no further than the tragic deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castille as well as the murders of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. My point is that tragedy is not limited to any one nation, and the potential for it to strike shouldn’t be the deciding factor in keeping a person from going on a humanitarian mission.

3: Money does not equal happiness

There’s a saying I used to love that goes “Money isn’t everything, but it ranks up there with oxygen.” There’s a simple truth to that because you need money to survive. But after spending a lot of time in a country where 60% of the population lives off of less than a dollar per day, I realized that money does not grant us much beyond survival. The people of Nigeria, particularly those living in rural villages, were some of the most joyful people I have ever met — despite their poverty/extreme poverty.

What they lack in material possessions, Nigerians make up for in joy, love, peace, kindness and respect. In that sense, they’re quite rich. Every day they showed our missionaries an incredible amount of love and kindness. Victor, one patient we treated, requested I deliver this message to you: “Tell your American people I love them.”

4: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few

Our team of 27 of Americans were far outnumbered by the thousands of people we encountered in need of care. It was as if every time we treated one patient, two more walked in. We worked tirelessly from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, performing surgeries and prescribing eyeglasses and medicine. Without fail, however, thousands more would still be waiting for our help the very next morning.

5: They say it is better to give than receive, but I say the two aren’t mutually exclusive

Upon arriving back in the U.S. after my trip, a lot of people showered me with praise for the work I had done in Africa. I heard things like, “Wow what a great thing you did for the people of Nigeria” and “You guys must have changed countless lives.” These sentiments were somewhat off the mark. What this trip taught me was that by helping others, you really do help yourself. There may not be a tangible financial reward, but there’s a certain satisfaction in humanitarian work that can’t be described. Those who have had a similar experience to mine probably understand what I’m talking about. While we did change many lives with the work we did in Nigeria, the people we helped weren’t the only ones who benefited from our time there. Everyone who went on this trip came away a better, more appreciative person than before they left. You can’t place a monetary value on that.

6: There is a level of poverty that is completely foreign to Americans

This trip completely redefined the definition of the word poverty for me. In America, we relate poverty to the inner city, where income levels are low and crime rates are high. There’s no question that life in those areas is extremely difficult, but even those living in some of the very worst conditions in the U.S. would be considered upper-class citizens in Nigeria. Where we worked, poverty was not Section 8 housing and food stamps. Poverty was sleeping in a hut you built out of palm leaves and bamboo sticks. It was having your day start when the sun rises and end when it sets because there is no electricity within miles. In Nigeria we were exposed to the kind of poverty that most Americans are lucky enough to know nothing about.

7: A life lived selfishly is not worth living

’m currently a 4-year NFL veteran looking for my next opportunity. But I’m also much more than that. I have something to offer the world to make it a better place. We all do. It doesn’t matter whether you’re offering money, talent or time. What’s imperative is that you give all of yourself to a greater cause. We all need each other. Not just domestically, but globally as well. It’s a big world out there, and in order to live life to its fullest, you must give back.

8: God’s grace abounds:

I’m a Christian man and was raised in the church. In fact, the church is the only reason I’m fortunate enough be an American. In the 1970s, missionaries who heard my father preach in Nigeria brought him back to the U.S., where he started a new life and continued to spread the word of God. The only thing separating the people I treated in Nigeria from myself (and anyone, really) is circumstance.

During my two weeks in Nigeria, I often found myself depressed and dejected over the conditions in which I saw people living. I realized that in a world filled with so much injustice, we can either passively give in, or take a stand and try to fix things. I choose the latter. Even though change can’t happen all at once, it can occur one person at a time. I saw this firsthand in Nigeria. And this is the most important thing I’d like to share with my fellow Americans. It’s nothing short of a blessing that we are privileged enough to be put in a position to make a difference in the lives of others.

Even though I’m proud of the work we did in Nigeria this summer, I know we left way too many patients unattended to. Our short stay there was not enough to treat all of the country’s ill and afflicted. Living Hope Christian Ministries has set out to build a real clinic in the Isuikwuato, Nigeria that would cost roughly $2 million — and we’re almost there. But unfortunately, when funds stop coming in, the building stops going up. We need a real clinic, we need a real staff and we need your help. In my profession, my goal is to hoist the Lombardi trophy, but in my everyday life, my goal is to save lives. To help us accomplish our goals, visit

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bodies Of 21 Women, One Man Found On Migrant Boat In Mediterranean: MSF


Migrants are seen on a capsizing boat before a rescue operation by Italian navy ships “Bettica” and “Bergamini” (unseen) off the coast of Libya in this handout picture released by the Italian Marina Militare on May 25, 2016. REUTERS

ROME, ITALY, (REUTERS): The bodies of 21 women and one man were found on a rubber dinghy adrift near the Libyan coast on Wednesday, just hours after they had set sail for Italy, humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said.

An MSF ship patrolling the central Mediterranean came to the rescue of two dinghies that were sailing close together and managed to pull 209 people, including 50 children, to safety.

However, 22 migrants were found dead at the bottom of the first dinghy, lying in a pool of fuel.

“It is still not entirely clear what happened, but they died a horrible death. It is tragic,” said Jens Pagotto, MSF Head of Mission for Search and Rescue Operations.

“It seems that water and fuel mixed together and the fumes from this might have been enough for them to lose consciousness,” he told Reuters by telephone.

The survivors, most of them from West African states such as Nigeria and Guinea, were being brought to Sicily along with the dead and were due to reach the port of Trapani on Friday.

Italian authorities have reported a jump in the number of migrants who have left Libya this week on overcrowded boats in search of a better life in Europe, as people smugglers take advantage of calm seas and hot summer weather.

More than 2,500 people were rescued on Tuesday and one body was recovered, Italy’s coast guard said. Almost 600 people were saved on Wednesday.

As of Monday, 79,861 migrants had arrived in Italy by sea so far in 2016 compared with 83,119 during the same period last year. Almost 3,000 migrants have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean in the first seven months of this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Pagotto said the two dinghies had probably left the north African state of Libya in the early hours of Wednesday and were picked up some 17 nautical miles east of Tripoli.

The Italian coastguard received a distress call at about 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) and notified the MSF ship MV Aquarius, which took three hours to reach the scene. An Italian naval vessel also helped with the rescue.

“The survivors had been on the boat with the bodies of these women for hours on end. Many are too traumatized from what they have endured to be able to talk about what had happened,” said Pagotto.

He said a team of trauma specialists would be on hand to help the survivors when they reached land.

Israel Renews Ties With Largely Muslim Nation Guinea


President Alpha Conde Of Guinea

Israel said Wednesday it has renewed diplomatic ties with the largely Muslim African country of Guinea, the latest step in Israel's courtship of the continent, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he expected another nation to soon follow suit.

Israel's foreign ministry announced that the countries restored ties after 49 years. The director of Israel's foreign ministry, Dore Gold, signed an agreement in Paris with the chief of staff of Guinea's presidential office, Ibrahim Khalil Kaba.

The news comes after Netanyahu's four-nation Africa tour this month. It was the first visit to sub-Saharan Africa by a sitting Israeli prime minister in nearly three decades.

"This is part of a process that is gaining momentum, and it is very important. It is opening Israel up to Africa," Netanyahu said in a statement.

Israel is pursuing closer security and other ties with Africa, and it wants African states to support it at the United Nations. where the Palestinians were recognized as a non-member observer state in 2012.

The new agreement says Guinea was the first country to cut ties with Israel after the 1967 Mideast war, when Israel captured the West Bank. east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip from its Arab foes.

It also says Guinea and Israel have had friendly relations even in the absence of diplomatic ties. Israel took part in the international effort to halt the recent Ebola virus outbreak, which hit the West African country hard.

Israel said the number of African countries with which it doesn't have diplomatic ties is shrinking, and it hopes others will follow Guinea's example.

Israel's foreign ministry lists several Muslim or largely Muslim countries that have no current ties with it. Many are in northern and West Africa.

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed.

Defense, Foreign Ministers To Plan Next Steps Against IS


Saudi Arabia Defense Minister Mohammad bin Salman Al Saud arrives to attend the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Meeting, hosted by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Defense and foreign ministers from more than 30 nations are gathering in Washington to plan the next steps in the fight against the Islamic State group and to determine what more they can do as the fights for key cities in Iraq and Syria move forward.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense and foreign ministers from more than 30 nations gathered Wednesday to plan the next steps in the fight against the Islamic State group and to determine what more they can do as the fights for key cities in Iraq and Syria move forward.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with his counterparts on Wednesday to discuss how they can accelerate the campaign and build on some of the momentum, particularly in Iraq. The meeting comes as Iraqi security forces, aided by the coalition, are preparing to encircle and eventually attempt to retake the key northern city of Mosul.

The meeting of defense ministers at Joint Base Andrews just outside Washington, D.C., is the fourth time that Carter has convened an anti-Islamic State coalition meeting. Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Carter will talk about the military campaign and how it can be accelerated.

Secretary of State John Kerry was hosting a separate conference at the State Department Wednesday to try to raise at least $2 billion from donor nations to help Iraq as it takes territory from the Islamic State group.

"This is a cause that truly deserves a firm and generous commitment from everybody," Kerry said. The money will go to humanitarian aid for displaced people, demining, immediate help to recently liberated communities and the people returning to them as well as medium-to long-term reconstruction and development assistance. The U.N. estimates that there are currently 10 million Iraqis in need of assistance and that number is likely to exceed 13 million by year's end.

On Thursday, Kerry will host a joint meeting of defense and foreign ministers in the counter-IS coalition. They are expected to talk about the coordination of political and military efforts, including counter-terrorist financing, combating the flow of foreign fighters, and the stabilization of cities and towns that have been freed from Islamic State control.

"We are succeeding on the ground in Iraq and Syria but we have a lot of work to do," said Brett McGurk, the president's special representative to the counter-IS coalition. "This is an enormous challenge that will be with us for years to come."

He told reporters that the situation in Libya and a rise in the number of foreign fighters there will be one major focus of the meeting on Thursday. "Libya is incredibly complicated to say the least," he said, noting that until six months ago the country was without a functioning central government. "We have some momentum, the discussion will be how to build on this momentum."

The gathering comes on the heels of the NATO summit in Warsaw earlier this month, when allies agreed to boost support for the anti-Islamic State mission. NATO agreed to start a training and capacity-building mission for Iraqi armed forces in Iraq, and the allies agreed in principle that alliance surveillance aircraft would be able to provide direct support to the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.

The alliance will also begin flights by AWACS surveillance planes this fall and will set up an intelligence center in Tunisia, a major recruiting ground for IS. The U.S. has announced that it will send 560 additional troops to Iraq, to transform a newly retaken air base into a staging hub for the long-awaited battle to recapture Mosul from Islamic State militants. The new American forces should arrive in the coming days and weeks.

Most of the engineers, logistics personnel, security and communications forces will concentrate on building up the Qayara air base, about 40 kilometers south of Mosul. The extremist group captured Mosul in the summer of 2014. It is the second largest city in Iraq and has been used as the group's main headquarters since.

The coalition is also looking to reinforce the fight in Syria, where U.S.-backed forces are in a tough fight for the town of Manbij. Manbij lies on a key supply line from Turkey to the Islamic State's de facto capital of Raqqa. Ousting the militants from Raqqa is a key goal for the coalition.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

Police Shootings Touch Nerve Among Military Veterans


Baton Rouge Police investigate the scene in Baton Rouge, La., where several law enforcement officers were killed and wounded. Back-to-back attacks on police in Texas and Louisiana by former military men have touched a nerve among veterans who traditionally share a close bond with law enforcement. Veterans and active-duty troops started posting messages on social media almost immediately after the news broke this weekend that a masked ex-Marine had ambushed law enforcement along a busy highway, killing three officers - including a fellow former Marine. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP, File)
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Back-to-back attacks on police in Texas and Louisiana by former military men have touched a nerve among veterans who traditionally share a close bond with law enforcement. Veterans and active-duty troops started posting messages on social media almost immediately after the news broke last weekend that a masked ex-Marine had ambushed law enforcement along a busy highway, killing three officers — including a fellow former Marine.

Seeing one Marine kill another Marine after both had returned home safely from the battlefield in Iraq has been especially painful for the military's smallest branch, which considers service life-long membership among a force that goes by the motto: "The Few. The Proud."

"In the Marine community, we don't believe in 'ex-Marines'. However that is not the case when one decides to break the moral and ethical values we hold dear. The ex-Marine that opened fire on officers is everything we swear to protect our Nation from," Marine Cpl. Eric Trichel wrote on a Facebook page with about 25,000 mostly Marine members.

In an email to The Associated Press, he emphasized he was not speaking on behalf of the Marine Corps. Many veterans fear the service records of the gunmen will feed a false perception that combat veterans are volatile and violent, turning back years of efforts to change such stereotypes.

The Baton Rouge shooting came less than two weeks after five Dallas police officers were killed in an ambush by an Army Reserve veteran who had served in Afghanistan. Gavin Long was based in San Diego with the Marine Corps from 2005 to 2010, according to military records.

He was deployed in 2008 for about eight months to Iraq as a data network specialist. People in those jobs are technicians dealing with computers and generally do not see combat. One of his victims, 41-year-old Matthew Gerald, was a former Marine who enlisted in the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks and also served in Iraq in 2009.

And the Dallas victims included a Navy veteran who did three tours in Iraq. It is not uncommon for military veterans to join police forces and vice versa. Both jobs offer a strong sense of teamwork and reliance on others in life-or-death situations — in platoons and out on patrol.

Marines in particular carry an almost religious zeal for their branch of the military that they compare to an exclusive brotherhood. "Seeing the gunman in Baton Rouge brought a certain stinging embarrassment to something I hold very dear, being a United States Marine," said former Marine Staff Sgt. Chad M. Robichaux, who also worked as a law enforcement deputy for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff's Office, about an hour's drive from Baton Rouge.

Robichaux said he was proud of the police victims who served in combat zones, so the shooting "tears you both ways." One of the slain Dallas officers was a military contractor who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robichaux was a Force Recon Marine — the Marine equivalent of a Navy SEAL — and said both gunmen seemed to effectively use the element of surprise in their attacks but that he has seen no evidence they were highly trained killers.

There also is no evidence that has been made public suggesting either gunmen suffered from post-traumatic stress, said Robichaux, who runs the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs that helps veterans deal with the syndrome known as PTSD. But he said he wished he had met Long while both were posted in Southern California.

"There's no excuse for what he did and I'm not sympathizing with him, but he was obviously hurting in some capacity and needed help," he said. "Somebody may have been able to show him a different way."

The military prides itself on its race relations and its history of opening jobs to blacks long before other institutions. Troops often say their only color is "green." Marine veteran Elvin Carey, who is black, said he had no doubts both of the gunmen endured racism in and out of the military.

Carey, 31, said he also confronted racism in the service, with tension easing in combat but racist comments resuming after he returned to the U.S. The decorated Marine sergeant said he was asked at his first job out of the military if he was a high school dropout and had been in a street gang.

"I understand his frustration but I'm disgusted by what he did," the Iraq veteran said of Long. "Anywhere you go, for the rest of your life, every Marine is your brother so that's why I feel more ashamed of it."

Monday, July 18, 2016

Nigerian Currency Dealers Set Dollar Spreads After Naira Hit Record Low


LAGOS, NIGERIA (REUTERS) -- Nigerian currency dealers have introduced a maximum resale premium on dollar trades on the interbank market to boost liquidity after the naira touched a record low in thin trade on Friday.

The naira traded without a pre-determined premium - or spread - on Friday, a trader at one of the 15 primary market dealers, told Reuters. Traders under the umbrella of the Financial Market Dealers Association (FMDA) set the spread at a ceiling of 0.50 naira per dollar on Monday, he said.

The naira tumbled 4.3 percent to 295.25 per dollar on Friday before recovering slightly to close at 290.

On Monday the first trade of $780,000 occurred at 292.40 naira to the dollar at 1116 GMT, more than three hours after the market opened. Another trader said activity was slow pending intervention by the central bank.

"There is a lot of demand," the trader said. "We can buy at any rate but resale spread should not be more than 0.50 naira," he said, quoting an email from the FMDA.

Traders were permitted to set their own spreads on Friday to try to attract liquidity, he said.

With primary dealers required to resell 70 percent of any dollars bought from the central bank on the day of purchase, low turnover on the interbank currency market has the effect of driving down the value of the naira.

Any resale of dollars must be backed by a specific customer order to avoid currency speculation.

The central bank said last month when unveiling currency reforms that the naira would trade with no pre-determined spreads.

It ditched its 16-month old peg on the naira in June to allow the currency to trade freely on the interbank market but thin liquidity has hampered activity, traders say, leaving the central bank as the main supplier of hard currency.

Other past suppliers of dollars, including oil firms, are now selling part of their hard currency directly to petrol importers under an arrangement with the government, traders say.

The central bank governor flew to Britain and the United States last week to try to lure back investors scared off by the plunge in oil prices and resulting financial turmoil.

Some $697 million the central bank sold in one-month forward contracts fall due later this month, traders said, with contracts for July delivery quoting the naira at 279.

On non-deliverable forward markets, the one-month naira-dollar forward was quoted at 314. The one-year contract fell as low as 351 per dollar.

On the black market, the naira was quoted at 365 per dollar on Monday. (editing by John Stonestreet)

Nigeria Finds A National Crisis In Every Direction It Turns


A man walked along the former jetty of Ugborodo, Nigeria. The water in the area is heavily polluted by oil. Jane Hahn/New York Times

UGBORODO, NIGERIA (NEW YORK TIMES) — Militants are roaming oil-soaked creeks in the south, blowing up pipelines and decimating the nation’s oil production. Islamist extremists have killed thousands in the north. Deadly land battles are shaking the nation’s center. And a decades-old separatist movement at the heart of a devastating civil war is brewing again.

On their own, any one of these would be a national emergency. But here in Nigeria. they are all happening at the same time, tearing at the country from almost every angle.

“Nigeria is the only country we have,” President Muhammadu Buhari implored in a recent speech. “We have to stay here and salvage it together.”

Mr. Buhari took office a year ago, promising to stamp out terrorism in the north and to rebuild the nation’s economy. But he has been knocked off course by a series of crises across the country, forcing him to toggle between emergencies.

Beyond low prices for the nation's oil, the source of more than 70 percent of the government’s revenue, Nigerian officials have been tormented by a new band of militants claiming to be on a quest to free the oil-producing south from oppression. They call themselves the Niger Delta Avengers.

Despite their name, which sounds as if it might be out of a comic book, the militants have roamed the waters of the south for six months, blowing up crude oil and gas pipelines and shattering years of relative peace in the region.

As a result, Nigeria’s oil production in the second quarter this year dropped 25 percent from the same period a year earlier — enough to contribute to a slight increase in global oil prices, according to an analysis by Facts Global Energy,  a consulting firm in London.

Partly because of the Avengers and their sabotage, Nigeria has fallen behind Angola as Africa’s top oil producer.

The attacks have been so costly that Mr. Buhari sent troops that had been fighting in the north against Boko Haram — the extremist group that has killed thousands and forced more than two million people to flee their homes — to battle the Avengers in the south instead.

Mr. Buhari then reconfigured those efforts after complaints that marauding soldiers had roughed up people and property while looking for militants in the south, creating even more resentment among the impoverished people who live there.

Militants have struck in the south in the past, kidnapping or killing oil workers and police officers to demand a greater share of the nation’s oil wealth. But the Avengers seem bent on crippling Nigeria’s economy while it is particularly fragile, striking at the core of Mr. Buhari’s plans for the nation.

The Avengers have sent oil, power and gas workers fleeing, torturing the multinational companies that burrow for oil underneath the waters. Fuel deliveries around the country have stalled, because almost everything that has to do with oil in Nigeria right now has been tangled up by the militants.

On the main highway in the southern port city of Warri recently, a long row of fuel tankers sat on the side of the road, idle. A bent-back windshield wiper served as a makeshift clothesline. A mini tube of toothpaste rested on the dashboard of one truck. The truckers were stranded, waiting to fill up.

They had been there a month.

“We are not asking for much, but to free the people of the Niger Delta from environmental pollution, slavery and oppression,” the Avengers wrote on their website, explaining their attacks. “We want a country that will turn the creeks of the Niger Delta to a tourism heaven, a country that will achieve its full potentials, a country that will make health care system accessible by everyone. With Niger Delta still under the country Nigeria we can’t make it possible.”

Mr. Buhari’s government has said it is open to negotiating with the group. But it is already stretched thin.

On the opposite side of the country, Boko Haram is still raging. Mr. Buhari has started a major offensive against the group that has made progress, but it has yet to stamp out the violence.

Another longtime battle is flaring in the middle of the country, between farmers and nomadic Fulani herdsmen looking for grazing pastures. Hundreds have been killed in battles as herdsmen roam into new territory to look for vegetation for their cattle. Officials have blamed climate change and the nation’s rapidly growing population for the scarcity of pastureland.

And with their demands for economic equality for the south, the Avengers have been trying to stoke the aspirations of separatists elsewhere in the nation.

More than four decades ago, at least one million people were killed during the Nigerian civil war, when separatists led an uprising that created an independent republic of Biafra in the southeast. It lasted three years, until 1970.

Now, a Biafran separatist movement is simmering again, with the police and protesters clashing regularly since October, when a prominent activist was arrested and jailed. Some have accused the Nigerian security forces of seeking out and killing protesters.

The Avengers are fanning the separatist sentiments, invoking the Biafran movement and calling for a “Brexit”-style referendum to split the nation along several fault lines.

The south has long been a reservoir of anger and resistance, a place where countless billions in oil revenue are extracted for the benefit of distant politicians and companies abroad. Yet drinking water and electricity can be scarce, and the swamps people live around are regularly polluted with Exxon Valdez-sive spills, casting an oily sheen on the creeks and coating the roots of dense mangroves in black goo.

Many people in the predominantly Christian south say they believe that Mr. Buhari, a Muslim from the north, is neglecting them for political or sectarian reasons, even though conditions were also grim under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian southerner.

“You always say you fought for the unity of this country during the civil war,” the Avengers taunted Mr. Buhari on their website. “You haven’t been to the Niger Delta, how can you know what the people are facing.”

In his recent speech, Mr. Buhari recalled the horrors of the civil war, when he served in the military fighting Biafrans. “The president has a vision of one united Nigeria and is prepared to do everything to keep it as one,” he said.

This spring, Mr. Buhari announced that he would personally introduce a $1 billion cleanup program of the oil-polluted Niger Delta area. It was to be Mr. Buhari’s first visit to the region since taking office, but with the Avengers’ movement raging, the president abruptly canceled his trip. Residents of Delta State felt slighted.

“Years have passed with neglect, deprivation, environmental deprivation, poverty, no electricity, no roads, no hospital, no schools, but we are living in the country of Nigeria,” said Blessing Gbalibi, a fuel-truck driver raised in the creek communities. “Over there in Abuja,” he added, referring to the capital, “they are taking our resources.”

Yet many Niger Delta residents like Mr. Gbalibi oppose the Avengers because their acts of sabotage have degraded the already-poor quality of life in the region. Spills from explosions have further polluted farmland and fishing holes. Mr. Gbalibi and his fuel truck were among those stuck on the side of the highway for a month because the Avengers had disrupted fuel distribution.

About a decade ago, another band of militants, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, prowled the creeks, blowing up pipelines. The federal government reined it in by setting up an amnesty program that offers cash and job training, some of it overseas, for more than 30,000 militants and residents, according to Paul Boroh, a retired brigadier general and the special adviser to Mr. Buhari for the program.

But oil revenue finances the program, and the fall in oil prices prompted the president to consider ending the amnesty program at the end of last year. Mr. Boroh said he had lobbied to keep the plan for now, but to phase it out over the next two years.

The Avengers movement sprang up around the time the president was considering an end to the program, prompting many Niger Delta residents to wonder if the shadowy group is made of former militants hoping to keep up amnesty payments.

The amnesty program is far from universally loved in the creeks. Many residents say payments are routinely siphoned by corrupt community leaders. Others say the job training they received was virtually useless. Oil companies prefer to hire foreigners, they complain, or they hire locals only on a short-term basis — and then nothing.

The program sent Mike Gomero, a former militant, to learn the teachings of Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at a two-week session in South Africa. He is no longer blowing up pipelines. But he still does not have a job.

“The amnesty program is not a solution,” said Williams Welemu, a former member of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. “It’s palliative.”

Communities like Ugborodo, so deep in the winding creeks that it is at least two hours from the mainland by speedboat, are dotted with homes that are little more than tiny zinc huts on islands that are sinking into the sea. They are filled with unemployed residents trained as geologists, pipe fitters and marine engineers.

One of them, Collins Bemigho, stood along a dirty swamp, orange flares from a giant Chevron terminal glowing in the distance behind him. He complained about a lack of indoor plumbing, of good health care or a secondary school, and then pointed to a thick pipe jutting from the water.

“If I wanted to bust a pipeline, I could do that right here,” Mr. Bemigho said. “We’re not rewarded for being well behaved.”

Follow Dionne Searcey on Twitter @dionnesearcey.
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Global AIDS Conference Exposes South Africa's Dramatic Turn


Several hundred protesting grandmothers gather in Durban, South Africa, Saturday July 16, 2016, and march to the International Conference Center, to demand more government support as caregivers for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. On Monday, the return of hundreds of AIDS researchers and activists to Durban will highlight how radically the country's outlook has changed. South Africa now is a global proving ground for treatment and prevention, including a study of an experimental HIV vaccine set to begin later this year.

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The first time the world came to South Africa for a conference on AIDS, the country's leader shocked attendees by questioning whether HIV really caused the disease. President Thabo Mbeki then walked out of the room as a slender 11-year-old boy with AIDS addressed the crowd in response, pleading for treatment and understanding in a region where the epidemic was taking its harshest toll.

"Don't be afraid of us. We are all the same," Nkosi Johnson said. He died the next year. South Africa's official attitude to AIDS at that meeting in 2000 and for several years afterward set back the country so badly that more than 330,000 people died because the government withheld HIV drugs, a Harvard study found.

The AIDS conference was "the low-water mark for South Africa," the country's current health minister, Aaron Motsoaledi, wrote in the Mail & Guardian newspaper last week. On Monday, the return of hundreds of AIDS researchers and activists to the seaside city of Durban will highlight how radically the country's outlook has changed.

South Africa now is a global proving ground for treatment and prevention, including a study of an experimental HIV vaccine set to begin later this year. Today, the country says its HIV drug treatment program is the largest in the world. Life expectancy, which sank as the epidemic grew, has rebounded from 57.1 years in 2009 to 62.9 years in 2014.

And current President Jacob Zuma has publicly tested for HIV to push back against stigma. But South Africa still leads the world in infections, with 6.8 million people living with HIV. Only half receive treatment.

"The government is trying his best," said Charity Mathe, who lives with dozens of mothers and children affected by HIV at Nkosi's Haven, a Johannesburg-based project named for the boy who challenged the president in 2000.

South Africa now wants to double the number of people getting treatment, part of a global goal to have 90 percent of infected people on treatment by 2020. In the largely black Johannesburg community of Alexandra, one project is taking on that challenge by trying to make drug delivery as convenient as withdrawing cash.

What looks like a row of ATM machines has been installed in a shopping center, ready for an official rollout later this year. People will be able to walk up, insert their medical registration or speak via a video monitor with a pharmacy worker, select their prescription and pick up the drugs that pop out.

The Right ePharmacy project, the first in Africa, is meant to save time for people infected with HIV, who can lose one day a month lining up in health centers to fill their prescriptions. "You used to have a waiting time of almost four hours," said Raj Gudala, a pharmacist at Helen Joseph Hospital who is part of the project. People can pick up other chronic disease medications at the machines as well, he said, explaining that "you don't want to segregate it" to HIV alone and add to stigma.

Across town, in the historically black community of Soweto, uninfected heterosexual teenagers are among the first in the world to test the daily use of AIDS drugs as prevention. "It's a bit like family planning," said Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker, who oversees the Pillsplus program.

Every week in South Africa, about 2,000 teenage girls and young women between 15 and 24 are infected, a rate so alarmingly high that the government this month launched a national campaign to bring it down.

Asking teens who are discovering their sexuality to practice abstinence or stay faithful to a single partner is tricky, Bekker said. And using condoms can be challenging for young women with older men.

Taking a daily AIDS drug, like taking a contraceptive pill, can be private. "For the first time, we have something we can offer to people where they're totally in control," Bekker said. Major challenges remain for South Africa, whose success in fighting HIV will signal whether global treatment and prevention goals can be achieved. One issue is how the country, with a stagnant economy and regular protests over lack of basic services, can pay for it.

"It is clear that having the largest treatment program on the planet isn't enough," Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote for the Daily Maverick website last week. But people are staying alive and speaking out, and for one member of an HIV support group in Umlazi, near the AIDS conference site in Durban, that's far better than before.

"When somebody hears that he or she is positive, they come to my organization, they say, 'How many years am I going to live?'" said Zodwa Ndlovu, who joined hundreds of grandmothers this weekend to demand more support as caregivers for children orphaned by the epidemic. "I tell them, 'You live as long as you want to."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

(AFRICAN UNION): AU Commission Elections Are Increasingly Becoming A Farce

By Mehari Taddele Maru
The East African (Nairobi)

The fourth African Union Commission elections are scheduled to be conducted during the July 2016 Summit of African Union Heads of State in Kigali.

Four years ago, the nomination and eventual election of South Africa's Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was marred by controversy. This was due to a violation by South Africa of the old unwritten rule that the AU chairperson's post should only be available to candidates from smaller countries.

The manner in which the election campaign was run also did not endear South Africa to other AU member states.Yet, the 2012 race for the position of chairperson drew the most attention and remains the most tightly contested in the history of the AU.

Undisputedly, on the positive side, Dr Dlamini-Zuma's election as the first chairwomen of the Commission signified substantial progress in the AU.

Another enduring advantage of the 2012 election was that it aroused considerable interest and stimulated debate about the Commission and the AU in general.

It was hoped that the 2012 competition had set a higher standard for future elections at the AU, including in terms of profile, gender, and the number of nominations and candidates. It was also hoped that winning posts at the Commission would increasingly become more competitive and that incumbency would not imply a guarantee for re-election.

However, with the current low number of nominations, these hopes are yet to be realised.

Diminishing competitiveness, fewer nominations

Twelve years ago, in the first elections in 2003, there were 73 candidates for the post of commissioners. In contrast, in 2008 the number of candidates declined by almost half to 45, and in 2012 this number declined even further to twenty-nine.

Now, for the 2016 election, we only have 32 candidates (after three disqualifications and one late withdrawal). Another crucial concern about the current nominations is the sharp decline in the pedigree and profiles of the various candidates, particularly the chairperson.

For example, Professor Alpha Konare, the first chair of the Commission from 2003-2008, was a former head of state of Mali. Since then there have been two former ministers (Dr Jean Ping of Gabon, and Dr Dlamini-Zuma of South Africa) chairing the Commission.

Too few nominations to shortlist

Outwardly, the 2012 election looked very competitive. Strictly speaking, however, the 2012 election was far from competitive because the election for the post of chairperson occurred by default, not by design.

In fact, a closer look at the number and manner of nominations for the position of chairperson and deputy, and the profiles of the various candidates, showed that nominations had deteriorated in terms of numbers and competence.

For example, in 2012, North Africa, which was entitled to two posts on the Commission, nominated only two candidates, thereby rendering the nomination and the election uncompetitive. Similarly, the incumbent deputy chairperson ran alone without a challenger and thereby transformed the election for this high post into a vote of confidence.

Regression in nominations and female candidature

Another regressive aspect of the current nominations is the fact that the number of female candidates has declined from 60 per cent participation in 2012 to 38 per cent participation in 2016.

For instance, six candidates for the positions of deputy chairperson and economic affairs are males, while candidates for one of the posts are all females.

Given that the rules of the AU require half the members of the Commission to be females, 15 candidates are currently competing for five posts, while 25 male candidates are vying for the remaining five posts. On a positive note, as reflected by the current nominations, two of the three candidates for chairperson are females.

So, is this decline in the number of candidates and their less impressive profiles indicative of a systemic failure of the AU? Is this decline symptomatic of the low standing bestowed on the AU by its fundamental constituent units -- the member states? What is the cause of these failures and what can be done to address them?

Member states are the main causes of the decline in the numbers and profiles of the various candidatures. Member states are also responsible for the overall lack of strategic direction in the elections of the various AU organs. But more essentially, the retrogressive elections of the Commission, and of the other organs, will continue to undermine meritocracy and the performance, legitimacy and popularity of the AU in Africa and beyond.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the elections to the AU Commission. While member states are the body parts of the AU, the Commission is the engine on which the Union depends not only for its effective functioning, but also for its ability to achieve its objectives as set out in the Constitutive Act of the AU.

The leadership and management of the Commission is therefore a key factor for the success of the AU, both at the continental and global levels.

In turn, without getting the basics and fundamentals correct, the foundation for the AU remains shaky and not conducive to achieving the huge mission of a peaceful, prosperous and integrated Africa.

The basics and fundamentals of the elections to the AU are nominations at the national level, squarely the responsibility of member states.

With the necessary political determination from African leaders, and actual reform in the nomination process at national levels, the AU could easily reverse the current retrogression and restore progressive elections that prove exemplary for its member states. More crucially, such elections would enable the AU to excel in discharging its duties.

But the first step for this reform would be to postpone the Commission elections to January 2017, and reopen the nomination process again with necessary reform in the national level nomination process.

Dr Mehari Taddele Maru is an expert in international law, and currently a member of the AU High Level Advisory Group

Friday, July 15, 2016

Secret Chapter Of 9/11 Inquiry Released After 13-Year Wait

FRIDAY, JULY 15, 2016

American Airlines Flight 175 closes in on World Trade Center Tower 2 in New York, just before impact. The government is preparing to release a once-classified chapter of a congressional report about the attacks of Sept. 11, that questions whether Saudi nationals who helped the hijackers with things like finding apartments and opening bank accounts knew what they were planning. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday July 15, 2016, that the release of the 28-page chapter is "imminent."

WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly declassified pages from a congressional report into 9/11 released Friday have reignited speculation that some of the hijackers had links to Saudis, including government officials — allegations that were never substantiated by later U.S. investigations into the terrorist attacks.

Congress released the last chapter of the congressional inquiry that has been kept under wraps for more than 13 years, stored in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol. Lawmakers and relatives of victims of the attacks, who believe that Saudi links to the attackers were not thoroughly investigated, campaigned for years to get the pages released.

The lightly redacted document names individuals who helped the hijackers get apartments, open bank accounts and connect with local mosques. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals and several were not fluent in English and had little experience living in the West.

Former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the co-chairman of the congressional inquiry, who pushed hard for the last chapter of the inquiry's report to be released, believes the hijackers had an extensive Saudi support system while they were in the United States.

Saudi Arabia itself has urged the release of the chapter since 2002 so the kingdom could respond to any allegations. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubier told reporters Friday that his government welcomed the release of the 28 pages and said the documents should finally put to rest questions about Saudi Arabia's suspected role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

"That matter is now finished," al-Jubier said. "The surprise in the 28 pages is that there is no surprise." al-Jubier said. The 9/11 Families and Victims welcomed the release, and said it confirmed what they've long known.

"Each of the claims the 9/11 families and victims has made against the kingdom of Saudi Arabia enjoys extensive support in the findings of a broad range of investigative documents authored by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies," the families said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement that the documents "provide more than enough evidence to raise serious concerns. These concerns should be addressed and proved or disproved." The document mentions scores of names that the congressional inquiry believed deserved more investigation. They included:

—Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi national who helped two of the hijackers in California, was suspected of being a Saudi intelligence officer. The 9/11 Commission report found him to be an "unlikely candidate for clandestine involvement" with Islamic extremists. The new document says that according to FBI files, al-Bayoumi had "extensive contact with Saudi government establishments in the United States and received financial support from a Saudi company affiliated with the Saudi Ministry of Defense. ... That company reportedly had ties to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida," which orchestrated the attacks.

—Osama Bassnan, who lived across the street from two of the hijackers in California. According to an FBI document, Bassnan told another individual that he met the hijackers through al-Bayoumi. Bassnan told an FBI asset that "he did more than al-Bayoumi did for the hijackers."

The office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday also released part of a 2005 FBI-CIA memo that said "there is no information to indicate that either (Bayoumi) or (Bassnan) materially supported the hijackers wittingly, were intelligence officers of the Saudi government or provided material support for the 11 September attacks, contrary to media speculation."

The document also notes that U.S. and coalition forces retrieved the telephone book of Abu Zubaydah, the first high-profile al-Qaida terror suspect captured after the Sept. 11 attacks. The telephone book, obtained during his capture in Pakistan in March 2002, contained an unlisted number traced to ASPCOL Corp. in Aspen, Colorado, which the FBI field office in Denver determined "manages the affairs of the Colorado residence of Prince Bandar (bin Sultan)," who was the Saudi ambassador to the United States at the time.

The document, however, also stated that "CIA traces have revealed no 'direct' links between numbers found in Zubaydah's phone book and numbers in the United States." Other individuals named in the document include Saleh al-Hussayen, a Saudi interior ministry official who stayed at the same hotel in Herndon, Virginia, as one of the hijackers. "While al-Hussayen claimed after Sept. 11 not to know the hijackers, FBI agents believed he was being deceptive. He was able to depart the United States despite FBI efforts to locate and re-interview him," the document said.

The document also described lax sharing of information between government agencies. It notes an instance where a CIA memo about alleged financial connections between the hijackers, the Saudi government and members of the Saudi royal family was put in a FBI case file, but never made it to FBI headquarters in Washington.

Former President George W. Bush classified the chapter to protect intelligence sources and methods, although he also probably did not want to upset U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally.

Two years ago, under pressure from the families of those killed or injured on Sept. 11, and others, President Barack Obama ordered a declassification review of the chapter. National Intelligence Director James Clapper conducted that declassification review and transmitted the document to Congress, which released the pages online on Friday.

Several investigations into 9/11 followed the congressional inquiry, which released its report — minus the secret chapter — in December 2002. The most well-known investigation was done by the 9/11 Commission, led by former Gov. Tom Kean, R-N.J., and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind.

Kean and Hamilton said the 28 pages were based almost entirely on raw, unvetted material that came to the FBI. "The leads developed in 2002 and 2003 were checked out as thoroughly as possible," they said in a statement Friday.

The commission's 567-page report, released in July 2004, stated that it found "no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded" al-Qaida. "This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al-Qaida."

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, and vice chairman, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., urged the public to read the results of other investigations by the CIA and FBI that "debunk" many of the allegations, and put conspiracy theories to rest.

Associated Press writers Erica Werner and Alicia A. Caldwell contributed to this report.