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The Africa Travel Association to host the 41st Annual World Tourism Conference in Rwanda this month
August 17, 2017 | 0 Comments
Washington DC – August 17, 2017: The opportunities tourism brings to African economies will be highlighted when African leaders, international investors, and travel professionals meet for the 41st Annual World Tourism Conference, in Rwanda from August 28 – 31.
Hosted by the Africa Travel Association (ATA), a division of the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the conference will highlight the economic and job opportunities being fuelled by the sector’s continued growth.
In less than 15 years Africa’s travel and hospitality industries have quadrupled in size, and the continent remains one of the world’s fastest-growing tourist destinations, second only to Southeast Asia.
President and CEO of the Corporate Council of Africa, Florizelle Liser, says CCA aims to use the conference to encourage investments and policies that contribute to the sector’s growth.
“The tourism conference will highlight opportunities in the tourism sector and intersecting sectors such as infrastructure, ICT, health, real estate development, and finance. Through strategic partnerships, we will also offer capacity building workshops for travel professionals of all levels,” she said.
Adding: “I look forward to working with [RDB CEO] Ms. Akamanzi and her team at RDB to showcase what Rwanda has to offer.”
This year will be the first time ATA’s Tourism Conference will be hosted in Rwanda, one of East Africa’s premier tourism destinations and one whose sector continues to grow. According to the RDB, Rwanda’s tourism sector generated US$303 million in revenue, in 2014 up three percent in the previous year.
On the sidelines of what is expected to be a packed agenda, ATA is working with Facebook to deliver training to SMEs in Kigali. The ‘Boost Your Business’ is a training initiative, developed by Facebook and facilitated by Digify Africa, designed to train and upskill small business owners on how to leverage digital tools to grow their businesses. The training will be held on August 26 at the Kigali Serena Hotel.
The conference also aligns with Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony, a national celebration creating awareness of the country’s efforts to protect the jewel of Rwanda’s tourism crown: the mountain gorillas and their habit.
The 41st Annual World Tourism Conference will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, on August 28-31, 2017.
Established in 1975, The African Travel Association serves both the public and private sectors of the international travel and tourism industry. ATA membership comprises African governments, their tourism ministers, tourism bureaus and boards, airlines, cruise lines, hotels, resorts, front-line travel sellers and providers, tour operators and travel agents, and affiliate industries. ATA partners with the African Union Commission (AU) to promote the sustainable development of tourism to and across Africa.
Corporate Council on Africa (CCA) is the leading U.S. business association focused solely on connecting U.S. and African business interests. CCA serves as a neutral, trusted intermediary connecting its member firms with the essential government and business leaders they need to do business and succeed in Africa.
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AFRICA’S SKYROCKETING UNEMPLOYMENT: WHO IS TO BLAME, THE UNIVERSITIES OR THE STATES?
August 12, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Moses Hategeka

 A few years back, I wrote an article titled, “Universities/Varsity Curricula Must be Practical” that was published in, The Herald, Zimbabwe’s most popular and biggest Newspaper, and was as well republished in various other Newspapers and Magazines in other African countries.

In that article, I argued that, theory based and powered curricula as administered in most African universities, cannot spur a critical mass of skilled graduates needed to transform African economies and called, for its total overhaul.

In the same article, I called upon, African governments to step up funding to their universities and compel them to overhaul cramming based learning and adopt research powered learning.

Research powered learning especially in the experimental sciences curricula, makes students, to gain knowledge of producing inventions, innovations, and ground breaking technologies, which if backed by supportive conducive governments’ policies, can be a catalyst, in spurring industrial and entrepreneurial development in African countries. It also enables the students from social sciences and humanities field, to gain interdisciplinary knowledge, that in turn makes them, critical thinkers, capable of objectively analyzing public policies and other issues at hand, and provide remedies where inadequacies exists.

Africa’s skyrocketing unemployment problem, especially youth unemployment that is affecting millions of youth on the continent, is a manifestation, of the failure of governments and universities, to harmonize their visions, into one complimentary vision of finding solutions to the challenges facing the continent.

Universities are supposed to be the center of knowledge production and dissemination where learners are equipped with relevant knowledge and skills that makes them capable of solving societal problems and meeting societal needs. Are African universities serving this purpose fully?

Moses Hategeka

Moses Hategeka

Globally, research is a chief driver of new knowledge and innovation crucial for spurring sustainable industrial and entrepreneurial development, but how much of the research have African universities done or are doing that have translated or are translating into industrial commercial usable products? Why is it that, African industries are majorly powered by imported technologies despite the fact that we have engineering and technology faculties at our universities?

In the medical field, why is that all the health complications that requires specialized surgeries are mainly done outside Africa with those unable to afford it dying miserably despite us having medical schools/faculties at our universities? Still in medical sector, why is that the few molecular biologists in our countries are unable to use computerized technologies to read and analyze the genomes of viruses and only do so after being subjected to re-training by experts trained from abroad?

African governments are supposed to apportion a good percentage of their national budgets for research development, if research, is to result into implementable policies and industrial usable products. But wait a minute! Looking at countries’ national Budgets, how much money percentage wise does African countries allocate to their institutions for research development?

Governments are also supposed to create robust favorable environment and opportunities for its employable citizens not only at national level, but also at international level, by incorporating in their foreign policies and international relations, the issue of systematically and legally transporting their employable labor to other countries where it is needed through bilateral relations, like what Cuba, Russia, China, and India have done and are doing. What are African countries doing in this regard?

For example, on realizing that, it cannot employ, all its trained Doctors, Cuba, decided to integrate medicine as a fundamental element in its foreign policy and international relations, as thus, eighty percent of Doctors and health professionals in Venezuela, are Cubans, send there by the Cuban government, on bilateral arrangement with Venezuelan government, where by Cuba, supplies medical workers in return for oil and gas supplies from Venezuelan government. Cuba also has hundreds of Doctors working on bilateral arrangement in other Latin American and African countries. Russia, India, and China, who produces, highest number of technology specialists and professionals in life and experimental sciences also does the same.

To the Chinese government, where there is Chinese capital and trade, there should be Chinese labor. Many people keep on wondering, why there is large presence of Chinese engineers, technicians, and traders, especially allover in African countries and other developing nations, forgetting that, transportation of labor to foreign countries, is a cardinal part of Chinese foreign policy and international relations. In fact, all the major infrastructural development projects in Africa, like major road high ways, Dams, buildings and industries construction, have been and are being executed by Chinese supported companies and labor

To overcome, the waves of rural- urban migration tied unemployment, and curb horrible unemployment figures among its science and technology specialists, the Chinese government, developed an economic diversification policy aligned, to urbanization, industrialization, and transformation of rural locations, into production centers, which involved relocating major industries from already congested industrial centers to rural areas, thus expanding industrial base and creating new towns and employment in the process, Wuxi and Nantong for example, owe their transformation from rural to major industrial centers to this policy.

In sum, universities’ curricula must be research derived and interdisciplinary powered, for the graduates to translate the acquired knowledge and skills, into industrial usable products and attaining critical thinking skills, capable of finding solutions to the societal challenges and needs and African governments must ably fund their varsities for this to happen in addition to putting in place, the implementable policies that stimulate entire spectrum

Moses Hategeka is a Ugandan based Independent Governance Researcher, Public Affairs Analyst, and Writer

Email: moseswiseman2000@gmail.com

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Terrorism: Trump’s Approval And End Of The Black Days
August 10, 2017 | 0 Comments
By Anthony Kolawole*
The Trump administration recently approved the sale of strategic arms to Nigeria in support of the fight against terrorism

The Trump administration recently approved the sale of strategic arms to Nigeria in support of the fight against terrorism

 

 

 

 

 

The conjured and demonic opinions of skeptics on the unabated degeneration of Nigeria under a Buhari Presidency is the least of my nightmares. I am the more comfortable with myself because only falsehood struggles to be concealed, but truth breaks the most secured of jails to quench he thirst of man with its effervescent aura.

 But every day and across the globe, relations with Nigeria, comments about Nigeria and the engagement of her people by other nationals render these theorists of doom prostrate. Nigeria is unstoppably regenerating under President Muhammedu Buhari. Its war on terrorism is a resounding success and the administration’s no nonsense posture on fighting the monster of corruption in all spheres of public life attracts world-wide acclaim.
And it is evident in a hitherto obstinate America under President Donald Trump also identifying with Nigeria on its drive to reinvent itself on all fronts. This has expressed in the approval the United State Government has granted Nigeria to sale 12 high-tech, Super Tucano A-29 attack aircrafts worth N219 billion ($600 million) to Nigeria’s Air Force to assist in battling Boko Haram insurgency.
We do know that America had resisted such offer to Nigeria in the past, under the Obama Presidency, a development exacerbated by the mistaken bombing of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Rann, Borno State. And that America has recounted its position is a consideration of several factors, including transparency, accountability and respect for human rights of people.
But we are today consoled because we have not stopped improving ourselves and making amends where possible. The Holy Scriptures says, in Exodus 14:13 that “These Egyptians that you see today, you shall see them no more.”
Whilst the torment of Boko Haram lasted, lives were lost and properties destroyed and varying layers of social dislocation, some nations in the world in the position to assist Nigeria looked at terrorism as an isolated Nigerian problem. Nothing griefs the heart more like when a neighbor sits in celebration of your misfortune. That was the fate of Nigeria and international organisations also conscripted into the conspiracy against Nigeria.
One cannot help but frown at the destructive roles played by Amnesty International (AI) and its array of local franchise and extremists sects like the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and some briefcase  Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), which only existed on letterhead papers.
They spared generous time to mock the plight of Nigerians in the time of sorrow and some went to the extent of initiating actions that inflamed the situation. These entities deployed fully to add to the deep pains and afflictions Boko Haram brought upon our land. They were everything an enemy would be to his neighbor;  but today the narrative has changed for good.
We cannot hold our joy that the Service Chiefs came and turned the tables against Boko Haram insurgents, which these soulless detractors and extremists used as canon folder in the destabilization plots against Nigeria. Their motley of minions satanically added some paraffin to the conflagration.
But our courageous military have proved them wrong, by decimating and defeating Boko Haram. Nigerian troops have shattered the dreams of those who wanted to see more of a sinking Nigeria and embarked on nocturnal voyages to frustrate its bounce back to full economic life or harnessing its full potentials, with her blessed children.
Today, we see a Nigeria where love and patriotism are returning back, after some statesmen came out to disown IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu and his agents. We are on the path of a new Nigeria where everyone will be proud of his country. And a new nation where ethnicity would no longer be a factor against merit and talents would saunter on the center stage.
We are proud to say, it is not in doubt that Nigeria defeated Boko Haram before the end of the Obama administration in America. That our military took over every lost territory before the end of 2016 is not also in doubt. To also say the current Service Chiefs and the last soldier in Nigeria are true patriots is also not in doubt.
These rare breed of Nigerians came at a time we had lost our integrity, pride and honour to a ragtag Army of street urchins. But they restored this dignity. It may not be good to continue to  keep reflecting in this direction, but to appreciate the Nigerian military.
It is in this light that we celebrate the recent approval by President Trump to sale military warplanes to Nigeria. It is an undeniable confirmation of the victory which our military secured for us over the terrorists. It is also a certification that Nigerian military played according to the rules of engagement in the counter-insurgency war.
And the international organizations which operate in league with detractors and destabilization agents of Nigeria by fabricating stories about imaginary human rights abuses by the Nigerian military in the counter-terrorism campaigns have had the veil removed from their eyes in shame by America’s reversal of its position.
I again reiterate, much as millions of patriotic Nigerians that it is an open endorsement of the professionalism and transparency in our military operations as being marshaled by the Chief of  Defence Staff (CDS), Gen.  Olonishakin ; the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Tukur Yusufu  Buratai and the rest. The appreciation for saving  our collective destiny stretches down to the lowest on the rung of military personnel, obviously down to even a Private A A Goodluck. They have all done well and deserve all the golden applauses from us as a people.
And to the extent that the gift of the Tucano attack aircrafts is coming after the rain, does not imply that the Nigerian military has not appreciated the approval, in spite of its belatedness. It is in reality a testament to the fact that our military is one of the best in Africa and have a leading role to play on the continent as the first to defeat Boko Haram.
Nonetheless, a new vista of collaboration has been opened between Nigeria and the United States as both strive to work together in the global fight against terrorism. America soldiers can now freely share notes with Nigerian troops on how to defeat any insurrection against a sovereign state. The aircraft gift embodies many other lessons beyond the mere package, as it also signifies the overall endorsement of the war against insurgency in Nigeria.
More exciting, President Trump has re-invoked the essence of the Biblical verse that the “Egyptians we saw yesterday, we shall see them no more.” So, those who are already afraid of the military procuring such hardware must now know it has become a reality. And they are powerless to bring back the era of horror and sorrow anywhere close to Nigerian soil anymore.
They should lick their wounds quietly. I mean the likes of Amnesty International and all the dissident elements who once held us to the jugular should know that the world is now aware of their antics to destabilize Nigeria and nobody will ever take them serious again.
*Kolawole PhD, a University teacher writes from Keffi, Nasarawa State.
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UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo and Benin’s music stars say NO to child marriage!
August 8, 2017 | 0 Comments
© UNICEF UNICEF international Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique Kidjo and UNICEF Benin national Goodwill Ambassador Zeynab Abib, along with seven of Benin’s greatest artists have joined forces to create a song calling on the population to say NO to child marriage

© UNICEF
UNICEF international Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique Kidjo and UNICEF Benin national Goodwill Ambassador Zeynab Abib, along with seven of Benin’s greatest artists have joined forces to create a song calling on the population to say NO to child marriage

UNICEF international Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique Kidjo and UNICEF Benin national Goodwill Ambassador Zeynab Abib, along with seven of Benin’s greatest artists have joined forces to create a song calling on the population to say NO to child marriage, as part of the national Zero Tolerance Campaign against child marriage.

“A little girl is still a child. She cannot be a mother or a bride. Let her grow up to live a fulfilling life. Say NO to child marriage!”, sing UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassadors, Angélique Kidjo and Zeynab Abib, accompanied by Danialou Sagbohan, Kalamoulaï, Don Métok, Sessimè, Dibi Dobo, Norberka and Olga Vigouroux.

As part of the national Zero Tolerance Campaign against child marriage, launched by the Government of Benin on June 16th – the Day of the Africa Child (DAC) – the nine artists committed themselves to this unprecedented movement to help break the silence around child marriage. Through the creation of a song and a video, which are deeply moving, yet full of hope, the nine artists called on the population of Benin to act.

“Child marriage is a negation of children’s right to grow up free. Every child has the right to a childhood. I call on parents not to marry off their young daughters as they are our wealth and the future of our continent”, said Angélique Kidjo who co-created the song with Zeynab Abib.

The artists sing in a variety of languages, including Fon, Mina, Mahi, Sahouè, Yoruba, Goun, Bariba and French in order for the message to reach people throughout the country and in neighbouring countries.

“The impact on these girls is terrible. Once married, they no longer attend school, they are raped, they fall pregnant, which puts their health and that of their baby in danger. We artists are saying NO to all these injustices! Girls are not the property of anyone; they have the right to choose their own destinies”, insists Beninese pop star Zeynab Abib, who was able to mobilise Benin’s greatest artists around this cause.

In most African societies, marriage extends beyond the couple, sealing the union between two families. As such, certain parents or guardians force their children to marry before they are physically or psychologically mature. Poverty, poor levels of education, and the prevalence of traditions and belief systems, along with a general culture of impunity, are all tied to the continued practice of child marriage.

 

 

Among the 700 million women around the world who are victims of forced marriage, more than one in three – or 250 million – were married before the age of 18. In Central and Western Africa, two in five girls (41%) marry before reaching their 18th birthday. In Benin, one in ten girls is married under the age of 15 and three out of ten girls are married before they are 18 years old.

“We need all the strength and weapons we can muster to fight the scourge of child marriage. Art, especially music, is a powerful weapon. As Nelson Mandela said, ‘politics can be strengthened by music, but music has a potency that defies politics’. This power must be harnessed!” said Dr Claudes Kamenga, UNICEF Representative in Benin.

The national authorities, through the voice of the Minister for Communications and the Minister of Social Affairs also hailed the commitment of the performers and called on the media to broadcast the video widely.

The Zero Tolerance campaign against child marriage is directly in line with the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage on the continent. The campaign has been made possible thanks to financial support from the nations of Belgium and the Netherlands’.

UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

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Has France Found an African Solution to an African Problem?
August 8, 2017 | 0 Comments

The days of the French colonial empire may be long gone, but Paris’ involvement in the unstable region of the Sahel is not. French forces have been offering support for countries in the region — notably Group of 5 (G5) members Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, Niger and Mauritania — for years. But as French concerns about the overmilitarization of the Sahel have grown, Paris seeks to find another solution in the form of the G5 Sahel Force. Made up of African troops from the G5 states, this counterterrorism and counter-trafficking entity may eventually play a critical role in stabilizing the Sahel region.

As recently as Aug. 2, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly visited the Sahel states of Chad, Niger and Mali to engage with soldiers and speak with leaders. The subtext for Parly’s trip was a desire to reaffirm French support for the Sahel Force. France and its allies are hoping that the entity will one day offer regional security using local forces, enabling Paris and other Western nations to lessen their involvement in the Sahel.

The Long Struggle

Africa’s Sahel region is most commonly associated with a handful of countries stretching across the sub-Saharan portion of the continent, including the G5. These nations are prone to several forms of state weakness, including a lack of resources and investment, poverty, corrupt and ineffectual armed forces and an inability to assert control over vast territories. Thus, the region has historically been a hotbed for terrorism, political instability and the trafficking of arms, drugs and humans. As a result, Western nations — particularly France, a former Sahel colonizer — have often stepped in to help stabilize the area. The French military, for example, has been conducting counterterrorism operations there under the auspices of Operation Barkhane since 2013, when Paris intervened to prevent Mali’s collapse amid an assault from Tuareg and Islamic militant forces.

France has been fairly successful as the region’s security guarantor, pulling its diplomatic and security weight to aid Mali and shore up other relatively weak regional allies such as Niger. But recently, Paris has sought to lessen its defense burden in the Sahel by increasingly offloading onto African and European allies. (The U.S., for its part, is already involved in the region, engaging in special operations, drone operations and logistical support.) All European states are ultimately threatened by the problems of the Sahel, given that its relative proximity to the Mediterranean Sea provides a thin barrier for transnational issues. It is therefore understandable that France would expect these nations — especially Germany — to increase their contributions.

One key component of this redistribution of resources has been the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM), designed to advise and train the Malian military. As noted, Mali has been at the epicenter of the region’s terrorism problem, and since 2013, the EUTM has been critical in building up the Malian armed forces following a coup and decades of corruption. Training missions such as the EUTM have been particularly useful in encouraging involvement from European countries — including Germany — that are more reticent about exercising hard power overseas.

The EUTM mission and Operation Barkhane are successes in many respects. But the overall picture of Sahel security in the coming years is one that will heavily feature French forces, simply because of the limited capacity of regional governments and militaries. From Mauritania to Niger, countries on the continent continue to struggle with border security: On July 12, the Mauritanian minister of defense declared the country’s border with Algeria closed and its immediate area a military zone, with the Mauritanian armed forces considering all individuals in the zone to be legitimate targets. The decision was no doubt the result of increased drug trafficking and terrorist group operations in the area.

And the degradation of the security environment in recent months and years is not exclusive to Mauritania’s remote north. Other zones, such as the tri-border region between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, have seen increases in terrorist activity: militants have attacked wayward government outposts to steal provisions, wreak havoc on locals and sometimes kidnap the few Westerners left in the vast space. Thus, the local authorities of formerly stable zones are now under additional pressure to address the metastasizing threat.
An African Solution

The reality is that France cannot significantly reduce its security burdens in the Sahel right now. The former colonial power has instead been attempting to broaden the scope of its strategy. French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed concern about France’s strategy in the region becoming overly militarized in recent years, to the detriment of longer-term state building. Since May 2017, Macron’s administration has accelerated efforts to get the G5 Sahel Force up and running. Designed to tackle the more transnational nature of terrorism and crime, the standing force has been touted as “An African solution for African problems” (a term no doubt used to drum up international support). But as with everything in the instability-plagued region, the launch of the G5 Sahel Force has been marked by almost equal parts success and setbacks.

There are countless examples of African forces struggling to make progress without being totally dependent on the financial and logistical support of the United Nations, the European Union and other global powers. For instance, the standby forces of the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States both faced serious difficulties in their efforts to become productive and autonomous. The G5 Sahel Force is almost certainly headed in the same direction.

On June 5, the European Union committed $56 million to the force following a visit to Mali by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. France has also ponied up, reportedly providing an initial $9 million along with 70 tactical vehicles, in addition to $228 million in regional development aid over the next five years. As Macron put it, France’s real contribution will be “advice, material and combat.” Moreover, Berlin is expected to host an international donors conference in September to partially fund the G5 Sahel Force.

In spite of these initial and prospective gains, the financial viability of the force is still in question. Reportedly, each G5 Sahel member state will contribute $10 million each, bringing in another $50 million. But Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita recently noted that current levels of funding were nowhere near the estimated $500 million annual budget that he sees as necessary to fund the 5,000-member force.

A “two steps forward, one step back” dynamic was further on display at the United Nations on June 21, when the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution that backed the Sahel Force. U.S. objections to additional U.N. spending obligations forced France to water down the resolution’s text. (The Trump administration has sought to cut its international commitments, including in the realm of peacekeeping.) The version of the resolution that ultimately passed states only that the U.N. Security Council “welcomes the deployment” of the force; it does not commit the international organization to any funding.

Putting the Sahel Force Into Action

Nevertheless, Macron is pushing hard to have the G5 Sahel Force up and running by October, so that it can “prove itself” on the ground. Some facts about the entity have already been revealed: For example, it will be headquartered in Sevare in northern Mali and will reportedly focus on three critical border regions: the West Zone (Mali-Mauritania), the Center Zone (Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger), and the East Zone (Niger-Chad). This follows the emphasis on cross-border security challenges implemented by the Multinational Joint Task Force, which was designed to address the threat posed by the Boko Haram insurgency. And in a broader sense, the regional focus continues a trend of Sahel states pooling their resources. In one such recent instance, Mali, Chad and Niger signed an agreement in May allowing the three countries to expedite potential terrorist or criminal suspects, exchange judicial records and obtain information about travelers.

However, the exact number and composition of the Sahel Force remain uncertain. It will reportedly be composed of battalions of 750 soldiers from each country, although this would tally up to a 3,750-member force, well short of the oft-cited 5,000-member figure. Moreover, it has been stated that these soldiers will operate under their own respective flags rather than being part of a supranational group. This could prove problematic if political leaders become unwilling to spread various burdens across the broader force. Chadian President Idriss Deby recently complained that his country’s armed forces — a key French ally and the region’s most capable military — are “overstretched” in their struggle to combat terrorism. The G5 request for more troop contributions comes amid Chad’s continued financial difficulties in the wake of falling crude oil exports prices. Deby is likely hoping to drum up more financial support from Western allies, namely France.

Overall, it remains to be seen how much interoperability can truly be achieved by the five nation, seven battalion Sahel Force — and how heavily the entity will rely on France. There have been joint African military operations in the past, such as Mali and Burkina Faso’s Operation Panga, which focused on rooting out militants in the Fhero Forest. But while that operation was hailed as a success because militants were killed and captured, materiel was seized and intelligence was gained, it relied heavily on the French military as its backbone. France’s Operation Barkhane furnished soldiers, tactical vehicles, fighter jets and drones.

One thing is clear: Along with limited help from other international actors, the French military is instrumental in holding the Sahel region together. Getting the G5 Sahel Force up and running is a big step forward in finding regional solutions for regional problems. But even in the best case scenario, France is still many years away from being able to significantly reduce its security burden in the Sahel.

*Culled from Stratfor Worldview

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Burkina Faso: World Bank Approves $60 Million to Strengthen Local Government
August 8, 2017 | 0 Comments
Cheick Kanté, World Bank Country Manager for Burkina Faso.

Cheick Kanté, World Bank Country Manager for Burkina Faso.

WASHINGTON, August 4, 2017-Today, the World Bank approved a $60 million International Development Association (IDA)* grant to Burkina Faso for the Local Government Support Project(Programme d’appui aux collectivités territoriales–PACT). 

The grant is an additional financing of the original project, which seeks to strengthen the national capacity for decentralization, the institutional capacities of communes in all regions and to increase citizen participation in local governance.
PACT responds to government priorities to reform public institutions.
It will help increase opportunities for improving the quality of service delivery at the local government level. The project contributes to decentralized service delivery and improved local governance, which serve as a critical pathway to improving services to citizens in Burkina Faso.
“This additional financing would supportthe government’s objectives for decentralization by improving the enabling environment and operational effectiveness of local governments, so that decentralization can be rolled out more effectively, in line with the objectives of the national economic and social development plan – PNDES – especially the third strategic objective on decentralization and good local governance.
The additional resources will support not only an enhanced delivery of public services, but will also promote inclusive development outcomes in Burkina Faso,” said Cheick Kanté, World Bank Country Manager for Burkina Faso.
* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 75 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa.
Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.5 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $18 billion over the last three years, with about 54 percent going to Africa.
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US military investigating Cameroon base torture allegations
August 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY JULIA MANCHESTER *

The U.S. has begun investigating allegations of torture involving U.S.-supported Cameroonian troops on a base used by U.S. military advisers.

The head of U.S. Africa Command Gen. Thomas Waldhauser initiated the inquiry, an official confirmed to CNN on Friday.

Amnesty International first raised the allegations in a July report that claimed detainees endured beatings and instances of individuals being tortured to death.

The report said torture had occurred at military sites, including four military bases.

U.S. and French military personnel have been present at the Rapid Intervention Batallion (BIR) headquarters in Salak, which was one of the sites where a majority of the victims were tortured, Amnesty International claimed.

The U.S. has provided military support in Cameroon’s fight to combat the ISIS-linked terror organization Boko Haram.

Amnesty claims hundred of people are accused without evidence of working with the terror group in Cameroon.

“I can confirm that at the request of the AFRICOM commander an inquiry is being conducting into the Cameroon torture allegations,” U.S. Army Major Audricia Harris told CNN on Friday.
“At any time up to 300 US military personnel advise and assist the Cameroonian Rapid Intervention Battalion as part of a broader multinational effort to counter violent extremist organizations in the Lake Chad Basin region,” Harris added.
*The Hill
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AU: Return of Nigerian Refugees from Cameroon Should Be Voluntary
August 2, 2017 | 0 Comments

By Moki Edwin Kindzeka*

FILE - Refugees are seen gathered at Minawao Refugee Camp in northern Cameroon, April 18, 2016. The U.N. refugee agency has called on Cameroon to stop forcibly repatriating Nigerians refugees on its territory.

FILE – Refugees are seen gathered at Minawao Refugee Camp in northern Cameroon, April 18, 2016. The U.N. refugee agency has called on Cameroon to stop forcibly repatriating Nigerians refugees on its territory.

The African Union Peace and Security Council has urged Cameroon to ensure the repatriation of Nigerian refugees fleeing Boko Haram is done on a voluntary basis.

Hundreds of refugees, most of them children, complain they are thirsty and hungry as they leave Cameroon on their way back to Nigeria.

They are escorted by troops from the multinational joint task force fighting the Boko Haram insurgency.

Cameroon Red Cross official Joseph Guisso is among the humanitarian staff accompanying the refugees. He said the military escort is necessary because Boko Haram fighters can surprise them at any moment.

He said they have confidence in the task force and strongly believe the killings will end soon.

The soldiers told VOA Boko Haram has been organizing sporadic attacks on a small scale since January. During the past two years, the regional force has retaken much of the territory Boko Haram once controlled.

The number of Nigerian refugees repatriated from Cameroon has not been made public. In March, the governments of the two countries signed a tripartite agreement with UNHCR that stipulated the repatriations must be voluntary.

In June, the U.N. refugee agency condemned what it called the Cameroonian government’s forced repatriation of 887 Nigerian refugees to the border town of Banki. The United Nations said there had been other similar incidents.

Cameroon’s government has denied allegations of forced returns.

Cameroon has struggled to meet the humanitarian needs of the approximately 115,000 Nigerian refugees within its borders, as well as an estimated 200,000 Cameroonians displaced by the conflict.

Suicide attacks have picked up recently in border areas in Cameroon, with at least 30 attacks reported in June, including some targeting refugee camps. Far North region of Cameroon Governor Midjiyawa Bakari has argued it would be better for refugees to go to safer localities in their own country.

A delegation from the African Union visited the northern town of Maroua on Friday. The chairman of the African Union Peace and Security Council, Nigerian-born Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, led the delegation. He told VOA only refugees who choose to go back should be repatriated.

“We want to thank the government and people of Cameroon first for hosting these refugees and coordinating all the necessary sectors. With the United Nations agencies, we are suggesting and proposing that all the refugees should return in safety and in dignity,” said Adeoye.

Aid agencies have also expressed concern about the conditions to which refugees are returning. UNHCR and Doctors without Borders have warned food, water and other resources are dangerously overstretched in border communities in Nigeria.

*VOA

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Acting President (Vice President) Osinbajo Inaugurates 1.5 Billion USD Fertilizer Plant in Nigeria
July 28, 2017 | 0 Comments
The Plant has a production capacity of 4000 metric tons (MT) of nitrogenous fertilizers per day or 1.5 MT per annum
The Plant has a production capacity of 4000 metric tonnes (MT) of nitrogenous fertilisers per day or 1.5 MT per annum. The world-scale plant was built with an investment of $1.5 billion, a huge Foreign Direct Investment, funded by the International Finance Corporation.

The Plant has a production capacity of 4000 metric tonnes (MT) of nitrogenous fertilisers per day or 1.5 MT per annum. The world-scale plant was built with an investment of $1.5 billion, a huge Foreign Direct Investment, funded by the International Finance Corporation.

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, July 27, 2017/ — Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo today in Port Harcourt inaugurated a giant world-class fertilizer plant, built by Indorama (www.Indorama.com) Eleme Fertilizer and Chemicals Limited at the cost of $1.5 billion.

The acting President used the opportunity to remind all Nigerians that time has come for them to grow whatever they eat and produce whatever they consume.

“What Indorama is accomplishing today is very much in line with President Buhari’s vision for a country that produces what it consumes and grows what it eats. If you had to sum up our vision for the Nigerian economy in a few words, these would suffice. Grow what we eat, produce what we consume,” he said.
Prof Osinbajo commended Indorama for keying into the Presidential Fertilizer initiative which President Buhari launched last year to make fertilizers cheaper nationwide.

“At the end of last year, the President launched a Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, to ensure the availability of cheaper fertilizer to our farmers, to support what we’re doing in agriculture, in the production of rice and wheat and other staples.

“That Fertilizer Initiative, now well underway, has created significant economic opportunities for companies like Indorama Eleme Fertilizer & Chemicals Limited.
“I have been informed that Indorama will this year alone supply about 360,000 Metric Tons of Urea to Fertilizer blenders, which, in turn, will produce NPK fertilizer for the benefit of farmers across the country.

“This is the kind of economic progress we’re after, in which every unlocked opportunity proceeds to unlock several others, across multiple sectors of the economy.”
The acting President said that the Buhari administration will continue to support Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited, which was privatised in 2006 by the Federal Government.

According to him, the company has turned out to be a huge success story. “I am glad that we’re here today to see one of the success stories of the Federal Government’s privatisation programme,” he said.

“We will continue to support Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited’s expansion ambitions. Our commitment to the privatisation programme is equally assured, and we will continue to do everything to support investors to maximise the potential of their assets,” he said.

Earlier in his address, the Chairman of Indorama Corporation, Mr Sri Prakash Lohia said that the plant which has capacity to produce 1.5 million metric tons of fertilizer per annum is the largest single-train Urea plant in the world.
The Acting President also presented a Certificate of Discharge to the Chairman of Indorama Group, Mr Lohia and the Managing Director, Mr Manish Mundra for successfully accomplishing the post purchase agreement entered into with the Bureau of Public Enterprises on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

“Following the 2006 handover, the BPE carried out routine monitoring on the enterprise to ensure that the core investor adhered to and implemented the post-acquisition plan it had laid out for the company.”

“Today is the culmination of that process of monitoring and oversight by the BPE. I am delighted that it is taking place on an inspiring and hopeful note, and that we are all here today celebrating a thriving and promising company. We should not take this state of affairs for granted,” he said.

The Plant has a production capacity of 4000 metric tons (MT) of nitrogenous fertilizers per day or 1.5 MT per annum. The world-scale plant has been built with an investment of USD 1.5 billion, a huge Foreign Direct Investment, funded by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and a Consortium of 15 European and African banks and Financial Institutions.

Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, in his speech said that for Indorama to invest a whopping $1.5 billion in the state, it shows that the state is safe for investors and their investments. He called on other investors to emulate the footsteps of Indorama.
The fertilizer plant is well supported by Port Terminal at the nearby Onne Port Complex, and a Gas Pipeline of 83.5KM for gas supply.

The plant will bring about a green revolution in the agriculture sector not only in Nigeria but also in other parts of Africa and world at large.
Besides, making the fertilizer products to be available at affordable cost, the plant will boost crop yield to farmers and greatly help in minimizing the food grain deficit in Nigeria.

The plant has also generated lots of job opportunities contributing to the economic prosperity of Nigeria.
The construction of the plant commenced in April 2013 and completed in December 2015. The commissioning activities were concluded in March 2016 and the commercial production started in June 2016.

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Women Advancing Africa placing women at the centre stage of Africa’s Economic Advancement
July 28, 2017 | 0 Comments
The Women Advancing Africa Forum is set to bring some of the continent’s best and brightest minds together to shape a common agenda to accelerate the economic advancement of women in Africa
Graca Machel

Graca Machel

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, July 28, 2017/ — The inaugural Women Advancing Africa (WAA) Forum is a new Pan-African flagship initiative launched by the Graça Machel Trust to acknowledge and celebrate the central role women play in shaping Africa’s development agenda and by driving social and economic transformation. The Forum will take place from 9-12 August in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania at the Hyatt Kilimanjaro.
Mrs. Graça Machel says, “Africa has experienced tremendous development in the last few decades, however a significant gap in the economic advancement of women remains a huge challenge.

Africa is in a second liberation era – the economic liberation. Women can no longer be secondary or marginal, and through Women Advancing Africa the Trust wants to enable women to take centre stage in the economic advancement of Africa. The Trust is establishing a platform for women to claim their right to sit at the table where the decisions are made and to shape the policies, plans and strategies for our futures and those of the generations to come.”

The Trust is honoured to have H.E. Samia Suluhu Hassan, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania and member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment join the WAA Forum to share her insights on issues that will be discussed over the four days. The Forum will consist of interactive sessions organised around three core pillars: Financial Inclusion, Market Access and Social Change.
Inter-generational and inter-sectoral mix of participants attending WAA Forum

With an estimated attendance of 200 participants from across the continent, the WAA Forum will play host to a diverse mix of women and youth representing thought leaders and influencers from the private sector, philanthropy, academia, civil society, government, development agencies and the media who will bring their voices, experiences and ideas to strategize, set priorities and craft a common agenda to drive Africa’s social and economic transformation.
A number of speakers from key economic sectors such as mining & extractives, agri-business, banking, telecommunications, media, healthcare, goods and services will bring their knowledge and expertise to the Forum. Notable speakers include Leymah Gbowee, the Liberian peace activist and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize; Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission; Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa, Vice Governor of the National Bank of Rwanda; and Sheila Khama, Practice Manager at World Bank’s Energy and Extractive Industries Global Practice.

A Social Progress Agenda
A series of side events will also be held alongside the WAA Forum on variety of issues including Food and Nutrition, Education and Child Marriage, Leadership and Wellness, to drive home the importance of social change as an integral part of addressing women holistically.

We are honoured to be joined by Gertrude Mongella, former President of the Pan African Parliament who will be joined by some of Africa’s leading women giants who have shaped the women’s movement in the past and will bring legacy and the future face to face in a gathering at the side of the Forum.

The WAA Forum will also celebrate the diversity of African culture and creativity in all its forms, from language, to design and fashion, to movie making and dance.  This year’s Forum will celebrate African female writers and storytellers who are challenging the status quo, reshaping narratives and developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the creative industries and their role in driving social progress.

Research looking at the Narrative and Economic participation of Women in Africa
A number of reports will also be launched during the Forum. Together with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Graça Machel Trust will be launching a study on “The Female Economy in Africa”.  The study analyses the participation of the women’s work in Africa focussing on gender gaps in the economy, participating in national politics, financial inclusion and sectoral segregation.  The study provides a baseline to track and measure the progress in women’s economic activity and advancement, with regular updates on the Index being shared.

The Graça Machel Trust’s Women in Media Network will also launch a research report on the coverage and portrayal of women in media entitled: “Women in Media – What is the Narrative?” The session will be broadcast as a Facebook Live event with interactive participation in the post launch In Conversation series to stimulate a broader conversation about the narrative of women in media as well as other storytelling formats and platforms.

Announcements will be made on the WAA website www.WomenAdvancingAfrica and the WAA Facebook page www.Women Advancing Africa – WAA, closer to the time.
Another highlight of this year’s inaugural WAA Forum will be the launch of a coffee table book entitled “Women Creating Wealth: A Collection of Stories of Female Entrepreneurs from Across Africa”. The anthology celebrates women trailblazers in business with a collection of inspirational stories from Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The book features a number of enterprising women from the Trust’s women’s networks and a foreword by Mrs. Machel.  The book can be pre-ordered here (http://SheInspiresHer.com/women-creating-wealth).

A movement of women focused on economic advancement
What makes WAA unique? Mrs. Machel explains, “Women Advancing Africa provides a space to bring together the energy, innovation and creativity of women from all parts of the continent to share solutions to make us stronger, united and unstoppable. The Forum is really the catalyst to creating a much larger movement of women centred around the economic advancement of women who will collectively shape and drive a development agenda that is measurable and sustainable.” With a Pan-African footprint spanning 20 countries, the Graça Machel Trust will leverage our women’s networks in Agribusiness, Business and Entrepreneurship, Finance and the Media to work with the larger WAA movement to catalyse the Forum’s agenda into actions with measurable and sustainable outcomes.
To be part of this exciting initiative, you can register here (http://WomenAdvancingAfrica.com) or take up one of the available exhibition or side event options available.

The Trust would like to thank our generous partners who have helped make our vision a reality. Special thanks to The UPS Foundation, the Intel Foundation, American Tower Corporation, and UN Women.  Media partners include: the ABN360 Group, incorporating CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa; the Nation Group and locally based Azam Media Group. The WAA Forum’s convening partner, APCO Worldwide has worked closely with the Graça Machel Trust, providing expertise and insights to develop this one-of-a-kind women’s network.  These partners share the Trust’s belief that advancing women economically is crucial to the health and prosperity of African families, communities and nations.

 

The Graça Machel Trust is an organisation that works across the continent to drive positive change across women’s and children’s rights, as well as governance and leadership. Through our support of local initiatives and connecting key stakeholders at a regional, national and sub-national level, we help to catalyse action where it is needed.  By using our convening power the Trust seeks to: amplify the voices of women and children in Africa; influence governance; promote women’s contributions and leadership in the economic social and political development of Africa.

The Network of African Business Women (NABW) provides women with opportunities to freely and effectively participate in the economic development of their countries through the establishment of sustainable business ventures. Through training, mentorship and capacity building, the Network supports business women’s associations and existing business women generating a much needed upsurge of growth-oriented, African women entrepreneurs.

The African Women in Agribusiness Network (AWAB) addresses challenges in food security and identifies opportunities for women in the agricultural sector. The network advocates for initiatives that enhance women’s competitiveness in local and global markets. AWAB also seeks to foster market linkages for women, connecting them to projects in the agricultural sector that can improve their access to resources, knowledge and training.

New Faces New Voices (NFNV)

New Faces New Voices (NFNV) advocates for women’s access to finance and financial services. The network aims to bridge the funding gap in financing women-owned businesses in Africa and to lobby for policy and legislative changes. The overall objective of the network is to advance the financial inclusion of women by bringing more women into the formal financial system.

The Women in Media Network (WIMN) is the latest Pan-African network established by the Trust.  It comprises a network of African women journalists who individually and collectively use their influence and voice to help shape and disseminate empowering storylines about Africa’s women and children.

Founded in 1984, APCO Worldwide is an independent global communication, stakeholder engagement and business strategy firm with offices in more than 30 major cities throughout the world. We challenge conventional thinking and inspire movements to help our clients succeed in an ever-changing world. Stakeholders are at the core of all we do. We turn the insights that come from our deep stakeholder relationships into forward-looking, creative solutions that always push the boundaries. APCO clients include large multinational companies, trade associations, governments, NGOs and educational institutions. The firm is a majority women-owned business

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The African trade revolution quietly afoot
July 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

In a tumultuous year for the global trading landscape, negotiations for a huge Africa-wide free trade area are progressing rapidly.

BY DAVID LUKE*

Across the developed world, longstanding advocates of free trade are in retreat. America has withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and stepped back from the World Trade Organisation. Meanwhile, a crisis is brewing at the heart of the European single market.

Recognition has grown that the inequalities generated by trade are not being sufficiently addressed. And this has fuelled an anti-trade populism.

Noting these tumultuous trends, international institutions from the OECD to the International Monetary Fund and G20 have sought to reaffirm the benefits of trade and argued against protectionism.

A quiet revolution

Set against this uproar, an African trade revolution is also quietly afoot. The innovation is the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA). A boldly ambitious endeavour, the CFTA seeks to combine the economies of 55 African states under a pan-African free trade area comprising 1.2 billion people in a market with a combined GDP of $2.19 trillion.

Announced in 2012 by the African Union (AU) heads of state and government, the CFTA is the first flagship initiative of the AU’s Agenda 2063. It will reduce tariffs between African countries, introduce mechanisms to address the often more substantial non-tariff barriers, liberalise service sectors, and facilitate cross-border trade. This will also help rationalise the overlapping free trade areas that already exist within Africa.

The CFTA negotiations are complex. The 55 participating countries span a diversity of economic and geographic configurations. 15 are landlocked, while 6 are Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The biggest (Nigeria) has a GDP of $568 billion, while the smallest (Sao Tome & Principe) a GDP of just $337 million.

Rapid progress

Many outside observers have been quick to cast pessimism upon the project. This is not just because of the challenging world trade environment and complexity of negotiations, but Africa’s history of trade negotiations.

In particular, the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) between the European Union and African regional economic communities have proved an infamous failure. Despite 14 years of negotiations, only one EPA – that with Southern Africa – has been concluded.

With expectations low, the rapid progress in the CFTA negotiations is therefore all the more remarkable. The first negotiating forum was launched in February 2016. Since then, five more negotiating rounds have been concluded.

The most recent, held in Niger, determined modalities for trade in goods and services. It also pronounced a level of ambition to liberalise 90% of tariff lines – substantially more than aspired to in the EPAs – and establish a review mechanism to gradually lift this further.

The remainder of 2017 will see technical working group meetings and two more negotiating rounds to refine market access offers and the legal text of the agreement. The intention is to finish negotiations by the end of this year.

One African chief negotiator commenting at the last negotiating round remarked that he had “never seen negotiations move so rapidly”.

Boosting intra-African trade

These impressive achievements are being realised by political commitment at the highest level and a pan-African resolve to cooperate and compromise. Pan-Africanist forefathers like Kwame Nkrumah would be proud.

Success also derives from a shared belief in the project. Studies by the UN Economic Commission for Africa and UNCTAD identify the potential for the CFTA to boost intra-African trade. This would help diversify Africa’s exports away from a dependence on commodities that is little changed since colonial times.

Source: CEPI-BACI Trade Dataset, three year average (2012-14).

Source: CEPI-BACI Trade Dataset, three year average (2012-14).

Intra-African trade is substantially more diversified than Africa’s trade with the outside world. It comprises a greater share of value-added and industrial products such as textiles, cement, soap, pharmaceuticals, and even automobiles from South Africa as well as primary and processed food items. Services such as banking, telecoms, energy and transport are also being traded across borders. The CFTA forms part of an African strategy for industrialising through trade.

It could also help piece together Africa’s small fragmented markets to realise economies of scale necessary for industrial investment and growth. Niger’s President Issoufou Mahamadou, the African Union Champion for the CFTA, recently lamented looking upon a map of Africa as a “broken mirror”. The CFTA can help to fix this.

Making it a win-win

The CFTA, however, is no panacea. It must be accompanied by investments in infrastructure, energy and trade facilitation.

This is critical if sufficient jobs are to be created for Africa’s youth. 60% of Africa’s population is 24 or below and about to enter the workforce. Yet a shortage of opportunities contributes to high youth unemployment, poverty rates approaching 70%, and pressures to migrate.

It is also important not to overlook the origins of populist sentiment against free trade elsewhere in the world. Trade produces both winners and losers. The problem is that while gains can compensate losses in theory, that is not happening in practice.

Recognition of this has fuelled rethinking of trade policy across the world. For instance, the Canada-European Union trade agreement (CETA) was reworked following the election of the Trudeau administration to better reflect a new “progressive trade policy”.

The CFTA must likewise be crafted as a win-win agreement that leaves no one behind. Here, the UN Economic Commission for Africa has undertaken a human rights impact assessment of the initiative and advocated for a number of supporting measures.

This includes strategies to protect small-holder farmers and help them integrate into regional agricultural value chains. It calls for improving border controls to help informal cross-border traders, many of whom are women and major players in intra-African trade.

It also demands an approach that benefits Africa’s diversity of countries, including those which are small, island economies, landlocked or fragile states. One way to achieve this is by supporting initiatives for regional value chains and connectivity that have proven successful in Africa’s regional economic communities.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Light shines at the end of the tunnel for the CFTA, but obstacles remain. Implementation is a key but persistent challenge on the continent. To quote Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, former Chairperson of the AU Commission, “I don’t think Africa is short of policies. We have to implement. That is where the problem is”.

The commitment and belief shown in the CFTA by African leaders must be seen through for the benefits of the CFTA to be realised.

The reward would appear to be worth it. Africa’s consumer market is the fastest growing in the world.  In just over 30 years from now, by 2050, it will comprise a population larger than that of India and China combined. This is the right time to seize the opportunities generated by such a large market.

*African Arguments.David Luke is Coordinator of the African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) at the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

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A forgotten community: The little town in Niger keeping the lights on in France
July 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

Welcome to Arlit, the impoverished uranium capital of Africa.

BY LUCAS DESTRIJCKER & MAHADI DIOUARA*

From Niamey, the capital of the landlocked West African nation of Niger, we call ahead to a desert town in the remote north of the country.

“Journalists? On their way here? It’s been a while”, we hear down the phone from our contact. “We welcome you with open arms, but only on the pretence that you’re visiting to interview migrants on their way to Algeria. If they find out you’re poking your nose in their business, it’s a lost cause.”

That same evening, the public bus jolts as it sets off. Destination: the gates of the Sahara.

The stuffy subtropical heat gradually fades into scorching drought and plains of seemingly endless ochre sands. About two days later, we pass through a gateway with “Arlit” written on it in rusty letters.

The town of about 120,000 inhabitants is located in one of the Sahel’s most remote regions, not far from the Algerian border. The surrounding area is known to be the operating territory of numerous bandits and armed groups, including Islamist militants. It is like an island in the middle of the desert, an artificial oasis with only one raison d’être: uranium.

Areva in Arlit

For Arlit, 2 February 1968 was a crucial date. Eight years earlier, Niger had gained its independence from France, but now, the former colonial power was deepening its role in the country once again. After years of research, the French government had decided to open its first uranium mine in the area.

Starting production was relatively straightforward. “In the West you need a bookshelf full of permissions and certificates. In Niger, you give someone a spade and two dollars a day, and you’re mining uranium”, wrote journalist Danny Forston when he visited the town.

And so it went. The first shovel in the northern sand was accompanied by handshakes and the promise of an honest collaboration between one of the world’s least developed countries and its former coloniser. The French swore that Arlit would soon be known as Le Petit Paris.

Since then, approximately 150,000 tonnes of uranium have been extracted by the majority state-owned French company Areva, which is now one of the largest uranium producers in the world. The two mines around Arlit – Somaïr and Cominak – account for around a third of the multi-billion-dollar company’s total global production.

France uses this uranium to generate nuclear power, some of which is sold on to other European countries. According to Oxfam, over one-third of all lamps in France light up thanks to uranium from Niger.

However, in contrast to France, Niger has failed to see similar benefits. The West African country has become the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, which contributes tens of millions to the nation’s budget each year. Yet it has remained one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries, with almost half its 20 million population living below the poverty line. Its annual budget has typically been a fraction of Areva’s yearly revenue.

The main reason for this is the deal struck between Areva and Niger. The details have not been made public, but some journalists and activists such as Ali Idrissa, who campaigns for more transparency in the industry, have seen the agreement. Amongst other things, the documents suggest that the original deal generously exempted Areva from customs, export, fuel, materials and revenue taxes.

In 2014, Niger attempted to re-negotiate. As the agreement came up for renewal, the government called for the tax breaks to be removed and for the low royalty rate to be raised from 5.5% to 12-15%. Areva insisted this would make its activities unprofitable and suspended operations for two weeks during negotiations, officially for maintenance reasons.

Eventually a new deal was agreed, but the power dynamic between Areva and Niger had been made clear in the drawn out negotiations.

Apart from criticising the Nigerien government for not spending its uranium revenue where it is most needed – such as in health care, education and agriculture – Idrissa emphasises the bigger geopolitical picture: “Don’t forget that Niger isn’t just negotiating with a regular company, but with the French state. Their development aid, military and political support means that we cannot ignore our former coloniser. Our dependency from France goes hand in hand with crooked business deals.”

Forgotten in the desert

Exhausted from the long journey to Arlit, we’re received in the dingy office of Mouvement Unique des Organisations de la Société Civile d’Arlit (MUOSCA), a local umbrella group for environmental and humanitarian NGOs.

In the corner sits an old ventilator covered in cobwebs. It seems needless to ask if it still works. Either way, there’s no power today.

“If either Areva or the government were to find out you’re poking your nose in their business, they’ll go to any length to make your work very difficult”, says MUOSCA’s director Dan Ballan Mahaman Sani as he wipes the sweat from his brow. “Besides that, Westerners are attractive targets in this region.”

Indeed, there is a history of Islamist militant attacks and kidnappings in the area, including some directly targeting Areva. In 2010, seven of the company’s employees were abducted, including five French nationals. In 2013, an attack on the Somaïr mine left one dead and 16 injured.

While the world held its breath as armed groups stepped up operations in the region, Areva, managed to extract over 4,000 tons of uranium, up from two years before, without too much trouble.

Dan Ballan says this illustrates how far the Nigerien uranium industry stands apart from the country’s social environment and how isolated Arlit has become especially amidst regional insecurity.

“International NGOs or UN agencies don’t exist here, and Areva has nothing to fear from the Nigerien government,” he says. “We’re literally a forgotten community, completely left to the mercy of the multinational.”

Finding water

According to Dan Ballan and others, the uranium mining industry has taken a huge toll on Arlit and the region. While Areva has a multi-billion-dollar turnover, the majority of people here live in a patchwork of corrugated iron shelters on sandstone foundations. Poverty is rife. Power outages lasting two or more days are regarded as normal.

Moreover, while the uranium mines consume millions of litres each day, only a small proportion of Arlit’s Nigerien population enjoy running water. A 2010 Greenpeace studyestimated that 270 billion litres of water had been used by the mines over decades of operations, draining a fossil aquifer more than 150 metres deep. The depletion of these ancient water reserves has contributed to desertification and the drying up of vegetation.

“There’s not much fauna and flora left here. Local herdsmen left years ago,” says a water seller by the side of the road. Each day, he fills 25-litre containers with water from wells outside of town, and pushes a cart loaded with them into the city centre.

An elderly customer buys his daily portion of water, while the seller casually wipes off a layer of red dust from the can. “Look at this,” says the man. “All this while, a few kilometres away, Areva consumes millions of litres a day.”

The water in Arlit, however, is not only scarce. Researchers over the years also suggest that, along with the soil and air, it contains alarming levels of radiotoxins.

Bruno Chareyon, director of the French Commission for Independent Research and Information on Radiation (CRIIAD), has been measuring radioactivity in and around Arlit for over a decade. His studies from 2003 and 2004 suggested that the drinking water contains levels of uranium at ten to hundred times the World Health Organisation’s recommended safety standards.

“Despite these findings, Areva has stated continuously that they haven’t measured any excess radioactivity during their biannual examinations,” he says.

In 2009, Greenpeace conducted their own tests and found that five of six examined wells – all used to get drinking water – contained excess radioactivity as well as traces of toxins such as sulphates and nitrates.

When asked about this, Moussa Soley, Areva’s spokesperson in Niger, answered that this was simply the result of “natural contamination”.

Toxic waste

At the bustling local market in Arlit, down some meandering alleyways, there are the normal wares, but among them one finds some more peculiar items: large industrial cogs; parts of metal cranes; digging equipment; and even a dump truck.

“All of these are cast-downs from the mines,” says Dan Ballan. “Useless material finds its way to local merchants, who recuperate it and sell it on. Most of them have no idea of the risks.”

CRIIRAD readings of goods at the market from 2003 and 2004 showed radioactivity levels at up to 25 times the maximum standards. “People buy radioactive material to cook with, build their homes with, or raise their children with,” says Dan Ballan.

Back in 2004, Areva admitted that mining equipment finds its way to markets, but said that it was doing its best to counter these activities with local authorities. The scrap metal found at the market suggests Areva’s campaign has not been fully effective.

As well as old discarded equipment, the mining industry also produces enormous amounts of toxic waste – around 5,000 tons per ton of extracted uranium. Over the years, hills of this debris have built up, containing radioactive substances such as radium, polonium, arsenic and poisonous radon gasses.

Areva’s spokesperson Solley insists that this does not pose any risk to the environment. “The open air makes sure the particles are spread around the adjacent areas,” he says. “The decay starts after just a couple of days and values are so low that there is no possibility of poisoning.”

Greenpeace and CRIIRAD confirm that radioactive dust spreads far and wide, sometimes to hundreds of kilometres away. But contrary to claims of a “superfast decay”, they say that while some products have half-lives of just days, others have half-lives of tens of years.

Furthermore, researchers say that radioactive waste is not simply dispersed. “The same radioactive rubble was used in Arlit on more than one occasion for landfills or building roads and homes”, alleges Chareyron. In 2007, CRIIRAD found that some road surfaces had radioactive values over a hundred times standard values.

After these findings, Areva claimed to have solved the problem, but Greenpeace came across similar findings in 2009. One measurement found levels over five hundred times higher than international safety standards. “This means that a person spending less than one hour a day at that location would be exposed to more than the maximum allowable annual dose,” explained one of the researchers.

Following Greenpeace’s study, Areva published its own report, denying all the environmental NGO’s allegations and highlighting its role in the Nigerien economy and for development. Areva argued that Greenpeace’s “anti-nuclear and Manichean discourse is based on public fears and disinformation, which only advocates for confrontation between local populations and the multinational.”

African Arguments’ own repeated requests for comments from Areva’s headquarters regarding various allegations were all declined.

Living with uranium

It is not difficult to come across Arlit residents suffering from serious health problems. In Akokan, a nearby community predominantly inhabited by Areva employees, we meet Hammett, 47, under a rusty shed.

“I had to quit because of unbearable pains in my joints, but I can consider myself lucky,” says the former worker. “The cases of heart attacks, strange skin conditions or permanent migraines in this place cannot be counted.”

Our conversation is interrupted by a deep thudding bang. “They’re digging in the Somaïr mine”, he explains. “The heavier the explosions, the faster they can get to work. And the more radioactive dust whirls down over Akokan.”

Elsewhere in town, Cissé, who was a technician at Areva for 25 years, limps along the road. Through the years, his right leg slowly became paralysed. “I got fired when I couldn’t perform anymore,” he says. With that, Cissé lost the right to Areva health care. “I don’t have the means to get my leg looked at elsewhere. I can only hope that one day it will get better.”

Fatima, a local inhabitant of about 50 years old, also claims to have had major health complications. “I’ve had four miscarriages and at the moment I’m suffering of an unknown skin condition on my legs,” she says. She lifts up her garments up to her knees, revealing a peculiar rash.

When asked about safety precaution for employees, Adamou Maraye, who is responsible for radiation protection at Cominak, reveals that miners are exposed to radiation up to 300 times the natural value. “That’s why we make them wear mouth masks and gloves. That should suffice as precautionary measure against radiotoxic substances”, he says, somewhat alarmingly.

The only hospitals in Arlit are run by Areva, with all the medical staff on the company payroll. The government provides no healthcare here. At the Cominak facility, Dr Alassane Seydou claims to have never diagnosed someone with a disease that could be linked to radiation or toxins. He says that in more than 40 years, not a single case of cancer has been discovered. “All employees are systematically examined, but we haven’t encountered any strange diseases,” he claims.

In 2005, the French law association Sherpa launched an investigation into Areva’s activities in Arlit. Speaking to them, one former employee at Somaïr hospital alleged that patients with cancer had been knowingly miscategorised as having HIV or malaria. The surgeon-in-chief at the hospital denied those claims.

There have been no official, large-scale health studies conducted in Arlit, but some smaller-scale studies give an indication of the prevalence of illness among residents and former Areva employees.

In 2013, the Nigerien organisation Réseau Nationale Dette et Développement interviewed 688 former Areva workers. Almost one quarter of them had suffered severe medical issues, ranging from cancer and respiratory problems to pains in their joints and bones. At least 125 had stopped work because of these health issues.

A similar survey was carried out on French former employees around the same time. In 2012, Areva was found culpable in the death of Serge Venel, an engineer in Arlit from 1978-1985. A few months before his passing, doctors had found that his cancer was caused by the “breathing of uranium particles”. The case went to court, with the judge ordering Areva to pay compensation for its “inexcusable fault”. Before the court of appeals, only the Cominak mine was found responsible.

Following the verdict, Venel’s daughter, Peggy Catrin-Venel, founded an organisation to protect the rights of former Areva employees. As part of this project, she managed to trace around 130 of about 350 French workers who had lived in Arlit at the same time as her father. 60% of those she was able to find information on had already died, most of them from the same cancer as her father.

Standing up

Catrin-Venel continues to fight against Areva, but she is not alone. As shown in the documentary Uranium, L’héritage EmpoisonnéJacqueline Gaudet is also standing up to the company.

She founded the organisation Mounana after she lost her father, mother and husband all to cancer in the space of just a few years. Her husband and father had worked at an Areva uranium mine in Gabon, while her mother lived there in a house built from mining rubble. Their cancers were reportedly caused by excessive exposure to radon, which is released during uranium extraction. In collaboration with lawyers from Sherpa and Doctors of the World, Gaudet’s organisation works to collect testimonies from former employees in order to build cases.

For Michel Brugière, former director of Doctors of the World, it’s still unthinkable that so many employees of the French state-owned company could fall ill like this. Speaking in the documentary, he commented: “How can one allow one’s staff to live and work in such a polluted environment? This is unbelievable. It’s reminiscent of long gone abuses.”

In the same vein, Greenpeace describes Arlit as a forgotten battlefield of the nuclear industry. “There are few places where the catastrophic effects of uranium mining on nearby communities and the environment are felt more distinctly than in Niger”, said researcher Andrea Dixon.

Back in Arlit, the stories of French former employees standing up to Areva are well-known. But the struggle for Nigerien workers to get recognised is even steeper than in Europe. “Both the legal system and the financial means to stand up for our rights are lacking”, says Dan Ballan. “In a couple of years, the uranium reserves will be depleted and Areva will leave, however the pollution and underdevelopment will stay behind.”

He may be right, but Areva will not be going far. About 80km away, a third and enormous new Nigerien uranium mine called Imouraren is being developed. “Lacking any perspective of another job, the workers will eventually move wherever the mine is”, says the local activist.

In our last hours in Arlit we drive around in town. It’s the afternoon, the sky is dark red, and a harsh wind is blowing. A new sandstorm is gathering. We try not to think of the particles it carries from the radioactive hills.

The stormy twilight reveals bright yellow grains by the side of the road. “Sulphur,” our driver says. “It’s used in the mines, but it’s everywhere.” Between the yellow dust, a boy draws figures in the sand.

Along the so-called uranium route, which connects Arlit with Agadez and the Nigerien capital, we finally leave the mining area. It’s the same road Areva uses to transport the uranium to the West African ports. From there, much of it is shipped on to one of 58 French nuclear plants where it’s used to power light bulbs, computers and technologies – all thousands of miles away from dusty Nigerien desert and Arlit, the little town that pays the ultimate price to keep the lights on in France.

*African Arguments.Lucas Destrijcker is a Belgian freelance journalist and photographer focusing on (forced) migration, conflict and development. He works as a reporting officer for the United Nations in the Central African Republic. Mahadi Diouara is a Malian journalist, photographer and cameraman specialising in the Sahel region and Francophone Africa. He worked for AFP, France 24 and Reuters, for which he reported from his home town Gao during the civil war in 2012 and 2013. Today he has his own communication agency in Bamako.This story was realised with the support of Free Press Unlimited and the Lira Starting Grant for Young Journalists of the Fonds voor Bijzondere Journalistieke Projecten.

 

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