Humans Spread From Africa in One Wave, DNA Shows (NYT)

By Carl Zimmer (NYT)

Did humans flood out of Africa in a single diaspora, or did we trickle from the continent in waves spread out over tens of thousands of years? The question, one of the biggest in human evolution, has plagued scientists for decades.

 

Now they may have found an answer.

In a series of unprecedented genetic analyses published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, three separate teams of researchers conclude that all non­Africans today trace their ancestry to a single population emerging from Africa between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago.

 

“I think all three studies are basically saying the same thing,” said Joshua M. Akey of the University of Washington, who wrote a commentary accompanying the new work. “We know there were multiple dispersals out of Africa, but we can trace our ancestry back to a single one.”

 

The three teams sequenced the genomes of 787 people, obtaining highly detailed scans of each. The genomes were drawn from people in hundreds of indigenous populations around the world — Basques, African pygmies, Mayans, Bedouins, Sherpas and Cree Indians, to name just a few.

 

The DNA of older indigenous populations may be essential to understanding human history, many geneticists believe. Yet until now scientists have sequenced few whole genomes from people outside population centers like Europe and China. The new findings already are altering scientific understanding of what human DNA looks like, experts said, adding a rich diversity of variation to our map of the genome.

 

Each team of researchers used sets of genomes to tackle different questions about our origins, such as how people spread across Africa and how others populated Australia. But all aimed to settle the question of human expansion from Africa.

 

In the 1980s, a group of paleoanthropologists and geneticists began championing a hypothesis that modern humans emerged only once from Africa, roughly 50,000 years ago. Skeletons and tools discovered at archaeological sites clearly indicated the existence of modern humans in Europe, Asia and Australia.

 

Early studies of bits of DNA also supported this scenario. All non­Africans are closely related to one another, the studies found, and they all branch from a genetic tree rooted in Africa.

Yet there are also clues that at least some modern humans lived outside of Africa well before 50,000 years ago, perhaps part of an earlier wave of migration.

In Israel, for example, researchers found a few distinctively modern human skeletons that are between 120,000 and 90,000 years old. In Saudi Arabia and India, they discovered sophisticated tools dating back as far as 100,000 years.

Last October, Chinese scientists reported finding teeth belonging to Homo sapiens that are at least 80,000 years old and perhaps as old as 120,000 years.

 

Some scientists have argued from these finds that there was a human expansion from Africa earlier than 50,000 years ago. In 2011 Eske Willerslev, a renowned geneticist at the University of Copenhagen, and his colleagues reported evidence that some living people descended from this early wave.

Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues reconstructed the genome of an Aboriginal Australian from a century­old lock of hair kept in a museum — the first reconstruction of its kind. The DNA held a number of peculiar variants not found in Europeans or Asians.

He concluded that the ancestors of Aboriginals split off from other non­Africans and moved eastward, eventually arriving in East Asia 62,000 to 75,000 years ago. Tens of thousands of years later, a separate population of Africans spread into Europe and Asia.

It was a big conclusion to draw from a single fragile genome, so Dr. Willerslev decided to contact living Aboriginals to see if they’d participate in a new genetic study. He joined David W. Lambert, a geneticist at Griffith University in Australia, who was already meeting with Aboriginal communities about beginning such a study.

Their new paper also includes DNA from people in Papua New Guinea, thanks to a collaboration with scientists at the University of Oxford. All told, the scientists were able to sequence 83 genomes from Aboriginal Australians and 25 from people in Papua New Guinea, all with far greater accuracy than in Dr. Willerslev’s 2011 study.

Meanwhile, Mait Metspalu of the Estonian Biocentre was leading a team of 98 scientists on another genome­gathering project.

They picked out 148 populations to sample, mostly in Europe and Asia, with a few genomes from Africa and Australia. They, too, sequenced 483 genomes at high resolution.

David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, and his colleagues assembled a third database of genomes from all five continents. The Simons Genome Diversity Project, sponsored by the Simons Foundation and the National Science Foundation, contains 300 high­quality genomes from 142 populations.

Dr. Reich and his colleagues probed their data for the oldest evidence of human groups genetically separating from one another.

They found that the ancestors of the KhoiSan, hunter­gatherers living today in southern Africa, began to split off from other living humans about 200,000 years ago and were fully isolated by 100,000 years ago.

Earlier studies had estimated that the split between living groups of humans occurred much more recently. The new findings indicate that our ancestors already had evolved behaviors seen in living humans, such as language, 200,000 years ago.

Dr. Reich and his colleagues then investigated whether people in Australia and Papua New Guinea descended from an early wave of humans from Africa. They could find no evidence supporting that idea in the genomes.

The people of Australia and Papua New Guinea descended from the same expansion of Africans that produced Europeans and Asians, Dr. Reich’s team decided

Working with a separate set of genomes, Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues came to much the same conclusion. “The vast majority of their ancestry — if not all of it — is coming from the same out­of­Africa wave as Europeans and Asians,” said Dr. Willerslev.

Dr. Metspalu and his colleagues ended up with a somewhat different result when they looked at the Estonian Biocentre data.

They compared chunks of DNA from different genomes to see how long ago people inherited them from a common ancestor.

Almost all the DNA from non­Africans today could be traced back to one population that lived about 75,000 years ago — presumably a group of Africans who eventually left the continent and settled the rest of the world. That squares with the conclusions of the other two studies.

 

But in Papua New Guinea, Dr. Metspalu and his colleagues found, the story was a little different. They could trace 98 percent of each person’s DNA to that 75,000­year­old group. But the other 2 percent was much older.

Some people in Papua New Guinea — but no one else in the analyses — may carry a trace of DNA from a much older wave of Africans who left the continent as long as 140,000 years ago, and then vanished.

 

The second wave — the one from which the rest of the world descends — departed over 60,000 years later, the researchers suggest. The ancestors of the people of Papua New Guinea interbred with those first pioneers on their way east, which is why their descendants carry remarkable DNA.

 

Why leave Africa at all? Scientists have found some clues as to that mystery, too.

 

In a fourth paper in Nature, researchers described a computer model of Earth’s recent climatic and ecological history. It shows that changing rainfall patterns periodically opened up corridors from Africa into Eurasia that humans may have followed in search of food.

 

Huw Groucutt, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, criticized the new studies as too simplistic. It’s incorrect, he said, to try to split non­Africans into just two distinct groups — one 120,000 years ago, and one closer to 50,000 years ago.

 

He suspects that there were several early waves from Africa, whose descendants combined into a complex gene pool. “It’s probably much more about populations expanding and contracting, fusing and separating,” said Dr. Groucutt.

Luca Pagani, a co­author of Dr. Metspalu at the University of Cambridge and the Estonian Biocentre, said that their findings suggest a population of early human pioneers were able to survive for tens of thousands of years.

 

But when the last wave came out of Africa, descendants of the first wave disappeared. Why?

 

“They may have not been technologically advanced, living in small groups,” Dr. Pagani said of the people of the early wave. “Maybe it was easy for a major later wave that was more successful to wipe them out.”

 

(LA Times) Why a congresswoman from Los Angeles is talking about Africa

la-pol-ca-bass-africa-breakfast-20160223-001

From left: Rep. Karen Bass, Sheila Siwela, Zambia’s Ambassador to the U.S., and Tebelelo Mazile Seretse, Botswana’s Ambassador to the U.S. (Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

By Sarah D. Wire Contact Reporter

It’s 8 a.m., Congress isn’t in session and Washington’s roads are icy, but more than 100 ambassadors, academics, African emigres and heads of humanitarian groups have crammed into a basement room of the U.S. Capitol for an unofficial meeting about how Boko Haram and other terrorism groups are stunting African progress.

The regular breakfasts are the brainchild of Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who is frustrated by a lack of attention paid to the continent and sees her own constituents with deep interest in policy toward Africa.

“In community organizing, you believe that the best policy is made by having those people that are most affected by the policy at the table. It’s not rocket science. If you do policy in a vacuum it can have unintended consequences,” she said in an interview after the meeting.

Bass first got involved in African policy because of South African apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s when she co-chaired the local Southern Africa Support Committee.

When apartheid ended, and Nelson Mandela was freed from prison in 1990, Bass’ attention shifted to stopping crack cocaine abuse and gang violence in  South-Central L.A. Bass started and ran the Community Coalition, a social justice organization. In 2004, she was elected to the state Assembly and in 2008 was the first African American woman in U.S. history elected speaker of a state legislative body.

“I stopped doing international work and just focused on domestic work. One of the reasons I was excited about coming to Congress is I could do both,” Bass said. “I really took almost a 20-year hiatus away from foreign policy.”

She views it as her responsibility.

“The same way it was my responsibility to figure out how to address the gang and crack intersection in South-Central, I also felt it was my responsibility to help fight to end apartheid and especially the U.S. government’s policies,” Bass said.

When she joined the House Foreign Affairs Committee after taking office in 2011, Bass said it didn’t feel like those actually affected by the committee’s decisions had a voice.

“When I would go to hearings on Africa, you would have no Africans participating, but they are sitting there in the audience while we’re talking about their countries. That just seemed odd to me,” she said.

She is now the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights, and International Organizations. Other Foreign Affairs Subcommittees focus narrowly on one or two subjects.

“That in and of itself to me kind of says that Africa is not a big enough priority to have its own focused subcommittee,” she said. “We could go easily a month or two without having a hearing on Africa [with] so many subject matters.”

Bass said she’s gone out of her way to work with the Foreign Affairs Committee, not supersede it, by having committee leaders co-host the breakfasts or speak.

Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) said a wider group of people are excited about legislation before the committee because of Bass’ breakfast meetings. He’s spoken at a few.

“It’s effective,” he said. “Karen Bass is able to strategically use the enthusiasm of those who participate in the breakfasts in order to try to assist us.”

Royce pointed to several cases, including a bill recently signed by President Obama aimed at electrical infrastructure around the continent, the global anti-poaching act and congressional response to Ebola.

Bass said Africa may seem so far away to her Los Angeles constituents, “but we have a huge diaspora community in L.A.”

Her district includes Little Ethiopia, a block-long stretch on Fairfax Avenue between West Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive.

“Even Little Ethiopia is a commercial strip. It is not like Ethiopians reside in that area. I’m sure some do, but that area’s very, very mixed,” she said.

She plans to talk with Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council about a trade mission and also a seminar to connect federal agencies with private businesses interested in investing in Africa, Bass said.

This year she wants to coordinate with the African diaspora living in Los Angeles and hold a policy breakfast in the city so her constituents can be heard too.

“I know there’s a huge Nigerian community, Cameroonian, and there are seven official consulates for seven African countries, and then there’s about another five honorary consulates,” she said. “There should always be a voice. If we come up with a policy we want to bounce it back and forth. You want the people that are most affected also pushing for the policy as well.”

Nii Akuettah, executive director of the African Immigrant Caucus, a coalition of immigrant groups in Washington, called Bass “a big champion for Africa.”

“There is a great deal of good will in the African community here for her and on the continent for her,” he said.

The periodic gatherings draw members of Congress, ambassadors from African countries, emigres or diaspora, and other people who have a stake in the United States’ policy regarding Africa, such as businesses, State Department officials and academics–and often the groups are “not on the same page,” Bass said.

The meetings began as a way to draw attention to reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. First created in 2000, AGOA gives special market access to certain sub-Saharan countries that maintain legal, human rights and labor standards. In June, President Obama signed bipartisan legislation extending the act until 2025.

The talks continued, with a focus on trade and economic development between the United States and African countries. Topics have ranged from Ebola to elections to electricity, and the July 2014 breakfast was also about instability because of Boko Haram, the northeastern Nigerian Islamist group.

Bass said Boko Haram must be addressed when looking to set policy about Africa’s future.

“You can’t talk about economic development, you can’t talk about the implementation of AGOA in countries without security and in countries that are not stable or are being destabilized because of Boko Haram,” she said.

Bass said many Americans underestimate the threat from the group.

“When you look at the number of people that have been killed by Boko Haram, it’s more than the number of lives lost to ISIS. I think part of our job here is raising the consciousness in the U.S. that just because something is happening on the continent, that doesn’t mean that it does not have international significance,” she said.

It’s her goal to reshape U.S.-Africa relations.

“We still kind of view Africa as a charity case and not as a continent that is a partner. Unfortunately, I think the United States is behind the rest of the world, because the rest of the world sees Africa as much more of a partner than we do,” she said.

The original article was published in the Los Angeles Times.

(The Guardian) Secret aid worker: ‘I was the obscure African girl in a room full of white faces’

It was sitting in a conflict resolution lecture – an intern in my early twenties and eager for life – when I knew that was it, I wanted to be an aid worker. I wanted to be the one who makes the difference.

I started my career as that obscure national staff member who took the minutes at important meetings and was good at it. Many times however, I would be the only African in those meetings and my role would solely be to take minutes. Strangely, and contrary to popular belief, minute taking is the best way to learn and adapt to new concepts. Nobody noticed me, or asked for my opinion; even when what they discussed affected how much food I had at dinner. So I listened, took notes and learned. Soon I knew more than most people coming to the meetings.

Close up of African boy raising hand

‘It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room to bring the reality of my home, my continent.’ Photograph: Alamy

A few years later, I landed my first international job. I had managed to convince a HR officer that I knew what I was doing better than anyone else going for the position, and that I deserved the job. This time, I became the obscure African girl who could relate to the context and whose opinion was closest to the reality of those affected by crisis. The room would fall silent when I spoke, and I felt relevant. I was making the difference, and I thought I was good at it.

That was until I was told: “you speak African, we cannot understand what you say”. That was actual feedback I got from one capacity building initiative set up by an organisation specifically to raise the profile of its “native” staff. I wanted to get on though so I changed my accent, pronouncing phrases like IDP camp as “IDP kemp” instead of “IDP kamp” in order to appeal more to an American audience. Now I start to construct my sentences before I pronounce them. I’m no longer making the difference, I’ve become an illusion of it.

The continent I call home is now “the field” for me and my colleagues, and the people we are contracted to serve have become indicators in the reports we churn out. When I’m in the field, the only difference between me and the starving mother of seven who I’m excited to photograph (in order to attach to my trip report), is the sheer fate that life brought us. Because I know how it feels to be hungry and desperate, I take it upon myself to make the field more than just numbers and check boxes. At the next meeting, I make a point to remind everyone that we are here to serve human beings.

The room falls silent when I speak. I notice a slight look of surprise from those around the table. I’m used to this, an expectation that I, like others would attend and take notes, agreeing to everything. But I’m no longer the obscure African girl that impressed her European audience because she is fluent, outspoken and confident. I am part of the decisions made on the lives of people. That is enough to outweigh comments like “you have such impressive intelligence” or “you don’t sound like most natives” that often come from well-meaning colleagues but are condescending and disrespectful.

I speak out when the politics of aid stops it from being useful, when we get derailed by bureaucracy and forget the starving mother of seven who hopes that her picture attached to a foreign report will provide her next meal. It has become my responsibility as the only African in a room full of white faces to bring into the room the reality of my home, my continent.

The silence in the room has stopped bothering me, and I no longer care that I must introduce myself multiple times to people because “all Africans look the same”. I am making a difference, even when it is sometimes difficult to see it. I remind myself that my place is deserved, I earned it and that I owe it to myself and others to let my presence be the difference.

The article was published in The Guardian.

(News24) Morocco journo faces trial for Western Sahara comments

2016-01-25 05:16
Anti-government protesters shout in front of the Sale courthouse, Morocco as one holds a portrait of Moroccan editor Ali Anouzla. (Abdeljalil Bounhar, AP)

Anti-government protesters shout in front of the Sale courthouse, Morocco as one holds a portrait of Moroccan editor Ali Anouzla. (Abdeljalil Bounhar, AP)

Rabat – Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla is to stand trial next month over comments about the Western Sahara that he made to the German press, he said on Sunday.

The head of the Lakome2 website faces charges of “undermining national territorial integrity” at a trial due to begin on February 9, he told AFP.

The prosecution service opened an investigation after he mentioned the Western Sahara as one of three red lines for Moroccan journalists in an interview published last month in the German newspaper Bild, he said.

Bild reported that he listed these limits as “the monarchy, Islam and the occupied Western Sahara.”

Anouzla, who faces up to five years in jail if convicted, said he never called the Western Sahara “occupied” and called the translation “inexact”.

Morocco claims sovereignty over the mineral-rich territory, but the Algeria-backed Polisario Front has been campaigning for its independence since 1973.

UN efforts to organise a referendum on the territory’s future have been resisted by Rabat.

The charges against Anouzla come as he faces others of defending and inciting “terrorism” in another case.

Anouzla was arrested in September 2013 after publishing a link on his website to an al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb video on Morocco.

The article was published in News24.

(NY Daily News) CARIBBEAT: Longwood Arts Project celebrates Africa, puts culture on display in monthlong Bronx exhibition

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Sunday, January 24, 2016, 4:00 AM

“Bronx: Africa,” a multi-disciplinary art exhibition celebrating the expressions and impact of African cultures, is being presented next month in Bronx by the Longwood Arts Project.

The influences of the borough’s sizable African population and Bronxites of African descent are also recognized in the show of in-gallery and online presentations starting with an opening reception on Feb. 3, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. The exhibition, curated by LeRonn Brooks, is on display through May 4.

The “BRONX: AFRICA,” art exhibition will open on Feb. 3 and includes works such as “Ascension or Dude Ascending Staircase, 2011” (above) by Eto Otitigbe. The exhibition, curated by LeRonn Brooks, is on display through May 4 at the Longwood Arts Project Gallery at Hostos Community College.

Photo Credit: NY Daily News

Artists on display the gallery include Seyi Adebanjo, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Howard Cash, Elvira Clayton, Dennis RedMoon Darkeem, Lisa DuBois, Nicky Enright, Janet Goldner, Ijeoma Iheanacho, Imo Imeh, Hakim Inniss, Natasha Johnson, Ahmed Tijay Mohammed, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Ibou Ndoye, Eric Orr, Eto Otitigbe, Thurston Randall, Ibrahima Thiam, Osaretin Ugiagbe, Misra Walker and Tammy Wofsey. Online artists in the exhibition are Olaniyi Akindiya, Kenneth Anderson and Ray Felix.

“BRONX: AFRICA celebrates the influence of contemporary African cultures that strengthens and connects us with the many peoples of African descent, the diaspora, mixed heritage and migration-dispersion that call the Bronx home,” say organizers.

The gallery is on the campus of Hostos Community College, 450 Grand Concourse (at 149th St.) For information, call (718) 518-6728 and send mail to longwood@bronxarts.org. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m.

The article was published in the New York Daily News. 

(The Daily Nation) African Union to push for Africa’s voice in UN

The African Union General Assembly in session. Photo Credit: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

The African Union General Assembly in session.
Photo Credit: The Herald (Zimbabwe)

By Aggrey Mutambo

African Union chairman President Mugabe has been strident in his consistent call for the reform of the UN, arguing that Africa, and also Asia, needed to be heard and that their voices be heard. He has never been a fan of the status quo dominated by former colonialists and western hegemons, a situation that extends even to global financial architecture. 

Correspondents

THE African Union is to revive its push to reform the most powerful arm of the United Nations when leaders converge in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week.

Despite resistance from five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Heads of State and governments of an AU committee have recommended that member-states discuss the issue again.

The 26th Ordinary Session of the AU General Assembly for heads of state and government will be held on January 30 and 31.

Its theme in 2016: African Year of Human Rights with a particular focus on the Rights of Women.

Last week, the Committee of 10, a group of countries, was formed to lobby for UN reforms and resolved to put the issue as the first item on the agenda.

Other members are Algeria, Libya, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Zambia, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea and Congo.

Heads will arrive in Addis at the tail-end of the summit, endorsing or rejecting decisions reached by their foreign ministers.

AFRICA’S LACK OF INFLUENCE

The Security Council is charged with maintaining global peace.

It also admits members to the UN and can approve changes to the agency’s charter.

It has 15 members, but only five are permanent and hold veto powers. They are Russia, China, France, the UK and the USA.

Despite being the recipient of most declarations on peace and security, Africa can have only non-permanent members who do not influence major decisions.

On Tuesday, Foreign Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said the push for reforms would go on.

“The Security Council does not reflect 21st century political and economic realities. This underrepresentation is discriminatory, unfair and unjust. The C-10 agreed to sustain push for reforms as per the Ezulwini Consensus and Sirte Declaration,” she said.

Kenya, alongside Equatorial Guinea were the main lobbyists for the “Africa Common Position” in 2005.

Despite meeting with permanent members of the Security Council last year, there was no substantial commitment to change anything.

AU wants at least two African countries have permanent slots in the Security Council. The C-10 proposed that the AU assembly resolves also to push for removal of veto powers if no African nation is included in the permanent category.

“The AU heads of state will decide on the timeframe and reaction to be addressed on UNSC. The C-10 will present its report to the heads of state summit,” Ms Mohamed explained.

Africa accuses the permanent members of being undemocratic and using the security council to safeguard their interests. In 2012 and 2013, Kenya was bitter when its attempts to have cases facing

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto at the ICC were deferred, after the US and the UK abstained from the vote.

The first hurdle is the five permanent members but to exact changes to the council requires more than political lobbying. Other countries like Germany, India, Brazil and Japan also feel they should be in the security council.

In fact, the UN itself formed a task force at the turn of the century to collect views on reforms. The team proposed an increase in membership of the security council from 15 to 25.

The suggestion was blocked by the current members who feared their power to veto would be diluted.

The article can be found on AllAfrica.com. 

(AllAfrica) Signature of a Grant Agreement for the Contribution in the Response Plan for the Syrian Refugees Crisis in the Arab Republic of Egypt in the Education Sector

The Grant Agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt by the Minister of International Cooperation and on behalf of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development by Mr. Abdulwahab Al-Bader, Director-General of the Fund.

The Grant Agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt by the Minister of International Cooperation and on behalf of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development by Mr. Abdulwahab Al-Bader, Director-General of the Fund.          Photo Credit: Kuwait Fund

PRESS RELEASE

A Grant Agreement was signed today in Cairo between the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, whereby the Kuwait Fund provide a Grant in the amount of US$ 20 Million to help finance projects aimed at relieving socio-economic impacts in the education sector within Egyptian host communities of Syrian refugees.

The Grant Agreement was signed on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt by Her Excellency Dr. Sahar Ahmed Mohamed Abdel Moniem Nasar, Minister of International Cooperation on behalf of the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and signed on behalf of the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development by Mr. Abdulwahab Al-Bader, Director-General of the Fund.

The Projects aim to address the education needs of Syrian refugees in host communities in the Arab Republic of Egypt, by raising the level of educational services provided to them, by supporting projects in the educational buildings sector, to ensure the continuity of providing the required education services in the areas where there is a concentration of refugees.

The Projects consist of the construction and equipping of about 30 schools with multiple educational stages in the Provinces of Cairo, Geza, Alexandria, Demyat, Deghaliyah and Sharquiah. The Projects are expected to start at the beginning of Year 2016, and to be finished before mid-Year 2017.

The total cost of the Projects is estimated at about US$ 20 million and the Kuwait Fund Grant will cover 100% of the cost.

It is worth mentioning that the number of development finance extended by the Kuwait Fund are 40 loans to the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt or to public entities in the Arab Republic of Egypt with a total amount of about KD 721 million (equivalent to about US$ 2.4 billion). The Fund has also provided Egypt with ten technical assistance and other grants with a total amount of about KD 2.983 million (equivalent to about US$ 9.8 million) allocated for financing technical and economic feasibility studies for certain projects and financing other activities. Kuwait Fund also administered two grants provided by the Government of the State of Kuwait to the Arab Republic of Egypt, amounting in total to about KD 4.8 million (equivalent to about US$16.8 million) for the purpose of reconstruction of some schools that were affected by the earthquake in 1992, and the reconstruction of some villages that were damaged by floods in 1995.

Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development in Kuwait City is AllAfrica.com’s premium partner. 

The press released was published on AllAfrica.com. 

(NYT) U.N.-Appointed Panel Calls for a Tax to Pay for Crises

Kristalina Georgieva of the European Commission, an author of the report, in Athens last month. Credit Simela Pantzartzi/European Pressphoto Agency

Kristalina Georgieva of the European Commission, an author of the report, in Athens last month (Simela Pantzartzi/European Pressphoto Agency).

UNITED NATIONS — What if the next time you buy World Cup tickets or summon an Uber ride, you found yourself paying a few cents extra to pay for winter blankets for Syrian refugees or clean water for those displaced in Darfur, Sudan?

That idea — a small tax on high-volume goods and services — is among those proposed by an independent panel appointed by the United Nations to figure out how to pay for the staggering humanitarian crises facing the world today. The report, released Sunday, plainly acknowledges the limits of traditional charity on the part of the world’s rich and calls for a sea change in thinking about how to pay for lifesaving aid in what the Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, called “the age of the megacrises.”

The nine-member panel’s report comes as new conflicts erupt in places like Yemen, old ones persist in places like Darfur and climate change intensifies floods and droughts in already fragile countries. Aid for the millions of people affected has sharply risen, but it has not kept pace with demands.

The world needs $40 billion each year to meet the needs of those affected by wars and natural disasters and already faces a shortfall of $15 billion for this year. Those needs are expected to grow; as the report stated bluntly, “Never before has generosity been so insufficient.” Already, food aid has been repeatedly slashed for refugees fleeing conflict in places like Somalia and Syria.

The panel — which includes representatives of donor governments, corporations and civil society — takes pains to point out that despite the growing needs, what the world needs to pony up for emergency relief is a fraction of the $78 trillion global economy. It also argues that in the end, while “helping people in distress is morally right,” providing aid is also in the interest of donor countries.

“Today’s massive scale of instability and its capacity to cross borders, vividly demonstrated by the refugee crisis in Europe, makes humanitarian aid a global public good that requires an appropriate fund-raising model,” the report says.

The conventional wisdom for the humanitarian aid sector had been that most conflicts would be short-lived — and that aid agencies could rely on voluntary contributions from a handful of rich nations to meet those needs. That wisdom no longer always applies. For instance, some conflicts drag on for so long that those who are displaced from their homes remain displaced for an average of 17 years. Countries that host refugees feel the impact acutely, but do not always have direct access to donor money. And refugees are often prohibited from working in the countries where they are living.

The report also suggests tapping into what it calls “Islamic social finance” to help meet humanitarian needs in the Muslim world in particular. That could include earmarking a portion of “zakat,” the ritual annual donation that Muslims are urged to make as an element of their faith.

In addition, the panel suggests that middle-income countries like Jordan, which is hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, should be able to tap into grants and loans that are currently available only to the poorest countries.

The report urges money transfer agencies to drop their fees, which is a nod to the importance of remittances from migrants to their home countries, especially in times of crisis. The authors of the report also encourage more cash assistance, rather than food, tents and blankets. They cite one 2014 study in which 70 percent of a sample group of Syrian refugees traded “in-kind assistance they received for cash.”

The authors nudge newly wealthy countries to be more generous, suggest that aid officials should tap the private sector more creatively, and fault some United Nations agencies for failing to systematically track and report on how its donor money is spent.

The microtax idea is modeled after a tax on airfare that helped raise about $2 billion between 2006 and 2011, largely for immunization programs worldwide.

The panel members could not agree on exactly what to tax, nor the rates at which to tax. That absence of consensus was a measure of how difficult it could be to come up with such a humanitarian tax.

But it has an important backer: one of the leaders of the panel, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, the European Commission’s vice president for budget and human resources.

“I’m in support of a voluntary levy,” she told reporters in a briefing before the report was released. She added that the taxes could be small ones on concerts, sports events, even taxi rides.

Ms. Georgieva is among those whose names have been floated as Mr. Ban’s potential successor as secretary general.

The article was published in the New York Times.

(Africa News) Mauritania: Islamist prisoners launch hunger strike

Credit: Africa News

Credit: Africa News

Some 30 Islamists have launched a hunger strike at Mauritania’s main jail saying they are being punished after a New Year’s Eve escape by a high-profile prisoner facing death over an Al-Qaeda assassination plot.

The prisoners said in a statement that they had started the protest Monday at the main prison in Nouakchott, the capital, and would continue until all their demands had been met.

These included “visits by family members and for a doctor to be present on the premises round the clock for faster access to prescribed medicines,” the statement said.

The prisoners alleged they were facing “punitive measures after the escape of an Islamist prisoner we had no connection with.”

Cheikh Ould Saleck, 31, on death row since 2011 over an Al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the president, was last seen by fellow inmates at Nouakchott’s central prison at midday on December 31.

His absence from evening prayers alerted his fellow inmates who went to fetch him and found his cell locked.

A guard smashed open the door and found a flag of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African franchise, according to a prison source.

Ould Saleck and a fellow AQIM jihadi were arrested on the outskirts of the Mauritanian capital in 2011 when the army foiled their plot to kill President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz using two car bombs.

A Mauritanian gendarme was killed and eight wounded in a firefight following the failed attack, while four suspected AQIM members died.

Ould Saleck’s wife and sister, who used to visit him in jail, were arrested on January 4.

Al Jazeera: The Retirement Trap (Video)

30 Dec 2015 10:08 GMT | Morocco, France, Netherlands, Italy, Poverty & Development

Filmmaker: Hossam Shahadat

Moroccans who have spent all their working lives in France and the Netherlands are now facing discrimination against their pensions in what has been criticised as a form of ‘retirement apartheid’.

Retired French and Italians can live anywhere in Europe without it affecting their domestic pension entitlements; but North Africans who have lived and worked in France for more than 40 years are denied the same rights.

I live alone in a narrow room, like a prison. My life here in France is more like hell, in every sense of the word.

Omar Ait Sghir, Moroccan pensioner in Paris

Instead they face a stark choice: return to their home countries and lose large slices of their pension and face medical bills they can’t afford; or remain in, say, France with their full pensions but away from their families.

“I’m sick,” says 75-year-old Mohamed Air Wakrim who has lived in France for 45 years. “If I stay in Morocco for more than six months, they’ll find out and take away my rights.”

Contrast this with the treatment of Europeans and you have what some people have called “retirement apartheid”.

“In Tunisia, I only have to pay four or five percent tax,” says Mauro Sansovini, an Italian pensioner. “In Italy, the tax rate on my pension income is between 40 and 45 percent.”

Salim Fkire, the president of CAP SUD MRE, a campaign group of Moroccans residing abroad, sums up the situation: “Mohamed and Patrick both worked in the same factory, got the same pension and paid the same taxes. Today, Patrick has the right to live permanently in Agadir… But Mohamed can’t stay in his home town for more than six months. After that he’ll have to return to France or else he’ll lose his social rights.”

There are also problems for North Africans in the Netherlands. The Dutch government tried to cut benefits to retired Moroccans by 40 percent but was forced to backtrack. So instead they introduced checks on property and began spying on Moroccans and their assets in Morocco through their embassy in Rabat, so they could deduct tax from Moroccan pensioners living in Holland.

This has led to open protests highlighting the plight of the North Africans, who have become known as ‘The Chibanis’, Moroccan Arabic dialect for ‘older people’.

In The Retirement Trap, we look at the struggle of Moroccans to redress pension injustice and escape the retirement trap they find themselves in.

You can watch the video on Al Jazeera.

 Morocco and Tunisia rely heavily on tourism and have introduced tax concessions to attract more Europeans to retire there [Al Jazeera]