Its goal: sow division in the border regions of Kenya and Somalia, where many of the people are ethnically Somali, analysts say.
Among Al-Shabaab’s most brutal acts was the raid on Garissa University College in April that left nearly 150 people dead. Witnesses described how gunmen asked students to recite verses from the Quran. If they couldn’t, they were killed.
The group regularly storms buses, particularly this time of the year — one of the busiest travel seasons in the nation. Throngs make their way to relatives’ homes for the holidays, with buses and other public transportation packed.
Hanafi said he confessed to the killing of journalists following torture by authorities in Mogadishu [AP]
Somalia has executed a journalist accused of helping members of al-Shabab kill at least five journalists in the capital.
Hassan Hanafi, who was captured in neighbouring Kenya in 2014, was executed on Monday morning by a firing squad in Mogadishu after his appeal at a military court failed.
Hanafi was accused of helping fighters from the al-Qaeda-linked group identify possible targets in the journalism community between 2007 and 2011.
From 2009 to 2011 he worked for Radio Andalus, al-Shabab’s official mouthpiece.
In an interview aired on Somalia state TV in February, Hanafi admitted ordering the murder of several journalists.
But in an audio recording of a phone call leaked last month Hanafi appeared to claim he made the confessions after being tortured.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists more than 25 journalists have been killed in the Horn of Africa country since 2007.
Al-Shabab, which is seeking to overthrow the country’s Western-backed government, was pushed out of Mogadishu in 2011 by government troops backed by an African Union force.
It continues to carry out suicide attacks and targeted assassinations in south and central parts of the country, and it has also conducted major attacks in Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda, which all contribute troops to the African Union effort.
As a young Pakistani-American Muslim girl growing up in Connecticut, Zareen Jaffery used to devour novels by Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume, hoping those stories would offer some clues for how to fit in.
“I remember looking at books to try to figure out, ‘What does it mean to be American? Am I doing this right?’” Ms. Jaffery said. “The truth is, I didn’t see myself reflected in books back then.”
Some 30 years later, Muslim characters remain scarce in mainstream children’s literature. But now Ms. Jaffery, an executive editor of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, is in a position to change that.
Ms. Jaffery is heading a new children’s imprint, Salaam Reads, dedicated to publishing books that feature Muslim characters and stories. The imprint, which Simon & Schuster announced this week, will release nine or more books a year, ranging from board books and picture books to middle grade and young adult titles.
The creation of a Muslim-themed children’s imprint is likely to further fuel the continuing discussion about diversity in children’s publishing. Salaam Reads is also arriving in the middle of a fractious and polarizing political debate about immigration and racial and religious profiling, when minority groups, and American Muslims in particular, feel they are being targeted.
Ms. Jaffery, 37, had long been bothered by the lack of Muslim characters in children’s literature. But the problem started to feel more acute about three years ago, when she began reading books with her young nieces and nephews. “It was hard not to notice that none of those books really reflected their experience,” she said.
She brought up the idea of seeking out books about Muslims with Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Rather than just releasing a scattered selection of books, they decided to create a new imprint, and chose the name Salaam, which means peace in Arabic. The books won’t emphasize theology or Islamic doctrine, Mr. Chanda said, but will highlight the experience of being Muslim through their characters and plots.
“We have a chance to provide people with a more nuanced and, in my estimation, a more honest portrayal of the lives of everyday Muslims,” Ms. Jaffery said.
So far, Salaam Reads has acquired four books that will come out in 2017, including “Salam Alaikum,” a picture book based on a song by the British teen pop singer Harris J. Others planned for release next year are “Musa, Moises, Mo and Kevin,” a picture book about four kindergarten friends who learn about one another’s holiday traditions; “The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand” by Karuna Riazi, about a 12-year-old Bangladeshi-American who sets out to save her brother from a supernatural board game, and “Yo Soy Muslim,” a picture book by the poet Mark Gonzales.
Mr. Gonzales, an alumnus of HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” who converted to Islam, said he was immediately game when Ms. Jaffery recruited him to write a book for the imprint.
“As a person who was born as the child of Mexican and French immigrants, I grew up being invisible to society, and if not invisible, demonized,” said Mr. Gonzales. “It was important to me, thinking about what it would mean for every child to have a book when they’re growing up that they can see themselves in.”
President Obama greeted families in an overflow room after speaking at the Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque. (Drew Angerer for The New York Times)
WASHINGTON — President Obama reached out to Muslims in the United States on Wednesday in an impassioned speech, embracing them as part of “one American family,” implicitly criticizing the Republican presidential candidates and warning citizens not to be “bystanders to bigotry.’’
In a visit to the Islamic Society of Baltimore, his first to a mosque as president, Mr. Obama recited phrases from the Quran and he praised American Muslims as a crucial part of America’s history and vital to the nation’s future. “If we’re serious about freedom of religion — and I’m talking to my fellow Christians who are the majority in this country — we have to understand that an attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths,” he said.
Although Mr. Obama never mentioned Republican presidential candidates like Donald J. Trump and Ben Carson, the targets of his scolding were clear. “We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate bigotry,” Mr. Obama said.
Citing Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Obama said Muslims had been an integral part of the United States since its founding. “So this is not a new thing,” he said. “Generations of Muslim Americans helped to build our nation.”
But he said that too many Americans only heard about Islam after terrorist attacks, and that this must change. “Our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security,” he said. “It’s not that hard to do. There was a time when there was no black people on television.”
Mr. Obama said that anyone who suggested that the United States was at war with Islam not only legitimized such groups as the Islamic State but also played into their hands. “That kind of mind-set helps our enemies,” he said. “It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe.”
For Mr. Obama, the remarks were an implicit admission of how little progress has been made since he opened his presidency with a 2009 speech he delivered in Cairo that sought to reach out to the world’s Muslims by calling for a “a sustained effort to listen to each other, to learn from each other, to respect one another, and to seek common ground.”
Seven years after the Cairo address, which the White House titled, “A New Beginning,” Mr. Obama is nearing the end of his presidency at a time when respect and common ground have often been overtaken by suspicion and angry political rhetoric.
It is the result Mr. Obama said in Cairo that he feared the most: that the world would remain “bound by the past,” doomed never to move past historic divisions and mistrust. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama urged Americans to look inward to examine the roots of those divisions, and to seek ways to transcend the fear and suspicion.
Concerns about Muslims and Syrian refugees in the United States grew after terrorist attacks in Paris in November claimed the lives of 130 people and after a mass shooting by a husband-and-wife team in San Bernardino, Calif., in December killed 14 people and seriously wounded 22.
Since then, attacks on American Muslims and mosques have spiked, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. At a meeting at the White House last month, prominent Muslim Americans pleaded with senior administration officials to have the president visit a mosque in the hopes of stemming such attacks.
On Wednesday, the president said, “So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America.” To young Muslims, he said, “You fit in here. You aren’t Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American.”
Mr. Obama took office pledging to repair the image of the United States among the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, that he felt had been tarnished by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a speech before the Turkish Parliament in April 2009, he expressed “our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith.” Two months later, Mr. Obama spoke to the Muslim world from Cairo University and emphasized that there are mosques and Muslims in every state in America.
“So let there be no doubt,” he said, “Islam is a part of America.”
But Mr. Obama’s defense of Islam has been constrained by a suspicion in the United States that he is secretly a Muslim himself, even though he has said he is a Christian and has regularly attended church services.
In 2010, Mr. Obama avoided for weeks addressing a battle over a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center in Manhattan before finally using a White House dinner celebrating Ramadan to express strong support for the project.
But in the final year of his presidency, Mr. Obama has lost much of his reticence in addressing issues he cares about.
Within days of the emergence of Republican legislative proposals in Congress to essentially bar all Syrian refugees and of language demonizing Muslim Americans after the Paris attacks, Mr. Obama told reporters at a news conference in Turkey that such talk was “shameful.”
“That’s not American; it’s not who we are,” he said.
“When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer,” he said. “That’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.”
Last week, in a visit to the Israeli Embassy in Washington to celebrate those who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Mr. Obama, whose 2009 Cairo speech was not popular in Israel, said that “an attack on any faith is an attack on all of our faiths.”
Doris Kearns Goodwin, a presidential scholar, likened Mr. Obama’s mosque visit and increasingly urgent warnings against anti-Muslim language to warnings made by two other presidents at the end of their terms.
“George Washington warned his countrymen against the increasing power of factions which kindle animosity of one against the other while Eisenhower warned against the unwarranted influence of the military industrial complex,” she wrote in an email.
Before even scoring a point, Ibtihaj Muhammad will make history this summer in Rio de Janeiro by being the first U.S. athlete to compete at the Olympics in a hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women.
Muhammad, an African American women’s saber fencer, first made history several years ago when she became the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S. in fencing. Now that she has qualified for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Muhammad is making history once more.
“I want to compete in the Olympics for the United States to prove that nothing should hinder anyone from reaching their goals — not race, religion or gender,” Muhammad says in her USA Fencing bio. “I want to set an example that anything is possible with perseverance.”
The 30-year-old fencer has been on fire this season, earning bronze medals at two of the three world cups held so far. After earning bronze at the Athens world cup on Saturday, Muhammad mathematically secured her spot on the 2016 Olympic team.
She is now second in USA Fencing’s national team point standings, behind two-time Olympic champion Mariel Zagunis. Zagunis and Muhammad will remain first and second through April 11, when the points standings conclude and the entire 2016 U.S. Olympic Fencing Team is named. Zagunis and Muhammad will compete in both the individual and team event, along with one other U.S. women’s saber fencer, and a replacement athlete for the team event only.
In addition to Muhammad’s bronzes from the 2015-16 season, she claimed the silver medal at a world cup stop in 2013, and has seven team world cup medals. Muhammad has also been part of the U.S. teams that have medaled at the past five world championships, including winning gold in 2014.
Muhammad attempted to qualify for the 2012 Olympics, but that dream was thwarted when she tore a ligament in her hand months before the Games.
The New Jersey native began fencing at age 13 when her mother saw the high school fencing team practicing and noticed the athletes were fully-covered, a necessity in Muhammad’s religion.
It wasn’t until her career at Duke University that Muhammad began to fully commit to the sport.
“After I graduated from college, I saw there was a lack of minorities in the sport,” Muhammad told TeamUSA.org. “I recognized that I had a skill set, so I started to pursue fencing full time. I felt that it was something the squad needed. There were barriers that needed to be broken in women’s saber.”
In 2014, Muhammad founded Louella, an online women’s clothing company dedicated to creating “affordable, modest, fashion forward clothing.”
The article was published in the news section of the United States Olympic Committee.
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.
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.
Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore (L) and Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi (R) visit the Splendid hotel and the Capuccino cafe on January 18, 2016 in Ouagadougou, following a jihadist attack by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) late on January 15 / AFP / ISSOUF SANOGOISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images
Aryn Baker @arynebaker Jan. 18, 2016
A series of recent terror attacks across Africa have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence
From Somalia in the east to the Western Sahel, Africa’s hotspots started getting hotter over the past week with a series of terror attacks that have raised fears of a new wave of extremist violence. Terrorism analysts have posited that al-Qaeda is vying for attention and territory with upstart ISIS in a region rife with instability. But as much as terrorist groups thrive on government weakness, military corruption also plays an important role, according to a new report on corruption in military defense spending in Africa.
Transparency International, a U.K.-based research organization that tracks corruption and perceptions of corruption worldwide, gave every single African country surveyed (47 out of 54) a failing or near-failing grade when it comes to preventing graft in their defense sectors. Defense spending is on the rise across the continent, notes the report, but without better tracking on how that money is spent, there is little to ensure that it will go to the areas that need it most in a new era of terror attacks, namely counter-terror and security programs. “With such limited oversight on military spending, there are many opportunities for corruption and graft that can in turn contribute to rising insecurity in the region,” says Leah Wawro, Transparency International’s program manager for conflict and insecurity. Corruption, adds co-author Eléonore Vidal de la Blache, the Africa project manager, can lead to black-market arms sales to terror groups, or, in some cases, bolster funding for those groups.
The report’s release on Monday capped a week of back-to-back attacks across Africa. Even as scenes of a devastating suicide bomb and grenade attack on a pair of luxury hotels and a café popular with foreigners unfurled in Burkina Faso, killing at least 29 people from nine different countries, reports started coming in of the kidnapping of an Australian couple in the country’s north, then an ambush on an aid convoy in neighboring Mali that killed two soldiers. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and the group, or its affiliates, is thought to have been behind the kidnapping and the assault in Mali. Meanwhile, al-Shabaab militants affiliated with al-Qaeda claimed to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers in a Friday attack on a remote base in Somalia’s southwest, where the African Union is trying to bring peace. And on Jan. 13, two female suicide bombers attacked a mosque in a town near Cameroon’s border with Nigeria during morning prayers, killing 10 in the latest of a series of suicide bombings attributed to the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram terror group, which is based in Nigeria.
In the wake of the attack in Ouagadougou, which followed the same pattern as a similar attack in the Malian capital of Bamako in November, the prime ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso agreed to share intelligence and conduct joint security patrols in their efforts to tackle the rising terror threats in the region. But that is not likely to be enough, say the authors of the Transparency International report.
One of the biggest problems, according to the report, is how such corruption can decrease morale among soldiers, especially when commanding officers pocket salaries meant for those in the lower ranks. Such siphoning of funds is rampant in Nigeria, where soldiers have regularly deserted their posts because they say they lack sufficient supplies and weapons to fight against Boko Haram. On Friday, the recently elected President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an investigation into corruption allegations going back nine years, saying that graft among senior ranks of the military hindered the fight against an Islamist insurgency in the north of the country. Sambo Dasuki, the former national security advisor under Buhari’s predecessor and rival, Goodluck Jonathan, was arrested in December, in the wake of a government commission finding that he, along with other senior officials, allegedly pilfered some $5.5 billion meant for equipping, supplying and paying soldiers taking on Boko Haram. Dasuki has denied the charges, calling the findings “presumptive, baseless” and lacking in “diligence.”
Members of the Jonathan administration say the allegations that graft hampered the military’s counter-terror abilities are unsubstantiated. Wawro, of Transparency International, calls the claims justified. “Absolutely, corruption is undermining the fight against Boko Haram [in Nigeria]. When soldiers’ salaries are pocketed, when they see their commanders driving fancy cars while they struggle to eat, they are more likely to sell weapons and other supplies. They are more likely to take bribes, and they are more likely to allow arms or drugs to be smuggled across borders.” They are also more likely to desert, she adds, further undermining confidence in the military, and the government.
It’s not just Nigeria. Kenya’s armed forces also stand accused of being involved in bribe taking, arms sales, and worse. A recent report by Journalists for Justice, a Nairobi-based, non-partisan organization that seeks to broaden citizen understanding of international criminal justice and combat government impunity, details how Kenyan soldiers in Somalia are working in cahoots with the al-Shabaab terror group to levy “taxes” on the illegal smuggling of sugar and charcoal through the Somali port of Kismayo. “This is problematic when the KDF [Kenya Defense Force] is supposed to be fighting al-Shabaab, and when elsewhere in the country al-Shabaab forces claim to have killed more than 100 Kenyan soldiers,” says Vidal de la Blache. “What you are seeing is a direct link between the ability of al-Shabaab to arm and sustain itself and the corruption within the Kenya defense establishment all the way to the top.” Rather than promise an investigation, the Kenyan government has dismissed and denied the allegations.
It is impossible to know whether there is any direct link between the weekend attacks in Burkina Faso and corruption within that country’s military establishment, says Wawro. But the country is one of the worst ranked in the Transparency report. “What you can say about any country that scores an “F” [as Burkina Faso does] is that there is no one to hold the military to account about what is being done to prevent these attacks, and how the increase in funding we are likely to see after an attack like this will be put to use.” That, she says, creates a level of distrust between the people and their government, one easily exploited by terror groups.
While the report points fingers at African governments for failing to track military spending, the report’s authors aren’t letting the U.S. and France, the principal financial backers of many of Africa’s counter terror efforts, off the hook. “We are not seeing [these countries] taking the kind of actions needed to address the problem,” says Wawro. Kenya’s military, she notes, is a major recipient of U.S. military aid. “So, if you look through a winding lens, U.S. money is indirectly filtering in to support terrorism.” That, she says, is reason enough for the foreign backers of African counter terror programs to insist on greater transparency in spending, lest their assistance end up funding another terror attack.
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.
NAIROBI—The Committee to Protect Journalists has released its annual report on the killing of reporters around the world. The report looks at the state of media freedom in Africa. Forty-six-year-old Waweru Mugo has been a journalist in Kenya for the last 15 years and now runs his own media consulting firm.
It is not always easy. Last October, Kenyan lawmakers considered a bill that would ban the press from reporting on parliamentary matters. The controversial clauses were eventually removed amid protest from civil society and media organizations.
According to Mugo, journalists in Kenya and all of Africa face challenges, especially attempts by governments to intimidate and censor them. This, he says, has limited the growth of a free press.
“When you try to highlight some of these issues, the government tries to crack the whip,” he said. “The government demands that you do ABCD, that you’re not supposed to be unpatriotic, they label you as unpatriotic, they say that you’ve been bought off by foreign interests, you are working for the opposition. So the journalists also kind of bend to the whims of the government through self-censorship.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists says 69 journalists around the world were killed while on duty this year. Many died at the hands of Islamist militant groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State.
The biggest number came from Syria, but 11 were killed in Africa, including five in war-torn South Sudan.
Felix Odimmasi, of the School of Law and Diplomacy at the University of Nairobi, says the lack of government support makes journalists cautious about reporting from conflict areas like South Sudan, Somalia and northern Nigeria.
“… Because one, they would not go out there and report, and two, those who dare to go out and report still know they are at risk, so they have to be very careful about what they report about and where they go. It’s the general lack, weakness of the rule of law,” he said. “The laws that exist are not necessarily being followed and there’s no strong legislation in some of these weak states to protect the media.”
Members of Africa’s Fourth Estate have come under fire across the continent from multiple regimes. Amnesty International says the South African government and ruling African National Congress party are pushing for a tribunal to regulate the media under the guise of “transformation.”
Amnesty notes that in Ethiopia, many journalists and media workers are currently in prison or have been convicted in absentia because of their work.
Benji Ndolo, a civil rights activist from the Kenya-based Organization of National Empowerment, says a concerted effort from non-state actors is the only way to halt the intimidation.
“International processes, civil rights movements, non-governmental organizations and even church organizations as well as the media will push these countries into a corner where they will be held to account for loss of lives. They will not have impunity forever and so change will absolutely come to these countries, accountability will be there,” said Ndolo.
Besides South Sudan, other African countries where journalists were killed in 2015 included Somalia, Kenya, Libya and Ghana. Another five were killed in Somalia’s neighbor, Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden.
LAGOS, the congested commercial capital of Nigeria, has a population variously estimated at anything from 12m-21m. But what is certain is that people are moving to the megacity and its smaller counterparts across the continent in droves—and not into brand new flats with recently acquired mortgages.
With around 40% of its people living in cities, sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s least urbanised region. But it is changing fast: the UN predicts that its urban inhabitants will more than treble in number to 1.1 billion by 2050, accounting for 56% of the region’s population. By 2030 Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Luanda will have joined Kinshasa and Lagos as megacities, each with more than 10m people.
Most of that growth will be in slums, which are currently doubling in size every 15 years while they shrink in many other parts of the world. They’re not always cheap to live in, either. Economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that in Kibera, a Nairobi slum, residents devoted almost a third of their non-food expenditures to rent. More than 90% of them are tenants. In Kenya’s countryside, by contrast, 90% of households pay no rent at all, typically because they built their own shelter on informally owned land.
Rural migrants who want to take advantage of the opportunities Africa’s cities have to offer often have no choice; formal housing is unaffordable in most countries. The cheapest new, privately-built formal house in Ethiopia cost $68,783 in 2013, according to the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa, a South African non-profit. A 100 square metre state-subsidised apartment sold for $16,600, 35 times the average Ethiopian’s earnings (by comparison, in Britain the ratio is around five times). Even in Mali the cheapest legally-built private homes in the region, at $5,800 (plus another $1,000 to $4,000 for land, depending on location) are out of reach for most.
It is no surprise that sub-Saharan Africa has the smallest mortgage market in the world. Just 3.7% of adults in urban areas had any type of home loan in 2011, according to a World Bank report released this week. The value of Nigeria’s mortgages more than quadrupled between 2006 and 2011, but was still equivalent to no more than 0.5% of GDP, compared with more than 25% in South Africa.
That won’t change until more of the region’s land is registered (just 10% was in 2013) and the tangles of state and customary ownership are resolved. Rwanda’s computerised land registry is the kind of reform that might help. It cut the time it takes to transfer a property from a year to a month. Countries from Ghana to Uganda are trying similar reforms. African cities will also have to invest huge sums in sewage systems, roads and other infrastructure if they want to house the millions of people who are likely to move there in the coming years. In the meantime Africa’s slums will continue to swell.
Africa has some of the best beaches in the world. Tourists will be flocking to them soon as those in the southern hemisphere take summer holidays and those from the north look for ways to escape their winter.
So where are Africa’s top beaches?
In drawing up the list I have taken both an objective as well as subjective approach.
For the objective assessment I have used the ratings of the Blue Flag awards as well as my own research. South Africa is the first country outside Europe as well as the first African country to implement the Blue Flag scheme. It currently has 39 fully complied beaches with another 30 in the process of complying.
For my subjective list I have drawn on my own experience and knowledge as well as experiences of friends and family.
The top performers
Africa has some wonderful beaches. A serious traveller or beachgoer should certainly visit at least one of them once in a lifetime. The list below is not in order of preference, but offers would be travellers different opportunities and experiences.
Most of South Africa’s Blue Flag beaches are in the Western Cape followed by KwaZulu-Natal and then the Eastern Cape. Blue Flag award beaches have to comply with 33 criteria including safety, cleanliness, environmental management and water quality. The award can be revoked if a beach does not comply.
The longest running Blue Flag beaches in South Africa and a must visit are Grotto Beach in the Western Cape, Humewood Beach in the Eastern Cape, and Ramsgate and Marina beaches KwaZulu-Natal.
From a more subjective standpoint I would recommend Tofo Beach at Inhambane in Mozambique. This is an 8 km stretch of beach that also offers diving and great sea life. Added benefits are facilities for rest and relaxation – as well as excellent prawns.
Namibia also offers tourists beautiful beaches. One of my favourites is the Skeleton Coast. It offers space and great marine life as well as ship wrecks. Crowded beach won’t be a problem. There might in fact be nobody around depending on when you visit.
Another country that offers wonderful beach experiences is Kenya. The beach I propose is Shela Beach in Lamu. It is also a UNESCO Heritage Site and is generally accepted as the country’s top beach.
I also have to include Angola. This is the new kid on the block and I propose Mussulo Bay peninsula. This is for the adventure traveller, offering wonderful beach as well fishing.
And then the islands
One of my ultimate favourites is Tanzania. I must admit I love Zanzibar. It offers great diving, snorkelling and swimming. This is a little piece of heaven on earth. Enjoying the locally produced gin is a treat as well.
If we move to Madagascar, my choice is Sainte-Marie Island. It offers beautiful sandy beaches with palm trees. Once again, diving and great sea life are on offer as well as good food.
It would unfair if I didn’t include Malawi. My choice falls on Likoma Island, which is part of Lake Malawi. This is one of Africa’s jewels. Clear clean water, great for swimming, diving or snorkelling, and friendly communities.
And then there is the Seychelles’s Anse Source d’Argent, La Digue. It is regarded as one of the world’s greatest beaches, truly something out of this world.
I could add more beaches in the west and north of the continent. But this list at least provides a taste of what Africa can offer. Hopefully the Blue Flag award scheme will be implemented in other African countries so that the continent can get its lion’s share of beachgoers, one of the biggest generators of revenue globally.