Category Archives: Legal Matters

Africa Braces for Coronavirus as Delay Offers Time to Prepare

LONDON – Africa is braced for a potential coronavirus pandemic, as experts warn health systems on the continent could be overwhelmed. Beyond its source in China, outbreaks have hit South Korea, Iran and Italy, with cases detected in dozens of other countries. But experts said the apparent delay in the virus reaching Africa on a large scale has given precious time to prepare.

Single cases of the coronavirus have been detected in Egypt and Algeria, but so far, there has been no large-scale outbreak in Africa. The World Health Organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned Thursday that no country can assume it is safe from the virus.

This virus doesn’t respect borders. It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities, Tedros said. It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development. The point is not only to prevent cases arriving on your shores. The point is what you do when you have cases.

The apparent delay in any African outbreak has given the continent time to prepare. Until this month, only two laboratories in the whole of Africa were able to test for the coronavirus. The World Health Organization said now more than half of sub-Saharan countries are equipped to diagnose the virus.

It’s not as extensive as we need it to be, and the testing that’s going on in countries isn’t as complete as we’d like it to be, said Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. But the fact that we’ve been able to stand this up in relatively short amounts of time, I think represents progress.

It’s feared that an undetected outbreak could rapidly escalate into a health crisis. Around 80% of people with the coronavirus have only mild symptoms, meaning the true prevalence is likely underreported. Most fatalities have occurred in those with underlying health problems. But a pandemic in Africa would overwhelm medical facilities, said Dr. Nathalie MacDermott of King’s College London.

It’s an issue when it comes to managing other medical problems, MacDermott said. So, that means that people with heart disease and things aren’t necessarily able to visit the hospital or to get an appointment. And subsequently, we could see increased mortality from other medical problems, simply because they can’t access the health system.

Experts said many African nations must improve disease surveillance and operations to trace the spread of infection. They also warn that in the event of a global pandemic, the international community must be ready to step in and help countries with weaker health systems.

Source: Voice of America

Preserving Black History in America, A Life’s Work

WASHINGTON – Tourists walk through an old Victorian-style row house in Washington’s most historic African American neighborhood. As they move through rooms and up narrow stairwells, many are unaware the man who lived and worked here established the first black history observance.

The home of Carter G. Woodson stands as a lasting tribute to the black historian, author and teacher who devoted his life to showcasing the treasures of African American history.

Woodson was a man with purpose. He set out to help African Americans uncover a lot of the truth about their history that seemingly was kept from them, said National Park Service Ranger John Fowler. The group of ethnically diverse visitors listens as Fowler points to the room where Woodson established Negro History Week in 1926. Now, the U.S. tradition is observed as Black History Month in February.

The son of former slaves, Carter Woodson was born in Virginia in 1875. Despite racism during the post-civil war reconstruction era, Woodson reached the heights of American educational attainment, earning a doctorate degree from Harvard University in 1912.

In 1922, he purchased the red brick home for $8,000 in the Shaw neighborhood, known as the Heart of Black Washington. The historic site is run by the National Park Service.

Dr. Woodson’s spirit and all those who worked in here with him still reside in this home, said Barbara Dunn, vice president of membership for the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). Woodson founded the organization in 1915 with a sole mission: to document black life, history and culture.

From 1922, when Dr. Woodson purchased this home, until 1950, when he died in this home, the major work that he did here laid the foundation for recording the black history we study today, Dunn said. “Woodson was passionate about promoting, researching, interpreting and disseminating information about black history.

Historians note Woodson’s groundbreaking work compiling and disseminating census data on America’s black population. In addition, he collected and preserved historically valuable manuscripts from African American writers like Booker T. Washington.

These works, shunned at the time by the Library of Congress, were later published by Woodson in the “Journal of Negro History.” It was the first academic publication written for and by people of African descent.

Other publications were created for the schoolroom so that teachers could ensure children learned about black history.

A U.S. tradition of celebrating black history

In 1926, Carter Woodson sought to increase public awareness of black history, establishing the annual February observance of Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month in 1976.

The tradition was born out of the belief that if African Americans were to take their rightful place in American society, people of all races should learn about black contributions to the nation.

He connected us to the rest of the world because our beginnings started in Africa. And even today all over the world, black history month is recognized and people are beginning to understand it was never meant to just be a week or a month but is to be studied for the entire year, Dunn said.

Historians maintain Woodson chose February for the black history observance because Feb. 12 was President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and Feb. 14 was the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass. Both men fought to end slavery in the United States and are viewed as heroes in the African American community and among many Americans of all races.

I wonder even if there would be African American history as it is without Woodson really fighting for that and committing his life to it, said tourist Julia Goodman-Gafney, a high school history teacher from Prince George’s County, Maryland. I try to share the rich history with my students and tell them we use Black History Month to celebrate what we learned, not just to learn. This is supposed to be the celebration of the contributions people of African descent made to this country.

Said Fowler: Dr. Woodson felt that if he could somehow influence the masses by revealing this history, this historical truth that the lives of people of African descent were more than just [victims of] slavery. He believed that education and increasing social and professional contacts among blacks and whites could reduce racism.

Dr. Woodson knew people would not publish what he was writing. So he started his own publishing company right in this home, noted Dunn.

During Woodson’s life, Washington was a segregated city with blacks only allowed to live in certain neighborhoods. Woodson’s home became an institution in the area where blacks could gather and learn. This home is where Dr. Woodson would train and mentor a lot of the leading scholars, activists and historians. He wanted this home to be a cultural center and he achieved that, said Fowler.

As visitors filed out of the home, tourist Stan Thompson paused, then said, Mr. Woodson would be proud that people of all races can live in this neighborhood today and tourists from all over can come here to learn about the history Carter Woodson fought so hard to preserve and publicize.”

Source: Voice of America

South African President’s Speech Upstaged Again by Opposition Protest, Walkout

JOHANNESBURG – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa barely got out the first sentence of his annual State of the Nation Address before the inevitable happened: commotion in the gallery, led by the Economic Freedom Fighters.

The far-left political party � easily identifiable in parliament by their resplendent red workmen’s outfits � had teased that they would raise a fuss over the nation’s struggling electricity company and the member of Cabinet they feel is responsible. They also protested the attendance at the speech of South Africa’s last apartheid president, FW De Klerk.

That commotion � which included yelling between party members and a Parliamentary officials � sucked up the first 90 minutes of the proceedings, culminating in National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise ordering them to leave.

Source: Voice of America

US Military Downgrades Efforts Against Extremists in Sahel

JOHANNESBURG – The U.S. military has switched from trying to degrade Islamic extremist groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, a new U.S. government report says.

The quarterly report by the inspectors general for the Pentagon, State Department and USAID released this week was the first one to be unclassified as interest surges in the U.S. military’s activities in Africa. Security allies are worried as the U.S. considers cutting troops on the continent to counter China and Russia elsewhere in the world.

Top concerns in Africa include the fast-growing threat from multiple extremist groups in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert and the enduring threat by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab in Somalia, which killed three Americans in an unprecedented attack against U.S. forces in Kenya last month.

Consistent pressure on extremist groups is needed to weaken them, the report says, citing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has compared it to “mowing the lawn.” That need, along with the often slow development of local partners’ militaries, “could require ongoing commitment of U.S. military resources,” the report adds.

The new report says the U.S. Africa Command has expressed concerns to the Pentagon’s inspector general that some resources will be moved from Somalia to the North African nation of Libya, where a conflict between rival governments has drawn the attention of powers including Russia and Turkey.

About 6,000 U.S. military personnel are deployed across Africa, the report says, including 500 special operations forces in Somalia and about 800 personnel in West Africa.

The security situation in Burkina Faso “is deteriorating faster than anywhere else in the Sahel,” says the new report, citing AFRICOM. The West African nation is staggering under a growing number of extremist attacks as fighters move in from neighboring Mali. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled.

Extremist groups affiliated with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida in West Africa’s Sahel “are neither degraded nor contained,” the report warns, citing AFRICOM.

Late last year, AFRICOM told the Pentagon inspector general that the new U.S. military strategy has switched from trying to degrade, or reduce the effectiveness, of those extremist groups to trying to keep them from growing their membership and spreading into new areas.

Mali’s president this week told French media outlets his government is now in contact with leaders of the most active extremist group, the al-Qaida-linked JNIM, a sign that troubled West African countries are exploring various options, including negotiations, to curb the threat.

JNIM has about 1,000 to 2,000 fighters and its goal is to “unite all terrorist groups in the Sahel and eliminate Western influence in the region,” the U.S. report says.

The U.S. military in the Sahel largely supports the militaries of France and African countries in their fight against the extremists, including with “limited counterterrorism operations,” and carries out airborne intelligence and surveillance operations.

But such activities were questioned in Washington after four U.S. soldiers were killed in an extremist ambush in Niger in 2017. Last month’s attack in Kenya was the deadliest one against U.S. forces in Africa since that ambush.

France recently announced it would increase its troop presence in the Sahel to more than 5,000 and has started arming its drones, while French leaders have urged the U.S. against cutting its military presence.

Source: Voice of America

Arrest Warrant Issued for Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma

An arrest warrant has been issued for former South African President Jacob Zuma after he failed to appear for a scheduled court appearance Tuesday on corruption charges.

Zuma is accused of accepting bribes from French arms manufacturer Thales, which signed a $2 billion arms deal with South Africa in 1999, when Zuma served as deputy president. He faces a total of 16 charges ranging from fraud, graft and racketeering.

Zuma’s lawyers produced a letter they said was signed by military doctor, saying that Zuma was ill and seeking medical treatment abroad. But the judge questioned whether it was authentic.

The judge stayed the warrant until May 9, when Zuma’s trial is due to resume.

The charges were dropped a decade ago, shortly before Zuma became president in 2009, but were reinstated in 2016. A court turned down Zuma’s appeal to dismiss the charges.

Zuma, elected president in 2009, was forced to resign in 2018 by the ruling African National Congress amid numerous scandals, corruption allegations and an economic slowdown.

Source: Voice of America

Energy Giant Total Taken to French Court for Climate Inaction

PARIS – In a groundbreaking case in France, energy giant Total is being sued for allegedly failing to adequately fight climate change.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by environmental groups and local authorities who feel it has potential global implications.

The legal action against Total will be the first use of a 2017 French law to sue for climate inaction. The legislation requires major French companies to draft so-called vigilance plans to prevent environmental damage, among other areas. The plaintiffs said Total has not done so when it comes to climate change.

We’re filing a lawsuit against them because they’re still not making the energy transition necessary to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, said Paul Mougeolle, who represents Notre Affaire a Tous, an environmental NGO that has filed a separate climate action case against the French government.

Total has 1% of greenhouse gases worldwide � more than the carbon footprint of France, Mougeolle said. So, we think Total has a special responsibility towards this energy transition.

Fourteen local authorities and five civil society groups have joined the Total lawsuit, which reflects a broader grass-roots uprising on climate in Europe and elsewhere.

This alliance said companies that contribute to climate change should help pay the price for mitigating it and dealing with the consequences.

France’s central Val de Loire region is part of the lawsuit.

Regional councilor Benoit Faucheaux describes last summer’s devastating drought, which dried up rivers in his region of central France. Experts said climate change will make such droughts longer, more frequent and more devastating.

We hope Total will change its business model, that it will shift from that situation where it produces energy and fossil energies (to) another model where they are involved in energy transition, Faucheaux said.

Sebastien Mabile of Seattle Advocates law group, which has taken on the case, is uncertain about its chances � because it’s a legal first. But if it succeeds, he said, its impact could be big.

Because Total operates in 130 countries, Mabile said. So, this case can have implications all over the world, such as the U.S., Africa, in all of the oil and gas basins.

Total faces a separate but somewhat similar lawsuit for allegedly failing to plan for potential human and environmental impacts of an Ugandan oil project. The company did not respond VOA’s requests for comment.

Source: Voice of America

High-Level UN Panel Seeks Solutions to Problems of Internal Displacement

GENEVA – More than 41 million people globally have been forcibly displaced within their own countries because of conflict, violence and violations of their human rights, according to U.N. estimates. Another 17 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of natural disasters and climate-related events.

People displaced within their own countries are among the most vulnerable in the world because they lack the legal international protections accorded refugees when they cross an international border.

In an effort to right this wrong, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has established the first-ever High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement to seek concrete long-term solutions for the beleaguered millions and to raise global awareness of the unending misery in which they are caught.

“The issue of internal displacement tends to be forgotten, while it is one of the major, not only humanitarian, but also, I would say, political crises that our times are seeing, said Federica Mogherini, the co-chair of the panel and former European Commission High Representative for Foreign Affairs.

“So, our first task will be to keep, or rather put this as high as possible on the agenda and try to provide some good advice on how this can be addressed,” she added.

The panel’s eight distinguished members come from all regions of the world, some from countries that have big problems of internal displacement.

They are expected to draw upon their wealth of experience in government, international organizations, civil society and the private sector to map out a realistic plan for improving the lives of the displaced and for garnering greater support for the communities that host them.

“We have been clearly tasked to focus on specific issues. So, we will try to be as concrete and focused on the results that we can realistically achieve, said Mogherini.

“First of all, we have been tasked to focus on prevention of displacement and mitigation of its effects. On capacity building, to better deal with this issue and how to mobilize at best international support, first and foremost for the states that are affected by this issue, she said.

Crucially, she said, the panel has been asked to address what she called the three main drivers of displacement: climate change, disaster risk reduction and peace action.

The panel held its first brainstorming session on Tuesday in preparation for the complex and challenging work that will get underway on February 26. Guterres has given the group only one year in which to deliver a realistic plan, one that will be sustainable and durable over time.

The secretary-general announced the establishment of the panel on October 23, the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the African Union Convention on Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, known as the Kampala Convention.

The U.N. refugee agency reports 17.8 million people are internally displaced in sub-Saharan Africa, the largest regional displacement in the world.

Panel co-chair Donald Kaberuka noted that a Convention on Internal Displacement would ensure that the work, which has been done in the field of refugees and migrants, was completed.

On December 17, 2018, the General Assembly adopted the Global Compact on Refugees followed by the adoption on December 18, 2018 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Kaberuka, the former president of the African Development Bank Group and minister of finance and economic planning in Rwanda said he hoped to bring his experience from the development world to find practical solutions to the displacement crisis.

He told VOA it was not possible to separate development, environment and security, all elements involved in displacement. He said all three matters must be addressed together.

For instance, he said, I do not see any solution in the Sahel at the moment What is happening to the climate and how it has fallen into a social problem and now into a security problem. Those will have to be addressed together.

The panelists have agreed that they want a positive, productive outcome to their year-long deliberations. They said they do not intend to point fingers of shame or dwell on governmental shortcomings but would try to get countries to work together to meet the needs of the displaced.

Mogherini said the panel would try to avoid politicizing this issue and try to look at what can help people live better in a situation that is in itself very difficult… We believe that this could be a win-win approach.

Source: Voice of America

Committee Urges Swift Formation of South Sudan Unity Government

JUBA – A committee formed to help resolve disputes over the boundaries and number of South Sudan states has turned the issue over to arbitration, adding the issue should not hold up formation of a unity government.

After President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar failed to agree on the number of states and their borders during several face-to-face meetings in December, regional bloc IGAD appointed a committee to mediate the issue and come up with a proposal for the parties.

The committee is comprised of South African Deputy President David Mabuza, Kenya’s special envoy to the South Sudan peace talks Kalonzo Musyoka, Uganda’s special envoy to South Sudan Betty Bigombe and IGAD envoy Ismail Waise.

South Africa’s Mabuza, the head of the committee, said in Juba Thursday his group consulted the parties to the deal but could not reach a compromise.

We all agree that we are going to form the government of national unity, but we are going to subject the question of the number of states to arbitration: a mechanism that is going to take up to 90 days which is the proposal on the table, Mabuza told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

Mabuza did not explain what the arbitration entails but said the parties should form a transitional government of national unity government by the February 22 deadline and resolve the issue over states and boundaries later.

In 2017, President Kiir unilaterally increased the number of states from 10 to 32, a decision the opposition said violated a 2015 peace agreement.

While Kiir appears to be refusing to budge on the number of states, the SPLM-in-Opposition has said it either wants to return to the original 10 states or would be amenable to setting up 21 districts as established by British colonialists prior to South Sudan becoming a country.

On Wednesday, Kiir, Machar and Sudanese General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, a member of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, held a two-hour closed-door meeting in a bid to resolve the dispute and evaluate the possibility of forming a unity government next month.

Mabuza said his committee will draft a final proposal and release it to the public soon.

Our feeling is that the government does not have a problem with the proposal. We are now taking this proposal to other parties. We are going to finalize this proposal and make the public aware, Mabuza said.

Martin Elia Lumoro, South Sudan’s cabinet affairs minister, said the parties have made progress in implementing the peace agreement and the government welcomes the proposal to form a unity government before a deal is reached on the number and boundaries of states.

We as the government of the Republic of South Sudan have listened very carefully, have reported concretely on the progress of implementation of the agreement on the ground, the security and other issues that are political in nature and we are very excited with the level of engagement of the envoys, also with our partner the I-O, with the presence of Dr. Machar in town, said Lumoro.

Kiir security advisor Tutkew Gatluak said Wednesday that the Kiir administration has not changed its position on the number of states.

Repeated calls to SPLM IO spokesperson Manawa Peter Gatkuoth went unanswered. A SPLM-IO statement issued earlier this week said since the parties have failed to reach an agreement on the number of states and their boundaries during their last round of consultations facilitated by South Africa’s deputy president, the SPLM-IO recommends formation of another committee composed of, among others, Troika countries to determine the number of states and their boundaries.

The Troika consists of the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States, three countries that encouraged the government and opposition to sign the 2018 peace agreement.

The statement does not state whether Machar’s group would agree to be part of the unity government if the dispute over states and boundaries remains unresolved next month.

The Independent Boundaries Commission, which was originally tasked with determining the number of states and their boundaries in the 2018 peace deal, failed to reach a compromise and recommended that the matter be resolved politically.

Source: Voice of America