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Chad claims win over rebels after President Déby's death

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The conflict with rebels culminated in the death of President Déby on the battlefield last month.
Categories: Africa

South Sudan's president Salva Kiir dissolves parliament

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Guinea gold mine collapse: 15 dead in Siguiri

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Kenneth who? How Africans are forgetting their history

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Nigeria Rivers attack: Gunmen kill at least seven police officers

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Fears for South Africa security guard's safety after escaping ambush

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Security van driver believes he is being threatened after footage showed him coming under gunshot fire.
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Latin America Bets Heavily on Hydrogen

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Sat, 05/08/2021 - 14:13

The XXX La Jolla Energy Conference, organized by the Institute of the Americas, began Friday, May 7 and will conclude on May 28 is being held virtually, due to the limitations imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic..

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 8 2021 (IPS)

Several Latin American countries are stepping up the pace to generate hydrogen for various uses in transportation and industry, but they must first resolve several questions.

The analysis of this environment marked the beginning of discussions at the XXX La Jolla Energy Conference, which began Friday, May 7 and will conclude on May 28 and is being held virtually, due to the limitations imposed by the covid-19 pandemic.

The XXX La Jolla Energy Conference will be held on Wednesdays and Fridays of every week in May and is organized by the Institute of the Americas (IA), which has its headquarters in the coastal city of La Jolla, in the state of California, in the United States.

Jorge Rivera, Panama’s national secretary (minister) of energy, said his country is building a market and the technology, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to make hydrogen available.

“Panama is ready for that. We are working to develop the preliminary rules to participate in that market. In the short term, we see ourselves as a hydrogen hub for Latin America. We think we can play a role in building that hub,” he explained during his telematics participation.

In the short term, Rivera pointed out, the Central American country’s plan “more than producing, is to be a hub for storing and distributing hydrogen,” based on the existing logistics for storing hydrocarbons and the operation of the Panama Canal.

The “gray” hydrogen comes from gas and depends on the adaptation of gas pipelines for its transportation. In comparison, “blue” has the same origin, but plants capture the carbon dioxide (CO2) generated.

Production is based on steam methane reforming, which involves mixing the first gas with the second and heating it to obtain synthesis gas, but it yields CO2.

The production of “green” hydrogen uses electrolysis, whereby hydrogen is separated from oxygen using electrical energy as a separator. The gas reacts with air, generates electricity and releases steam. Electrolysis also makes it possible to recombine the two elements to form water and thus conceive fluid.

Green hydrogen has been added to the pool of clean sources to drive the energy transition away from fossil fuels and thus develop a low-carbon economy. Some countries also see it as a tool to generate foreign exchange and support recovery from the covid-19 pandemic.

In addition to hydrogen, the conference will also address topics such as the future of transportation, including its electrification; the outlook for gas in South America; energy cooperation between the United States and Mexico; as well as the future of hydrocarbons and the financing of the post-covid economic recovery.

For his part, Gabriel Prudencio, director of the Sustainable Energy Division of Chile’s Ministry of Mines and Energy, said that his country is in the early stages of seeking growth in a few years.

“Hydrogen is going to be important in the future, because it is already in use in several industries. We see that hydrogen will be used in transportation, as a gas to produce heat in industrial processes or domestic use,” he described.

Prudencio explained that “considering all this, Chile has a great potential to be an important player because of the renewable potential. We could produce the cheapest hydrogen in the world and use it in local development and export it to international markets”.

Chile already has a national hydrogen strategy, which aims to produce the cheapest green hydrogen on the planet by 2030, be among the top three exporters by 2040 and have five gigawatts of electrolysis capacity under development by 2025.

In addition, it has already drawn up an agenda of legal changes to promote this alternative.

In addition, the country has a US$15 million fund to support three pilot projects and a cooperation agreement with Singapore.

Uruguay is also interested in developing this resource to decarbonize its activities.

The Uruguayan Minister of Industry, Energy and Mining, Omar Paganini, said at the La Jolla Conference that “we are working to create conditions for the development of the market. We prepared the roadmap for hydrogen and developed a national strategy”.

The South American nation is executing a pilot project to replace diesel with hydrogen in heavy transport. In addition, the IDB is financing the analysis of gas use in other activities such as the production of green fertilizers.

Argentina also wants its slice of the hydrogen pie in the energy transition.

Santiago Sacerdote, general manager of YPF Tecnología, a subsidiary of state-owned oil company YPF, said the country has “extraordinary resources to develop those resources, such as ammonium, hydrogen and in other forms.”

“We can export low-carbon energy. We are going to see significant progress in the coming months,” said the executive director of Argentina’s H2Ar Consortium.

In that nation there is already a consortium of 40 companies and a public-private roundtable. It is also designing a new regulatory framework.

Argentina is focused on building an export platform, the collaborative partnership, a plan to execute pilot projects in several applications, create a domestic market and build the local supply chain.

Historically, Brazil was one of the pioneers in hydrogen analysis, but focused on biofuels and renewables. Now the country wants to catch up.

“We discussed energy transition strategies, including hydrogen. Brazil can be an exporter of green hydrogen. We thought about how to design that approach. We see export potential, but it is not the most competitive technology yet,” explained Agnes da Costa, director of the Special Advisory Committee on Regulatory Affairs at Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Hydrogen appears in Brazil’s National Energy Plan 2050. Last April, the National Energy Policy Council proposed the development of guidelines for the National Hydrogen Program, which should be ready in 60 days.

The Hydrogen Council, a global alliance of 13 major energy, industrial and transportation companies, sponsored the study “The Road to Hydrogen Competitiveness. A Cost Perspective,” launched in January 2020, which reviews 40 technologies used in 35 applications, such as commercial vehicles, trains, heaters and industrial conditioning.

In 22 of these, the costs incurred by a user over the lifetime of the application of one of these technologies will be comparable with other low-carbon alternatives by 2030.

One of the looming challenges is the infrastructure needed for gas storage and transportation.

Panama’s Rivera acknowledged that the big issue is the cost of electrolysis infrastructure and electricity generation, but predicted that “we can take advantage of falling prices in the future”.

In turn, the Chilean Prudencio indicated that infrastructure is needed locally and for export. “Many projects will be built at the consumption site, such as mining companies”, he exemplified.

The Uruguayan Paganini minimized the distances to be covered. “Long-term contracts are necessary and for that we need production and export schemes,” he suggested.

For the Argentine Sacerdote, the existing gas network can be a support for the market to take off. “We have to consolidate this market and create incentives, and establish strategic relationships with important buyers, such as Japan,” he said.

Finally, the Brazilian da Costa foreshadowed that when there are rules and market, investment will flow. ”

“But we are not there yet. It’s time to see if the new rules for the electric and gas sectors can include hydrogen. One of the pillars is technology neutrality, so that the market is all-inclusive,” he said.

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The Illusion of Digital Inclusion in the Post-COVID World

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 08:27

Credit: SHE Investments Cambodia

By Kaveh Zahedi
BANGKOK, Thailand, May 7 2021 (IPS)

We are living through a decisive moment. The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting impact is reaching every corner of the world. As we look back at this period, we will see history divided into a pre-COVID and a post-COVID world.

And a defining feature of the post-COVID world will be the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives. Chief Technology Officers can say that the pandemic has done their job for them, accelerating the digitalization of economies and societies at an unimaginable pace.

The digital transformation has gone hand in hand with the rise of digital technologies. These technologies have supported governments to implement social protection schemes at pace and scale. They have enabled e-health and online education, and they are helping businesses continue to operate and trade through digital finance and e-commerce.

However, ensuring that the digital transformation happening all around us does not become another facet of the deep inequalities of the countries in Asia and the Pacific is probably one of the greatest challenges we face as countries start to rebuild.

That is why inclusion must be at the heart of digital transformation if the promise to “leave no one behind” is to be met. In particular, we need to embed inclusive objectives in the four core foundations of the digital economy: Internet access, digital skills, digital financing and e-commerce.

Chances are you are reading this on your laptop or mobile phone, giving you access to the digital world. It is hard for most of us to imagine what life would be like during the pandemic if we didn’t. Sadly, this is a reality for over 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. And among those two billion are some of the most vulnerable groups. For example, some 20 per cent of students in East Asia and the Pacific and almost 40 per cent of students in South and West Asia could not access remote learning this past year. This will have lasting effects that perpetuate inter-generational inequality and poverty.

To address the digital divide, our Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative focuses on four interrelated pillars: infrastructure connectivity, efficient Internet traffic and network management, e-resilience, and affordable broadband access for all.

However, Internet access alone is not enough. There is a persistent and still expanding digital skills gap in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the top ten most digitally advanced economies in Asia and the Pacific, around 90 per cent of their populations use the Internet. At the beginning of the century, this share stood at around 25 per cent. By contrast, for the bottom ten economies, Internet users have grown from around 1 per cent in 2000 to only 20 per cent today.

In response, our Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development is equipping policymakers and women and youth with digital skills by conducting demand-driven training programmes.

On digital finance, while the percentage of digital payment users has increased over recent years, the gap between men and women users persists. Additionally, in East Asia and the Pacific, there is a US$1.3 trillion formal financing gap for women-led enterprises.

And while the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a leading force in the global e-commerce market – with more than 40 per cent of the global e-commerce transactions – these gains have been led by just a few markets.

As a response, our Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project addresses the challenges women-owned enterprises face by developing innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic. We have supported a range of digital finance and e-commerce solutions through this initiative – such as a digital bookkeeping app and an agritech solution – providing more inclusive options for women entrepreneurs to thrive. To date, the project has supported over 7,000 women to access financing and leveraged over US$50 million in private capital for women entrepreneurs.

Inclusion is undoubtedly central to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) technology and innovation work that focuses on addressing the core foundations of an inclusive digital economy.

The recent ESCAP, ADB and UNDP report on “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No country Behind” underlined the key role digital technologies played during the pandemic and how they can also play a critical role in building back better. However, the report shows that digitalization can also widen gaps in economic and social development within and between countries, unless countries can provide affordable and reliable Internet for all and make access to the core foundations of the digital economy central to building back better.

While digital transformation is certain, its direction is not. Governments, civil society and the private sector must work together to ensure that digital technologies benefit not only the economy but society and the environment, and have inclusion at their heart. Only then do we stand a chance of realizing the transformative potential of digital technologies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Kaveh Zahedi is the Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).


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Categories: Africa

Africa Goes Digital

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 08:01

Viral Facts Africa, a first of its kind African initiative to combat health misinformation online, was launched recently by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a network of fact-checking organizations and leading public health bodies.

By Cristina Duarte

In rebuilding after COVID-19, policymakers must invest in innovative technology to leapfrog obstacles to inclusive development. Africa has enjoyed strong economic growth for most of the 21st century, mainly because of robust global demand for primary commodities.

But the “Africa Rising” narrative that accompanied this growth is mostly a story of rising GDP, which is overly one-dimensional. In fact, Africa’s economic growth has failed to generate many good jobs—postponing, once again, the benefits of the demographic dividend of a large working-age population.

Because there are fewer old and young people that require support than people of working age, the dividend is supposed to free up resources that can be devoted to inclusive development.

Instead, African policymaking continued its now nearly half-century belief that achieving “development” is limited to managing poverty—in other words, equating the business of development to poverty reduction.

The shift from the industrialization agenda of the early post-independence period to one of poverty reduction is a major reason for the continent’s economic malaise. As the African Innovation Summit (2018) put it, the development agenda shifted from socioeconomic transformation to the lowest common denominator, managing poverty.

To generate economic growth that leads to sustainable development, Africa must shift its focus to retaining and creating wealth, better managing its resources, fostering inclusiveness, moving up on global value chains, diversifying its economies, optimizing the energy mix, and placing human capital at the center of policymaking.

Cristina Duarte

For this to happen, African policy must foster investment in research, development, and innovation (R&D&I) to reboot the continent’s economic structures and catch up technologically with the rest of the world. Innovation, and the digital information technology that accompanies it, has become a necessary component of any effort to address such challenges as food security, education, health, energy, and competitiveness.

The world is driven by innovation: unless African policymakers reap the potential benefits of R&D&I, the global divide will keep growing. The problem is that innovation is talked about and debated, but not strategized.

It is here, paradoxically, that the COVID-19 pandemic, despite all the economic and social devastation it has caused, provides an opportunity for African countries to innovate and go digital. African countries will have to rebuild their economies. They should not merely repair them; they should remake them, with digitalization leading the way.

So far, civil societies seem to be more ready than policymakers to embrace digital technology. With no help from government, the digital technology industry has grown in Africa—through incubators and start-ups, tech hubs and data centers.

Information and communication technology (ICT) activities are spreading across the continent, and young Africans are responding with digital technology to the challenges posed by COVID-19.

For example, at an ICT hub in Kenya, FabLab created Msafari, a people-tracking application that can trace the spread of infections. A similar application, Wiqaytna6, was developed in Morocco. In Rwanda, the government is demonstrating what enlightened policies can achieve.

The country has invested heavily in digital infrastructure—90 percent of the country has access to broadband internet, and 75 percent of the population has cell phones. Early in the pandemic Rwanda parlayed that technological prowess into developing real-time digital mapping to track the spread of COVID-19, expanded telemedicine to reduce visits to clinics, and created chatbots to update people on the disease.

These are promising endeavors, but digitalization is not widespread in Africa. Rwanda is the exception. Only 28 percent of Africans use the internet, a digital divide that prevents the continent from taking full advantage of digital technology’s ability to mitigate some of the worst effects of the pandemic.

That slow spread of internet technology also makes it difficult for the continent to leapfrog obstacles to sustainable development. To generate transformative growth, digitalization cannot be left mainly to civil society and the private sector.

The socioeconomic divide in Africa feeds the digital divide, and vice versa. Digitalization needs to be scaled up forcefully by policymakers to unlock structural transformation.

Digital divide

When assessing the digital divide, it is important to remember that the issue is about more than access to the internet. How internet usage benefits the user is also a factor. The goal of digitalization should not just be greater consumption; it should enhance civil societies’ resilience, which demands a clear regulatory framework and an educated population.

In Africa, it’s not just internet connectivity that’s missing. So are other basics—including electricity, literacy, financial inclusion, and regulations. The result is that people are unable to use the digital solutions that are available.

Furthermore, a good share of African populations still struggles with such life-threatening problems as conflict and food insecurity, which make daily survival their only goal.

Millions of Africans are not only on the wrong side of the digital divide, they are on the wrong side of many divides—lacking basic health and public necessities such as electricity, clean water, education, and health care. COVID-19 has exacerbated their plight because lockdowns and social distancing have made many public services accessible only online.

The terrible truth is that these hundreds of millions of people have been left behind, and unless African policymakers realize that access to digital technologies is a critical tool for socioeconomic inclusion, progress will be confined to those with electricity and telecom services—further isolating the vast majority without such access. The divide will widen.

The deep disruptions generated by the pandemic have opened up opportunities to remake society that are subtle. These are times that test policymakers’ vision and leadership.

As McKinsey & Company (2020) noted, the “COVID-19 crisis contains the seeds of a large-scale reimagination of Africa’s economic structure, service delivery systems and social contract.

The crisis is accelerating trends such as digitalization, market consolidation and regional cooperation, and is creating important new opportunities—for example, the promotion of local industry, the formalization of small businesses and the upgrading of urban infrastructure.”

As Africa rebuilds from COVID-19 disruptions it must not return to a pre-pandemic reality. The moment is now.

As Africa rebuilds from COVID-19 disruptions it must not return to a pre-pandemic reality; it must build a better reality that recognizes the need for innovation, particularly digital technologies.

This is the prerequisite for victory over its myriad development challenges—such as poverty, health, productivity, competitiveness, economic diversification, food security, climate change, and governance.

Receptive to change

Over the past five years, change has occurred in Africa, suggesting that the continent may be receptive to building better rather than merely rebuilding. Liu (2019) identified three major African initiatives that signal such receptivity to change:

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which aims to create a single market with a combined GDP that exceeds $3.4 trillion and includes more than 1 billion people;

The South African government’s new Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution of the World Economic Forum (WEF), for dialog and cooperation on the challenges and opportunities presented by advanced technologies;

The WEF’s Africa Growth Platform, which aims to help companies grow and compete internationally, leveraging Africa’s entrepreneurial activity—13 percent higher in its initial stage than the global average.

These ongoing initiatives could become game changers, breathing life into the top-down dimension of going digital. So far, the change has been almost only from the bottom up. More than 600 technology hubs—places designed to help start-up companies—have emerged across the continent.

Three have achieved international recognition: Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya, and Cape Town in South Africa. These tech hubs host thousands of start-ups, incubators, technology parks, and innovation centers driven by the private sector and young people who, despite adversity, are aware of how self-employment is linked to innovation.

Public policy lacking

Things are less promising from the top down. According to a 2018 WEF report, 22 of 25 countries analyzed had no public policies focused on an ecosystem for innovation.

Investing in broad-based digitalization, from a geographic and sectoral point of view, is crucial not only to address socioeconomic problems but also to deal with peace and security challenges.

And it boosts economic growth. A study by the International Telecommunication Union found that 10 percent greater mobile broadband penetration would generate a 2.5 percent rise in Africa’s GDP per capita.

But digital solutions cannot be achieved in a vacuum. Policymakers must make implementation of digital technologies an element of an ecosystem of innovation, and there’s no time to lose. Well-calibrated regulatory frameworks, investment in infrastructure, digital skills, and financial inclusion must take priority.

Most research shows that digital technologies are essential to addressing socioeconomic challenges. They are often described as the single ingredient Africa needs to leapfrog to sustainable and inclusive economic development.

From an economic standpoint, better information and communication technology democratizes information crucial to production and market agents, which makes for more efficient value chains and more affordable products and services. And the most vulnerable people will benefit.

However, the massive adoption of digital technologies also means that policymakers must be aware of and address the complex legal and ethical impact of technology in society, including privacy, data, and tax evasion.

This is especially true in Africa, where weak institutions might not be strong enough to uphold the rights and interests of their people against those of the market.

Source: Finance and Development, International Monetary fund (IMF), Washington DC


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The writer is special adviser on Africa to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and former finance minister of Cabo Verde.

The post Africa Goes Digital appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Categories: Africa

Dr Aqsa Sheikh: Transgender Doctor Injecting Hope During COVID Pandemic

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Fri, 05/07/2021 - 07:35

Credit: Twitter @Dr_Aqsa_Shaikh

By Mariya Salim
NEW DELHI, India, May 7 2021 (IPS)

When Dr Aqsa Sheikh Tweeted and asked if she was the only transgender person to head a vaccination centre, it seemed extraordinary that in a country with 1.3 billion people, that this could be true.

“Can I lay claim to be the only #Transgender person to head a #Covid #Vaccination Centre in India? Will be very happy to have company of other Trans Folks in this spot,” she wrote on March 3, 2021.

India had turned countless hospitals into COVID-19 vaccination centres – and Sheikh was, and still is, the only transwoman heading one.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Dr Aqsa Sheikh is a proud Muslim transwoman. She is presently living in Delhi and working as the Associate Professor of Community Medicine at Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research. She is the nodal officer of a COVID-19 Vaccination Center, involved in COVID-19 surveillance, and engaged in vaccine and transmission research. Despite her qualifications even in a pandemic, the idea of a trans-Muslim woman as a doctor defies stereotypes.

“I haven’t faced any active face-to-face discrimination. However, a lot of name-calling on social media is common. In my videos, I get comments of people asking whether I am a man or a woman or why is my voice so masculine,” Sheikh told Inter Press Service (IPS) in an exclusive interview.

“People call us ‘Madarsa chhaap’ (derogatorily referring to being from an Islamic School), ‘Hijras’ (a term sometimes used to refer to trans people in a derogatory manner) and so on.”

When asked how her gender identity affects her daily professional interactions, especially during the pandemic, Sheikh says that often “our stories and our identity travel to people before us”, so people look at her through many lenses.

The intersections of her identity are many, Muslim, transgender, woman, leader, health activist.

She credits two aspects of her life for saving her from stigmatisation often experienced in the trans community. Firstly, a lot of time has passed since she transitioned, and secondly, she is in a position of privilege where she is a provider rather than someone who is seeking the service. Both these make her less of a target for discrimination.

Coming out as a trans woman, however, has not been an easy task for Dr Sheikh.

When she broke the news to her family that she was a transwoman, there was anger, denial, and rebuttal.

She says she understands that for a family which has never had exposure to a transgender person, to accept that someone they have raised as a boy for 20 years now says and affirms that they are a woman was difficult to accept. The transition, which involved surgical and legal transitions, met with increased resistance because she came from a conservative Muslim background.

“While my mother stays with me, the rest of the family is not very comfortable affirming these familial bonds, but then you can’t get everything in life,” Sheikh says. “I am happy that I have been able to do what I wanted to do despite all the opposition from society, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.”

Sheikh also emphasises there is a lot of homophobia within the Muslim community, like most communities. Still, she believes that acceptance of trans and intersex people is a little better, especially for those who transition.

The most important thing, according to Sheikh, is to be comfortable with oneself and be secure in the knowledge that she is not doing anything wrong.

“When I was confident that I was right, what I am doing is not wrong or anti-religion, then I was able to talk more about it, I was able to convince more people about it, I was able to break down more walls,” she says.

According to Sheikh, the intersectionality of identities at play and understanding them is also imperative.

“You are not just a Muslim person, or just a queer person, just a doctor. You are not just a woman or just an Indian. You are all of them together,” she says. “So, I, for example, do not only speak on the transgender issues, but I also speak on the different issues of the Muslim community. I speak on the issues faced by the Kashmiri Muslims, those faced by the patients while receiving healthcare irrespective of whether they are cis (assigned and identify with a gender given at birth) or trans.”

She feels once people see you as someone who understands intersectionality (the interconnectedness of aspects of race, class, gender, and religion), acceptance increases.

The transgender community is highly vulnerable, says Sheikh and accessing general, COVID-19, or transition-specific healthcare is challenging.

“With COVID-19 and then the subsequent national lockdowns, the number of service providers available for providing services to the trans persons saw a decrease,” Sheikh says. “During such times, the stigmatisation also always increases because one is looking for scapegoats.”

She says the blame for transmission is often placed on minority groups, like the Tablighi Jamaat or trans persons.

Mental health services, which are a privilege for any person in India to afford, became difficult to access during the pandemic.

“Especially (difficult) when it came to queer-affirmative mental healthcare and counselling. The pandemic has been a tough and challenging time for the trans community with so many losing their traditional livelihood measures,” Sheikh says.

With all the challenges that the present pandemic brings with it, she continues with her activism.

Apart from her professional medical engagements, she runs an NGO called Human Solidarity Foundation.

“We started a charitable clinic in Zakir Nagar this year. With the second wave of COVID-19, apart from distributing food kits and other work, we are doing a teleconsultation and also helping out people with COVID-19 resources,” she says.

Sheikh’s education was funded by Zakaat Funds (money to be compulsorily given by Muslims for charitable causes), and it’s her dream that the potential of children is not lost because of lack of resources. Eradication of hunger, health and education for all, sensitisation and awareness are her goals.

“I am not sure whether we can achieve these in my lifetime, but that’s what I really look forward to.”

Mariya Salim is a fellow at IPS UN Bureau


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Categories: Africa

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20 Million More People Face Food Crises, As Acute Hunger Rates Rise to a 5-Year High

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 17:02

A new report categorized people in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen as being in ‘Catastrophe,’ meaning that they need immediate action to prevent widespread death and collapse of livelihoods. This year’s report on Food Crises presents the grimmest snapshot to date of global food insecurity. Thousands of displaced people camping under trees in Minkaman, northeastern South Sudan.(file photo). Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

By Alison Kentish

The COVID-19 pandemic, protracted conflicts and climate change have created an untenable situation for the most vulnerable, with 155 million people across 55 territories suffering from severe food insecurity, sending acute hunger figures to a 5-year high.

That’s according to the Global Network Against Food Crises, an alliance of humanitarian partners working to prevent hunger and respond to food crises. The Network, which was founded by the European Union, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP), released the findings of its 2021 Global Report on Food Crises on Wednesday, May 6.

The partners have issued an annual report on food crises since 2017, but this year’s publication presents the grimmest snapshot to date of global food insecurity. It reported that 20 million more people faced acute hunger in 2020 than the previous year.

Stating that by the end of 2020, the zero hunger by 2030 goal seemed “increasingly out of reach”, the report categorised 133,000 people in Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen as being in “catastrophe”, meaning that they need immediate action to prevent widespread death and collapse of livelihoods.

Additionally, it stated that children living in food-crisis countries are especially vulnerable to malnutrition. In the 55 food-crisis countries under review, almost 16 million children under 5 years were acutely malnourished, while 75.2 million children under five years experienced stunted growth.

The Network Partners say it is possible to reverse the rising trend of food insecurity, but this requires urgent commitment, finance and action.

“Humankind can now pilot a helicopter drone and even split molecules to generate oxygen on the far-off planet of Mars, yet here on Earth, 155 million of our human family are suffering acute hunger and their lives and livelihoods are at risk because they lack the most basic of foods. The contrast is shocking and not acceptable,” said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu.

The FAO Chief says as the international and humanitarian community prepares for the United Nations Food Systems Summit in September, the information in reports like this one should serve as a guide for solutions to the world’s hunger crises.

“This requires a bold transformation of agri-food systems to be more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. This includes the development of early warning systems linked to anticipatory actions to protect livelihoods and food security before a shock or the threat emerges,” he said.

UN Children’s Fund Executive Director Henrietta Fore told the launch that the situation was worrying. She said COVID-19, with its lockdowns, economic and social shocks, has worsened a fragile nutrition situation.

“In virtually every single one of the crises described in this year’s report, the most vulnerable are young children and marginalised, hard-to-reach populations,” she said. “These children and their communities must be our priority. We need to invest in data and information systems that help us identify hot spots of vulnerability and risk at the sub-national levels in key countries. This information is critical in targeting resources efficiently to reach children, their families and their communities who are most in need.”

While the partners lament the staggering acute food insecurity statistics, the outlook is just as dire. They say threat of famine persists in some of the world’s worst food crises.

“Tragically, this report is just the tip of the iceberg that we’re facing all around the world,” said WFP Executive Director David Beasley. 

“The global picture is even more bleak when we consider all countries significantly impacted by hunger. For example, chronic hunger, which was 690 million, is now up an additional 130 million people.”

According to the report’s forecast, while conflict will remain the main driver of food crises in 2021, the economic fallout of COVID-19 will worsen acute food insecurity in fragile economies. 142 million people are projected to be in a food crisis, emergency or famine, in 40 territories for which forecasts are available.

“High levels of acute food insecurity will persist in countries with protracted conflicts by limiting access to livelihoods and agricultural fields, uprooting people from their homes, and increasing displaced populations’ reliance on humanitarian aid for their basic needs,” the report stated.

The Global Network Against Food Crises says while humanitarian assistance is urgently needed, on its own, it is insufficient to deal with the scale of the present crises. The Network says the answer also lies in peace and a transformation of global food systems.

“A system that has the most vulnerable people continuing to bear the greatest burden of global crises is broken. We must take this opportunity to transform food systems, reduce the number of people in need of humanitarian food assistance and contribute meaningfully to sustainable development and peaceful and prosperous societies,” it said.

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The post 20 Million More People Face Food Crises, As Acute Hunger Rates Rise to a 5-Year High appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Categories: Africa

Dominic Ongwen: Former Ugandan child soldier jailed for war crimes

BBC Africa - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 15:23
Former Ugandan rebel commander Dominic Ongwen was found guilty of murder, torture and rape.
Categories: Africa

How West African Leaders Can Tackle Youth and Gender Inequities

Africa - INTER PRESS SERVICE - Thu, 05/06/2021 - 14:55

Women informal cross-border traders. Credit: Trevor Davies/IPS

By Ifeanyi Nsofor, Adaeze Oreh, and John Lazame Tindabil
May 6 2021 (IPS)

Recently, both Republics of Benin and Chad held their 2021 national elections. These countries are among thirteen countries on the continent billed to elect new political leaders in 2021 alone. This is a good opportunity to improve conditions on the continent. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified other issues on the continent like youth unemployment that better leadership could help improve.

These are three ways West African leaders can better help their nations at this time of COVID-19 and beyond.

First, the rate of youth unemployment must be effectively tackled.

Younger nationals must be encouraged and supported to enter politics at all levels, vying for not only executive office, but also parliamentary seats in local, state and national elections

According to the United Nations, about 64% of the population in West and Central Africa are aged below 24. Although these young people are a huge resource for the region, unemployment, and a failure to invest and develop such as agriculture, education, health, and industry have led to an under-utilisation of this vital resource.

Sadly, the World Bank reports youths account for 60% of all of Africa’s jobless. For a continent with more than 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, the continent is home to the world’s youngest population whose level of unemployment is twice that of older adults.

Most electioneering and campaign messaging encourage violence, and with an astonishing number of unemployed and “working poor” amongst youth in the sub-region, these young people are ready tools to be used for violence, election fraud and social unrest, not to mention communal conflict and gang violence.

With informal employment being the default at up to 89% of jobs in sub-Saharan Africa, social safety nets and workers’ rights are inaccessible to most youths.  Last year, Ghanaian President Nana Addo Akufo-Addo announced that his country would cease to export cocoa to Switzerland, its largest trade partner, to increase cocoa processing and chocolate manufacturing for export.

This bold move which speaks to a focus on innovation could however change the status quo for Ghana and the West African sub-region. Harnessing the country’s youthful population into innovation-led agricultural and value-adding industrial processes medical equipment and vaccines will attract new and improved business ventures, which would lead to the creation of more jobs and economic growth.

Secondly, we must involve youths in elective offices.

United Nations projections reveal that over the next twenty-five years, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to double (in what constitutes a 99% increase). For the youngest continent in the world, there is a vast disconnect between its people and its leaders – age, as the region plays host to some of the “oldest and longest-serving political leaders”.

Changing the political narrative will require Africa’s youth to throw their hats in the ring and defy entrenched systems of elder deference to bring about political change. Younger nationals must be encouraged and supported to enter politics at all levels, vying for not only executive office, but also parliamentary seats in local, state and national elections.

Lastly, there must be gender balance in elective offices.

There is no current female West African leader. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female leader in Africa, while Nigeria’s Patricia Etteh and Joyce Adeline Bamford-Addo of Ghana were two female Speakers of Parliament in a list of elected female West African leaders that is still too short.

Experience from the COVID-19 pandemic illustrated that nations that were successful in containing the virus were mostly women-led. There have been suggestions that women leaders are more diverse and inclusive in the perspectives brought to bear in their exercise of leadership, and prioritise the protection of their citizens over risk.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s leadership in the eye of the storm of the West African Ebola outbreak of 2014 is a case in point. Madam Sirleaf herself has stated that the success of women leaders in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic has been borne out of their readiness to “draw on informal networks, ingenious partnerships, community support and alternative resources to solve problems.”

COVID-19 has affected all aspects of governance – economy, businesses, healthcare, education etc. Consequently, it will take a long time for economies to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

To quote Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: “Now is the time to recognize that developmental transformation and true peace cannot come without fundamental change in who is leading and the ways of leading.”

Dr. Ifeanyi McWilliams Nsofor is a graduate of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute and a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Health Equity at George Washington University. Ifeanyi is the Director Policy and Advocacy at Nigeria Health Watch. You can follow him on Twitter @ekemma.

Dr Adaeze Oreh is a Consultant Family Physician and Country Head of Planning, Research and Statistics for Nigeria’s National Blood Transfusion Service. She is also an Amujae Leader and Senior Fellow for Global Health with the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C. You can follow her on Twitter at @Adaeze_Oreh

John Lazame Tindanbil  is a public health practitioner working to provide quality reproductive healthcare, including safe abortion services. He leads MABIA-Ghana and is a Senior New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @JLazame_5090

The post How West African Leaders Can Tackle Youth and Gender Inequities appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Categories: Africa


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