The ‘hippo trench’ across Africa: US military quietly builds giant security belt in middle of continent

Mail & Guardian

afr contNIGERIA has welcomed a US decision to send up to 300 military personnel to Cameroon to help the regional fight against Boko Haram, despite having itself requested more direct help from Washington.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman Garba Shehu on Thursday said the deployment was a “welcome development” while the military said it demonstrated cooperation was needed against the Islamists.

Washington last year provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance expertise to Nigeria in the hunt for more than 200 schoolgirls abducted from their school.

The assistance included drones and spy planes as well as up to 80 military personnel sent to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. In 2013, the US set up a drone base in neighboring Niger.

But the US is not only involved in fighting back Boko Haram on the continent. In recent years, the US has quietly ramped up its military presence across Africa, even if it officially insists its footprint on the continent is light. The decisive point seems to have been the election of  President Barack Obama in 2008. Continue reading The ‘hippo trench’ across Africa: US military quietly builds giant security belt in middle of continent

Volunteers are at front lines of Europe’s response to refugees

National Catholic Reporter

Hungarian volunteers share conversation, Sept. 24, as they give coffee to refugees passing through Hegyeshalom, Hungary, on the way to Austria. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
Hungarian volunteers share conversation, Sept. 24, as they give coffee to refugees passing through Hegyeshalom, Hungary, on the way to Austria. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

HEGYESHALOM, HUNGARY Along the border between Hungary and Austria, Rosala Holzschuh stands in the midnight darkness as thousands of refugees flow past her on their way toward Western Europe. As a cold wind swirls around her, Holzschuh looks for children with no shoes, and when she spots one, she grabs their parent and steers them toward a pile of donated socks and shoes.

As Europe faces its largest refugee crisis in decades, government agencies and charitable groups simply cannot fill the enormous humanitarian gaps. Holzschuh, a Catholic from Vienna, is one of tens of thousands of volunteers spread across several countries, shepherding the multitude of refugees and migrants crossing their lands.

“The children are freezing, and they arrive here after hours on the train with no food or water. So we need to help. I found a group asking for volunteers on Facebook, and so I come here and prepare sandwiches and try to give the refugees a warm welcome,” she said. Continue reading Volunteers are at front lines of Europe’s response to refugees

South Africa: Looking behind the barricades

Independent Catholic News

Fr Anthony Egan, SJ

While the chaos that accompanies the student protests over fees hikes at a number of our major universities has caught the media’s attention, the underlying causes seem woefully under-examined. In a nutshell, the problem comes down to money: most students can barely afford existing fees let alone fee increases, while universities cannot afford not to increase fees.

Academic fees for tertiary education are very high in South Africa for most students, particularly those who come from underprivileged backgrounds. The average estimated cost per year of study is way beyond the means of the poor, the working class and even sections of the middle class. Even though the NSFAS bursary scheme is in place, many complain that it is haphazardly administered, excludes students whose family incomes are slightly over the fund’s means test and is frequently insufficient. Many potential students simply cannot afford tertiary education. Continue reading South Africa: Looking behind the barricades

Mugabe awarded ‘China’s Nobel peace prize’

Mail & Guardian

News of Mugabe’s Chinese award sparked fury among opposition groups in Zimbabwe and ridicule among human rights activists.

Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, is being honored for supposedly "injecting fresh energy" into the global quest for harmony. (Reuters)
Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, is being honored for supposedly “injecting fresh energy” into the global quest for harmony. (Reuters)

The chairperson of an award dubbed China’s Nobel peace prize has defended the decision to honor Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president, for supposedly “injecting fresh energy” into the global quest for harmony.

Mugabe, who has been accused of using systematic violence and torture to maintain his 35-year grip on power, recently became the latest recipient of China’s Confucius peace prize.

The Beijing-run Global Times newspaper said 91-year-old Mugabe had beaten off competition from candidates including the Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, and the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye. Continue reading Mugabe awarded ‘China’s Nobel peace prize’

Africa’s Senior Citizens Cornered By Poverty

InterPress Service

Despite the UN goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger globally, Africa's senior citizens are finding themselves cornered with destitution. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo
Despite the UN goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger globally, Africa’s senior citizens are finding themselves cornered with destitution. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo

NAIROBI and HARARE, Oct 21 2015 (IPS) – Kenya has made tremendous steps towards ensuring that the elderly population does not slide into extreme poverty, hunger and, consequently, premature death.

This comes a midst concerns that due to the breakdown of sociology-cultural safety nets, Africa’s senior citizens aged 60 years and above are often falling deeper and deeper into poverty and destitution.

Government estimates places the number of Kenyans aged over 60 years at two million out of a total population of 45 million people.

Beatrice Akoth, a social worker working with the needy in Nairobi told IPS that a vast majority of the elderly are often fragile, poor and emotionally vulnerable needing care and support. Continue reading Africa’s Senior Citizens Cornered By Poverty

Nuns on the Bus: Not only about Politics, it is also an Experience about Nourishment

Sr. Eucharia Madueke, SNDdeN [Image:euc.png] In September of this year, I participated in a 13 days “Nuns on the Bus” tour where about a dozens of American Catholic Sisters from various religious congregations travelled 2,000 miles. We visited 7 states: Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and 13 cities, areas with populations considered as deeply divided. We had 33 events such as town hall meetings, visits to shelters, transitional housing facilities, schools, food pantries, parishes, congregations, and social justice ministries.

The tour was to mark Pope Francis’s historic visit to the US and to respond to the pope’s message of the need for healthy politics that are inclusive, to change politics into just policies, policies where all voices matter. The theme of the tour was, “Bridge the Divides, Transform Politics. Setting off from St. Louis Missouri, the “gateway Arch” city, down to Wheeling in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and back to Washington DC just in time to welcome Pope Francis to USA, we listened to peoples’ experience of divides in their communities as well as ways these communities are bridging the divides.

At every Town hall meeting and site visit we listened to peoples’ stories about how they are impacted by the socio-economic policies of Washington as well as ways communities are coming together to bridge the divides. We felt nourished and inspired in our mission for socio-economic justice. Hearing the peoples’ stories Sr. Simon Campbell, the leader of the Nuns on the bus said, is more important than theorizing, for hearing their stories, I will better understand them. Sr. Campbell said, “by listening to the people and letting their stories break open our hearts, we can develop solutions that meet the real needs of people and prioritize the common good”

The communities we visited also expressed how they felt nourished by our visit as evidenced in the welcome song from Yellow Springs Senior Center in Cincinnati. The choir sang “you are the sisters we have been waiting for”. On the journey, we heard many stories of struggles that broke our hearts such as the concern of African American mothers bringing up their teenage boys, a dreamer struggling alone to pay for a collage as well as fearing that she might never see her deported parents alive or dead, 15 years old Kathleen whose parents were deported when the father went to pay a traffic ticket. Kathleen now provides care for her five siblings, Kathleen’s 12 year old sister Stephanie attempted suicide thinking that her death would ease family hardship, a mother who would not eat the peach offered to her because it was not her turn to eat on that day. Her family takes turns to eat so that the others will have enough, a woman who works three jobs and had a break only when she was rushed to the hospital for exhaustion; yet she still cannot make enough to get by. We also heard encouraging stories of communities and individuals working together for common good. The story of a woman who had been arrested 80 times and has been helped to recover at Thistle Farm, Nashville. She now has her kids back and owns her home.

The Mid-Ohio Foodbank that feeds more than 22,245 unduplicated individuals from more than 6,780 different families with 80% organic food, the Grow Ohio Farm in Wheeling that is bridging the food gap in the poverty stricken communities in Wheeling, the story of a 15 years old Congolese young woman who has been from one foster home to another and is now gainfully employed in the Grow Ohio Farm. She shared how working in the farm has helped her find peace she has been searching for as she feels connected with her father who is a farmer at home (Congo). Believing that the only way to create change in society is by listening to the peoples’ stories, especially those on the margins, and responding by eliminating factors that perpetuate poverty and injustice, Sr. Simon invited the individuals and communities to exercise “holy curiosity” , encouraging individuals and communities to go out to learn and discover what is happening in their community by engaging in conversation with each other, to practice “sacred gossip” where one is expected to lift up the other’s story, sharing what is going wrong in community, and to take action for change based on each persons’ giftedness and ability. On returning to Washington on September 22, we held a public event on the mall where people were invited to share their stories. The highlight for me was a woman with bone cancer telling how and why, with other women, she walked 100 miles for common sense immigration policy.

After the end of Pope Francis’s visit, we lobbied the congress asking them to raise spending caps to fully fund human needs programs and to expand and make permanent the earned income tax credit and child tax credit, lifting the stories of these communities up to those with power to make decisions. The stories we heard along the way were also sent in an I-pad to Pope Francis so that he can hear the voice of those who were unable to come to Washington, New York, or Philadelphia to tell their own story.

Nigeria: At last a cabinet, and now for the policies

Africa Confidential

After balancing political interests and restructuring ministries, the most urgent issue facing President Buhari is economic strategy

At his self-imposed eleventh hour, President Muhammadu Buhari submitted his list of 21 ministerial nominees to the Senate on 30 September. On 8 October, the Senate was to start vetting the names but it will not know the portfolios that Buhari intends to give to his nominees. That means that most of the questions will be about personal integrity and political loyalties rather the technical competence required in a specific portfolio (AC Vol 56 No 9, APC to lead with a leaner team).

The list is the outcome of a tricky political balancing act which has taken far too long – he was inaugurated on 29 May – but has at least succeeded in not alienating critical constituencies in the political and business worlds. In addition to the complexity of mediating among and sifting through the myriad interest groups which descended on Abuja to press their claims to run ministries, Buhari has been trying to restructure the government at the same time. Not only does he want a leaner government – the 21 nominees are likely to be the substantive ministers and the next 15, so far unnamed, will be the deputy or state ministers – he also wants to cut the ministers’ scope for patronage. Continue reading Nigeria: At last a cabinet, and now for the policies