Category Archives: Africa

Nigeria’s roads: ‘My son died in a car accident – now I control traffic’

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Monica Dongban-Mensem (centre) received training from authorities to qualify as a traffic officer

During her free time, Nigerian Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem controls traffic in the capital, Abuja, eight years after her son was killed in a hit-and-run accident.

On the day I met her she was clad in her blue traffic vest, feet spread apart, sweaty arms slicing the air at a frantic pace, as she directed cars in 38C (100F) heat fuelled by the idling cars.

Around her was the busy chaos of the Berger roundabout in the city’s central area.

The cars that were not moving were hunched on their front axles, horns blaring, impatiently waiting for her to say “go”.

She was clearly in charge.

“Many Nigerians are impatient and it shows in their driving,” Justice Dongban-Mensem told me.

She did not know who was responsible for her son’s death but wanted to tackle some of the poor driving she witnessed.

She started going to bus stations to speak to drivers about road safety in Nigeria.

What she found shocked her.

Most of the drivers had not received proper training and were not familiar with the traffic rules.

Such ignorance might have caused the death of her son and she was determined to change that.

The 62-year-old has set up a non-profit organisation named after her late son – Kwapda’as Road Safety Demand – to educate motorists about safety and she also plans to establish a driving school for potential commercial drivers, where they can receive training free-of-charge.

Not content with that, Justice Dongban-Mensem wanted to play a role in controlling the traffic herself. After weeks of training with the road safety commission she qualified as a traffic warden.

It was not until 2016, five years after the accident, that she felt able to visit the scene of her son’s death in the central Nigerian city of Jos.

“My mission was to find someone who could just tell me or describe to me how my son died.”

But once she got there, she was left terrified, sad and angry by the chaos she saw.

 

 

 

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-50728800

Elderly black women in S. Africa win property rights in landmark ruling

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Elderly black women in S Africa win property rights in landmark ruling
ARCHIVE PHOTO: A woman washes her dishes in Durban December 2, 2011. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

JOHANNESBURG, – Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women.

Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law.

“This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988.

“If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Across South Africa, a quarter century after racial segregation and white minority rule under apartheid officially ended through a negotiated settlement, land and property ownership remain sensitive topics.

Sithole’s legal victory in the eastern city of Durban could help an estimated 400,000 women by giving them more economic freedom, said the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a human rights organisation that helped Sithole take her case to court.

Black women in rural South Africa face a “double whammy” said Claassens, as both apartheid and customary laws – where land is handed down from father to son – have deprived them of property rights.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years.

Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust.

Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, a prestigious human rights prize, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

“This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane, 74, who has faced death threats for her activism. “Women can take decisions if they own property. They can have equality.”

Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die.

Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon.

“The symbolism of this judgment is important … hopefully, if enough women know about it they can begin asserting their rights,” said Claassens.

“But unfortunately, since (the introduction of democracy in) 1994 we have seen the space for change continue to be undermined by new patriarchal laws,” Claassens said, highlighting legislation that has bolstered the power of traditional leaders.

The LRC plans to hold workshops in rural areas to educate women, chiefs and the courts about the ruling.

“This will require a lot of hard work and buy-in from other non-profits to show women how they can benefit from this legal change,” said Sharita Samuel, an LRC attorney who worked on Sithole’s case.

For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women.

“We know the courts can protect women,” she said.

“The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129111914-05t8e/

 

Climate change linked to African locust invasion

Screenshot_2020-01-30 Climate change linked to African locust invasion
Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Lemasulani village, Samburu County, Kenya January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Njeri Mwangi

NAIROBI, – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200129162104-dctmm/

 

Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe

Screenshot_2020-01-29 Families trek to unsafe wells as taps run dry in drought-hit Zimbabwe
A man pumps water from a borehole to feed his wilting crops as the region deals with a prolonged drought in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2020. Picture taken January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe,  – In Zimbabwe’s second city Bulawayo, Abraham Kavalanjila and his two sons give up waiting for the water to come back on and trek out into the maize fields to draw on an open well.

They know it is risky drinking untreated water from a borehole used by so many other people. “We have no option. This water is dangerous as you can see, just check,” says Kavalanjila, pointing to a pile of human waste nearby.

City authorities say they have had to shut down water supplies for 96 hours a week – more than half the time, often in two-day blocks – to cope with a sharp fall in reservoir levels caused by the country’s worst drought in years.

The shortages have exacerbated an economic crisis marked by shortages of foreign exchange, fuel, medicines and power that has triggered protests and political unrest.

Kavalanjila says the cut-offs often go on for longer than scheduled in his Luveve township.

He carries the well water home in buckets and containers then his wife Rumbidzai boils it before using it for bathing, flushing toilets and, sometimes, cooking.

“At times you see there will be little organisms in the water and even when you are bathing you feel your body itching,” Rumbidzai told Reuters in the local Ndebele language while her nine-year-old son had a bath to get ready for school.

“So if you boil the water it gets better.

DELAYED DAM

Bulawayo city has decommissioned two of its dams after water fell below pumping levels, according to the city’s director of engineering services Simelani Dube.

The remaining four dams have an average capacity of 35% and falling, he added. “We are projecting that in the next three to four weeks we might lose the third dam. It’s currently sitting above 10% in terms of capacity.”

Authorities say the long-term answer is for Bulawayo to build a new dam 100km (60 miles) away to draw water direct from the Zambezi River.

But the project, first mooted in 1912 by white colonists and finally started in 2004 is still is only a third complete.

Cassian Mugomezi, a sprightly 84-year old pensioner who has lived in the Luveve township for more than five decades, said the water cuts were some of the worst he could remember.

“If it does not rain this year I don’t know what we are going to do,” he said.

Like Kavalanjila, he has had to rely on open wells and other privately-run projects. A nearby church pumps out clean water through its own borehole. Today, though, it is shut down in one of the city’s regular power cuts that can last up for 18 hours.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200127062548-grn4d/

 

Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy. Here’s how we can end it

Najia child
Computer lessons in Lagos. A national emergency response is needed to get all Nigeria’s children into quality schooling. Photograph: Cavan Images/Alamy

If you want a window on the condition of children in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, there is no better vantage point than the Katanga health centre in the impoverished northern state of Jigawa.

In a hut that passes for a nutrition clinic, a group of 25 women wait with their children. Tiny bodies bearing the hallmarks of acute malnutrition – distended stomachs and twig-thin limbs – are lifted into a weighing harness and their arms measured to check for signs of wasting. Ali, who has just reached his first birthday, weighs only 5kg – the average age of a two-month-old in the UK. His mother is 14.

Sitting under a tree in the forecourt, another severely malnourished child is gasping for breath. Nayo, who is seven months, has the telltale symptoms of severe pneumonia – a collapsed rib cage, deep cough and fever. He desperately needs antibiotics and medical oxygen. The clinic has neither. “I’m worried for his life, there is nowhere to go for help,” his mother tells me.

Nigeria is Africa’s largest economy and a global energy-exporting superpower. It is endowed with vast natural resources. But the country is rooted near the foot of the World Bank’s global league table for human capital – a composite measure capturing the health, education and nutritional status of children.

Five years ago Nigeria’s leaders joined the rest of the world in embracing the 2030 sustainable development goals. They include targets to end preventable child and maternal deaths, eradicate malnutrition and give all children a quality education. Almost half of Nigeria’s 200 million population is under 15, and achieving these goals would catalyse the dynamic and inclusive growth needed to create jobs.

Unfortunately, Nigeria is either treading water or sinking like a stone on all the key 2030 indicators for child development. More than 800,000 children lose their lives each year, mainly to preventable diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Over the past decade, the country’s share of global under-five deaths doubled – to 16% of the total – and continues to rise.

Malnutrition is endemic. Almost half of Nigeria’s children are stunted by nutritional deprivation, with devastating consequences for health and cognitive development. About 2 million face life-threatening malnutrition. Vaccination against killer diseases is critical for malnourished children. But millions of children in Nigeria have not been immunised.

More than 10 million children aged 5–14 years are out of school – more than in any other country – even though education is nominally free and compulsory. Most of those in school are getting a fifth-rate education after years of underinvestment. Children with eight years of schooling typically have learning skills equivalent to four years of primary education.

There are also deep fractures linked to inequalities in wealth, region and gender. Children born into the poorest 20% of families are eight times more likely to succumb to fatal illness. Young girls, especially those in the northern states, are far more likely to be forced into early marriage. Almost one in five girls are married by the age of 15, according to Unicef.

Nigeria’s child development crisis is a tragedy for the country. Over the next three decades the population will double, making Nigeria the world’s third most populous country. By 2050 almost one in every 10 children born in the world will be Nigerian. Sheer weight of numbers dictates that the fate of Nigeria’s children will shape the world’s development.

So what can be done to break the malaise?

First, Nigeria urgently needs to convert economic wealth into human capital, starting with investment in children. Current revenue collection levels are among the lowest in the world, holding back vital public spending in areas such as health and education. Changing this picture will require a broader and deeper tax base, with strengthened royalty collection from oil companies.

The federal government has passed some encouraging legislation on education and public health. But at 0.6% of GDP, Nigeria’s health spending is comparable to countries such as Yemen and Afghanistan. The result is clinics like the one in Jigawa, without trained health workers, medicines and vital equipment.

Second, a national emergency response is needed to get all children into quality schooling. Unlocking the potential of Nigeria’s children would transform the country.

That won’t be possible without a third component for change – a concerted drive to combat the deep inequalities facing girls and women. It is surely time for Nigeria’s politicians, as well religious and traditional leaders, to push for an end to child marriage – a practice that violates human rights, destroys opportunity and perpetuates poverty.

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jan/15/nigerias-child-development-crisis-is-a-tragedy-heres-how-we-can-end-it

Women step forward in push to nurture African climate scientists

Screenshot_2020-01-14 Women step forward in push to nurture African climate scientists
Women farmers tend their fields at the Tjankwa Irrigation Scheme in Plumtree District, 100km west of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, September 18, 2014. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Busani Bafana

BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, As a child, Kenyan meteorologist Saumu Shaka helped out on her parents’ small farm growing maize and pigeon pea – and learned how the weather can hold food producers hostage.

“Looking back, the yield has declined over the years,” said Shaka, 28, who works with the Kenya Meteorological Department.

A decade ago, her parents would get 25 sacks of maize from their six hectares in Taita Taveta County, southeast of Nairobi.

Today that has dwindled to five bags at most, because of erratic rainfall that can also spur crop-destroying pests.

As climate change fuels extreme weather and threatens harvests, Africa needs more scientific expertise to help small-scale farmers adapt, especially women who tend to be hit worst, said Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of Nairobi-based group African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD).

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), women represent nearly half of farmers in Africa and produce up to 80% of basic food crops.

They are also largely responsible for preparing, storing and processing food.

But in many cases, the FAO says, they have limited rights, mobility and access to resources, information and decision-making power, making them more vulnerable and less able to adapt to climate change impacts than men.

“This means women’s continued under-representation in climate change research is no longer acceptable,” said Kamau-Rutenberg, noting that few have opportunities in science education.

AWARD is leading the One Planet Fellowship, a new initiative that will train 630 African and European scientists to use a gender lens to help African smallholders adapt to climate shifts, unusually offering Africans the opportunity to serve as mentors.

Under-investment in African scientific research capacity means “we still don’t even know the specific ways climate change will manifest … in Africa,” said Kamau-Rutenberg.

In September, the three-year career development programme welcomed its first cohort of 45 fellows from Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Benin, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo, Mali, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso – over half of them female.

The aim is to “set an example and dispel the myth that there are no African women scientists ready to step into leadership”, Kamau-Rutenberg added.

AWARD collaborates on the initiative, worth nearly $20 million, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, France’s BNP Paribas Foundation and Agropolis Fondation, the European Union and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

‘FIRSTHAND EXPERIENCE’

As one of the inaugural fellows, Shaka is seeking home-grown solutions to the challenges faced by farmers like her parents, who are battling to grow enough food on a warming planet.

Her research focuses on cost-effective “climate-smart” agribusiness techniques to help young people boost jobs and food security, which she will promote on social media platforms.

African scientists “have firsthand experience and solutions that are practical and applicable to their societal set-ups within their individual countries”, she said.

Women scientists, moreover, are better able to understand the specific challenges in designing community-tailored solutions to help fellow women, said the senior meteorologist.

Droughts and floods, for example, impose a health burden on women, who have to walk long distances in search of water and stay alert to the risk of waterborne diseases, she noted.

Pamela Afokpe, 27, an AWARD fellow from Benin, said “in-continent” experts could relate to the needs of African farmers more easily.

Afokpe, a vegetable breeder with East-West Seed International, is working to get more farmers growing indigenous leafy vegetables in West and Central Africa by helping them access high-yielding varieties resistant to pests and diseases.

Up to now, a limited number of African experts have contributed to the landmark scientific assessments published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which synthesises research and guides policymakers.

Out of 91 lead authors of the 2018 IPCC special report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, only eight were from Africa, as were just a tenth of the 783 contributing authors.

South Africa’s Debra Roberts, co-chair of a working group for the IPCC ongoing sixth scientific assessment report and the first female co-chair from Africa, said the panel’s work showed tackling climate change required all of society to respond.

“Women have different lived experiences and views on the problems and solutions,” she said.

“We need to hear those voices if we are to be able to identify context-relevant solutions from the scientific literature. There is no one-size-fits-all,” she added.

Over the IPCC’s three decades of operation, there have only been three female co-chairs, two of them on the current report, she noted. “We have a long way to go still,” Roberts told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

ENERGY PRIORITIES

Women also need to be involved in the practical design of climate solutions, such as expanding off-grid solar power and clean cooking, which can reduce drudgery and minimise health issues linked pollution, said agricultural experts.

As forest loss and climate change make resources scarcer, women have to go longer distances to gather fuel-wood, which puts additional pressure on their time, health and personal security, said Katrin Glatzel, a research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Dakar, Senegal.

In Mali, a public-private partnership has provided 1.6 million people with more efficient stoves, reducing pollution by half compared to a traditional three-stone fire, she noted.

Glatzel said it was important to include and empower female scientists and farmers in the switch to cleaner, modern energy, so that their concerns could be addressed.

A 2019 survey by charity Practical Action in rural Togo found women prioritised energy for pumping drinking water and processing crops, while men favoured mobile-phone charging and heating water for washing, she noted.

In northern Benin, meanwhile, a solar-powered drip irrigation system means a cooperative of 45 women now fetches water one or twice a week rather than daily, she added.

Bringing women on board with technological innovation for rural energy services is key “to ensure that end products meet their needs and those of their families”, she said.

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200113072646-hrp53/

Ivory Coast pledges trafficking crackdown as 137 child victims are rescued

Screenshot_2020-01-14 Ivory Coast pledges trafficking crackdown as 137 child victims are rescued
A child rescued by police from captivity, with strike marks on his back, bathes at the Hajj transit camp in Kaduna, Nigeria September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

DAKAR,  Ivory Coast police on Monday vowed to ramp up efforts to stop child trafficking after rescuing 137 children from forced labour and sex work in the first major operation in several years.

Police surrounded the southeastern town of Aboisso for 48 hours last week and searched vehicles, cocoa plantations and nearby villages for children who were being forced to work or transported for purposes of trafficking, the government said.

The victims ranged in age from six to 17 and came from the nearby West African countries of Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and Togo, according to a statement.

Twelve traffickers were also arrested.

“We are going to multiply this kind of operation,” police superintendent Zaka Luc told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The operation, code-named “Bia III”, was the first since at least 2017 and followed the launch six months ago of a new national action plan against child labour, said Luc, deputy director in the anti-trafficking division.

The government said it hoped to “send a strong signal” to traffickers by raiding Aboisso, a hot spot.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, introduced its first national plan to end child labour in 2012, but the problem remains widespread in poor farming communities.

An estimated 890,000 children work in the cocoa sector, some for their parents and some trafficked from abroad, according to a 2018 report by anti-slavery organisation Walk Free Foundation.

Children are also trafficked to Ivory Coast for other types of work, such as mining and domestic servitude. Among the victims rescued last week were at least six Nigerian girls being trafficked for prostitution, said police.

The rescued children were placed in the care of a charity in Aboisso while investigations are under way to find their parents, the government said.

“Ivory Coast’s image is tarnished by child trafficking,” said Kouadio Yeboue Marcellin, deputy police chief in Aboisso.

“We are appealing to all parents. A child’s place is at school and not on plantations,” he said in a statement.

The number of police operations will depend on available funding, said Luc. This one was financed by the office of First Lady Dominique Ouattara, who has championed the cause.

The new action plan was praised by some cocoa industry executives last year for taking a wide-reaching approach to tackling the issue, including through investing in education and empowering women.

 

 

 

 

http://news.trust.org/item/20200113151823-3341s/