Category Archives: Literacy

African Nations Caught in Conflict Re-commit to Inclusive Education

DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh knows that his country is in need of an education system that is, innovative, based on universal principles and values and adaptive of the local realities.

With a population of less than a million, Djibouti is one of the smallest countries in Africa. However, the number of challenges blocking its way to implementing inclusive education are massive: flood, droughts, landslides and political conflicts.

In the past two months, we have been hit by a huge flood. Before that, we had repeated droughts. And now we have an invasion of crickets in Djibouti. So, beside the social problems, we have been also facing climatic challenges, Djibouti’s Minister of Higher Eduction and Scientific Research Nabil Mohamed Ahmed told IPS.

And each of these disasters takes toll on the education system.

Perhaps it is one of the reasons why his country is hosting the third edition of the International Summit on Balanced and Integrated Education, which started Monday, Jan. 27, in the country’s capital Djibouti City. Inaugurating the summit, President Guelleh telling said: This summit is a step closer to the future we want.

Djibouti has been making steady progress with regards to its education system, Ahmed said.

It’s been confirmed by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which found that the number of students accessing high school education increased from less than 10 percent in 2011 to over 80 percent currently.

There has also been a new focus on providing an education that can boost the employability of this Horn of Africa nation’s youth.

When they can’t find jobs, they are pushed to terrorism, Ahmed pointed out.

Djibouti is on high security alert, especially since Al-Shabaab � the Somali-based terror organisation � called for attacks on the country. Though no major attack has taken place since 2014, security concerns still remain very high across the nation, especially the regions bordering Eritrea and Somalia.

Most of Djibouti’s conflict-ridden neighbours in the region � Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan � are not participating in summit.

But Hassan Ali Khayre, the Prime Minister of Somalia � arguably one of the most conflict-ridden nations in Africa today � said that the country has been making a conscious effort to make universal education available to all Somalis, especially girls and women.

According to UNICEF, fewer than 50 percent of Somali girls attend primary school. Low availability of sanitation facilities such as separate toilets for girls, a lack of female teachers, safety concerns and social norms that favour boys’ education are cited as factors inhibiting parents from enrolling their daughters in school.

However, at the summit, Somalia’s government claimed to have taken several measures to improve girls’ education.

In 2017, we developed a national education policy to provide free universal education from Kindergarten 1. We have also ratified the convention on child rights, so that no child is left out, Somalia’s Minister of Education Mahdi Mohamed Gulaid said.

Innovative models

Oludoun Mary Omolara is an assistant Director at the federal ministry of education in Nigeria. The West African nation has been hardest hit by the terrorism unleashed by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, which is vehemently opposed to school education.

The country’s northern provinces have faced several violent attacks, including the kidnapping of 276 girls from their boarding school in 2014 � who are now known as the Chibok girls.

The region is reported to have the world’s highest rate of schoolgirl dropouts and the country itself has over 13 million out-of-school children � the largest in the world.

Though Nigeria has a universal education system, Omolara said that the national policy in border areas could be more inclusive, making it capable of addressing additional, crucial, life skills needed by people in conflict and border regions.

The borders are porous (in northern Nigeria) there is constant cross-border migration and frequent terror attacks. In such situations, we need to provide an education that can enable both teachers and students the knowledge to tackle these issues. For example, the locals need to know safety skills, which should be infused into the education policy so that teachers know how to safeguard their students in the face of an attack, Omolara told IPS.

On Jan. 28, UNICEF issued an emergency alert stating that nearly 5 million children in central Sahel, particularly Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, will need humanitarian assistance this year. Violence in the region has surged, including attacks against children and civilians, abductions and recruitment of children into armed groups.

When we look at the situation in the Central Sahel, we cannot help but be struck by the scale of violence children are facing. They are being killed, mutilated and sexually abused, and hundreds of thousands of them have had traumatic experiences, Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.

Nigeria, according to Omolara, has drafted a document to introduce this training in all the schools. So far, 400 people have been trained, and they in turn will train others. However, it is yet to be integrated into the national education policy, she said.

The country is also considering introducing multiple languages in its schools, especially in the border areas that continue to receive refugee students who speak different languages.

We are an English-speaking country, but our neighbours speak French. A lot of migrants and refugees are Arabic speaking. So, we need a multi-lingual education environment.

Also, if people are not able to understand the language of the terrorists or conflicts, they are also unlikely to deal with them. So, while we need a lot of sensitisation of people living at the conflict areas on peace education, we also must help them understand the situation and reject the terror ideologies, Omolara told IPS.

However, there are still areas where private investment could be of help. This includes rural electricity and support for the disabled.

Our government is doing all it can, but there are areas where we need help. For example, lack of electricity in the conflict region is a huge challenge. Some people are buying generators, but it could help to have more private investment, she concluded.

The 3-day summit, organised by the Education Relief Foundation (ERF), will conclude on Jan. 29 with signing of a Universal Declaration on universal inclusive education by state leaders.

Source: Inter Press Service

College Teacher Convicted for Leading Al-Shabab Operations in Mogadishu

A college teacher who is the son of a senior police officer has been found guilty of leading al-Shabab’s operations in Mogadishu for several years.

A military court in Mogadishu sentenced Mohamed Haji Ahmed to death on Tuesday. Prosecutors wanted to file charges connecting Ahmed to the death of more than 180 people. But in the end, he was convicted for being behind the assassination of three generals, a police corporal and a deputy attorney general.

In a video recorded and released by the court, Ahmed confessed to working as head of operations for al-Shabab in Mogadishu.

“I was head of operation of the city, the region,” he said in the video. “There was nothing more nerve-wracking than sending out someone to do somethingwhat will happen to them? Have they been killed?”

He said after an operation, al-Shabab bosses would call him to learn details about how it went, who fired the shots, and how many bullets were fired.

He would also send information to al-Shabab’s radio station, Radio Andalus, so the group could claim responsibility for attacks and use it as propaganda.

The court sentenced six other al-Shabab members to death, four of them in absentia. An eighth Shabab member was given life imprisonment.

A woman who worked at the Somali Women’s Headquarters was also convicted for passing information about the movement of government officials to al-Shabab. Fadumo Hussein Ali, also known as “Fadumo Colonel,” was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The hunt

Ahmed, 27, from Bulomarer town in the Lower Shabelle region, has used multiple aliases over the years to evade authorities.

Somali security forces said they have been hearing his name since 2014, when al-Shabab suspects arrested for carrying pistols in Mogadishu’s Hamarweyne district said a man they identified as “Hudeyfi” gave them the guns to carry out assassinations. The following year, more detained al-Shabab suspects mentioned the same name.

In January 2016, authorities arrested a man whose phone they had tracked because of contacts with known al-Shabab figures. He told the court he was a college teacher, which was verified, and he was released on bail. At the time, the officials did not realize that the man they arrested, Ahmed, was indeed Hudeyfi.

Over the following years, Ahmed used several other aliases. On November 2, 2016, a traditional elder was killed in Mogadishu. Two men arrested by the police in connection with the killing named their supervisor as “Dahir.”

On December 2018, twin blasts near the National Theater in Mogadishu killed at least ten people including prominent television journalist Awil Dahir Salad. The two men captured in connection with the bombing named “Ilkacase” as co-conspirator.

Police have since established that Hudeyfi, Dahir, Ilkacase and Ahmed are the same person. On Tuesday, Ahmed confirmed this information to the court.

“I was originally known as Hudeyfi, but I worked with different groups and I gave a different name to each group,” he said.

On Tuesday, Ahmed was convicted for the murder of police corporal Mohamed Omar Sheikh Osman, killed in a mosque on February 24 2017; the assassination of military General Abdullahi Mohamed Sheikh Qururuh, killed September 24, 2017; the assassination of Somali deputy attorney general Mohamed Abdirahman Mohamud on February 20, 2019; and the assassination of police General Mohamud Haji Alow on April 27, 2019.

He was also convicted for the assassination of police General Ismail Ahmed Osman on October 28, 2016. Ironically, Ahmed lived in Osman’s house in the town of Marka when he was a high school student, after his father asked Osman to help his son, security officials say.

Military courts’ prosecutor General Abdullahi Bule Kamey described Ahmed as a “merciless killer.”

“His crimes are unmeasurable,” General Kamey said. “He killed the man who raised him, the hand that fed him, General Ismail,” Gen. Kamey said.

The prosecution said Ahmed spared his father’s life only because he wanted to use him as a cover. “He let him live so that he bails him out when captured,” Kamey said.

Ahmed’s lawyers argued that their client should only be punished for the cases that can be proven before a court.

VOA Somali contacted an official at a Mogadishu college where Ahmed taught. The official, who asked that the college not be identified for fear of reprisal, says Ahmed taught English for two years as a part-time teacher. He left in March 2019, two months before he was arrested. The official says the college did not know about his connections with al-Shabab.

Source: Voice of America

The American Holiday Africa Has Adopted: Black Friday

JOHANNESBURG – Forget Thanksgiving. In Africa, consumers are forgoing the turkey dinner and family drama. Instead, they are, in huge numbers, celebrating the bonanza that comes the day after:

Marketing website Black Friday Global estimates that Black Friday sales are 1,331 percent higher than average-day sales in Nigeria and 1,952 percent higher in South Africa, the continent’s two largest economies. In Nigeria, the average Black Friday shopper spends about $60 U.S.; in South Africa, it’s just over twice that amount per shopper.

South African economist Mike Schussler, who estimates that the adopted holiday has been observed in South Africa for about a decade, said he thought Black Friday has become a little bit of a worldwide phenomenon � particularly, I think, in countries where consumers are very much needed by the retailers, where retailers have had to entice consumers from their tight spending into the shops. And in South Africa and a few other places, the end of November is normally the time period when people get what we call their Christmas bonus or their annual bonus.”

On the rise

And the phenomenon is growing. First National Bank, one of South Africa’s largest financial institutions, reported this week that its cardholders made purchases worth more than 2.5 billion rand � that’s a cool $169 million U.S. � last Black Friday, and it expected to see a 16 percent increase this year.

In the world of electronic commerce, Black Friday has been a game-changer, said Abdesslam Benzitouni, a spokesperson for Jumia, a Nigeria-based shopping site that operates in more than 10 African countries. Black Friday, which Jumia started promoting in 2014, is now so big that it has eclipsed a single day, he said. He declined to give sales figures.

“Just last year, we had more than 120 million visits on our website, he told VOA from Nairobi. And this year we’re expecting to have more than 150 million visiting our website. It was one day � Black Friday was on Friday. Then we went to one week. And now it’s one month for us.”

Good for African enterprises

So what are African consumers buying? More or less the same stuff shoppers are buying everywhere else, he said: electronics, phones, televisions, clothes. But although many of those items are not made in Africa, this consumption binge is, Benzitouni argued, a good thing for the continent. Many of Jumia’s vendors, he said, are small, local African enterprises.

“Imagine tomorrow, if we have this African free trade market between African countries, we can have, like, a seller from Nairobi who can sell directly to Nigeria or Ghana. Black Friday is just an opportunity to promote this e-commerce. So we are creating an infrastructure and visibility for a new digital economy,” he said.

Or maybe it’s just a good day to get a sweet deal. Whatever the reason, in Africa, it’s open season for Black Friday.

Source: Voice of America

Economy in Mind, Bolsonaro Changes Tack and Cozies Up to Xi

BRASILIA, BRAZIL – What a difference a year makes.

In the months before last year’s presidential election in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro described China as predatory and thumbed his nose at the Chinese government by visiting Taiwan, Beijing’s archrival.

Now, as a more pragmatic president, Bolsonaro welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to an international summit that begins Wednesday in Brasilia, the capital.

The first item on the agenda for Bolsonaro, a far-right leader who has sometimes tried to hang the communist label on his political rivals in Brazil, is a bilateral meeting with Xi.

He received Xi at the foreign relations ministry with smiles and handshakes, and the two signed a handful of memoranda. It’s a sign of how Bolsonaro views China as critical to his ambitions to rejuvenate Brazil’s sluggish economy.

China is an ever greater part of Brazil’s future, Bolsonaro said in speech after the two leaders met, adding his government will devote due care, respect and consideration to China.

Gone is last year’s fiery campaign trail rhetoric about China being a rapacious power intent on exploiting Brazilian resources.

China is, after all, Brazil’s biggest trading partner.

As China expanded rapidly in the 2000s, eventually becoming the world’s second largest economy, it relied on commodities from producers. Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, shipped soybeans, iron ore and crude to satisfy China’s expanding appetite. Those three products account for more than 80% of Brazil’s exports to China.

Bolsonaro said his government wants to diversify exports to China, and welcomed a signal from China’s government that it wants to help Brazil add value to output.

Xi’s visit for a meeting of leaders of the BRICS emerging economies � Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa � is his first to Brazil since 2014.

But his relationship with Bolsonaro already has been blossoming.

Just last month, Bolsonaro traveled to Beijing for economic and other accords, including the exemption of Chinese nationals from Brazil visa requirements. Xi received him at his car and they walked side-by-side on a long, red carpet.

Bolsonaro discovered how important China is to Brazil and that he can do business with China. And he’s more or less happy with that, said Mauricio Santoro, professor of international relations at Rio de Janeiro’s state university.

Before he became president, Bolsonaro praised the U.S. and President Donald Trump. He often said China can buy from Brazil, but not buy Brazil itself � rhetoric that continued for a while after he took office Jan. 1.

The hostile remarks didn’t last, though.

Brazil is dependent on foreign investment, especially from China.

Confirmed Chinese investments in Brazil between 2007 and 2018 totaled almost $60 billion, more than any other Latin American country, according to the Brazil-China Business Council, a Brazilian research center.

Investments faltered in 2018 ahead of Brazil’s election, part of a broader decline stemming from investor caution.

After Bolsonaro won the presidency, he took his first trip abroad to the U.S., then in the midst of a growing trade dispute with China. But Brazil didn’t get caught in the middle.

Brazil has all the reasons to work with both countries and not pick sides, said Pepe Zhang, associate China director at the Washington-based Atlantic Council. So far, it’s doing a good job.

In August, amid Western criticism of Brazil’s handling of fires raging in the Amazon, China defended Brazil’s sovereignty over the region. Bolsonaro on Wednesday described China’s support as a grand gesture that strengthened us a lot.

Xi said China intends to increase trade and investment, and will eye opportunities for cooperation in areas including agriculture, electricity, oil, and infrastructure.

China is willing to work together with Brazil to promote exchange based on equality and mutual trust, Xi said.

As Brazil-Chinese diplomacy advances, there are delicate issues to navigate.

The U.S., for example, is pressuring the Brazilian government to exclude Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from its auction next year to provide a 5G network.

The U.S. State Department says that Huawei poses cybersecurity risks and that it will review the way it shares intelligence about Venezuela with Brazil if Huawei is allowed to provide 5G service.

The U.S. and Brazil consider Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to be illegitimate and want him to resign.

China, eager for repayment of the billions of dollars in oil-backed loans it extended to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist administration, continues to support his regime.

Bolsonaro knows he won’t find common ground with Xi on Venezuela when they meet, and will likely focus on luring more Chinese investment and trade, said Santoro, the international relations professor.

Bolsonaro, a fringe lawmaker until his campaign, earned the nickname Trump of the Tropics for his rejection of politically correct discourse, and many of his supporters came to see him as a crusader willing to impose morality on a political system rife with corruption and a society suffering from violent crime.

One of his main challenges is boosting economic growth, with Brazil headed toward its third year of subdued activity after two years of deep recession. He handed the reins of economic policymaking to a University of Chicago-trained economist who is taking steps to improve business conditions, reduce trade barriers of Brazil’s protected market, and carry out a vast privatization program.

Some Brazilians were concerned that Bolsonaro as president would assume a bipolar vision of the world and closely align with the U.S. at the expense of China relations, said Jose Pio Borges, president of Cebri, a Brazilian research center that studies China.

Now, after all these reunions and initiatives, it’s clear that Brazil wants to have relationships with everyone, Borges said.

Source: Voice of America

Gambia Sues Myanmar for Genocide Against Rohingya Muslims

UNITED NATIONS – In a highly unusual move, the tiny West African nation of The Gambia on Monday filed a lawsuit against Myanmar, accusing it of perpetrating a genocide on ethnic Rohingya Muslims which forced hundreds of thousands to flee the Asian nation.

The Gambia, with the full support of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), filed the case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ leading court in dealing with disputes between nations.

“The Gambia hopes by this case, and the OIC hopes by this case, to obtain a judgment from the International Court of Justice � the highest legal authority in the international community, that Myanmar is guilty of the crime of genocide against the Rohingya people,” said Paul Reichler, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer who is leading the Gambian legal team.

Such a ruling could take years. In the interim, the lawyers are seeking what is known as “provisional measures” � an order demanding Myanmar stop harming the Rohingyas while the court considers the full case. The judges at The Hague-based court could rule on that as early as next month.

“We are hopeful to get that kind of protection for the Rohingya people very early in the case as a provisional measure so that the genocidal activities that we are seeking to end do not continue during the lawsuit,” Reichler told VOA.

Starting in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled a scorched-earth campaign unleashed by the Myanmar military in response to attacks by Rohingya militants in Rakhine state that killed a dozen police officers. Survivors crossed the border into Bangladesh where they gave accounts of massacres, rape, murder and villages burned to the ground.

The U.N. has called the atrocities “a textbook case” of ethnic cleansing. The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission said last year that estimates of 10,000 Rohingya deaths are “conservative.”

‘Inspiring’

The Myanmar government strongly disputes accusations of genocide and has established its own Commission of Inquiry.

“This is clearly a politically motivated international pressure tactic against Myanmar on the issue of Rakhine state,” Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Hau Do Suan told VOA in an email. “Gambia has nothing to do with Myanmar’s problem. The OIC and Gambia should try to put their backyard in order first, before trying to interfere in the affairs of a faraway country which is trying its best to find a sustainable and peaceful means to solve its own problem.”

He said Myanmar is implementing “in good faith” recommendations issued in 2017 from an international advisory commission on addressing root causes of the crisis and would not “surrender to this kind of unfair, intimidating, political and religious-based pressure.”

The International Court of Justice will now have to decide whether it has the jurisdiction to take up the case. Under Article 9 of the Genocide Convention, which was adopted in 1948 in the aftermath of the Holocaust, any state party to the treaty may bring a claim against another state party if it feels it failed to uphold its obligations in preventing and punishing the crime of genocide.

“What is so extraordinary here, is that The Gambia, a very small country in West Africa � a half a world away from Myanmar � had only recently freed itself from the grips of a decades-long brutal dictatorship,” said Richard Dicker, the director of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch. “It’s inspiring.”

‘Great hope for accountability’

The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect has been working with The Gambia over the past year to bring the case to the ICJ.

“It is really a great hope for accountability, for responsibility in the case of Myanmar, particularly because the (U.N.) Security Council is not doing anything,” said Nadira Khudayberbieva, Myanmar expert at the center.

While the Security Council has been engaged on the issue both in its chamber and traveling last year to the sprawling refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and flying over Rakhine state, it has not taken action, such as imposing economic sanctions or an arms embargo on the Myanmar military. This has been primarily because of opposition from China � a veto-wielding member of the 15-nation council and ally of the Myanmar government.

“I think politically it makes it more uncomfortable, more difficult, for Beijing to smile on the practice of their clients in Myanmar,” Dicker said of the genocide suit.

The only other successful prosecution of a genocide case under the Genocide Convention at the ICJ was brought by Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia in 1993. It took four years for the court to issue its decision largely in favor of Bosnia.

“That had a very damning effect in the realm of public opinion and perception in regard to what Serbia’s responsibility was for crimes it had committed in Bosnia,” Dicker noted.

Source: Voice of America