Category Archives: East Africa

New species of ancient human discovered in Ethiopia

BBC

Australopithecus deyiremeda
Researchers say the jaw bones and teeth are unlike any they have seen before

A new species of ancient human has been unearthed in the Afar region of Ethiopia, scientists report.

Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old.

It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means “close relative” in the language spoken by the Afar people.

Dig in Ethiopia
The bones were found in the Afar region of Ethiopia
Australopithecus deyiremeda
The remains belong to four individuals and date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old

The ancient remains are thought to belong to four individuals, who would have had both ape and human-like features..

Living with Lucy

Lead researcher Dr Yohannes Haile-Selassie, curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the US, told BBC News: “We had to look at the detailed anatomy and morphology of the teeth and the upper and lower jaws, and we found major differences.

“This new species has very robust jaws. In addition, we see this new species had smaller teeth. The canine is really small – smaller than all known hominins we have documented in the past.”

The age of the remains means that this was potentially one of four different species of early humans that were all alive at the same time.

The most famous of these is Australopithecus afarensis – known as Lucy – who lived between 2.9-3.8m years ago, and was initially thought to be our direct ancestor.

However the discovery of another species called Kenyanthropus platyops in Kenya in 2001, and of Australopithecus bahrelghazali in Chad, and now Australopithecus deyiremedaI, suggests that there were several species co-existing.

Australopithecus afarensis
Australopithecus afarensis was thought to be a direct ancestor of modern humans

Some researchers dispute whether the various partial remains really constitute different species, particularly for A. bahrelghazali. But Dr Haile-Selassie said the early stage of human evolution was probably surprisingly complex.

“Historically, because we didn’t have the fossil evidence to show there was hominin diversity during the middle Pliocene, we thought there was only one lineage, one primitive ancestor – in this case Australopithecus afarensis, Lucy – giving rise to the next.

“That hypothesis of linear evolution has to be revisited. And now with the discovery of more species, like this new one… you have another species roaming around.

“What this means is we have many species that could give rise to later hominins, including our own genus Homo.”

Dr Haile-Selassie said that even more fossils need to be unearthed, to better understand the path that human evolution took.

He added that finding additional ancient remains could also help researchers examine how the different species lived side-by-side – whether they mixed or avoided each other, and how they shared food and other resources in their landscape.

South Sudan rebels take strategic areas of northern Bahr el-Ghazal

Sudan Tribune

(JUBA) – The opposition forces led by former vice president, Riek Machar, have occupied a number of strategic areas in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, government officials have confirmed.

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South Sudanese rebel fighters hold up their rifles as they walk in front of a bushfire in rebel-controlled territory in Upper Nile state on 13 February 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

State officials and local residents told Sudan Tribune that the opposition fighters occupied areas previously held by government troops in Nyinbuoli and many other key locations in Aweil West and Aweil North counties.

The move by the opposition forces under the overall command of General Dau Aturjong has sparked fears that fighting may spread to the once relatively peaceful Bahr el Ghazal region.

Aweil North county commissioner, Kon Angok Kon, acknowledged in an exclusive interview withSudan Tribune on Wednesday that the opposition forces had moved into the areas and were occupying strategic locations in northern part of the county near the border with eastern Darfur region in neighbouring Sudan.

Kon is one of the first state officials to admit the presence of the rebels in the area but did not say whether the government troops had attempted to engage them in an active combat operation.

It was not clear how and why the government abandoned such locations only to be occupied by the rebels without a fight, but some cited mass redeployment of troops from Bahr el Ghazal region to the active frontlines in Upper Nile region as the main reason.

A high ranking military source also told Sudan Tribune in a separate interview that the general command at the military headquarters in Juba was aware of the presence and activities of the opposition fighters in the area but had not yet decided how to react to their activities.

“Discussions are underway at the high level of command but as far as I know, there is no decision taken yet on how to handle the activities of the forces of Dau Aturjong. There are discussions at the level of political leadership about it. Some have proposed reaching out to them in form of dialogue,” he said.

The officer, who comes from Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, said his people suffered enough and it would be unwise to continue to fight to perpetuate the suffering and displacement of innocent people.

Another politician said politicians and military officers with the legislators from the area were trying their best to avoid hostilities between the two forces, pointing out innocent civilians would be the victims of armed confrontation in the end.

“You have seen the damage and the level of destruction this war has caused in other states. The people who have paid the price of this war are not the politicians but the ordinary people who have nothing to do with the cause of the war but they have been made to suffer for nothing”, another state official currently visiting Juba from Aweil town, capital of the state, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.

He confirmed that political leadership had been trying to persuade the religious leaders to initiate dialogue on behalf of the government with General Dau Aturjong and his group, adding that it however appeared the latter had refused.

“We do not want our people to die. The loss of lives we have had, the sacrifices our people have made in this war alone is immeasurable,” he said.

He further lamented that the worst part in the war was that it will continue to be fought at home.

“It will be a war within the people, inside the communities, between family members, so it will be a war between brothers fighting another brother,” he said.

General Aturjong was appointed by the rebel leader as deputy chief general staff and commander of the opposition forces in Northern Bahr el Ghazal state.

He has not however been actively fighting against president Salva Kiir’s government in his home state, owing to alleged advice to him by his home intellectuals not to wage war in the area.

(ST)

Madgascar – President challenges impeachment vote.

Reuters

Madagascar President Hery Rajaonarimampianina challenged on Wednesday an impeachment vote against him in parliament, where critics say he has dragged religion into politics and failed to deliver on his promises.

The vote by 121 of 151 members of parliament late on Tuesday must now go to the constitutional court to determine if the head of state should be sacked, a move that threatens to derail the country’s rebuilding efforts after years of crisis.

In a radio and television broadcast, Rajaonarimampianina said the country needed stability and not political wrangling. Dismissing corruption allegations and questioning the vote count, he said: “I’m still there. I’m still standing.”

Rajaonarimampianina’s peaceful election victory in late 2013, the first vote since a 2009 military coup, was seen as chance to stabilise the poor but mineral-rich Indian Ocean state after years of post-coup isolation.

Donors have returned, but the government has battled to wean the nation off fuelsubsidies and get the economy moving. The president has also lost the support of the party that helped him to power, highlighting the fractious political landscape.

Western and other donors in the aid-dependent nation have called for unity and say the country needs political stability.

After the late night vote on Tuesday, parliament speaker Jean Max Rakotomamonjy said: “I declare that the resolution is adopted and will be delivered to the high constitutional court.”

The president’s supporters challenged the handling of the vote. Lawmaker Lydia Toto questioned the tally of 121 votes in favour, saying only 102 deputies were present in the National Assembly at the time.

Opponents said the president had violated Madagascar’s constitution and the secular nature of the state by giving speeches in churches, in a nation where just over half the 23 million people practice mostly local animist religions.

Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, make up 41 percent of the population and Muslims seven percent, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Mixing religion and politics is a sensitive issue in the island state. Former President Marc Ravalomanana, ousted in the 2009 coup, was also accused of using churches to drum up support when in power.

Rajaonarimampianina has recently allied himself with Ravalomanana’s party, after his previous backers deserted him.

Opponents also said Rajaonarimampianina had failed to set up a new high court, which would normally review the impeachment decision. The constitutional court will now play that role.

Since taking office last year, the president has been under pressure over his handling of the economy and public services.

The government does not have enough cash to pay for fuel to run power stationsbecause of a hefty subsidy system, leading to frequent blackouts. Donors have called for reforms.

Rajaonarimampianina’s government was also criticised for not responding more swiftly to a plague outbreak last year.

The U.S. Embassy said on its Facebook page on Tuesday that it backed rebuilding work by Rajaonarimampianina after the 2009 crisis. “We urge all stakeholders in positions of leadership to place as their first priority the welfare of the people, and guarantee the stability necessary for the country’s future.”

Nearly half Mozambique’s elephants killed in five years says WCS

BBC

‘Nearly half’ of Mozambique’s elephants killed in five years

File photo: An elephant in Kenya
Elephant conservationists say demand for ivory remains high

Poachers have killed nearly half of Mozambique’s elephants for their ivory in the past five years, says the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The campaign group estimates there has been a 48% decline in elephant numbers from just over 20,000 to around 10,300.

The WCS’s Alastair Nelson says the poachers come from Tanzania where the elephant population has already been decimated.

China is the world’s largest consumer of smuggled tusks.

Remote northern Mozambique, which includes the Niassa National Reserve, was the hardest hit, accounting for 95% of elephant deaths.

The north “has always been a remote and poorly governed area, with an underlying level of corruption,” Mr Nelson told AFP.

Ivory tusks and products are displayed after the official start of the destruction of confiscated ivory in Hong Kong 15 May 2014
Elephant tusks are prized in Asia, where they are carved into ornaments and used in medicine

Mozambique did not criminalise the killing of protected animals until 2014.

In May, police seized the country’s biggest ever find of illegal wildlife products.

Some 1.3 tonnes of elephant ivory and rhino horn were found. That find represented the result of the killing about 200 animals and had a street value of $6.3m (£4.1m).

Kenya – police clash with al-Shabab in Garissa County

BBC

Al-Shabab fighters in Somalia
Al-Shabab has been intensifying attacks in Kenya
Kenyan police have been involved in a fierce gun battle with militant Islamists in north-eastern Garissa County, leaving one officer wounded, a government spokesman has told the BBC.

The al-Shabab militants had ambushed the police near Yumbis town in Garissa County, Mwenda Njoka added.

He dismissed as propaganda al-Shabab’s claim that at least 20 policemen were killed in the attack.

Al-Shabab is a Somalia-based group which has stepped up attacks in Kenya.

In April, it carried out a siege on Garissa University College and 148 people were killed.

‘Vehicles burnt’

Last week, the militants briefly seized control of Yumbis, about 100km (62 miles) east of Garissa town, and warned residents not to work with the government.

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BBC live page screengrab

Latest African news updates

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BBC Somali service reporter Abdullahi Abdi says al-Shabab appears to be firmly establishing itself in Garissa County, despite government efforts to defeat the militants.

The policemen were ambushed while rushing to the aid of colleagues who had been hit by a landmine explosion, he says.

Kenyan police officers take positions outside the Garissa University College as an ambulance carrying the injured going to a hospital, during an attack by gunmen in Garissa, Kenya, Thursday, 2 April 2015
Kenya’s security forces battled to end the siege at Garissa University College

Four police vehicles were set ablaze by the militants, he adds.

Al-Shabab said in a statement that its “special forces” had carried out a “successful” operation which led to the killing of at least 20 policemen.

However, Mr Njoka, the interior ministry spokesman, said only one officer was wounded and had been airlifted to hospital for treatment.

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Analysis: Abdullahi Abdi, BBC Somali service

There have been reports of al-Shabab fighters roaming between villages in north-eastern Kenya for the last three weeks.

Local reports have spoken of groups of 20 to 40 militants in different areas, armed with sophisticated weapons like hand-held rocket launchers, walkie-talkies and vision cameras.

Last week, they occupied Yumbis for a whole day, despite the heavy presence of police and soldiers in the region.

Garissa County Deputy Commissioner Ahmed Adan Shabeel says the thick forest in the area, and the fact that al-Shabab fighters include local residents who know the terrain better than soldiers, makes it difficult to drive them out.

Kenya – no ministers cleared by EACC over graft

Daily Nation

We have not cleared any minister on graft list, says EACC boss Halakhe Waqo

CEO Halakhe Waqo says the final say on the cases facing four Cabinet secretaries lies with the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission CEO Halakhe Waqo. He on May 26, 2015 asked President Kenyatta to add the commission one month to wrap up its investigations into 124 cases of grand corruption in government. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU |  NATION MEDIA GROUP.

In Summary

  • Kambi, Ngilu, Koskei and Kamau are facing more than one case, says EACC Chief Executive Officer Halakhe Waqo.
  • He said Ngilu, Kambi, Kamau and Koskei were facing several corruption cases and their fate can only be known once EACC completes its investigations.
  • On Monday, EACC asked Mr Tobiko to prosecute Mr Kambi and Mr Kamau for abuse of office.

No Cabinet secretary is off the hook in the ongoing investigations into grand corruption in government, the anti-corruption commission said on Tuesday.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) said the final say on the cases facing four Cabinet secretaries lies with the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Keriako Tobiko.

“We forwarded the cases to DPP on Monday, with our recommendations. The DPP will look at the files and give us his recommendations. We can propose closure of files but the DPP can ask for further investigations,” said EACC Chief Executive Officer Halakhe Waqo.

SEVERAL CASES

He said Land Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu, Mr Kazungu Kambi (Labour), Mr Michael Kamau (Transport) and Mr Felix Koskei (Agriculture) were facing several corruption cases and their fate can only be known once EACC completes investigations into all of them.

“Those that you are talking about having been cleared have other pending corruption cases,” he said at Kenya School of Government in Nairobi during EACC stakeholders’ forum for validation of the proposed framework for monitoring compliance with Chapter Six of the Constitution.

On Monday, EACC asked Mr Tobiko to prosecute Mr Kambi and Mr Kamau for abuse of office.

Dr Waqo said the two institutions were working together in the war on corruption, adding that Mr Tobiko has provided 15 officers to work with EACC.

30 MORE DAYS

He, at the same time, asked President Kenyatta to add the commission 30 days to conclude its investigations into 124 corruption cases that it has been handling for the last two months.

Mr Kenyatta’s 60-day ultimatum to EACC to wrap up investigations into the ‘List of Shame’ that he presented to Parliament ended on Tuesday last week.

The commission has concluded investigations into 56 files and 21 files have been forwarded to Mr Tobiko.

Attorney-General Githu Muigai said Kenyans have until June 5 to submit their memoranda on how to address various bottlenecks on the fight against corruption.

South Sudan – financial and economic collapse looms

RFI/allAfrica

Experts are warning South Sudan may soon see a currency collapse, as high inflation cripples the country. This comes as fighting continues between government and rebel forces around South Sudan’s last remaining functioning oil fields.

The African Union on Sunday demanded sanctions and an arms embargo be imposed on South Sudan’s warring leaders, to stem an escalation in the conflict. The world’s youngest country has endured 17 months of brutal civil war, but the destruction of infrastructure and continual displacement of peoples has left the economy and critical food production in chaos.

The constant displacement of peoples is making stable employment rare, continuously smothering the fledgling economy. Up to 90 per cent of the government’s income had come from oil revenues from the now all but destroyed wells.

The communications director for the World Food Programme in the country’s capital Juba, George Fominyen, told RFI that “this year at least 2.5 million people started the year unsure of where their next meal was coming from, and the number is only set to increase”. He describes the severe food scarcity that is present not only in areas directly hit by the conflict but across all of South Sudan.

Some areas are now on the brink of famine and the UN reports that more than half of the country’s 12 million people are in need of assistance, making South Sudan one of the most aid-dependent states.

In the northern town of Malakal, an area rich in oil, the UN began to reinstate order and security in a community that had bore witness to countless atrocities. Life was returning to the shattered streets, but just more than a week ago rebel forces launched an assault on the strategic town, which once again destroyed the new shoots of stability.

Ariane Quentier, the spokesperson for the UN’s mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), told RFI: “This is as big of a set back as it’s possible to have when you’re trying to restore peace.”

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