Category Archives: Humanitarian Issues

Liberia closes border to contain ebola

Liberia shuts border crossings, restricts gatherings to curb Ebola spreading
MONROVIA Mon Jul 28, 2014

(Reuters) – The Liberian government on Sunday closed most of the West African nation’s border crossings and introduced stringent health measures to curb the spread of the deadly Ebola virus that has killed at least 660 people across the region.

The new measures announced by the government on Sunday came as Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone struggle to contain the worst outbreak yet of the virus.

Speaking at a task force meeting, Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the government is doing everything to fight the virus including inspecting and testing all outgoing and incoming passengers by Liberia’s airport authority.

“All borders of Liberia will be closed with the exception of major entry points. At these entry points, preventive and testing centres will be established, and stringent preventive measures to be announced will be scrupulously adhered to,” she said.

Ebola can kill up to 90 percent of those who catch it, although the fatality rate of the current outbreak is around 60 percent. Highly contagious, especially in the late stages, its symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea as well as internal and external bleeding.

Under the new measures, public gatherings such as marches, demonstrations and promotional advertisements also will be restricted.

The outbreak has placed a great strain on the health systems of some of Africa’s poorest countries.

“No doubt, the Ebola virus is a national health problem. And as we have also begun to see, it attacks our way of life, with serious economic and social consequences,” Sirleaf said in a statement.

Still, despite efforts to fight the disease, the virus continues to spread. A 33-year-old American doctor working for relief organisation Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia tested positive for the disease on Saturday.

The charity said on Sunday a second American, who was helping a team treating Ebola patients at a case management centre in Monrovia had also tested positive.

Samuel Brisbane, a senior Liberian doctor, who was also treating infected patients has died after contracting the virus, authorities said on Sunday. In Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, a Liberian man who tested positive died in on Friday.

A health worker with disinfectant spray walks down a street outside the government hospital in Kenema, July 10, 2014.


Sierra Leone ebola escapee dies


Ebola outbreak: Sierra Leone escaped patient dies

Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone, 10 July, 2014. The Ebola virus has killed hundreds in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone

A Sierra Leone woman who fled hospital after testing positive for the Ebola virus has died after turning herself in, health officials have told the BBC.

Her family had forcibly removed her from a public hospital on Thursday.

Saudatu Koroma’s is the first case of Ebola to be confirmed in the country’s capital Freetown, where there are no facilities to treat the virus.

Since February, more than 660 people have died of Ebola in West Africa – the world’s deadliest outbreak to date.

Nigeria has put all its entry points on red alert after confirming the death there of a Liberian man who was carrying the highly contagious virus.

The man died after arriving at Lagos airport on Tuesday, in the first Ebola case in Africa’s most populous country.

The outbreak began in southern Guinea and spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Reports on Saturday said that a prominent Liberian doctor, Samuel Brisbane, had died after a three-week battle with the virus.

And later it emerged that a US doctor working with Ebola patients, Kent Brantly, was being treated for the virus in a hospital in the capital Monrovia.

Street protest

The virus, which kills up to 90% of those infected, spreads through contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids.

Patients have a better chance of survival if they receive treatment early.

Ms Koroma was the first registered Ebola case in the capital Freetown.

Both she and her parents – who are suspected of having the virus – had been taken to Ebola treatment centres in the east of the country, health ministry spokesman Sidi Yahya Tunis told the BBC.


Ebola virus disease (EVD)

Coloured transmission electron micro graph of a single Ebola virus, the cause of Ebola fever
  • Symptoms include high fever, bleeding and central nervous system damage
  • Fatality rate can reach 90%
  • Incubation period is two to 21 days
  • There is no vaccine or cure
  • Supportive care such as rehydrating patients who have diarrhoea and vomiting can help recovery
  • Fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the virus

The woman had been one of dozens of people who tested positive but were unaccounted for, the BBC’s Umaru Fofana reports from the capital, Freetown.

Her case highlights Sierra Leone’s lack of preparedness in responding to the outbreak, our correspondent says, with no laboratory or treatment centre in Freetown.

The Ebola cases in Sierra Leone are centred in the country’s eastern districts of Kenema and Kailahun, just over the border from the Guekedou region of Guinea where the outbreak started.

Police said thousands of people joined a street protest in Kenema on Friday over the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the doctor leading Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola was being treated for the virus.

On Thursday, the World Health Organization said that 219 people had died of Ebola in Sierra Leone.

Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) wearing protective gear walk outside the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital, on 23 July 2014 in Conakry There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, which spreads via bodily fluids including sweat

Meanwhile, in Nigeria, the health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said that all other passengers on board the flight with the infected man had been traced and were being monitored.

The patient had “avoided contact with the general public” between the airport and the hospital, he said.

“All ports of entry to Nigeria, including airports, sea ports and land borders have been placed on red alert,” he added.


WHO: West Africa Ebola outbreak figures as of 24 July

  • Guinea - 314 deaths, 415 cases
  • Liberia - 127 deaths, 224 cases
  • Sierra Leone – 219 deaths, 454 cases

WHO update



Central African Republic rebel leader rejects deal

Central African Republic rebel chief rejects ceasefire

Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic have rejected a ceasefire deal and demanded the country be partitioned between Muslims and Christians.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Harding, Seleka military chief Joseph Zoundeiko said his forces would ignore the ceasefire agreed on Thursday.

He said the deal had been negotiated without proper input from the military wing of the former Seleka alliance.

Almost a quarter of the 4.6 million population have fled their homes.

The peace agreement between mainly Muslim Seleka rebels and the largely Christian anti-Balaka militia was signed in the Congolese capital of Brazzaville.

Muslims have been forced to flee the capital city and most of the west of the country, in what rights groups described as ethnic cleansing.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes such as torture and unlawful killing.

‘Immediate partition’
But Maj-Gen Zoundeiko has now called for the entire country to be split in two, arguing that the Central African Republic as a nation state was finished.

Sectarian fighting has forced much of the Muslim population – and Seleka fighters – to flee to the north or to neighbouring countries

A recent study by the medical aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres showed “catastrophic levels of mortality” among some Muslim communities because of targeted violence
He called for an immediate partition between the Christian south and Muslim north.

But our correspondent says that political leaders from both sides insist that reconciliation remains possible and desirable despite months of violence.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have already fled from the south – and daily attacks continue in the countryside.

Maj-Gen Zoundeiko blamed “our Christian brothers” for making peace impossible. He declined to say exactly how the country should be divided.


Africa – one step forwards, two steps back in overall development, UN says


Photo: Hien Macline/UN

Pupils in Cote d’Ivoire: Education is one of the crucial indicators used in compiling the Human Development Index.

Cape Town — While a number of African countries have recently made some progress in improving the quality of life of their people, nearly as many are backsliding, according to the latest United Nations statistics. And across the board, Africa continues to lag far behind the rest of the world in its levels of human development.

These are the broad conclusions that can be drawn from the snapshot provided by comparing country rankings for 2013 to those for the previous year, as published in the 2014 Human Development Index. The index, a project of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), measures quality of life by examining achievements in income, health and education.

The index shows that 11 African countries improved their rankings in 2013 over 2012, while the rankings of eight declined. Nevertheless, only five African countries appear in the “high human development” category, while 35 of the 43 countries whose development is categorised as “low” are African.

Although Zimbabwe is ranked “low” – at 156th place among 187 countries – its improvement between 2013 and 2012 was the most dramatic in the world. Its ranking rose by four places. The UNDP said in a press release that this was a result of “a significant increase in life expectancy – 1.8 years from 2012 to 2013, almost quadruple the average global increase.”

On the other hand, Libya’s human development is classified in the “high” category but its ranking plunged the most – by five places to 55th place. This was a consequence of conflict contributing to a drop in income, the UNDP said.

Apart from Zimbabwe, better rankings were also achieved by Zambia, which rose two places, to 141, and by nine other countries, whose positions rose one place: the Democratic Republic of Congo (to 186), Lesotho (to 162), Morocco (129), Mozambique (178), Nigeria (152), Sierra Leone (183), South Africa (118), Tanzania (159) and Togo (166). However, the index nevertheless scores the DR Congo, Mozambique and Sierra Leone as among the world’s 10 least developed countries.

Other African nations besides Libya whose rankings slipped were Equatorial Guinea, by three places to 144th place, Senegal, also by three places (to 163), Cape Verde (two places, to 123), Egypt (two places, to 110) and Mauritania (two places, to 161). Each of the following countries dropped one place: Botswana (to 109), Chad (184), Comores (159), Gabon (112), Guinea (179), Niger (187), Sao Tome and Principe (142) and Seychelles (71).

However, Africa fares better if its rate of progress is assessed over the 13 years since 2000. Although sub-Saharan Africa has the highest levels of inequality in the world, it notched up the second highest rate of overall progress in the index between 2000 and 2013, the UNDP said in a press release.

“Rwanda and Ethiopia achieved the fastest growth, followed by Angola, Burundi, Mali, Mozambique, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia,” the agency said.

Taking a global perspective, the UNDP this year placed considerable emphasis on reducing people’s vulnerability to factors outside their control, and on building up resilience to avert the threats they face.

“High achievements on critical aspects of human development, such as health and nutrition, can quickly be undermined by a natural disaster or economic slump,” the report said. “Theft and assault can leave people physically and psychologically impoverished. Corruption and unresponsive state institutions can leave those in need of assistance without recourse.”

It suggested that “real progress” in improving human development depended not only on improving people’s education, health, safety and standards of living, but also “on how secure these achievements are and whether conditions are sufficient for sustained human development. An account of progress in human development is incomplete without exploring and assessing vulnerability.”

Providing an African take on the issue, the director of the agency’s Regional Bureau for Africa, Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, added that “withstanding crises and protecting the most vulnerable, who are the most affected, are key to ensuring development progress is sustainable and inclusive.”

No African country is in the “very high” development category, and only the north African and island nations of Libya, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Tunisia and Algeria fall in the “high” category.

The 10 countries in the world with the lowest development levels are, from the bottom, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Chad, Sierra Leone, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea and Mozambique.



DR Congo and Rwanda – will Hutu FDLR give up or fight on ?


Surrender or tactical deceit – has the FDLR really given up the fight?
24 July 2014

Is the UN’s Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), which famously routed the M23 rebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) last year, now snatching defeat from the jaws of a complete victory against all disruptive forces in the region?

This is what many analysts fear after a controversial decision by regional leaders in Luanda earlier this month to give the other most troublesome armed group in the region, the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), six months’ grace to surrender and disarm.

The FDLR, in one or other guise, has been at the very heart of the instability and conflict in the eastern DRC for 20 years. It was originally established by members of the Interahamwe – an ethnic militia composed of Hutus, Rwanda’s ethnic majority – who fled their homeland in 1994 after participating in the genocide against the minority Tutsis.

The FDLR’s presence in eastern DRC has been a two-fold agent of instability and conflict. It has itself preyed on the local population like so many other armed groups and warlords, and it has developed entrenched economic interests in the area. But its presence in eastern DRC has been even more destructive in terms of regional stability, because it has been the reason – or perhaps pretext – for Rwanda to intervene militarily in the area several times, supposedly to safeguard its own security against a group dedicated to the overthrow of President Paul Kagame’s government.

Kagame lost the argument as the FDLR were given a further six months to disarm 

The Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), a 3 000-strong South African, Tanzanian and Malawian force, was set up under the wider United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission in the DRC, MONUSCO, but with a more robust mandate to go after the armed groups terrorising the eastern DRC.

Late last year it helped the DRC army (the Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo, or FARDC) to defeat the feared ethnic Tutsi-led M23 rebels, whom the UN had accused Rwanda of supporting. Then, earlier this year, the FIB and FARDC also defeated the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan armed group, dislodging it from its redoubts in the eastern DRC.

The next armed group in the cross hairs was the FDLR. But then in April, FDLR interim president, Victor Byiringiro, wrote to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, DRC President Joseph Kabila and other regional leaders announcing that the FDLR had decided to lay down its weapons and henceforth fight Kagame’s government politically instead.

A deadline of 31 May was set for the voluntary surrender of the FDLR. But only approximately 200 of its estimated strength of 1 500 to 2 000 surrendered during May and June and handed in their weapons. Rwanda is convinced the surrender was a ruse intended to buy time for the FDLR to regroup and reinforce itself for battle with the FIB and FARDC later, when it feels stronger.

At a joint ministerial meeting in Luanda on 2 July of the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Kagame lost the argument as a decision was taken to give the FDLR a further six months to surrender and disarm – with an interim progress check after three months – or face ‘military consequences.’

Stephanie Wolters, head of the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis division at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, shares some of Rwanda’s scepticism about the sincerity of the FDLR’s surrender. One of the reasons for her doubts is the UN Expert Group’s June report, which said the FDLR was still recruiting and training combatants.

She finds it inexplicable that the Luanda meeting apparently ignored the UN group’s findings and effectively took the FDLR at its word. Official sources say that South Africa was one of those pushing hardest for the FDLR to be given six months’ grace. One source said that South Africa, as one of the nations that would be on the frontline if fighting broke out with the FDLR, argued that it was entitled to demand that peace first be given a chance.

South African officials also say the FDLR did not surrender ‘out of goodwill,’ but was forced to do so because it saw what had happened to the M23 and feared suffering the same fate. However, this logic does not exclude the possibility that the FDLR might indeed have balked at engaging the FIB and FARDC now – but chose to ‘surrender’ so it could fight another day.

South African officials acknowledge that the demobilisation and disarming of the FDLR is a ‘work in progress,’ much complicated by the fact that demobilised soldiers would mostly have to return to Rwanda, where they fear what awaits them.

The FDLR has been weakened but still remains a formidable force

All of this, though, has left Rwanda feeling suspicious and resentful – not a happy mood for anyone in the region. Under the framework for peace agreement signed by the international community, regional countries and the DRC in February 2013, the FDLR was clearly identified as one of the ‘negative forces’ that would have to be eliminated.

There was general agreement that the FARDC and the FIB would go after the M23 first, because it posed the most immediate challenge to the government and to stability. But removing the FDLR was supposed to be the quid pro quo for eliminating the M23, as Wolters observes.

She notes that the FDLR and the FARDC have collaborated in the past to fight the M23, and might still be collaborating locally, raising Rwandan concerns about the DRC’s real determination to go after the FDLR. She says that Kagame’s suspicions were further inflamed when it emerged in June that international envoys to the Great Lakes had met with FDLR officials in Italy at peace talks organised by the Catholic NGO, Sant’Egidio (which had helped broker an end to the Mozambican civil war).

Byiringiro has been demanding that Kagame engage in political dialogue about the future of Rwanda in exchange for the FDLR laying down arms. But Kagame remains adamantly opposed to talking with ‘genocidaires,’ and in any case seems allergic to any kind of talk of greater democracy back home.

‘I don’t think it’s a good development,’ Wolters concludes of the decision to give the FDLR six months to lay down arms. ‘It slows everything down and opens the door to let Rwanda back in.’

She acknowledges, though, that the FDLR’s offer to surrender has complicated matters for regional and international actors such as the ICGLR and SADC, as well as MONUSCO, and this may be a tribute to Byiringiro’s shrewdness. ‘Because how would it have looked if the FIB attacked people waving a white flag?’

Wolters agrees with other analysts that the FDLR has been weakened over the years but still remains a formidable force – in some ways more so than the M23, which was a more conventional army while the FDLR is more of a guerrilla operation that has insinuated itself into the civilian community. That would make any attempt to defeat it messy, with a higher probability of civilian casualties. And, in any case, if a strong FDLR offers Rwanda a reason for intervention, even a weak one serves as a convenient pretext for doing so.

The ICGLR and SADC will have to sharpen their monitoring skills – perhaps with the help of US surveillance drones – to ensure that the FDLR does not exploit the respite it has been given to re-gird itself for battle early next year. At the very least they must ensure that by the end of three-month interim review period, 2 October, they have a pretty clear picture of what the FDLR is up to.

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa  ISS

Central African Republic – Seleka to sign ceasefire and drop partition demand


(Reuters) – Central African Republic’s mainly Muslim Seleka rebels will sign a ceasefire with ‘anti-balaka’ Christian militia on Wednesday, having dropped their demands for the country to be split in two along religious lines, Seleka officials told Reuters.

Seleka’s call for the country to be officially partitioned into a Muslim north and a Christian south risked derailing talks in Congo Republic aimed at ending religious violence that has killed thousands of people and forced 1 million to flee their homes.

“We will be signing the cessation of hostilities agreement this afternoon,” Colonel Youssouf Ben Moussa, a senior Seleka official, said by telephone from the Seleka-controlled north of Central African Republic.

“Our demand for the partition of the country has been dropped. That demand is obsolete now: what we have agreed to is the sharing of power,” Moussa added.

Most Muslims have fled the south of the former French colony, creating a de-facto partition, but Seleka leaders had pushed for this to be formalised.

Members of Seleka’s negotiating team in Congo Republic confirmed the information. They said they would provide further details after the signing of the deal in Brazzaville, where delegates from the armed groups, transitional government and civil society have held three days of talks.

The former French colony has been gripped by violence since Seleka seized power in March last year. Seleka’s rule was marked by abuses that prompted the creation of the ‘anti-balaka’ militia. Cycles of tit-for-tat violence have continued despite Seleka’s leaders stepping down from power in January this year. Reuters

Tanzania – arrest over dumped bags of body parts


Tanzania arrests over Dar es Salaam body parts dump

Bags containing body parts The bags were dumped in a landfill site

Eight people from a Tanzanian medical institute have been arrested after 85 bags containing body parts were found in the port city of Dar es Salaam.

A police officer told the BBC that human limbs, fingers, ribs and skulls were in the bags, discovered in a landfill site in the Bunju suburb.

Some of the bags contained surgical instruments and used disposable gloves.

The BBC’s Aboubakar Famau in Dar es Salaam says the find has shocked the usually quiet city.

Dar es Salaam police chief Suleiman Kova said those arrested have links to the city’s Institute of Medical and Training University (IMTU).

Residents said they became suspicious after a truck repeatedly dumped black plastic bags weighing approximately 25kg (55lb) each.  BBC

Nigeria – 100 days on and Chibok girls not free

African Arguments By Debbie Ariyo

DebbieAriyoToday, 22 July, marks 100 days since the abduction of almost 300 girls by terrorists from their school dormitory in Chibok, North East Nigeria. Since then, some of the girls managed to escape from their abductors. However, most of them remain in captivity with reports of mass rape, sexual abuse, sex slavery and even death.

There has also been news of other abductions, including 90 girls who were taken in a series of attacks in June.  The current situation on ground does not offer much hope that a successful effort by the government to rescue all the girls abducted by Boko Haram and to prevent further abductions will occur in the forthcoming 100 days.

That the Nigerian government has handled the Chibok issue abysmally is not in doubt.  Its initial reaction to reports of the abductions was complete denial. This was followed by claims that the girls had been found and returned to their families. This was a complete untruth as nothing of the sort had happened.

The President’s wife provided her own drama when she held a ‘public meeting’ to demonstrate that no girls were abducted and that news of the ‘false’ abduction was to discredit her husband. The President has also shown a total lack of empathy by refusing to meet with parents of the abducted girls to commiserate with them.

A ridiculous attempt to capitalise on Girls Advocate Malala Yousafzai’s recent visit to get the parents to see him failed spectacularly when they refused to honour the invitation. The government has also maintained that it would not negotiate with terrorists; neither would it undertake a military attempt to rescue the girls as it did not want to risk their lives. It is not really clear then what, if anything, the government is doing to secure the girls’ release.

In addition, there has been widespread criticism of the government’s poor handling of the Boko Haram insurgency. Hundreds of thousands of refugees in neighbouring countries fleeing from terrorists remain uncared for. Schools remain closed and it is not clear how the Safer Schools Initiative established by Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy, would operate in the midst of such widespread chaos and insecurity.

There has been no strategy to safeguard communities as the terrorists continue to operate virtually unhindered, attacking villages on a daily basis, killing people and abducting more women and girls. As an ominous sign of what is to come, last week, Damboa, a town in Borno State was attacked with the terrorists hoisting their flag in the military battalion headquarters to claim it as their territory.

The military itself has been comatose and inefficient, with reports of a large number of casualties among troops.  In May, some soldiers mutinied to complain about the lack of provision of adequate and suitable arms and ammunition to fight with. There have been reports of rogue military men colluding with terrorists to organise raids on communities, military barracks and other places. The terrorists are reported to be better resourced and to have access to better ammunition than the Nigerian military.

In June, Nigerians woke up to the news that their government had spent over $1m to recruit public relations company Levick to help launder its image in the West. Its first task backfired spectacularly – an article it placed in the Washington Post attracted a damning editorial in the New York Times as a response. Nigerians also took to twitter using the hashtag #SomeoneTellLevick to demonstrate the futility of their government’s action.

Yet there are a number of decisive steps the Nigerian government can take to redeem its image and ensure the girls are freed as soon as possible. It must urgently decide if it wishes to negotiate for their release in exchange for prisoners or failing that, attempt a rescue mission, knowing full well that there will be consequences but taking every possible step to ensure there are no casualties among the girls.

It is foolhardy to leave the girls in the hands of terrorists indefinitely hoping and praying that a miracle would happen! The recruitment of a PR company is unnecessary and a waste of public funds. The government does not need to pay to whitewash its image – it only needs to start acting in the best interests of its citizens.

Stronger efforts should be made to protect people from Boko Haram and to take care of victims. The launch of a Victim Support Fund is laudable, but government must ensure the funds actually reach the victims. The government must also start to co-operate with its neighbours to provide care and support for its citizens who have escaped from terrorists and who are now living as refugees.

Most importantly, the Nigerian government must stop dilly-dallying about the rogue military officers in its wing. These are traitors whose activities are inimical to the security of the country and must be treated as such.

100 days later, over 200 Nigerian girls remain as captives in the hands of terrorists. The response of the Nigeria government so far does not inspire any hope that they will be free anytime soon. If the government does not change direction and start to act decisively, the next 100 days might see the girls and many others still being held as slaves by Boko Haram. This would indeed be a terrible indictment of the government of Nigeria.

Debbie Ariyo is Founder and Executive Director of AFRUCA – Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, a UK charity promoting the rights and welfare of children.

Nigeria – Jonathan finally meets abducted girls’ parents


Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan visiting the site of Nyanya bomb in Abuja in April President Goodluck Jonathan has been criticised for not meeting parents earlier

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has met for the first time parents of the girls abducted 100 days ago by militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

He assured the parents of his determination to secure the girls’ release, his spokesman said.

More than 150 people attended the meeting after the government chartered a plane for them, reports say.

Mr Jonathan has been under pressure to meet the parents after being accused of handing the crisis badly.

Parents pulled out of a meeting with him last week amid accusations they were being used for political reasons.

The parents of 11 of the girls have died since their abduction, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Some of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped Islamist captors alight from a bus to attend a meeting with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the presidency in Abuja on 22 July 2014 Some of the girls managed to escape after being abducted from their school
People participate in a "Bring Back Our Girls" campaign demonstration and candlelight vigil, held on Mother's Day in Los Angeles on 11 May 2014 A global campaign was launched to secure the release of the girls

The abduction of the more than 200 schoolgirls sparked global outrage.

Boko Haram has offered to free the girls in exchange for the release of its fighters and relatives held by the security forces.

The government has rejected this.

Malala’s intervention

The US, UK, France, China and Israel have been helping in operations to secure the release of the girls, who are believed to be held in the Sambisa forest, near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.

The girls were abducted from their boarding school in the north-eastern town of Chibok in Borno state on 14 April.

A total of 177 people – including 51 of the girls who managed to escape Boko Haram’s captivity – met Mr Jonathan, reports the BBC’s Chris Ewokor from the capital, Abuja.

The parents left the meeting without showing emotion but some shook hands with the president, AP reports.

Some of the escaped schoolgirls smiled for photographers after the meeting, it reports.

Ayuba Chibok, who has two nieces among the hostages, told AFP news agency that the government chartered a plane from Yola city in the north-east to fly the group to Abuja.

Mr Jonathan was flanked at the meeting by Senate President David Mark and Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno state, where Chibok is situated.


Who are Boko Haram?

A screen grab taken from a video released on You Tube in April 2012, apparently showing Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau (centre) sitting flanked by militants
  • Founded in 2002
  • Initially focused on opposing Western education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language
  • Launched military operations in 2009 to create Islamic state
  • Thousands killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria – also attacked police and UN headquarters in capital, Abuja
  • Some three million people affected
  • Declared terrorist group by US in 2013

Last week, Mr Jonathan agreed to meet 12 parents and five girls who escaped shortly after being seized by the militants, following a request by Pakistani rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

The Chibok community called off the meeting at the last minute, saying it had been organised in a hurry, so there was not time to consult with all the parents.

Mr Jonathan accused the #BringBackOurGirls campaign group of playing politics and derailing the meeting.

#BringBackOurGirls was a global campaign launched on social media to secure the release of the girls.

Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former government minister and staunch critic of Mr Jonathan, is a leading member of the group.

Seven parents were killed during a raid by Boko Haram on Kautakari, a village close to Chibok, earlier this month, AP quotes a health worker as saying.

Another four parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses blamed on the trauma caused by the abductions, Chibok community leader Pogu Bitrus told AP.


Zimbabwe – South Africa and Botswana want to limit refugee numbers

Mail and Guardian

South Africa and Botswana want to limit the number of Zimbabweans in their countries.

Border crossing: An estimated three million Zimbabweans are in South Africa. (AFP)

Zimbabwe will be able to support any influx of deportees from South Africa and Botswana, according to the minister of home affairs, Kembo Mohadi.

There are indications that the two neighbouring countries might start deporting a large number of undocumented Zimbabweans.

South Africa has introduced stringent immigration laws which will compel 250 000 Zimbabweans who benefited from a special permit programme to return home to reapply for permits from the South African embassy in Harare when the current ones expire at the end of the year.

Mohadi said this week that there had been no official communication between Zimbabwe and South Africa so far over the new laws, which were adopted in May.

Asked if the new rules would negatively affect relations between the two countries, Mohadi said: “The foreign relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa fall under foreign affairs and I will leave it to them to comment on the future of relations between the two countries,” he said.

“However, I have not received any official communication from the South African authorities and I will only be well-placed to communicate a firm position from our side once that has taken place,” Mohadi said. “What I currently know is what I have read in the press.”

Political observers have said South Africa’s reticence to discuss the issue publicly is an indication that the country is unlikely to tone down the stringent conditions of the new laws.

South Africa’s home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, said on Monday this week that he would only speak about the issue next month.

A report released on Tuesday by Statistics South Africa revealed that the greatest number of people granted permanent residence in South Africa are Zimbabweans. In terms of nationality, among the 10 leading African countries, Zimbabwe is the highest with 42.6%. Second-placed was the Democratic Republic of Congo with 12.9%, followed by Nigeria with 10.3%.

Government’s responsibility
Mohadi said the government had a responsibility to accept its own citizens back, should neighbouring countries deport them.

“Are they not Zimbabweans? In the first place, they left Zimbabwe, which is their home, going to South Africa and Botswana, so there is nothing untoward about them coming back home,” he said. “We will be able to support them if they are to return as they are still our people.”

But an economic commentator, Eric Bloch, said the influx of deportees would worsen the living conditions in the country and further strain an already poor government.

“If these deportations happen, they would be very regrettable, as we already have millions of people who are unemployed, and so there is likely to be an increase in poverty and unemployment,” he said.

“From a South African point of view, their decision is understandable as they cannot keep absorbing our people into their economy as this has pushed up their unemployment rate.”

Botswana has followed South Africa’s tough stance and has announced that it will increase the deportation of Zimbabweans who have refugee status.

Ramadeluka Seretse, Botswana’s defence, justice and security minister, was quoted by the Botswana media as saying that the situation in Zimbabwe had improved and the asylum given to scores of refugees could be withdrawn.

Tidimalo Palayi, an official at the ministry of labour and home affairs in Gaborone, did not respond to questions from the Mail & Guardian seeking clarification on how the government would implement the process and when it would start.

‘Foolhardy’ to close borders
Zimbabweans based in Botswana also said new work permit applications and the renewal of permit applications by Zimbabwean nationals were being rejected and home affairs in Botswana was not giving valid reasons for it, which the Zimbabweans say is aimed at getting rid of them.

A political analyst, Takura Zhangazha, said it would be foolhardy for other neighbouring countries to copy South Africa and close their borders to Zimbabweans.

“On immigration, it is really about the sheer numbers of Zimbabweans that are in South Africa as opposed to anywhere else. In other Southern African countries, Zimbabweans are mostly cross-border traders. So any country that takes a leaf from South Africa would be blowing things out of proportion and perhaps will be seeking to score political points rather than anything else,” Zhangazha said.

Mohadi said that as far as he was concerned the issue of Botswana increasing deportations was nothing new as the country had been doing it on a weekly basis for years.

“Botswana has always been deporting our people. Even if they intensify it, it has always been in place,” Mohadi said.

The size of the Zimbabwean diaspora is largely unknown but estimates from civil society organisations put the number of those in South Africa at as many as three million.

Zimbabweans who fled the economic and political turmoil mostly sought sanctuary in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.