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Spotlight on Africa


An in-depth look at an important story affecting the African continent today.


Paris, France




An in-depth look at an important story affecting the African continent today.




The long path to Senegal's troubled presidential elections

This is a big election year for Africa, with 16 countries heading to the polls. Close attention is being paid to the delayed presidential vote in Senegal – a West African beacon of democracy that's been facing increasing instability. RFI spoke to author and economist Ndongo Samba Sylla in the capital Dakar. RFI is renewing its Spotlight on Africa podcast, and the first episode zeroes in on one of the continent's biggest news stories. Senegal was plunged into political crisis when President Macky Sall unexpectedly postponed elections that had been due to take place by the end of February. Protests erupted from those supporting opposition candidates, as well as from all corners of civil society. The polls were finally rescheduled for 24 March. Voters say they're worried about unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young people – many of whom are quitting the country in search of a better life elsewhere. Ndongo Samba Sylla helps us to better understand where the unrest has taken the heaviest toll – and what's really at stake in Sunday's election. Also read: Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential electionSenegal president calls off February 25 election Episode mixed by Guillaume Buffet. Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale.


Ethiopia's triple threat against locusts

Ethiopia is currently battling one of its worst locust invasions since 1958. But since then, the country has rolled out a defence system to make sure damage is minimal across the country. Find out more in this edition of Spotlight on Africa. Read more on Ethiopia's efforts to control the locust invasion


Searching for answers, 15 years after Ghanaians murdered in Gambia

In Accra, a new documentary out this January sheds light on the 2005 murders of 56 West Africans in The Gambia – most of them Ghanaians. In I cannot Bury My Father, director Nana-Jo Ndow explores the lack of closure – and the lack of information – the families of the victims were given. RFI speaks to Ndow and Isaac Mensah, one of the sons of the victims, who are looking for the remains of their parents – and looking for answers.


UN General Assembly president calls for respect for diversity while promoting shared values

The Paris Peace Forum is now underway with around 30 heads of state and leaders of civil society meeting to promote global peace. French President Emmanuel Macron opened the forum on Tuesday by saying that the global political system was in "unprecedented crisis", and called for new kinds of alliances to help solve problems. United Nations General Assembly President Tijani Muhammad-Bande spoke to RFI on the sidelines of the forum in Paris, and he expressed similiar sentiments, calling for respect of diversity while promoting shared universal values.


France's Africa Ambition

The time to invest in Africa is now. That was the message hammered home at last week’s France-Africa business summit, which saw the French government position itself as a new investment hub for the continent. Yet, many French companies still shy away from African markets and bilateral trade has fallen. Can France make up for lost time with China and reclaim its status as Africa’s main European trading partner? And if so, on what terms? RFI’s Christina Okello reports. To listen to this report, just click the 'Play' button below or above. To get the full story, click on the article version below: SMEs are key to reviving French business ties to Africa


Can France’s minorities learn from US slavery struggle?

In August, America marked 400 years since the arrival of the first Africans in 1619, which started the institution of slavery. In France, observers are questioning whether there are lessons to be learned for France’s African community. In a brightly lit room of the American library in Paris, members of the public pour in for a conference exploring the 400 anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to the British colony of Virginia. The guest speaker, a civil rights expert and playwright, is yet to arrive. When she does, Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, apologises profusely, blaming her lateness on her taxi driver who got lost and then wanted to overcharge her. Her humour dispels the mood of the topic she’s come to discuss. But from the get go, she insists upon celebration and not defeat. “I want to thank my ancestors. Without their perseverance, I wouldn’t be here,” she tells the audience. Ongoing struggle In August of 1619, some 20 indentured Africans arrived in the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, after being kidnapped from their villages in present-day Angola. “They arrive and they learn the economy, the language, culture, and they actually progress, and then once the law takes effect and they’re enslaved, from there we have this fight, this ongoing fight for 400 years, so there’s a lot to commemorate.” Browne-Marshall, a professor of constitutional law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, had just returned from a trip to Angola. “I went back to Angola. I wanted to know more about these first Africans, and I discovered Queen Nzinga. Not only did she rule but she went to battle and stood up to Portuguese slave traders,” she comments. Choose to fight By highlighting the brave achievements of the Angolan warrior queen and others like her, Browne-Marshall attempts to reclaim some of the dignity lost during the slavery era, which she has documented on extensively. “We all have choices. Are we going to go on with the programme even if it is oppressive to others, or are we going to stand our ground and fight? Queen Nzinga did, and that really inspired me.” Her research has also focused on recent battles for equal rights, including that of Mum Bett, the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts. “Just as Mum Bett became Elizabeth Freeman by pushing against those that would oppress her, we have to continue pushing forward. We can’t sit down and believe that the battle is over.” Same battle Yet the battle may be more difficult depending on what side of the Atlantic you’re on. “I’ve been in the same company for over twenty years and have never been promoted,” a female engineer from Martinique tells the audience. “I think the US has enabled black people to have more opportunities than here in France,” she says. To which Browne-Marshall replies “Are you demanding the freedom and that you be treated fairly?” echoing the words of former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Another female member points out differences between slavery in the United States and France. If the enslavement of Africans began in 1619 in the US, it would not begin in France until 1642. Moreover, it would eventually be abolished here in 1848, after initially being reinstated in 1802, while America would follow suit in 1865. For Browne-Marshall, both countries have similar undertones. “In both, you see protests every day. People are protesting for higher wages, they are protesting for other things. Why aren’t people of African descent protesting for full inclusion?” Identity conundrum Such identity politics hit a raw nerve in France where the notion of "Frenchness" is associated with a common set of values as opposed to colour or origin. Furthermore, critics point out that flagging up the differences between communities runs the risk of forging a common identity between them at the expense of a national identity, and thereby legitimising racial divisions that activists want to...


Black model art show challenges France's colour blindness

A recent Paris exhibition honouring forgotten black models of modern art has shone a spotlight on black identity in a society where race remains a controversial subject. France has been multicultural "since the 19th and 20th century", says Denise Murrell, co-curator of Le Modèle Noir or Black Models. The landmark exhibition on modern art’s forgotten black models ran from March to July at Paris’ Orsay museum. On Friday 13 September, it was due to premiere at Pointe à Pitre in Guadeloupe. The lavish show, portraying people of colour in French art from the country’s final abolition of slavery in 1848 until the 1950s, “shows without question that there was a black presence in the heart of cultural activity in the 19th century,” mirroring “today’s diverse, contemporary society”, Murrell told RFI. Yet these figures were left out of history. The four-month long exhibition sought to give them back their identity, by renaming leading paintings in the models’ names. Portrait of a Negress thus became Portrait of Madeleine and Edouard Manet’s Olympia, showing a reclining nude prostitute, has been renamed Laure, in honour of the black maid in the background. Being ignored “Madeleine, the black woman in the painting, has been subject to a silencing or obliteration of her identity by a generic title…so being able to rename her was important,” continues Murrell. Similarly, Laure, who inspired one of Manet’s most important works, is barely noticed, and extensive scholarship on the work has focused more on the cat than the servant stooping down to offer flowers to the white woman. “Laure was emblematic of the condition of the diaspora, being invisible even though one is in plain view. I wanted to do something about it,” comments Murrell. Revealing the maid’s identity became the foundation of the curator’s doctoral dissertation, Seeing Laure, Race and Modernity from Manet’s Olympia to Matisse, Bearden and Beyond, and an earlier exhibition of Le Modèle Noir in New York that Murrell curated called, Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today. Black studies Over 400,000 visitors flocked to the Orsay museum to see Laure and many of the other Black figures in French art such as Haitian model Joseph, who was the central figure of Gericault’s famous painting the Raft of the Medusa. Joseph was portrayed as the hero in the artwork – the one who called for rescue for the other stricken crewmembers. In an era where slavery was still rampant, such a favourable portrayal was a clear call for abolition. For Murrell, the success of Le Modèle Noir is a clear sign of the "hunger" in France for information on the subject, which has "historically not been widely discussed”, she says. While the representation of black people has become a topic in the history of art on both sides of the Atlantic, research in black studies is relatively new in France. Breaking the mould of mental slaveryLe Modèle Noir exhibition was the first of its kind in Paris, while London and the Netherlands have already drawn crowds to shows such as Black Chronicles at the National Portrait Gallery and Black Is Beautiful at Amsterdam’s Newe Dirk museum. Republican values The term "race" remains controversial in France. Advocates of strict secularism are against defining society in racial terms, saying it undermines the French Republican value that “everyone is equal". Last year in June, the government removed the word from the constitution, arguing it was a "made-up social construct". Former president François Hollande, in his 2012 election campaign, said the term “has no place in the Republic”. Collecting statistics based on race remains illegal. Critics say that such apparently lofty ideals conceal the extent of racial discrimination in France. Murrell believes embracing black identity in France could, in fact, reinforce the foundations of the Republic. “I think recognition of France’s multiple heritage and the contribution of people of colour to...


What's behind Macron's courting of the African diaspora?

France has recently made overtures to the African diaspora, inviting them to be the bridge between France and their countries of origin. Critics say it's a move to regain a foothold in the former colonies. But France's African community could leverage its influence to ask for recognition at home. In France, there are no statistics on "race" or ethnicity. Racial categories that are commonplace in the US and UK such as white, black or Asian don’t exist. The logic is simple: to avoid racism, avoid categorising people by race and instead treat everyone equally. This is the Republican egalitarian ethos. It is held up in France as a powerful rebuke of the racist ideology propagated by the Nazi regime. In World War Two, the former collaborationist regime enabled the roundup of thousands of Jews, based on their race and ethnicity. However, the experience of discrimination felt by some in France's African community has led to growing calls for more visibility of ethnic minorities. Today, the French government is reaching out to Africans in the diaspora to help it foster greater connections with the African continent. Paris has lost ground to countries like China in a scramble for influence in this new Eldorado. President Emmanuel Macron has said that if Africa fails then all of Europe will fail, and wants the diaspora to serve as a buffer. If they play their cards right, France's African community could leverage their influence to ask for more recognition at home. So who are they? What are their aspirations? And what effect can the diaspora have on French society? In the coming weeks, RFI's Christina Okello will take you on a journey to explore the rich diversity in France, starting with its African diaspora. Subscribe to the series on iTunes or Google podcasts. And to listen to this first episode, just hit the Play button above


Teenage flight of fancy from Cape Town to Cairo

A group of 20 teenagers are set to make aviation history when they fly a light aircraft from Cape Town, South Africa to Cairo in Egypt on 15 June. Together they will fly the length of the continent, covering over 10,000 kilometres in a plane they assembled themselves. Seventeen-year-old Megan Werner was behind the initiative, and founded U-Dream Global, an aviation outreach initiative that fosters “visionary thinking” to inspire young people to pursue their dreams. Speaking from Johannesburg, Megan explains more about this project to RFI.


Rwanda's challenging road to reconciliation

In the 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, the country has emerged to become one of Africa’s success stories. Its remarkable recovery has stemmed from efforts towards nation-building. But some critics argue this bid for ethnic reconciliation is far from complete. In this week’s Spotlight on Africa, RFI's Christina Okello travels to Kigali to explore how Rwanda has dealt with the trauma of its past. Tucked away in a courtyard away from the main commercial area in Kigali, is a small memorial site dominated by an imposing building of red bricks and white panels. The building is the Sainte Famille church, the largest Catholic Church in Rwanda. It is also where more than 2,000 people were massacred during the 1994 genocide. “We still remember those people who was killed, who are called Abatutsi [or Tutsi] people,” recounts 19-year-old Nadine Ouwiduhaye, pointing to the names of the victims engraved on a black marble wall. When violence broke out on 7 April following the assassination of President Juvénal Habyarimana, many residents from troubled districts of Kigali fled to Sainte Famille church to seek refuge, only to be handed over to Hutu militias by the priest in charge there. “I’m just looking at these people; they’re too many. This is something like inhumanity. How can people take something like a knife and put to the neck of others, how they can kill their people, kill their child, how people can kill his mother? Just too many questions,” Ouwiduhaye told RFI. Is God listening? Up to one million Tutsis and Hutus were killed in a brutal one-hundred-day massacre that has led some to question whether God exists. In his commemoration speech to mark the 25 anniversary since the killings, President Paul Kagame reiterated the poem of a young girl who once said: “Where was God on those dark nights of genocide?” “People say he was absent, no he wasn’t,” responds Ouwiduhaye. “Something bad happened, it doesn’t mean God forgot us. He is trying to teach us how we can treat each other, how we can be together. Before, they didn’t have a unit, they just had something like Tutsi, Hutu, Twa. But right now, we are just Rwandan, all of us we are just Rwandan,” she said. One Rwanda Today, ethnic labels in Rwanda have been erased, and most children like Ouwiduhaye have grown up with the idea of “Rwandaness,” inculcated into them in education camps, known as ingando that try to minimize ethnic differences. “Many people don’t understand how we have made this reconciliation,” comments Rwandan author Jean-Marie Vianney Rurangwa, who was invited to discuss his work in preserving the memory of the genocide. Author of four books on the topic, including Au Sortir De l’Enfer (Out of Hell), Rurangwa explains how writing about the genocide can “teach the youth about all those atrocities so that they cannot be repeated.” Roots of Genocide Explaining the racist ideology that sowed the roots of hatred between Hutus and Tutsis is a start. Traditionally, Hutus were people who farmed crops, while a Tutsi minority made up Rwanda’s cattle-keeping aristocracy. Because cattle were more valuable than crops, the minority Tutsis became the local elite. Gradually, these class divisions became ethnic distinctions, which were later exploited by German and Belgian colonisers. When in 1959, a Hutu elite toppled the Tutsi royal family, the regime that followed took a staunch nationalist turn, forcing thousands of Tutsis to flee. “The genocide didn’t just start in 1994,” says Rurangwa. “There were episodes of violence even in 1961,” after the Hutu majority won the country’s first elections; and “right up until 1990,” he said. “Forgetting would be a mistake,” he adds, saying how writing about his experience and the identity battle he’s faced since, has been “cathartic” not just for him but for others. “Sharing pain can be a kind of healing.” Accusations of genocide denial Yet officials accuse critics of trying to create an alternative truth. In their...


One month on, Chadian diaspora still angry over French air strikes

Chadians living in France and Germany have been demonstrating against French air strikes supporting Chad’s longtime autocratic ruler, Idriss Deby. The strikes on 3 February were intended to prevent an armed group from Libya from toppling the president. Instead, they have sparked familiar accusations of French interference in African politics. French authorities have defended the strikes against Chadian rebels, insisting that it was Deby himself who invited them in. But is Paris overstepping the mark? And, is President Emmanuel Macron's hopes of resetting France's fraught relationship with Africa now in tatters? Click 'Play' above to listen to this week's Spotlight on Africa.


Spreading the word of dementia amongst Nigeria's growing elderly population

With one of the largest populations in Africa, Nigeria has nearly 200 million people. And with that is a rise in the number of elderly people, but many are unprepared with seeing loved ones suffer from the problems of dementia. But with traditions still very intact, often those suffering from the effects of dementia are feared to be witches, wizards or possessed by a supernatural spirit. In this edition of Spotlight on Africa, hear about one woman's campaign to spread the word of dementia and to ensure that those suffering from the brain disease are getting the help they need. You can read more about it here


“No future in Sudan under Bashir” says opposition leader

Sudan is on the verge of a new revolution, as protesters angry at President Bashir's 30-year rule, demand change. At least 51 people have been killed since 19 December when anti-government demonstrations began, according to rights groups. Opposition parties have urged the international community to investigate the killings. "Business as usual is not possible," says Yasir Arman, deputy head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N). Arman is leading a coalition of opposition parties called the Sudan Call alliance, that have joined doctors, lawyers, teachers and students in calling for President Omar al-Bashir to step down. "We want the international community to support the basic demands of the Sudanese people," he told RFI, following meetings with British and French envoys to Sudan and South Sudan on Wednesday and Thursday. Arman is hoping to raise Sudan's two-month old crisis at an upcoming meeting of the Human Rights Council on 25 February. "We need an international investigation into the killings," he comments. Officials say 30 people have died in the violence that was triggered on 19 December by a government decision to triple the price of bread. Rights groups put that figure to at least 51. Hopes for third revolution "We need them [the international community] to put pressure on Bashir to stop the killing. We need them to recognize the need for change in Sudan, and the right of Sudanese people to democracy and a peaceful transfer of power," he said. Al-Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, has ordered the use of force against protesters, accusing them of trying to emulate the Arab Spring. Sudan has had two successful revolutions so far. In 1964 and 1985, mass protests overthrew military dictatorships and installed civilian governments. Could these latest demonstrations--the most sustained challenge to al-Bashir's three-decade old rule--lead to a third revolution? Opposition leader Arman says "there is no future in Sudan under Bashir." To listen to his full interview, click on the play button in the photo or below. .


Merkel's Africa trip wasn't just about migration & investment, it was a signal to EU partners & German voters

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wrapped up a three-day tour to West Africa at the end of August visiting Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria. The trip was seen as part of a new German diplomatic effort to strengthen ties on the continent with a focus on migration and investment. At the end of the trip, Merkel said that “every country is different”, but she had seen that the continent has “a generation that wants a future in their own countries”. Discussions on irregular migration come at a time when the European Union is taking measures to stem the flow of African migrants who cross the Mediterranean seeking a better life. Talk of greater German investment in Africa is also framed in the context of China’s continuing push on the continent and the British Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent charm offensive. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Julia Leininger, head of the German Development Institute’s research programme… What do you think of Angela Merkel’s choice of these three countries in particular – Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana? Angela Merkel’s choice is one of shifting priorities in German-Africa policy and it's a clear choice to cooperate more with countries where lots of migrants coming to Europe and Germany are from. So this is probably the first point why she chose these three countries. The second reason why she chose these countries is that Germany aims to foster the private sector and engage more in private sector investment. These three middle income countries are a good context to do so. Much of the commentary on her West African trip has focused on migration – do you see this as the main reason for the visit? First of all, on this shift that we’re facing at the moment of German-Africa policy, yes it has a lot to do with the so-called migration crisis in Europe. Because although the migration flows are decreasing, migrants coming from Africa, the numbers are increasing. So there is this new focus on the African neighbour and I think migration was a driver for various political initiatives of the German government like the compact with Africa, the Marshall plan with Africa – all initiatives that were launched last year. So the driver is migration, but at the same time it has a lot to do with the relationships between EU member states as well. Increasingly France wants Germany to cooperate on security, Theresa May in Great Britain is looking for a more independent role from the European Union since they leave the European Union. So the two main drivers are really the changing political game within Europe, but also migration flows to Europe. Some in the German media saw the trip as an effort to please voters back home – how does this fit in to the political narrative in Germany? In Germany, media, but also parts of the population think that there will be an increasing migration from Africa because of the demographic change in Africa. Meaning that by 2050 we expect two billion people to live in Africa, more than 50 per cent of them younger than 18, meaning that there are a lot of people without jobs who might want to go somewhere else to find jobs. That’s actually the standard picture of Germans and German politicians at the moment. So German-Africa policy is very much into job creation in order to create conditions for people to stay in Africa. Travelling to Africa is a signal to Angela Merkel’s constituency that she taking care of what’s perceived as a problem in Europe – it’s expectation management and signalling that, ‘I’m doing something, we’re are aware of the problem’. Actually, I wouldn’t say it’s a problem. Did the chancellor’s trip reflect an alternative to the EU’s solutions to migration? In particular, policies such as detention centres, or processing centres, as they describe them, which are set to be established in North Africa. So far Germany has supported the larger EU policy. But for the first time in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria the chancellor talked about regular migration with the other heads of state. So...


Forest conservation efforts in Madagascar making poor people even poorer

New research investigating conservation efforts in Madagascar says some 27,000 people are suffering from restrictions aimed at maintaining tropical forest. The study, published in the PeerJ journal, suggests that people living in the protected area have not been fully compensated and their incomes are affected as a result. The Ankeniheny-Zahamena Corridor, in eastern Madagascar, is part of a pilot project under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) scheme supported by the World Bank. The REDD scheme aims to protect forests as part of the fight against climate change. The project is being implemented through a system of World Bank safeguards and as such is supposed to compensate local people for the impact that conservation restrictions have on their income. The study is not suggesting that conservation efforts should be stopped, instead it is calling for forest dwellers to be properly compensated for the impact conservation has on their livelihoods, in particular on traditional agricultural practices. The study is based on interviews and testimonies of more than 600 people spanning several communities over two years. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Julia Jones, an expert in conservation science at Bangor University, one of the lead researchers…


Potentially game-changing malaria testing kit secures Ugandan inventors cash prize

A Ugandan team of inventors has won 28,000-euro prize for a device that could revolutionise malaria testing. The Matibabu device tests for malaria without drawing blood using a beam of red light that determines changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells. The African region has the highest share of malaria cases worldwide and it is hoped Matibabu will be easier and faster than examining blood under a microscope. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Brian Gitta, one of Matibabu’s inventors, to find out about bringing the device to market and increasing the device’s accuracy up to 90 per cent…


Zimbabwe's informal workers eye July poll for change

Zimbabwe’s informal workers hope to make their voices heard in the country’s presidential election in July. They've been doing so through town hall meetings across the country to urge candidates to take them seriously. They make up the bulk of Zimbabwe's workforce, and yet for many years, workers in the informal sector have operated on their own, outside traditional structures. Now they're hoping national elections on July 30 will give them a voice. Informal workers include vendors, street traders, cross-border traders, farmers, to hair dressers, and for the past two weeks, they have gathered in several towns in Zimbabwe, including the capital Harare, to put their demands to the various political parties. All were invited, including the ruling Zanu-PF, and the main opposition party the MDC-alliance. "The purpose of these town halls is to allow the candidates to come along and listen to what the informal economy has to say," Mark Oxley, the field representative in Zimbabwe for the Center for International Private Enterprise, (CIPE), told RFI. Oxley says that lack of knowledge about the informal sector is what pushed CIPE to partner with the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations, (ZCIEA) to spread awareness. "I’ve been through the election manifestos, only four of them, as far as I can make out, contain anything on the informal economy. The manifestos of the two major parties have very little, and none of the parties appear to have any clear policy or idea with what to do with the informal economy," he said. Nor do they appear to know what to do about the challenges facing informal workers either, says Wisborn Malaya, ZCIEA secretary general. Coming out of the fringes "We're subjected to harassment by police and are treated like illegal operators, with our goods confiscated," he told RFI, adding that the criminilisation of informal workers was being encouraged by outdated laws. "There are outdated laws, which go as far back as 1968, 1978 that are governing the current operations of informal workers. Such laws can no longer fit the scope of the current operational environment in the country," he said. The informal economy compared to the formal one is the second largest in the world after Bolivia, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but suffers from poor representation. "There needs to be greater linkages between the formal sector and the informal economy," reckons Oxley. "If one can integrate and link the informal economy more to the formal economy it would mean significant measured economic growth," he says. Ninety four percent of all workers in Zimbabwe work in the informal economy according to the 2014 Zimbabwe Labour force. As a result, argues Wisborn Malaya, they can no longer be excluded. No more partisan politics "We talk of somebody who is selling in the street. We want this person to be added to the main value chain, that this person pays fair dues to the local authorities and that this money is used to develop or improve the work space that that person is operating under," he says. The July 30 polls will be the first elections without longtime leader Robert Mugabe, and the first, hopes Malaya, without partisan politics. During the Robert Mugabe regime, "one person would hold 5 or 6 market places and people would pay money to him," he told RFI. "People were allocated market places along partisan lines, or when they’re allocated that market place, somebody from a party would come to collect some form of revenue every single day from these people, which is outside what they would pay to local authorities." Issues like these were put to the different candidates. For the first time since Zimbabwe's independence, they're more than 20 competing for the top job. "Such democratic space has never been there before in Zimbabwe," says Malaya. "It is a result of that democratic space that we’ve managed to do the town hall meetings, that we’ve managed to bring all these different...


Community radio fights Uganda’s LRA legacy

During the 20-year war between the Lord's Resistance Army and government forces in northern Uganda, community stations like Radio Wa used “come home messaging” to encourage abducted children to defect. Today, their broadcasts for peace are working to heal the north's hidden scars. "When the radio began, there was a lot of insecurity," Radio Wa's director Magdaline Kasuku told RFI. It was in late 2001. "There was a lot of violence, there was a lot of killings and one of the biggest weapons they [the rebels] used was children." Between 1986 and 2006, Joseph Kony kidnapped thousands of children into his rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), turning the girls into sex slaves and the boys into child soldiers. At the height of the conflict, community stations like Radio Wa in Lira, northern Uganda, began to emerge, offering locals isolated in towns and villages, a different message to the one being played out on their doorstep. The programme they came up with was Karibu. "Karibu is a kiswahili word that means 'welcome'," explains Kasuku. "Many parents would come through the radio to complain, saying 'Look, my child has disappeared, I don't know where he or she is. Could you help me find out where my child is?'," she says. The programme was so popular in reaching out to communities in the north that it came under threat from the LRA. In 2002 the rebels burnt it down. It would take less than a year for Radio Wa to be rebuilt, owing to public outcry over its destruction. "It went beyond Uganda," comments Kasuku. "The whole world was wondering how a small community radio which is trying to empower the people in a wartorn area, can be burnt down, so it really became a national issue." Avoiding propaganda trap So much so that even Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni came to inspect the damage, promising to rebuild Radio Wa. "They said, Tthis radio is so powerful in reaching out to the community here.' So they gave us a wider coverage," recounts Kasuku. "Normally, community radios are given to cover a kilometre or a kilowatt. That day, he [Yoweri Museveni] promised that we are going to be given four kilowatts." But in its bid to promote peace did Radio Wa not fall into the trap of toeing the government's line and promoting its anti-LRA propaganda? For Kasuku, the aim of Radio Wa's Karibu programme went beyond partisan lines. "Parents would come to the station and make an appeal: 'I want to talk to my child, my daughter, my son, wherever they are, if they're still alive, I want them to know that I still love them. I know that they might have done so many bad things, killed people, and all that, but they should be able to know that I love them,'." Coming home The formula encouraged more than 1,400 abducted children to break with the LRA and return to their families. After the war former LRA combattants questioned by police said they had been encouraged to return home through listening to stations like Radio Wa. Hearing their mother say "Wherever you are, my child, just come back, we love you, we forgive you," helped persuade them, explains Kasuku. Children who were abducted, came back, to tell their story and pull the lid off the atrocities they endured under the LRA. More than 10 years on, after a peace deal was signed in South Sudan, does Radio Wa's message of peace still ring true in the Uganda of today? The scars of war may be healing but the country is still grappling with kidnappings and killings, this time of young women in the Kampala capital. Healing the scars "There are no more gunshots, yes," Kasuku says. "But, when we interact with the community, you find that they have so many unfinished business. There are so many people who up to now have never let go of what their experiences were." The appearance of LRA commander Dominic Ogwen at the International Criminal Court at the Hague has stirred up painful memories. Kasuku says, many survivors still live with trauma and insists programmes like...


Is this the man to beat Cameroon's President Biya in this year's elections?

Voters in Cameroon are expected to go to the polls in October for presidential elections that will challenge the 35-year-rule of incumbent President Paul Biya. And one man is hoping to bring Biya’s reign to an end. Akere Muna has been described by some as the most credible possible successor to the Cameroonian leader. The former vice chair of Transparency International has already declared himself as a candidate in the race for the country’s top job. He created the Now Movement aimed at “bringing together Cameroonians from all walks of life”. Muna also serves as the sanctions commissioner for the African Development Bank and served as chairman of the Ecobank board in Cameroon. Raised in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon and having developed a successful law firm in Yaoundé, Muna says he can help “bridge” the divide between Anglophones and Francophones given the ongoing crisis in the north-west and south-west of the country. However, his declared candidacy for the presidency flies in the face of the more established political opposition and he challenges an incumbent who has ruled the country since 1982. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Akere Muna… Do you really think you’ve got any chance in beating President Paul Biya in the elections? We’re talking about someone who’s been in power for 35 years. You’re talking about President Paul Biya, I’m talking about Cameroonians, who really know the country’s in danger of imploding. They know that their livelihood is in danger because the system doesn’t work. They know that the infrastructure is at an ebb low. And they know that the justice system is not one that protects them. So I’m talking about the people, you can talk about Biya. I’m not worried about him, I’m worried about the Cameroonian people. What I’m telling them is that we can fix this. It also seems as if you’re making the assumption that the elections will be free and fair. I’m a lawyer by profession, I know what the laws are. I know that the way that they’re made, they’re made to suit the incumbent. But that’s a given and to try and think that you can change the law that you’re now at elections – it’s a distraction. But I think there’s no fraudulent machine that can be above the will of the people. I’m telling you, I’ve travelled up and down the country and the will and desire for change is very high. They can try to fraud all they want, but I don’t think that that can be above the will of the people. Why did you decide to go it alone in the formation of your own party? I didn’t go it alone and this gives me the opportunity to set it correct. I am non-partisan and I created a movement known as the Now Movement which is not a political party and non-partisan. But there is a group of parties who created the Platform for a New Republic and they’re supporting me. The Platform for a New Republic is a group of political parties, trade unions, civil society organisations and certain political personalities who support me. So I’m not going it alone and I’m a declared candidate. I think we’re now trying to get people to register because the register of non-voters in the last election in 2011 were more in number than those who voted for President Paul Biya. So we’re trying to get Cameroonians to register, to vote and to control and make sure their votes are counted. When we get to that point I’m sure, when all the candidates are in, the members of the opposition, we’ll sit down and have a talk. We’re now just making sure that Cameroonians are aware about the importance of these elections. Do you have the support of the Social Democratic Front, one of the country’s main opposition parties? The Social Democratic Front has already elected its own flag bearer for the elections. I am representing a different group. But as I say, at this moment we’re now getting Cameroonians sensitised, I think coalitions and alliances are sometime down the road and I think they’ll happen. Who do you think you appeal to - do you appeal to...


Politically motivated violence ahead of Burundi's contentious referendum

Burundians go to the polls on 17 May for a controversial constitutional referendum to decide on changes that could extend the president’s term limits. The changes to the constitution could potentially enable President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in power until 2034 with an additional two terms of seven years. Nkurunziza has already been in power since 2005 and his 2015 bid for a third term in office led to bloodshed. There were protests, an attempted coup d’etat and crackdown by security forces with an estimated 1,200 people were killed. The International Criminal Court said it was investigating state-sponsored crimes against humanity in the country, however the government became the first country to withdraw from the war crimes court. Ahead of the constitutional referendum, the EU warned that the vote will take place in a persistent climate of intimidation and repression. The country’s Catholic bishops also said they were opposed to the constitutional changes, saying it was not the appropriate time to make profound changes to the document. Furthermore, rights group Human Rights Watch said the campaign for the referendum has been marred by violence. Spotlight on Africa spoke to Jean-Regis Nduwimana, a media analyst from Lake Tanganyika University… NOTE: This interview was produced on 6 May before an attack against a village in the north-west of the country that left 26 people dead. Have you heard any reports of political violence ahead of the referendum on 17 May? Yes, there’s a lot of political violence in the country right now. Members of the FNL [National Forces of Liberation] of Agathon Rwasa, who’s the vice president of the parliament - they’re now the new target of Burundi’s security forces and the militiamen, the Imbonerakure. Because the FNL, they’re promoting the 'No' campaign and since they’re voting for 'No' – you become a target of Nkurunziza. Guys have been kidnapped - we can assume that they’re somewhere in a police station being tortured, we don’t know. But the new target are the FNL. The FNL are traditionally opposed to the CNDD-FDD aren't they? Yes, it is opposed, but remember that the FNL has two wings. There’s the FNL that works closely with the government. But there’s also the FNL that has former rebel, Agathon Rwasa, who is very well known in the FNL. Rwasa is the most powerful member of the FNL so people follow him and they vote as he recommends. That’s why members of his political party, his coalition, are targeted now. There was some information that emerged suggesting that the police were now authorised to carry out arrests at night without having arrest warrants. It’s a new law voted by parliament a couple of weeks ago and the police do that kind of search during the night. But people are worried, worried that they steal everything in the house. Now the police and even the militiamen have the right to search your phone. If you don’t unlock your phone, you will be arrested. So they search your phone, your laptop, everything. You have to open these kind of devices. There was also information on social media that in some areas there were residents rising up against the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party. It’s true, but the problem with this is trying to protest against militiamen, there’s a boomerang effect, you become a victim. If militiamen are mistreating people in the rural areas, yes, you can attack Imbonerakure, but the following day you will be arrested. Because remember militiamen are more powerful than the police. So if you do that you are likely to be arrested in the following days. Following the attempted coup in 2015, there was a period where there were a number of attacks against security forces. These seem to have died down in the last year or so. Yes it goes down because it seems like the rebel movement were not well organized. Even the opposition do not seem to have a common view of how to handle this issue. Whether politically or using armed groups. These armed...