Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Al Qaeda and France raise the stakes in the Sahara

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sarkoAl Qaeda’s North African wing has been creeping up the radar with an increase in attacks in the Sahara. But some have still sought to play down any strategic threat, citing the lack of key interests in the desert.

Westerners were at risk – a couple have also died in the hands of the Islamists – but incidents had mostly ended with in some sort of agreement involving a mix of prisoner swaps and, say experts, cash being passed to the right people.

There has also been intense debate over how loyal to al Qaeda-central the fighters are, as opposed to a bunch of bandits taking advantage of little government control.

Then five French nationals and two other foreigners – all of whom worked in Niger’s uranium mines where French nuclear giant Areva has vast investments – were plucked from their houses as they slept.

Ill health hung over Yar’Adua presidency from start

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By Estelle Shirbon

NIGERIA-PRESIDENT/ARRIVALNo sooner was Umaru Yar’Adua named in late 2006 as the Nigerian ruling party’s presidential candidate than people started asking whether he would survive four years at the helm of Africa’s most populous nation.

The answer to that question came on Wednesday night, when Yar’Adua died a year before the end of his term — a sad end for a quiet man who had been in poor health since well before he was catapulted into one of the world’s toughest jobs.

Hotter in the long run?

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marathonEthiopia’s long-distance runners are among the best in the world, winning seven medals at last year’s Olympic Games. Generations of athletes have trained in the cool highlands of Asella but the weather there is changing, apparently as a result of climate change. There are now worries that this could have an impact on the country’s future runners.

For many young Ethiopians, this is where dreams are made. Internationally famous athletes like Haile Gebrselassie and Kenanisa Bekele have trained in these very parts.

Sweet potatoes to beat climate change?

A major obstacle to producing enough food has been the dry weather which hit many African countries last year, including Kenya, where 10 million people urgently needed food when rains failed. Now Kenyan farmers have been asked to grow drought tolerant crops to help prepare for the effects of climate change.

Nancy Opele has been growing sweet potatoes on her farm in Kenya’s western Trans Nzoia district. She started growing the potatoes in 2003 after researchers approached farmers and introduced them to the crop.

Out of Africa — and into China

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At a meeting in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh this month, China promised to double the aid it gives to Africa and even forgive the debt of some of the continent’s poorest countries.

We’ve known for some time that Chinese are migrating to Africa to exploit business opportunities. But it’s perhaps less known that growing numbers of Africans are also moving to China to live and work.

Young at art

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Five-year-old Onarietta Remet is Nigeria’s most popular child painter. She’s been painting for four years now and has even sold some of her pieces.

Her father, Pius Remet, says everybody in the family is into painting and other artistic pursuits.

Weapons of war

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When Hillary Clinton visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in August, she spoke out against rape and said women should not be used as “weapons of war”.

The Secretary of State wanted Congo’s government to do more to stop sexual violence and prosecute offenders in an area where armed groups still use rape to terrorise local people seven years after the war was meant to have ended.

Madagascar: forest pharmacy under threat

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Millions of years ago, Madagascar separated from the other continents and evolved separately. Today it has about 12,000 plants most of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Many of these plants have medicinal properties, but their habitat is under threat.

In the town of Tolear, people rely on herbs as the nearest hospital is far away. Traditional healers combine plants and a little bit of magic to cure patients.

Aid – a new model?

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A project in Ethiopia that helps destitute women become self-reliant by providing them with paid employment has attracted a lot of attention from politicians visiting Addis Ababa for an international get-together.

Alem Abebe is a 14-year-old girl who left home three years ago and made her way to the capital. She now earns 50 US cents a day working at the Abebech Gobena project in one of the city’s slums. It’s not enough to send money home, but enough to survive — and to pay for night school.

What can Africa expect from the G8?

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi agreed to sit down with Reuters on Wednesday only hours before leaving for the G8 summit in Italy. He told us he planned to remind the rich leaders he met there that the economic slowdown and global warming are having a disproportionate effect on Africa. And that the world’s poorest continent did nothing to cause them.

The former rebel represented Africa at this year’s G20 summit of rich nations and is arguing the case on behalf of the continent again today and tomorrow. Continental spokesman seems a roll Meles — who has a passionate interest in economics — is comfortable with. But he told us it was only related to his job as Ethiopian Prime Minister and that he has no desire to take on a pan-African job if and when he retires as leader — something he has recently said he has plans to do.

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