By Joe Penney
Every Friday afternoon, Julie Ndjessa, 28, invites the teenage girls in her neighborhood in Douala over to her house on a dirt road where she lives with her mother, father and cousin. Giggling, they play clapping games and chat loudly with each other about the week’s escapades. Then Julie got down to business: educating the young women in her community about the many dangers they face before reaching adulthood.
Over the past few years, one of the main topics she discusses is called “breast-ironing,” a practice used by some mothers in Cameroon to flatten their pubescent daughters’ growing breasts. Done with the goal of protecting young women from early pregnancy by making them less attractive to men, breast ironing is extremely painful and has dangerous long-term health consequences.
Bangui, Central African Republic
By Joe Penney
On Thursday, the volatile Central African Republic was host to a bloodbath. Hours of fighting between the former “Seleka” rebels that took power in a March coup d’etat and local militia and fighters loyal to the deposed president, Francois Bozize, killed over a hundred. As the situation continues to deteriorate, France is set to take a bigger role in its former colony’s security, sending hundreds of troops in the coming days.
Yet while security is what is grabbing the headlines at the moment, CAR’s problems lie much deeper. Already an unstable state in the run-up to the coup, the Central African government is now in tatters and just going through the motions. During the coup, most ministry buildings were looted for cash, computers and anything hungry rebels could get their hands on. Little has since been replaced.
BANGUI (Reuters) – Central African Republic transitional leader Michel Djotodia on Saturday denied European assertions that his country was on the brink of genocide and all-out inter-religious war.
The impoverished but mineral-rich nation of 4.6 million has descended into chaos since Djotodia led Seleka rebels, many of them from neighboring Chad and Sudan, to the riverside capital in March, ousting President Francois Bozize.
BANGUI, Nov 29 (Reuters) – Central African Republic has
called for a ban on its diamond exports to be lifted, saying it
needed the tax revenue from sales to revive its crisis-crippled
The Kimberley Process, a global watchdog set up to stop the
trade in “blood diamonds”, announced a suspension of certified
diamond trading with the country in May, two months after a
coalition of mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President
BOSSANGOA, Central African Republic (Reuters) – Mathieu Marco hid in his shower as the Muslim militia commander who came to kill him screamed at his young son, demanding to know where he was. Frustrated at his failure to find the man he took for a Christian fighter, he seized a 13-year-old neighbor on the street and shot him in front of the house.
“He killed him in cold blood, just like that. Pow, Pow!” said Marco, a portrait photographer living now in the remote town of Bossangoa among 40,000 Christians displaced by sectarian violence now gripping the Central African Republic.
PARIS/BANGUI (Reuters) – France said on Tuesday it would increase its force in Central African Republic to at least 1,000 soldiers once a U.N. resolution is passed next week to try to prevent sectarian violence from destabilizing the entire region.
The landlocked nation of 4.6 million people at the heart of Africa has descended into chaos since the Seleka coalition of rebels, many of them from neighboring Chad and Sudan, ousted President Francois Bozize in March.
By Joe Penney
As Mali went to the polls July 28 for the first round of presidential elections meant to restore peace and stability in the vast, landlocked West African country, I traveled from the capital Bamako to the dusty northern city of Timbuktu.
Elections in northern cities like Timbuktu, the storied Saharan trading post and scholarly center around since the early 14th century, were always going to be difficult to organize. The city is roughly 1000 km (620 miles) by road from the capital Bamako, but it takes 20 hours along dirt tracks and extremely potholed pavements to get there. During the rainy season, flooding renders the dirt track from Douentza to Timbuktu nearly impassable.
By Joe Penney
Since French troops first arrived in Mali on January 11, 2013, I have spent all but one week of 2013 covering the conflict there. The first three weeks were probably the most intense I have ever worked in my life, and at times, the most frustrating. French troops hit the ground at a pace which far outstripped most journalists’ ability to cover events, and media restrictions forced journalists to focus on something other than fighting.
Many other journalists have lamented the stringent media restrictions, which at a certain point meant that when the French and Malian took control of Gao, most of the journalists were blocked at a Malian army checkpoint in Sevare, more than 600km (370 miles) southwest. But after the initial push resulting in the seizure of nearly all of Mali’s territory, the jihadist groups opted for a more insurgent-like approach, targeting the Malian army with suicide bombs and surprise attacks in Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – Tuareg rebels are moving to exert their own authority over north Mali by issuing security passes for the region, officials and residents said on Friday, underscoring the challenge of unifying the West African state before planned elections.
Rebels from the pro-autonomy MNLA have been handing out the security documents, stamped in name of the Azawad Republic they proclaimed last year, to drivers of vehicles in and around their northern stronghold of Kidal.
GAO, Mali (Reuters) – France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian paid a surprise visit on Thursday to French forces battling Islamist rebels in rugged northern Mali, saying their military mission would not end until security was restored in the West African country.
After reviewing ranks of French soldiers near the desolate Adrar des Ifoghas mountains, Le Drian told France 24 television that Paris’ aim was to help “reestablish security in the whole of Mali’s territory”.