Government Spokesperson, Former Journalist Injured in Somalia Bombing

A suicide bomber in the Somali capital has injured government spokesman and former journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu.
Witnesses told VOA Somali that a suicide bomber ran toward Moalimuu’s vehicle in central Mogadishu and detonated an explosive vest.
Moalimuu sustained injuries to the hand and leg from shrapnel from the device.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Moalimuu has survived at least three previous al-Shabab attacks, and tweeted “It was a lucky escape” after surviving one in 2016.
Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble has condemned the “odious terrorist attack” that targeted Moalimuu. Roble said Moalimuu is in stable condition and wished him a quick recovery.
Moalimuu is a former journalist for the BBC Somali Service. He also led the Federation of Somali Journalists a national union of professional journalists in Somalia, before joining the government.
A person-borne homemade bomb, used increasingly in recent months by al-Shabab, targeted Moalimuu, according to security sources.
On November 20, a similar device killed journalist and director of Somali government radio Abdiaziz Mohamud Guled “Abdiaziz Africa” in Mogadishu. Today’s attack appeared to use the same technique.

Source: Voice of America

Ethiopian Diaspora Torn by Ethnic Tensions in Tigray War

Thousands of miles away from the war in Ethiopia, the ethnic cracks have started to show in an Ethiopian church in Ohio, in a lawsuit between trustees and clergy.
The original trustees of the Holy Trinity Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Columbus have accused its clergy of switching the language of services from Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, to Tigrinya, the language of the Tigray region. They say the clergy is taking sides in a war between Tigray leaders and the Amhara, allied with the Ethiopian government, with an estimated tens of thousands of dead.
The clergy in the church in Columbus, which is home to about 40,000 Ethiopian Americans, says Tigrinya was added on as a language rather than replacing Amharic to better reach the congregation. Church leaders say the changes weren’t political in nature.
The tensions in the church reflect how the war in Ethiopia has fueled divides across the more than 3 million members of the diaspora.
“The Ethiopian social fabric … has been torn apart,” said Tewodros Tirfe, chairman of the Amhara Association of America, based in North Carolina.
The war started a little over a year ago, when a political dispute between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray leaders erupted into violence after a dispute over elections. It has now spiraled to the point where some Tigrayans are starving under a government blockade and atrocities have been reported on all sides, with the worst and most to date reported against Tigrayan civilians.
The conflict entered a new phase in late December when the Tigray forces withdrew into the Tigray region after approaching the capital, Addis Ababa, but are being pushed back by a drone-supported military offensive.
Deep disagreements about the nature and even the facts of the conflict are splintering families, friends and communities in the diaspora. Some consider themselves supporters of Tigray or of its political leaders, who belong to a party called the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF. They argue that Tigrayans are being threatened with genocide — profiled, persecuted and killed for their ethnicity.
Saba Desta, who works in health insurance in New York, worries that ordinary people are being forgotten. Desta said she’s tried to get her parents out of the northern city of Shire in Tigray, but her father is ill and unable to leave without a nurse’s assistance.
“It’s been breaking me, reading the reports of closing of hospitals and health centers, the restricted access to medicine,” she said. “I can only believe that he’s OK, that he’s alive. I only have this hope to bank on.”
Desta said five of her cousins, all brothers, were shot to death in front of their elderly mother by the military from neighboring Eritrea, which has been in Tigray alongside Ethiopian soldiers. Their mother died shortly after “from heartbreak,” she said.
“I’m so numb,” she said. “I can’t even cry anymore.”
Other Ethiopians see this as a necessary war against Tigray leaders, who once ruled Ethiopia and were accused of human rights abuses while growing the country’s economy.
The former ruling coalition, dominated by Tigray leaders representing 6% of the nation, appointed Abiy as prime minister in 2018, a choice largely celebrated by Ethiopians across the globe as a step towards peace and unity. Abiy transformed the federal coalition into a single Prosperity Party, and Tigrayan leaders later withdrew. Many Ethiopians feel that Tigray leaders are angry because Abiy leads with more than Tigray’s interests in mind as he seeks to centralize power.
“I had been there since they were established and I had seen their plans when I was very young, and that never changed,” said Teferi Zemene, a Toronto-based union organizer who grew up watching the TPLF rise to power three decades ago.
Zemene returned to Canada recently after 2½ months in Ethiopia. He visited his hometown of Dabat, about 75 kilometers from the northern Amhara city of Gondar, and asserted that it was destroyed by Tigray forces.
“If you see Dabat now, you would cry. They devastated the place. There’s no place to even rest,” he said.
Zemene said he lost relatives in the war and that he felt “the need to fight.” He and other Ethiopians who oppose the Tigray forces have expressed concern that the international community and even foreign media are bent on promoting intervention by the U.S.
“We should be able to solve our problems ourselves,” he said. “We didn’t ask for any help.”
The complexity of the war has made some rethink their position on it. Ethiopian American journalist and activist Hermela Aregawi advocated for humanitarian work to help Tigray in the early days, but eventually distanced herself from those fundraising efforts when she felt they became politically motivated in favor of Tigrayan leaders.
“I’m Tigrayan, I care about Tigrayans, I care about Ethiopians as a whole,” Aregawi said.
Negasi Beyene, a biostatistician and human rights activist in Washington, feels similarly. “My motto is, ‘humanity before ethnicity,’” he said.
Growing up in Mekele, the capital of Tigray, during an earlier war, Beyene felt pressured to choose between the TPLF and other political groups when he was just 17 years old and kids his age were either killed or recruited to fight. He ultimately sided against the TPLF, and holds what he considers a minority view among Tigrayans that they started the current war.
“My sister, brother, I don’t talk to them,” he said. “Because they think TPLF is doing good … Maybe the TPLF idea — if you’re not with us, you’re against us — has penetrated all of society.”
A year into the war, there’s no clear end in sight. Some support the independence of Tigray, while others don’t want to see Ethiopia torn apart.
Adem Kassie Abebe, a program officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in the Netherlands, said that for each side, the anger and longtime grievances are real.
“Saying ‘I understand you’re angry,’ that would go a long way [for] both sides,” he said. “That opens a channel.”
Tirfe of the Amhara Association of America blames the war on a federalist governing system that ties the country’s dozens of ethnicities to land and power, pitting them against each other. So long as Ethiopia has this system, he said, “there will be another war.”
What he and others note, though, is that more Ethiopians are now determined to be heard.
“It’s good to see so many Ethiopians actively involved,” he said. “We’re not coming [together] as one, but hopefully one day. We’ll be a force.”

Source: Voice of America

UN Agency Calls for International Action to End Sahel Conflict

GENEVA — UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency is calling for international action to end the armed conflict in Africa’s Central Sahel region, a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced more than 2.5 million over the last decade.
Data from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project finds violence in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger caused more than 4,660 deaths in the first six months of 2020.
Statistics from other international monitoring groups and U.N. agencies show internal displacement in Africa’s Central Sahel region has increased tenfold since 2013, from 217,000 to 2.1 million by late 2021.
U.N. refugee spokesman Boris Cheshirkov says displacement continues to grow across the Sahel, as civilians flee violent attacks.
“Armed groups reportedly carried out over 800 deadly attacks last year. Such violence uprooted 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee to a neighboring country as a refugee,” he said. “Women and children are often the worst-affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.”
Cheshirkov says conditions across the region continue to deteriorate. He says host communities and government authorities are buckling under increasing pressure despite their commitment to help the displaced.
He says humanitarian agencies are finding it increasingly difficult and dangerous to deliver assistance and protection. He says humanitarians risk road attack, ambush, and car jacking.
“What we have been calling for and we repeat this call again now is for a unified, a strategic, a substantial intervention in the Sahel that will make sure that international efforts are supporting the governments and host communities … and a security response cannot prevail on its own. It needs to be hand-in-glove with humanitarian and development action,” he said.
Cheshirkov says the UNHCR is leading an effort by United Nations and private agencies to provide shelter and protection services, including combating gender-based violence.

Source: Voice of America

Cameroon Begins Mass COVID-19 Tests to Encourage Football Turnout

YAOUNDE — Cameroon launched a massive campaign Sunday for fans to be tested and vaccinated against COVID-19 to fill stadiums in the ongoing Africa Football Cup of Nations the country is hosting. Cameroon and African football officials say only 2,000 supporters turn out for matches at 20,000- to 60,000-seat stadiums because of COVID-19 restrictions and separatist threats.
This is the deafening noise of vuvuzelas from thousands of football fans outside Yaoundé’s 42,000-seat Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. The vuvuzela is a long horn blown by fans to support their teams at matches.
Among the fans is Sylvie Dinyuy, a 21-year-old university student. Dinyuy says COVID-19 restrictions imposed by organizers of the Africa Football Cup of Nations make it impossible for her and her peers to get into the stadium to support African Football.
“I have been blocked because I have not done my COVID-19 test and I have not been vaccinated. I would have loved to watch the Morocco Comoros match at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. Morocco is my favorite team,” she said.
Dinyuy and football fans outside the stadium say but for COVID-19, thousands of people would have been present in stadiums to support African men’s soccer as they did when Cameroon hosted women’s AFCON in 2016.
In 2016, the Confederation of African Football congratulated Cameroon for the massive turnout of fans when the central African state hosted the women’s AFCON.
This year, the confederation said only fans who show proof that they have received COVID-19 vaccines and proof of negative COVID-19 test results no more than 24 hours old will be allowed into stadiums.
Cameroon says spectator turnout at stadiums since AFCON began on
January 9 in Cameroon is very sparse. The government says a maximum of 3,000 fans and supporters turned out in the 20,000-seat stadiums in Limbe and Bafoussam. More than 10,000 supporters turned out at the 32.000-seat stadium in Garoua, a northern commercial city. Fewer than 15,000 watched matches at the 60,000-seat Japoma stadium in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial hub.
Cameroonian football officials say strict COVID-19 measures make it impossible for fans to have access to the stadiums.
Bafoussam hosts pool B AFCON matches. Augustine Awah Fonka is governor of Cameroon’s West region, where Bafoussam is located. Awa said on Sunday he launched a campaign for people to get COVID-19 tests and vaccines so they could have access to the stadium.
“During the first match, they did not know certain entry conditions,” he said. “This time around, everybody is sensitized, and everybody is mobilized and prepared to watch these great encounters. Tickets are already available at the various sales points, so the populations are invited to go there and obtain their tickets.”
Awah said, as an incentive, the government is providing free transportation to stadiums for people who are vaccinated and show proof of negative COVID-19 test results. He said Cameroonian Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute on Saturday asked workers and students who meet conditions to leave their offices and schools by 2 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. to attend matches. He says the permission given by Ngute for workers and students to leave their offices early ends on February 6, when AFCON is expected to end.

Before the tournament began on January 9, Cameroon said thousands of fans were rushing to get their vaccines but that vaccine hesitancy in the country is still quite high.
The Public Health Ministry says 4,000 people all over Cameroon have received the vaccine since AFCON started, and that number is too low to bring out a massive fan turnout.
The ministry says fewer than 5% of its targeted 16 million people have been vaccinated. Cameroon has about 26 million people.
In addition, separatists have vowed to disrupt the games in Buea and Limbe, both English-speaking towns hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.
Last Week, Cameroon reported that only about 300 supporters and fans turned out at the 20,000-seat Limbe stadium during matches. Limbe is hosting football fans, players and match officials for group matches for teams from Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, and Tunisia.
The military said separatists increased attempts to infiltrate Limbe and disrupt the games. It says separatists frustrated over their inability to disrupt AFCON matches in Limbe have attacked civilians in neighboring towns, including Buea.
However, the government says troops will protect all civilians threatened by separatists over attending matches.
The government says civilians should turn out en masse for COVID-19 tests and vaccinations so they can watch matches and that civilians in English-speaking towns should help the military by reporting intruders who want to see stadiums empty.

Source: Voice of America

Mali’s Ousted President Keita Dies at 76

BAMAKO — Former Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who was ousted by the military in 2020 after a turbulent seven-year rule, has died, officials said on Sunday. He was 76.
Known by his initials IBK, Keita ran the West African country from September 2013 to August 2020, when Islamist insurgents overran large areas, draining his popularity.
Disputed legislative elections, rumors of corruption, and a sputtering economy also fueled public anger and drew tens of thousands of people onto the streets of the capital Bamako demanding his resignation in 2020.
He was eventually forced out by a military coup, the leaders of which still rule Mali despite strong international objections.
“Very saddened to learn of the death of former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita,” tweeted Mali’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdoulaye Diop. “It is with great emotion that I bow before his memory.”
The cause of death was not yet clear. A former advisor said he died at home in Bamako.
Keita, who frequently traveled abroad for medical attention, was detained and put under house arrest during the coup but restrictions were lifted amid pressure from the West African political bloc ECOWAS.
Known for his white flowing robes and a tendency to slur his words, Keita won a resounding election victory in 2013. He vowed to take on the corruption that eroded support for his predecessor Amadou Toumani Toure, also toppled in a coup.
He had a reputation for firmness forged as a prime minister in the 1990s when he took a hard line with striking trade unions. But his tenure was marred from the start by a security crisis in which al Qaeda-linked jihadists swept across the desert north.
French forces had intervened in January 2013 to drive back the insurgents who had hijacked an ethnic Tuareg rebellion. But the groups bounced back. In the nine years since, they have killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians and in some areas created their own systems of government.
Attacks by jihadists stoked ethnic clashes between rival herding and farming communities, claiming hundreds more lives and underscoring the government’s lack of control.
Allegations of corruption dogged Keita’s presidency from the start.
In 2014, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund froze nearly $70 million in financing after the IMF expressed concern over the purchase of a $40 million presidential jet and a separate loan for military supplies.

Source: Voice of America