Africa News in Brief: May 1-7 edition

Courtesy of Global Information Network

Chocolate maker melts under heat of people pressure

(GIN)—The maker of Nabisco and Oreo cookies, Cadbury, Milka and Toblerone chocolates, among other high-caloric sweets, has agreed to address hunger, poverty and unequal pay among women cocoa farmers in West Africa. The firm conceded in response to a massive letter campaign organized by a rights group.

Mondelez International, with headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., initially denied they were not meeting the goals to improve working conditions for women who, as reported by the rights group Oxfam, are paid less than men and suffer discrimination in access to training and materials.

“We are surprised that Oxfam does not acknowledge these investments in its report,” the company said initially.

But, the UK-based Oxfam said the manufacturer was avoiding the issue and was instead “compiling a laundry list of well-known existing projects.”

Last month, Oxfam called on the top three chocolate manufacturers—Mondelez, Nestle and Mars—to conduct independent audits after finding women cocoa farmers were paid less than men, suffered degrading treatment from male supervisors and were unable to obtain loans from banks and other creditors. In Nigeria, some cocoa farmers earn as little as $2 a day.

Thousands of Oxfam activists flooded the company with letters backing the demand.

Last week’s announcement by Mondelēz to launch an action plan by April 1, 2014 to improve working conditions in Ghana and Ivory Coast and to sign onto the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles by April 26, 2013, comes on top of commitments last month by Mars and Nestle to address these issues. The three companies together control 42 percent of the world chocolate market.

Mondelēz employs about 100,000 people worldwide, with an annual revenue of approximately $36 billion and operations in more than 80 countries.

“Those chocolate companies that seek quality output but ignore the gender dimension of cocoa sourcing do so at their long-term peril,” wrote researcher Stephanie Barrientos, project coordinator of “Mapping Sustainable Production in Ghanaian Cocoa.”


U.S.-trained troops in desecration of Nigerian town

(GIN)—A firefight April 19 between insurgents and the Nigerian military claimed close to 180 lives and left some two thousand homes in the village of Baga burned to their foundations. Baga is in Borno State, home turf of the group Boko Haram which has unleashed a war against the Goodluck Jonathan government after their leader was murdered by police in an apparent execution in 2009.

Nigeria’s military has received training at U.S. bases and locally “for decades.”

Security guards initially denied access to Baga as the Goodluck government struggled for 48 hours to provide a full explanation for the high fatalities. News reports from the scene generally agree that the Nigerian military initiated the action, surrounding a mosque in the belief that Boko Haram members were inside. They were met by a hail of rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun bullets, whose ferocity reportedly caught the government agents off guard. Chad and Niger provided back-up to the Nigerian troops.

“When the military reinforced and came in to the village, apparently one of the soldiers was killed, and they held the entire community responsible for the killing and decided to massively deal with the community,” political commentator Hussaini Abdu told the German news agency DW.

In a press interview, Brig. Gen. Austin Edokpaye claimed the extremists used civilians as human shields during the fighting—implying that soldiers were shooting in neighborhoods where they knew civilians lived.

But, a number of Baga residents accused used the military, not Boko Haram, of firing indiscriminately at civilians and setting fire to much of the fishing town. In addition to the mostly civilian 187 killed, 77 others were injured and more than 2,000 homes were set on fire, reportedly by the Military Joint Task Force, according to the Red Cross.

Regarding the U.S. training, the U.S. embassy in Abuja told the Guardian newspaper: “We have had a mil-mil relationship with the Nigerians for decades, principally supporting their peacekeeping efforts in Africa (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur) and around the globe. In recent years, and at their request, we have also worked with them on their nascent counter-force. We do not know if any of these elements have been deployed in the (Boko Haram) north.”

In August 2011, Gen. Carter Ham, former chief of the African Command, met with members of the press and referred to U.S. counter-insurgency support.

“We want to make sure that those who are countering insurgency have a wide array of options available to them, not simply do nothing or apply overwhelming military force but a vast array of capabilities, whether it’s a more constrained or restrained approach to civil disturbance, whether it’s the use of nonlethal munitions and other kinds of tactics and techniques. All of those things are possible. We, along with Nigeria, have some experience in this regard. And if that’s a matter that the Nigerian military leaders would like us to pursue, that certainly is an area where I think we could help one another.”

Meanwhile, a U.S. MQ-1B Predator unmanned drone aircraft docked in neighboring Niger is worrying Nigerians in the North-West and North East regions. Three Nigerians—Abubakar Shekau, Abubakar Adam Kambar and Khalid al-Barnawi— already have been designated global terrorists and could be considered targets for the U.S. unmanned planes.


The above articles originally appeared in our May 1, 2013 issue. Below are additional briefs. 


Late novelist Acebe to receive ‘grand send-off’ in Nigeria next month

(GIN)—Africa’s acclaimed man of letters will be laid to rest next month in his hometown of Ogidi, Anambra state, in eastern Nigeria, surrounded by friends, Nobel laureates and other luminaries.

Among those who have reserved their place at the memorial are Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nadine Gordimer, and, from the U.S., Toni Morrison, Ruth Simmons and Johnetta B. Cole.

The author of Things Fall Apart and other celebrated works died in Boston on March 21. He was 82.

Achebe’s sons, Ike and Chidi, said their father will have a Christian burial.

“As a storyteller, as a voice of his nation, as a cultural impresario, an intellectual combatant and provocateur, Achebe gained with age the status in Nigeria of a bard and a sage that the modern world rarely affords to writers,” observed New York writer Philip Gourevitch.

“After long-term professorships at Bard College and Brown University, he returned to Nigeria where he was received as a national hero. Crowds of thousands—sometimes tens of thousands—gathered to pay tribute to him. The adoration hardly softened him, though. He was, in his old age, as much a scold to his compatriots as he had ever been in his youth.”

Achebe regarded the corpus of African literature as the aesthetic and moral glue that bonded African people on the continent and the African Diaspora. “The new literature in Africa,” he said, “like the old, is aware of the possibilities available to it for celebrating humanity in our continent…Whether the rendezvous of separate histories will take place in a grand, harmonious concourse or be fought with bitterness and acrimony will all depend on whether we have learned to recognize one another’s presence and are ready to accord human respect to everybody.”

In addition, a memorial service to celebrate Achebe’s life has been scheduled for June 2 in Washington, D.C.


Editor who ‘scandalized’ court gets hefty fine or jail

(GIN)—The editor of a Swaziland magazine was slapped with two years imprisonment or a $20,000 fine for an opinion piece he wrote about the Supreme Court Chief Justice in 2009 and 2010.

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Swaziland’s appeals court to overturn last week’s conviction for “contempt by scandalizing the court” in relation to Bhekitemba Makhubu’s two articles in The Nation magazine criticizing the country’s chief justice.

Although the judgment was handed down more than a year after the case was heard, in February 2012, Makhubu was given only three days to pay the fine. His legal team lodged an appeal, staying the judgment until the appeal is heard.

“We condemn the court’s heavy-handed interpretation of Swaziland’s contempt of court provisions and its prosecution of one of the kingdom’s few independent media voices,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. “Swaziland’s constitution protects freedom of expression and fair criticism of the judiciary–we would urge the appeals court to review Bheki Makhubu’s case with these provisions in mind.”

Makhubu had accused the Swazi Supreme Court, “of not being impartial and that their decision not to allow multipartism in this country was actuated by an improper agenda which they were pursuing and that it was not based on law and their conscience.”

Jabu Matsebula of the South African National Editors’ Forum, called the ruling against the Nation magazine one of the heaviest fines ever handed down in the kingdom.

“It will certainly have a chilling effect on the press and on citizens’ constitutional rights to freedom of expression,” Matsebula said.

In Makhubu’s defense, the editors’ group wrote: ”The use of contempt charges to silence legitimate scrutiny of judicial conduct and attitudes will do nothing to secure the dignity and credibility of Swaziland’s courts. On the contrary, by seeking to enforce silence rather than to foster open debate, this judgment is more likely to engender doubt, criticism, and suspicion of Swaziland’s courts than it is to create respect.”

Protests against Makhubu’s sentence have been made across the world, but so far no media outlet in Swaziland has made a public condemnation of the court’s decision.


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Category: Africa Briefs

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GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.

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