Mali rebels declare independence in north

Mali’s desert Tuaregs proclaimed independence for what they call the state of Azawad on Friday after capturing key towns this week in an advance that caught the newly-installed junta off guard.

Malians, who originate from the north, pump their fists in the air during a meeting in Bamako

Nomadic Tuaregs have nurtured the dream of secession since Mali’s own independence from France in 1960 but have little international support for a move which neighbours fear could encourage other separatist movements elsewhere.

This week’s seizure of Mali’s north – a desert zone bigger than France – came with the help of arms and men spilling out of Libya’s conflict. It was backed by Islamists with ties to al Qaeda, triggering fears of the emergence of a new rogue state.

“The Executive Committee of the MNLA calls on the entire international community to immediately recognise, in a spirit of justice and peace, the independent state of Azawad,” Billal Ag Acherif, secretary-general of the Tuareg-led MNLA rebel group MNLA said on its home page.

The statement, which listed decades of Tuareg grievances over their treatment by the distant southern capital Bamako, said the group recognised borders with neighbouring states and pledged to create a democratic state based on the principles of the United Nations charter.

It was datelined in the town of Gao, which along with the ancient trading post of Timbuktu and other northern towns fell to rebels in a matter of 72 hours this week as soldiers in Mali’s army either defected to the rebellion or fled.

The advance capitalised on confusion in Bamako after a March 22 coup by mid-ranking officers whose main goal had ironically been to beef up efforts to quash the rebellion.

Mali’s worried neighbours see the handover of power back to civilians as a precondition for moves to help stabilise the country and have imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions aimed at forcing junta leader Captain Amadou Sanogo to step down.

On Thursday a team of mediators said they were hopeful Sanogo would soon announce steps that would allow them to drop the sanctions on Africa’s third largest gold miner, which include the closure of borders and the suspension of its account at the regional central bank.

“We are going to do everything so that these sanctions are not only suspended but completely removed. We are getting there,” Burkina Faso Foreign Minister Djibril Bassole told Malian television after talks with Sanogo.

“I can assure you that the captain is aware and taking measures. He will soon make some announcements in that direction,” added Bassole, whose country represents the 15-state ECOWAS regional grouping as a mediator in the crisis.

There was no immediate response from the junta.

Separately, ECOWAS military planners prepared the mandate for a force of up to 3,000 soldiers which could be deployed in Mali with the dual aim of securing the return to constitutional order and halting any further rebel advance.

Ivory Coast General Soumaila Bakayoko said after the talks in the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan there was a “clear will” of all ECOWAS states to address the crisis in Mali, but gave no details on troop commitments or a deployment timetable.

Orlando Bloom campaigns for children in Madagascar

channels_television_orlando_bloomEnglish actor Orlando Bloom who starred as blacksmith Will Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series has taken the role of the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador given him seriously after he led the a campaign to improve the living standards of children in Madagascar.

The move especially meant for the poor children in Madagascar is meant to amongst other things improve the educational standard of the children and Bloom is partnering with Sienna Miller on this project who is chairing the educational campaign for UNICEF.

The project is based on fundaing a day of school for 50 Madasgascar children.

On the on-going project,Orlando Bloom said he is very delighted working with UNICEF and Boss Orange management as it is seen as making a difference in the lives of African Children.

Orlando Bloom had his break-through roles in 2001 as the elf-prince Legolas in The Lord of the Rings and starring in 2003 as blacksmith Will Turner in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series.

He established himself as a lead in Hollywood films, including Elizabethtown and Kingdom of Heaven after his breakthrough as he appeared in the ensemble films New York, I Love You, Sympathy for Delicious, and Main Street. Bloom made his professional stage debut in West End’s In Celebration at the Duke of York’s Theatre, St. Martin’s Lane, which ended its run on 15 September 2007.

On 12 October 2009, Bloom was named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.

“Sperm hunters” prowl Zimbabwe highways in search of hitchhikers

They have been called the “sperm hunters”, a gang of beautiful women in Zimbabwe that travel the streets of Zimbabwe, having sex with unsuspecting, albeit willing men, and harvesting their condoms full of sperm.

News of the promiscuous crew has sparked fears of taboo rituals in Zimbabwe, where the men are preyed upon, drugged, lured and sometimes threatened into repeated bouts of sexual intercourse before they are dumped by the roadside.

“Now, men fear women. They said: ‘we can’t go with you because we don’t trust you’,” 19-year-old Susan Dhliwayo recounted in a Zimbabwe Times article.
The sperm is reportedly used in good luck “ju-ju” rituals.

In one recorded case of sperm hunting, the Nhokwara sisters and one of their boyfriends were charged with the bizarre crime of attacking male hitchhikers and harvesting their sperm for ritual purposes.

The sperm-hunting crew were exposed when they got into a car accident and 30 used condoms were found in their car boot.

The group is facing a 17-count charge of aggravated incident assault even though a woman raping a man is not considered a criminal offence in Zimbabwe.

In their defence, the women denied allegations that they were sperm hunters, claiming instead that they were simply hard-working prostitutes.

Whatever the reason, the men of Zimbabwe are wary. One woman told the Agence France Presse that she had recently pulled over to assist male hitchhikers who refused to enter her car for fear of being raped.

Semen has become a lucrative commodity in Zimbabwe, University of Zimbabwe sociologist, Watch Ruparanganda said, adding that now businessmen furnish street youth with a hotel room, booze and prostitutes and asked to hand over the used condom after the fact.

The rituals could be for anything from enhancing good fortune, boosting business or protecting criminals from police detection.

The Zimbabwe National Traditional Healers Association slams the practice.

“We believe that this is a form of witchcraft. So we are totally against the idea,” said spokesman George Kandiyero.

“It has really frightened people,” he said. “It has really brought in a bit of shock because normally it was the other way round, normally we know of men raping women, not women raping men.”

“We do not have the exact number of confirmed cases,” said national police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena of the phenomenon that was first publicised in 2009.

“These cases occurred mostly when the victims were hitchhiking and boarded private vehicles. We encourage people to use public transport.”

Cameroon men appeal five-year jail sentence for gay sex

Two Cameroonian men sentenced to five years in prison for engaging in gay sex were jeered by a disapproving crowd when they appeared in court for their appeal hearing, the AFP reported.

According to the reports, lawyer for the convicted couple, identified as Jonas and Franky, have called on the courts to repeal the sentencing and release the men.

“They will present guarantees to assure you that they will respond regularly to summons from the court,” Michel Togue said at the appeals court in Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital.

A crowd outside the court booed the men as they were driven back to their prison cells.

“There is prejudice here,” the lawyer said.

Like many African countries, Cameroon is largely homophobic, and the law stipulates and individuals guilty of engaging in same-sex relationships be sentenced to five years in prison and fined.

According to reports, both Jonas and Franky and a third man were sentenced to five years in Jail last November and ordered to pay a 300 euro fine.

The third man did not appeal his sentencing. The judge adjourned the case to April 20 to consider the call for their release.

Learn from the Arab uprisings, Obasanjo tells ‘sit-tight leaders’ in Africa

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said that “the ‘life Presidents’ and ‘sit-tight leaders’ of the world” should draw lessons in democracy from the Arab uprisings causing serial upheavals in North African nations and take steps to address “people’s issues”.

Mr Obasanjo said this on Monday in India where he is on a five-day visit. He said the “seven or eight leaders” heading authoritarian government in African should learn from the people’s revolutions in North Africa and, if they do not, they would be made to learn the “important” lesson by their citizens.

“What has happened in North Africa is not just a lesson for nations in Africa, but is a lesson for the world as a whole,” the former president said while responding to a question on what lesson that the Arab Spring and the subsequent regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen has for Africa after delivering an address at the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) at Sapru House.

He also pointed out that the situation vis-a-vis authoritarian rules in the African continent was “much more worse” two decades ago. “But today, the situation is better.

“The ‘life presidents’ and ‘sit-tight leaders’ are becoming endangered. If you look at Africa today, you have seven or eight such leaders. At one time, more than 50 per cent of Africa was under such leaders,” Mr Obasanjo, who had three stints as head of the Nigerian state, noted.

He was the Nigerian head of state first from February 1976 to September 1979 after incumbent Murtala Mohammed was assassinated. He was the first-ever military ruler to hand over governance to a democratically-elected leadership after national elections in 1979.

In 1999, Mr Obasanjo, after retirement from the military, contested the Nigerian presidential polls and won with over 60 per cent popular vote to become the nation’s head of state for the second time. He successfully contested the presidential polls for a second term in 2003 and remained Nigerian President till 2007.

“It is said that history repeats itself. But I say, if you learn from history, it will not repeat itself. A wise man learns from not only his own mistakes, but also from others’ mistakes. And these seven or eight leaders must soon learn. If they do not, they will be made to learn the important lesson,” the senior African statesman said.

Talking of Tunisia, the northern-most African nation where the first revolution now popularly called the Arab Uprising or Arab Spring broke out, Mr Obasanjo said before the movement erupted, it was all calm on the surface in that country, but one suicide triggered a wave that engulfed the whole of North Africa.

“The situation in Tunisia was anything but unstable, everything was calm on the surface, everybody seemed to be happy. But one individual decided to commit suicide and it erupted into a major movement. Anything can happen,” he said.

“It is not so much about democracy, but about unemployment, particularly of the youth. It doesn’t matter what sort of democracy you have, but people’s issues should be addressed,” he warned.

World Bank predicts more foreign invest for Africa in 2012

Capital flows into Africa are seen growing significantly in 2012 as investors seeking higher returns out of Europe, look at the continent for better opportunities in infrastructure projects, a World Bank’s senior official said on Friday.

The Washington-based development lender expects economic growth on the world poorest continent to be 5.3 percent this year and 5.6 for 2013, despite increased concerns about the euro zone debt crisis, its main export market.

Marcelo Giugale, Africa’s Poverty Reduction and Economic Management director at the bank, said that the appreciation of the region’s currencies against the dollar was an indication of increased foreign direct investment (FDI).

“Most currencies in Africa have appreciated this year, which means investors expect some of those countries to do very well,” Giugale told Reuters in an interview.

“There is a boom in urban construction mainly from repatriated money. The amount of offer that Africa is getting to build its infrastructure, which are long haul investments, is clearly increasing.”

For instance, the government in Tanzania said it plans to build a $684 million 300 MW gas-fired power plant in the south of the country in the 2011/12 financial year, which runs until June 30, 2012, to plug energy shortages, after securing a loan from China.

Tanzania says the project would also involve construction of a 1,100-kilometre power transmission line from Mtwara in southern Tanzania to Singida region in the centre of the country.

In neighbouring Uganda, British oil company Tullow Oil Plc has a $10 billion plan to start pumping oil from huge reserves discovered on the shores of Lake Albert. Early production is scheduled to start in 2013 before ramping up to a major production phase in 2016.

Frontier African currencies came under pressure in 2011 mainly due to widening balance of payments as crude prices soared on the global markets, pushing consumer prices higher, while central banks lagged behind the curve in arresting inflation.

FDI into Africa was forecast, by Ernst & Young, to reach $150 billion by 2015 from $84 billion in 2010, driven by strong growth in new projects.

Giugale said the expected discovery of more natural resources like oil and precious metals, coupled with high commodity prices on the global market would wean the continent off export dependence on European markets.

“Previously a cough in the rich world would cause pneumonia here. But not any more … there is resilience and spare capacity,” said Giugale.

He cited lack of integration and barriers to trade between African countries as a hindrance to growth in the region, which could benefit from free flow in capital and human resource across borders.

Trade among African countries remains low despite individual countries increasing trade with the outside world, with some African countries sending up to 80 percent of their exports to with non-African countries.

“If you were to remove these barriers you will be capturing billion of dollars in commerce and millions of Jobs,” Giugale said.