President Edgar Lungu’s government has suspended them for six months, starting from October. Even though it is a freeze due to a cash-crunch and not a cancellation, in the world of finance, it is being seen as a debt default.
One of the poorest countries in the world, Zambia, has decided to temporarily suspend interest payments to private creditors as it struggles to contain the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
Zambian leaders were conflicted on the question of whether to continue paying wealthy foreign investors or take care of their people. This week they decided to focus on facing the coronavirus challenge.
Over the past decade, Zambia has accumulated a foreign debt of more than $10 billion. It has become the first African country to stop payments on private debt, which now make up a major chunk of the loans that the countries in the region have taken.
Debt relief advocates have for months pushed indebted governments to default on their debt, insisting that spending money on healthcare and economic recovery is more important.
The 73 most indebted countries have to pay around $45 billion in interest payments in 2020, and a major chunk of it will go to the private sector, says the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Wealthy countries, which are part of the G20, have announced a debt moratorium for their poor peers. However, private creditors have ganged up and refused to be part of such an initiative.
Landlocked Zambia is Africa’s second largest producer of copper, which has seen a drastic drop in its price and strained the country’s finances.
It is not alone in taking the drastic step to default on its debt. Last month, Argentina reached an agreement with its creditors to restructure $65 billion of its foreign debt.
Private lenders say that refusing to pay interest will make it difficult for poor and developing countries to secure future loans that they need to build roads, hospitals and schools.
But experts argue that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. In any case, banks and institutional investors had themselves lined up to loan funds to African countries because they were getting a higher return.
Many African countries, already struggling with poverty and instability, don’t have additional resources to spend on equipping hospitals to deal with the expected increase in the number of patients who require ventilators and ICUs.
A recent study by Jubilee Debt Campaign, which advocates for debt relief, found that 63 impoverished countries were consuming 5.2 percent of revenues to pay foreign creditors in 2011. This average rose to 12 percent in 2019.
In just five years between 2012 and 2017, the average external debt as a percentage of the GDP of low-income developing countries surged to 50 percent from 30.35 percent.
Countries like Ghana, which heavily depend on the export of gold, oil and cocoa, are particularly at risk of a crisis, as the price of commodities have plunged, and the cost of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic is rising.
Jubilee and others have called for complete debt write-offs, something which is not unusual. In 2001, developed economies agreed to give debt service relief amounting to $34 billion to 23 Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), 19 of which were in Africa. The initiative was meant to tackle poverty.
This becomes especially important in times of an infectious outbreak, which can be a severe burden on the limited resources of most impoverished countries.
Out of the total debt of the African countries, around 32 percent is owed to private investors – this comes to approximately $132 billion, according to one study done two years back.
Most of the debt of the developing and poor countries consist of loans, all borrowed to pay off previous loans – trapping them in a vicious debt cycle.
Between 2000 and 2014, Zambia saw rapid economic growth which averaged around 6.8 percent. However, since then, the country’s economic growth rate has stalled, mainly because of the drop in commodity prices.
Its public debt increased to 80 percent of GDP in 2019 from 35 percent at the end of 2014
Berbera and Zeila, two of the Horn of Africa’s ancient trading cities, have long attracted the interest of global powers because of their strategic location near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. This location makes Somaliland’s coastal ports among the region’s most valuable real estate and an alternative to Djibouti as a key player in terms of trade, development, energy, and water security for the Red Sea and Horn of Africa.
Richard Burton, the British explorer, recognized the importance of Berbera port back in 1896, writing:
In the first place, Berbera is the true key of the Red Sea, the centre of East African traffic, and the only safe place for shipping upon the western Eritrean shore, from Suez to Guardafui. Backed by lands capable of cultivation, and by hills covered with pine and other valuable trees, enjoying a comparatively temperate climate, with a regular although thin monsoon, this harbour has been coveted by many a foreign conqueror. Circumstances have thrown it as it were into our arms, and, if we refuse the chance, another and a rival nation will not be so blind.
A new geopolitical rivalry in the Red Sea
Somaliland’s ports still remain the object of international interest and rivalry today, although the foreign powers involved have changed. On July 1, according to an official statement, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Taiwan had agreed to establish ties with Somaliland based on “friendship and a shared commitment to common values of freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law.”
Less than a week later, however, Somalia’s federal government, led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aligned itself with China to prevent a Taiwanese-Somaliland nexus that would have clear geopolitical ramifications for the Horn of Africa.
While China and Somalia rebuffed and condemned the new strategic bilateral ties between Somaliland and Taiwan, the U.S. National Security Council has blessed Taiwan’s venture into East Africa, sending a clear message to China that the U.S. stands with Taiwan. This is a significant blow to the Chinese government, which has used its international influence and “development-trap diplomacy” in recent decades to rally support among African and Middle Eastern states for its efforts to suppress Taiwan’s presence in the international sphere.
Egypt, Ethiopia, and Somaliland
On July 12, a high-level delegation from Egypt traveled to Somaliland. Although an Egyptian delegation had visited in 2019, angering Somalia, this year’s trip comes at a critical time as Ethiopia and Egypt have locked horns in their dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The Egyptian delegation’s visit prompted protests from the Ethiopian government, and Egypt’s growing bilateral ties and cooperation with Somaliland are giving Ethiopia GERD problems of its own — as in gastroesophageal reflux disease.
It is important to note that Ethiopia has a 19 percent stake in the port of Berbera, which is managed by the UAE’s DP World with a 51 percent stake, while Somaliland holds 30 percent. In May 2019, Ethiopia signed its first military cooperation agreement with France, which covers joint air cooperation and includes assistance for Ethiopia’s efforts to build up its naval forces — although where the landlocked country plans to dock these naval forces remains unclear. Joking aside, Ethiopia’s naval endeavors are driven by two main factors: first, concerns over the future of Djibouti’s port, which the IMF categorizes as at a “high risk of debt distress,” comparable to the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, which was built with Chinese financing and which Beijing took control of after Colombo failed to meet its debt obligations; and second, to protect 11 state-owned commercial vessels managed by the Ethiopian Shipping & Logistics Services Enterprise (ESLSE).
Scramble for fragile Somaliland
Although Somaliland is relatively peaceful compared to Somalia, its lack of international recognition makes it fragile and susceptible to being drawn into regional disputes as it seeks allies, bilateral ties, and eventual recognition. This has been the case with the Gulf states, where it has sided with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In part as a result of this fragility and desire to secure more allies and improve bilateral ties, Somaliland now finds itself in the middle of multiple disputes among other states, including Ethiopia and Egypt and China and Taiwan.
Taken together, the current domestic instability in Ethiopia and its tensions with Egypt over the GERD, combined with the global superpower competition in the Horn of Africa and Red Sea, are a recipe for conflict that could trigger the largest refugee influx in African history. This could destabilize Somaliland and with it key international maritime trade routes, making it vulnerable to insecurity and terrorism that directly affects both Ethiopia and Djibouti, with which it shares its western border.
To reduce future geopolitical uncertainty and security risk in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea, it’s in the best interest of the international community to take the following steps:
Consider recognizing Somaliland;
Praise Taiwan-Somaliland relations instead of giving in to Chinese pressure and potentially keeping at bay Russia, which also has a keen interest in establishing a military base at Berbera port; and
Include Somaliland in the Red Sea Council and help it develop its own navy.
Egypt fears the $4bn project could lead to water shortages upstream, while Sudan is concerned about dam’s safety.
05 Aug 2020 GMT+3
Egypt has decided to withdraw from the latest round of tripartite negotiations over Ethiopia’s multibillion-dollar dam on the Blue Nile for internal consultations after Addis Ababa proposed a new draft of filling guidelines.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), which is being built about 15km (nine miles) from the Ethiopian border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, has become a major sticking point between the three countries.
Egypt fears the $4bn project could lead to water shortages upstream, while Sudan said it is concerned about the dam’s safety.
The Egyptian water ministry, in a statement on Tuesday, said Ethiopia put forward a draft proposal that lacked regulations on the operation of the dam or any legal obligations.
Addis Ababa’s draft also lacked a legal mechanism for settling disputes, according to the Egyptian ministry.
“Egypt and Sudan demanded meetings be suspended for internal consultations on the Ethiopian proposal, which contravenes what was agreed upon during the African Union summit,” it said.
The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile river, from which Egypt’s 100 million people get 90 percent of their fresh water.
Ethiopia dam dispute: Concerns in Sudan’s Blue Nile state (2:55)
Sudan’s safety concerns
Meanwhile, Sudan’s irrigation ministry said the latest Ethiopian position presented in talks on Tuesday raised new fears over the track the negotiations had been on.
Khartoum also threatened to withdraw from the talks, saying Ethiopia insisted on linking them to renegotiating a deal on sharing the waters of the Blue Nile.
Sudan’s water and irrigation minister, Yasser Abbas, said he received a letter from his Ethiopian counterpart who proposed “the deal under discussion be limited to filling up the dam and any deal concerning its management be linked to the question of sharing Blue Nile waters”.
Egypt and Sudan invoke a “historic right” over the river guaranteed by treaties concluded in 1929 and 1959.
But Ethiopia uses a treaty signed in 2010 by six riverside countries and boycotted by Egypt and Sudan authorising irrigation projects and dams on the river.
“This new Ethiopian position threatens the negotiations under the aegis of the African Union, and Sudan will not participate in negotiations which include the subject of sharing Blue Nile waters,” Abbas said.
“Sudan will not allow the lives of 20 million citizens who live along the Blue Nile to be tied to an agreement on sharing the water of this river.”
The call came after a meeting of technical and legal committees from the three countries aimed at pushing for a deal on the filling and operation of the GERD.
The meeting was also attended by observers from the United States and the European Union as well as experts from the Africa
This oasis on the banks of the River Senegal, along the border with Mauritania, is home to a community of small-scale farmers spread across a handful of villages who for centuries have been channelling the river’s water to grow and consume local produce.
But in recent decades, the aridity of the area, which lies at the gateway to the Sahara Desert, has increased dramatically. Arable land has become tougher to find, food production has slowed, livelihoods have worsened, and the men have left in search of work and opportunities abroad.
“The desert is advancing on us,” says Fama Sarr, gazing intensely. The elegant 63-year-old is one of the oldest inhabitants of Sinthiou Diam Dior, a village here in the Matam region.
“The heat has become so extreme and the rainy season so short, that our agricultural activity has decreased year by year and food insecurity is gaining ground everywhere,” she says. Temperatures now regularly exceed 40 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), and less rain means the river water is drying up.
In the centre of the village is a small adobe mosque and a square with a large Acacia tree, which offers shade during the hottest hours. The low-lying houses are surrounded by walls that protect them from nocturnal snakes and hippos that occasionally wander in from the river.
The tributary that provides villagers with enough water to drink and to nourish the fields is called Moyo in the local dialect, Pular, and life here revolves around it. It is where ancient generations first spotted foreigners coming from unknown, distant lands. During the dry season, little water remains and people cross it by foot to trade with the Mauritanians.
Now, more and more, the desert is encroaching. The change has been slow and gradual, yet constant over time: Cracks appearing on the walls of homes with greater regularity; market days becoming less busy; children asking the women where their fathers have gone.
But what worries the community of Sinthiou Diam Dior the most, is the shortening of the rainy season – and its effect on their main sources of income: agriculture and farming.
“It rains once in July and then it stops for a month, so families often lose their crops,” Sarr says. “We became so poor that my husband had to emigrate to Gabon and my son to France.”
A village of women
In Sinthiou Diam Dior, at least one person from every family has emigrated, most of them men. Across Matam, the women remain behind as the lifeblood that animates and nourishes the villages.
Abandoned, they are at the core of family life but also the economy of the villages: They have a key role in managing resources, food production, animal husbandry, consumption choices and raising children.
Inside her house, surrounded by fences to guard the goats, Sarr feeds her granddaughter in a large, blue room buzzing with old, rickety fans. A loud television holds the attention of a group of children lying in a corner, while women chat on the colourful sofas surrounding the room.
Sarr lives in the mud-brick building with 22 other people, 16 of whom are women. Each bedroom houses as many as five people. It is a common arrangement, with the village’s 400 men making up just a third of the total population.
After sharing a large bowl of thieboudienne, the Senegalese national dish of fish, rice and fresh vegetables, Sarr sips on a sugary ataya tea.
“Being the wife of a migrant is very difficult. Love is missing, physical affection is missing,” Sarr says.
“Sometimes we talk on WhatsApp and see each other on video calls, but often the line doesn’t work and we need to walk to other villages [to find a signal], and it’s hard to get phone credit.”
During the day, the heat forces life in the villages to move at a slow pace, measured only by the muezzin sounding the Muslim call to prayer five times a day. At night, the perfect silence and the starry sky blur together.
“When it’s so hot, you can’t live,” says Sarr. “The kids look sick and they stop playing.”
In Matam, poverty affects as much as 75 percent of families, and more than a third does not have enough food to eat, making them even more vulnerable to the consequences of desertification – which is rapidly escalating in the area, according to the United Nations.
Overall, the UN desertification organisation says every year, 12 million hectares (nearly 30 million acres) of productive land around the world are transformed into deserts – an area greater than the size of Portugal. And the pace of land degradation is more than 30 times the speed recorded in the past. UN data also projects that there will be 200 million climate migrants by 2050; northern Senegal is one of the countries that will be affected most severely.
‘Life is really hard here’
When husbands leave, life for women in Matam grows more challenging. Married, but alone, they wait for a visit that often does not happen for years, and for money that sometimes stops coming. They are left in limbo, unable to start a new life.
Coumba Diallo is strong and beautiful. She is in her 40s but says she does not know her exact age. She studied in the capital, Dakar, before moving to the village when she got married in 1991. But her husband has since left.
“When we got married, my husband was always here and we were happy,” says Diallo. “But money was too little, so he decided to emigrate, first to the Ivory Coast, then to Gabon.”
Since he left 10 years ago, she has had to till their field alone. She does not have children, but helps her sister-in-law with her four children. One of them was born with cerebral palsy, and so the mother must constantly tend to him, leaving Diallo alone in the fields.
Every morning Diallo wakes up at dawn. After eating a slice of buttered bread and carrying out religious ablutions, she takes a large, colourful basket filled with tools and heads towards the fields that stand along the river. But for years she has struggled to produce enough food to support herself and the rest of the family.
“Life is really hard here,” she says. “Especially after my husband told me he didn’t have money to send us food any more. That’s why we started to work more and more on the fields.”
She is now involved in every stage of the agricultural process, working the land with the use of new technologies and going to regional markets to sell her produce – mainly tomatoes, onions, aubergines, and rice.
“Since solar panels have been installed in my field and provide energy for water pumps, I don’t need to spend all my savings to collect water for irrigation,” she says.
The income is divided into a portion for herself and the family, and a portion for the community. The rest covers maintenance costs and the purchase of new machinery.
When the men leave
For the men (and few women) who leave home, the conditions are notoriously complicated, with most facing treacherous journeys, racist abuse and violence, along the way.
According to the UN, up to four million Senegalese nationals out of the domestic population of 15 million live abroad, ranking it as one of the countries with the highest number of emigres in West Africa.
But even for those who stay, life is not easy. Left alone by husbands, sons and brothers, women are often forced to leave their studies and take care of the land and children. Many also find themselves marrying younger.
“The women stay. The man marries you, then emigrates and leaves you there,” says 35-year-old Dieynaba Niang who moved thousands of miles to Matam from Gabon to follow her husband, who in turn left for the United States five years ago.
“And you, you have to take care of everything, his family, his mother and for this you have to leave school. Once you are married everything you will do is prepare food and take care of your family.”
Niang lives on her own with her five-year-old daughter, far from her original family, and further from her husband. But she hopes to join him soon. “He left, but I needed him here, with me,” she says.
“Hopefully, what happened to me won’t happen to my daughter,” Niang says. “I’ll let her finish school. And all the men who want to marry her will have to wait for her to finish, for her to find a good job. Only then can they marry her.”
But in Senegal, as is the case in many African countries, gender inequality is still very high. Although women represent 70 percent of the continent’s agricultural force, produce 80 percent of food and manage 90 percent of its sale, according to the World Bank report on Women and Agriculture in Africa, their rights are not recognised and they have very little decision-making power.
Patriarchal society in Senegal prevents most women from directly managing the land they work on, and in most cases there is a man who enjoys the fruits of the labour carried out by women.
“Here are the women who are strong and work in the fields,” says Niang. “It is basically the women who do everything.”
The old ways
Back when most of their husbands moved away, and with the threat of desertification literally at their doorsteps, the women of the villages dedicated all their strength and energy to agriculture.
But their outdated, inefficient equipment and the rising cost of fuel, ratcheted up financial pressures.
“We have always had to pay for the fuel to drain water from the river and irrigate the fields,” explains Sarr. “But in recent years, more and more of it was required and we ended up spending most of our money on gasoline.”
Then, a beacon of hope appeared five years ago in the form of renewable energy. Desperate and eager for change, dozens of women from the villages joined forces. With the support of the NGO Green Cross, they launched the project Energy to Stay. New technologies have since been installed in the villages to draw water from the river and irrigate the fields.
Instead of using expensive gasoline to pump water, solar panels now power a water collection system. The new system also irrigates the fields using pipelines buried in the soil to gradually deliver the water over time, as opposed to the old method called “flooding”, whereby the pump released water into channels dug in the ground. Green Cross estimates this change has led to a water-saving of 70 percent.
“We stayed and decided to learn solar engineering to irrigate the fields,” says Mame Yaye Pam, the president of the village Koundel, 45km (28 miles) south of Sinthiou Diam Dior. Solar panels allow them to reduce gasoline consumption by 2,700 litres a year, she says.
In each village, year after year, the solar irrigation system allows the cultivation of more than 60 hectares (148 acres) of land, in turn producing enough fruit and vegetables to feed more than 900 people.
Mame Yaye Pam
“This has been the best year of harvest thanks to solar power,” says Diallo, looking at the fields along the river, where green shoots have sprouted in patches that had once turned brown.
“This has allowed us to increase our income, thus reducing poverty and having quality vegetable consumption in families. We’re doing well, we can feed our children and even save some money by selling at the market.”
The aim of the operation was to rehabilitate farmland in an environmentally sustainable manner, and in so doing ensure that the local population has a supply of fresh produce they can eat and sell to generate an income, says Alessandra Pierella, the manager of the Green Cross project.
“Now the women have learned to use the machinery and manage the fields, becoming entirely independent,” Pierella says. “We managed to eliminate the women’s expenses and their carbon dioxide emissions are now zero.”
Alongside the technology, more sophisticated farming techniques have been developed, such as crop rotation – which reduces waste and optimises production, President Yaye Pam says.
To help formalise the structure of the operation, a women’s association has been formed for the region and in each village, a president, a treasurer, and a secretary has been elected.
The Energy to Stay project is, in a small way, an attempt to reverse Senegal’s societal norms. While there is a lack of female presence in the most important positions in the country, for the first time in this area women not only work, but also take part in decision-making processes and hold positions of responsibility.
“The group is very well organised and women are so dynamic,” explains Diallo, who is secretary in her village. “Every month members meet to contribute to emergencies, if there is a possible breakdown or if there is something to do.”
Within the last five years, in addition to selling agricultural products, travelling to regional markets and taking care of their own business, women have become owners of land parcels.
“The land belongs to the group, but then it is distributed in plots and given to each woman according to the quota she has decided to pay,” explains Diallo.
Diallo shares an eight-hectare (19-acre) field with two dozen other people, and works on her own parcel of land every day. She uses part of the harvest for cooking, part for stocks, but the majority she sells.
From the money the women earn, each also puts in an amount to pay for expenses such as seeds, the caretaker and the pump. Diallo collects contributions from more than 200 women each month.
In this way, year after year, hectare after hectare, the women of the Matam villages have slowly managed to reclaim the deserted lands, improve living conditions and create job opportunities, thus generating an alternative to migration.
‘A little is enough’
It is midnight and Diallo, Sarr and Niang are getting ready to join the other women on the rooftop of a house near the mosque.
The women are all wearing traditional, wax-print dresses with beautiful patterns and fancy jewellery. Taking turns they reach the middle of the rooftop and dance for about 30 seconds, in a climax of energy and rhythm.
The village is celebrating the wedding of a young couple who, thanks to their parents’ money, are studying in the capital Dakar, some 500km (310 miles) away. They have returned home to celebrate their union.
But they are not the only ones who have come back.
Some men, fathers, cousins, friends, childhood companions, are also present at the wedding. They are sitting on the floor and offering money and gifts to the groom, who, according to tradition, must be at a separate celebration for the men only.
Some of the men are here to visit their families, spend a few months in the village, and leave again for Gabon, France, Italy, Germany. But others, many of them, have decided to stay after seeing the transformation of village life.
“I heard things were getting better here,” says one of the husbands, who two weeks earlier returned home after more than 10 years in Gabon. “My wife is so happy that I decided to come back and help her with the field.”
Improved living conditions and new job opportunities brought on by technology, as well as the hard work of Matam’s women, are beginning to halt the climate migration.
“The problem is why we were leaving: it wasn’t a choice,” says the husband.
“But since there’s more money in the family, we live better now. And if we live better, we’ll be less and less under pressure to seek better luck elsewhere.”
“A little is enough to gain the freedom of having a choice again.”
As of August 6, the confirmed Covid-19 case total from 55 African countries has reached 994,018. Of those, 298,472 are active cases with 8,527,691 tests having been performed.
Reported deaths in Africa have reached 21,641 and recoveries 673,903.
South Africa has the most reported cases – 529,877, with deaths numbering 9,298. The next most most-affected countries are Egypt (94,875), Nigeria (44,890), Ghana (39,075) and Algeria (33,055).
The numbers are compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University (world map) using statistics from the World Health Organization and other international institutions as well national and regional public health departments. For the latest totals, see the AllAfrica clickable map with per-country numbers.
Daily Trust (Abuja)
By Latifat Opoola
The United States has raised the alarm that the Al-Qaeda insurgent group has started penetrating the northwestern part of Nigeria.
US warned that violent extremist organization were seizing on Africa’s ineffective maintenance of the coronavirus pandemic to advance their goals in vulnerable societies in Nigeria and other African countries.
The Head of US Special Operations Command Africa, Maj.-Gen. Dagvin Anderson, stated this Wednesday during a zoom video conference with reporters.
He said Al-Qaeda was also expanding to other parts of West Africa.
He said Al-Qaeda had had a deliberate campaign to expand their reach, especially into the west.
“We’ve seen that they have taken advantage of this also by closing schools, so they – they take away the future. They eliminate that future by shutting down these schools: over 9,000 schools across Africa shut down; 3,000 in Mali and Burkina Faso. That is very concerning to us” he said.
“We have engaged with Nigeria and continued to engage with them in intelligence sharing and in understanding what these violent extremists are doing, and that has been absolutely critical to their engagements up in the Borno State and into an emerging area of northwest Nigeria that we’re seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads in.
“So this intelligence sharing is absolutely vital and we stay fully engaged with the Government of Nigeria to provide them an understanding of what these terrorists are doing, what Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS-West Africa is doing, and how ISIS and al-Qaida are looking to expand further south into the littoral areas” he stated.
He noted that it is disturbing that despite all the multiple level of assistance the United States is supporting Nigeria with, the VEOs are continuing to make progress and continuing to be a threat.
“I think there’s two factors in that. One, it goes to that each government has to focus on this and provide that focus for international partners to engage with. The other partner – the other part of this is we can’t underestimate the threat these violent extremist organizations pose” he said .
“We, as a community of international nations, keep thinking we have defeated them or we have put them on their back foot and that they’re just moments from disintegration. I think after 20 years we have seen they are very resilient organizations that, although small, they’re able to leverage social media and other forms of media to have an outsized voice and that they continue to recruit and they continue to find opportunities” he added.
In the popular imagination, Somali women are viewed as passive, oppressed subjects, the hapless victims of their patriarchal culture and religion. Where they are visible, it is often through the iconography of the veil and female circumcision. Lula Ali Ismaïl’s Dhalinyaro (Youth)—the first full-length feature film by a Djiboutian woman—is a radical departure from this corpus in depicting Somali girlhood in its full depth and complexity. Most importantly, it does this through depicting the mundane events of everyday life in Djibouti City. There are no wars here, or pirates, or terrorists, no young women escaping fathers, husbands, or the blade of a female elder, no white saviors ready for the rescue. What we see in Dhalinyaro is a coming of age story that shows Somali girls as they are.
The film’s storyline revolves around the final qualification examination for Djiboutian secondary students to enter university, the baccalaureate. The three main characters, Deka, Hibo, and Asma, are classmates at the Lycée de Djibouti but hail from markedly different class backgrounds. The Lycée space becomes one where the different segments of Djibouti’s population interact and form friendships, bonding over the shared ritual of studying for the baccalaureate. Yet, it is the question of higher education that renders class divides most explicit. For wealthy Hibo, who arrives at the Lycée each day in a chauffeured private car, there is no question that she will continue her education in Paris. Deka, who is securely middle class, is less certain, but with the funds saved up by her mother over a number of years, the idea of going to France for university is within the realm of the possible. Asma has no such choices available to her; poverty dictates that she must stay in Djibouti, unless she is among the few top students to receive a scholarship to study abroad.
The palpable burden of class difference saturates the film. One shot silently juxtaposes a well-dressed man at a cafe with a young boy on the street as he hands his shoes to the child to polish while drinking coffee. In another shot, women in wide-brimmed sun hats sweep the city streets at dusk to the sounds of ciyaar Soomaali, a traditional Somali folk dance. It is palpable in Asma’s hesitation to attend Hibo’s birthday party at the luxury Djibouti Palace Kempinski, and in the fuul bean stew her family eats at mealtimes, like the poor neighborhood children that come to Deka’s home for bread. When Hibo gets into an altercation with a group of schoolgirls outside of the Lycée, she disparages them as the “stupid Balabois”—residents of the impoverished Balbala suburb. An angered Asma, who tells her that she is “one of them,” accuses Hibo of believing that her wealth gives her more rights. Over the course of the film, Hibo’s character arc moves from a sheltered and careless rich girl to a more understanding and self-sufficient individual, a transformation made possible by honest friendships across difference.
The stunning cinematography with long shots of the sea and glimpses of the Port of Djibouti subtly signals the confluence and contradictions of global wealth and local poverty. This infrastructure of state capitalism—and, at the end of the film, the national radio broadcasting examination results—are the only glimpses of the state or politics in Dhalinyaro. Djibouti is among the most enduring dictatorships in Africa, ruled by an extended family since its independence from France in 1977. Its ruler, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, is famously a patron of the arts and culture, and Lula Ali Ismaïl has described the support she received for the film from both the private sector and a government eager to develop the country’s nascent film industry. While one can wonder about the possible implications of this government hand for artistic freedom, Ismaïl’s decision not to engage formal politics explicitly is another subversive act of representation, given that the region is mired in images of political dysfunction. Ismaïl’s political critique is muted and indirect, but no less searing. It takes the form of a city-wide power outage that forces the “haves” to turn on their private generators and the “have-nots” to light lanterns; it is in the figure of the elderly veteran telling Deka the forgotten stories of Djiboutian soldiers who fought for France during the Second World War; it is, at the metalevel, what the film itself embodies in its very existence, in its very refusal to conform.
What Dhalinyaro foregrounds is female sociality and intimacy as it unravels the complex layers of contemporary Djiboutian life. The film has a decidedly female gaze, decentering maleness to the extent that most of the male characters in the film remain marginal and unnamed. Instead, it is the inner worlds of Somali women that are fleshed out in full, and with the immense care and tenderness of a Somali woman behind the camera. When Hibo has a miscarriage in a bathroom stall at school, it is the conservatively-dressed Asma who immediately removes her abaya to cover her friend’s blood-stained clothing, stating that “girls look out for each other.” They openly discuss sexuality and their relationships, the lively female banter reminiscent of the Somali riwaayad (play) and theater tradition that has pushed the envelope on notions of female morality and modesty in Somali society since the 1960s. Markers of Somali womanhood are interspersed throughout the film: the breezy dirac shiid worn as loungewear at home, the fragrant uunsi smoke used to perfume one’s household, clothing and hair, the huruud face masks made of turmeric to keep one’s skin soft.
At the heart of Dhalinyaro is the tension between visibility and invisibility in the desire for a particular kind of freedom. In an early scene, Deka, Hibo, and Asma quietly talk at their desks as their teacher—played by Lula Ali Ismaïl herself—explains the upcoming deadlines for students seeking to go abroad for university. “Think of the freedom!” Deka whispers to her friends, “no one holding you to account, no one looking at you and saying ‘you’re the daughter of so and so.’” These moments of recognition occur most often in their encounters with men. As the girls sit by the waterfront and jokingly evaluate the appearances of young men passing by, a man pauses and greets Hibo, telling her to say hello to her father for him. “There’s no getting away!” an exasperated Hibo tells her friends. In another scene, the searching glance of a male waiter at a restaurant where Deka is having an intimate dinner with the older married man she is seeing is enough to unsettle her and abruptly end the date. Yet, it is the same surveilling gaze—this time by women—that precipitates the end to the predatory relationship, after Deka’s mother hears about it. The communal nature of the Somali social world, while frustrating any notion of individual anonymity, fosters a sense of interdependence and female solidarity that uplifts the girls in times of need, as their friendship illustrates. Ultimately, Deka chooses this world by staying in Djibouti for university.
Ethnicity is conspicuously absent from the film. Djibouti, while dominated politically, culturally and demographically by Somalis, is a multi-ethnic country comprised of the Somali and Afar, as well as smaller communities of Arabs, Ethiopians and Europeans. That diversity is represented in the casting, with the three lead actresses themselves belonging to Djibouti’s different ethnic groups: one is Afar, one is Somali, and one is Arab Somali. Yet each plays a Somali character, in a Djibouti where only Somali people and culture appear to exist. However, there is some ambiguity to Hibo’s background that is not discernible to the non-Somali speaker and flattened by the limited subtitles. In the scene where Hibo is confronted on the schoolyard, a voice in the background, which does not make it into the subtitles, can be heard saying “the little Arab girl is being attacked!” in Somali. Her father, in other scenes, speaks one or two words of Arabic, albeit words that have entered the Somali lexicon. Asma and Deka’s households are completely immersed in their Somaliness, with illustrative scenes including Asma’s sisters playing jag on the veranda as their mother gives them advice using Somali proverbs, and Deka’s single mother listening to gabay poetry composed by a heartbroken Cilmi Boodhari. Hibo’s family, on the other hand, only speaks Somali at home when talking to their maid; they converse in French exclusively between themselves, listen to European classical music during formal dinners, and go to France for education. There is an unexamined politics of language and ethnicity yearning to be explored.
Dhalinyaro is a remarkable feat, particularly for a first full-length film by a self-taught filmmaker hailing from a country with a film industry still in its infancy. Though initially released in 2018, it has recently seen a surge in popularity when it was made available for free streaming as part of this year’s Cinewax Online African Film Festival, breaking OAFF streaming records. It is a beautiful film—a love letter to Somali girls—that deserves to be seen widely.
Things look grim for independent journalism in Somalia. This can also be concluded from the country’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index: close to the bottom of the list of 180 countries. Still, the local situation does vary from region to region. In the south in particular, journalists work in fear of their life. But in the country’s northern region, Somaliland, our team do everything in their power to support and train local Somali reporters.
Envelope full of money
A journalist is interviewing a politician or businessman. At the end, the interviewee offers the reporter an envelope full of money. And if he doesn’t, the reporter asks for one himself. In Somalia, this practice has a name: Sharuur. And virtually every journalist takes part in it. The result: nearly all media reports in the country are biased and distorted. After all, you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. This means that people in Somalia have next to no access to reliable and factual information.
Journalists in Somalia run tremendous risks. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in the past four years alone, 21 reporters in Somalia were murdered and dozens arrested in the course of their work. Nevertheless, you can still find people in the country who want to report on what is really going on, people who have the courage to refuse the stuffed envelope. We bring them together, at a location where they are safe, and train them in objective reporting.
In addition to organising trainings, at the Media Training Centre we also produce three new editions per week of the news and current affairs programme Radio Hirad. This programme includes contributions from journalists trained at our Centre. The programme is broadcast by over 20 FM stations and websites. While most journalists in Somalia are mainly interested in reporting on political developments, Radio Hirad has a strong focus on social issues. Themes like health, the position of women and adolescents in society and migration feature prominently in the broadcasts. This way, we help people who are seldom heard to share their perspectives and bring sensitive yet important topics up for discussion.
In Somali culture, the name hirad is given to those who offer travellers safe shelter and food. Free Press Unlimited in turn wishes to support the hirads of the Somali media: the journalists who work to keep the public informed in this country torn by war and corruption.
Women and Media
During a training in 2015, a young woman told how she has to hide the fact that she is a reporter from her family. “My father doesn’t know that I’m here. He doesn’t know that I’m working as a journalist. If he did, he would forbid me from doing so.” Women are underrepresented in the Somali media. As a result, subjects that are specifically relevant to them get very little exposure. We try to attract female journalists to our trainings, and support them in their work. And our efforts are starting to bear fruit. Over the past year, many of the women whom we have trained at the Centre have moved up to the position of radio station manager and made a name for themselves as journalists.
1990 following the Namibian War of independence, Namibia had registered her presence in the global arena.
Namibia is a member of important global organisations including the African Union, United Nations, South Africa Development Council, just to mention a few. Also, apart from the glorious mountains that dotted the beautiful landscape of the country, the Fish River Canyon, gold-grass plains of the Kalahari, wildlife such as the black rhinos, elephants, big cats, etc. all make Namibia an interesting tourist destination.
Apart from all these, however, the spectacular nature and custom of the Himba tribe in Namibia have brought her to international spotlight especially in recent times.
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The Himba people who are also regarded as the Omuhimba or Ovahimba people are indigenous people of Namibia living in northern part of Namibia especially in the Kunene region. Their numbers are big enough to form a city-state.
What makes this tribe so popular has to do with their way of living, clothing, economy, and interesting customs. One of the grapevines is that they offer guests sex for free and another point is that they adorned every newborn baby with bead necklaces. But there are other interesting facts about them.
Just like the Japanese who lived in isolation for much of their history under the Tokugawa Shogunate, the Himba people practically live in seclusion and are wary of external contacts. Although they engage in cooperation with neighbouring tribes; they would resist any form of contamination to their beliefs and culture. This is quite curious in a nuclear age.
The Himba people are predominantly farmers. They raise different breeds of livestock especially goats, cattle, sheep, etc. The women are largely preoccupied with collecting firewood, sourcing for fresh water for consumption, cooking and serving meals and engaging in other forms of artisanship.
Some of them are socially inclined and religious, worshipping the gods of their ancestors. The Himba people believed in polygamy and many of their young girls married off at an early age. This is not peculiar to them as most traditional African tribes still practice this custom.
It is not the case however that they don’t bath even if it’s not with water. One of the reasons why the Himba people don’t bath with water is because of their harsh climatic conditions as they live in one of the most extreme environments on earth. The harsh desert climate and the unavailability of portable water prevent them from having a ‘normal’ water bath. Yet, they looked extremely pretty with their traditional clothes, some of which exposed their bodies especially the women.
Their lack of bathing however has not resulted into lack of personal hygiene as they apply red ochre on their skin and partake in a daily smoke bath in order to maintain their hygiene.
Reuben Coussement described this process, “they will put some smouldering charcoal into a little bowl of herbs (mostly leaves and little branches of Commiphora trees) and wait for the smoke to ascend. Thereafter, they will bow over the smoking bowl and due to the heat, they will start perspiring. For a full body wash, they cover themselves with a blanket so that the smoke gets trapped underneath the fabric.”
In all of these, however, the Himba people are one of the warmest tribes in Africa and are courteous to strangers and visitors alike. They however frown at anything that will threaten their cultural values and traditions. Their frustrations at some interventions by the Namibian government, governments of Norway and Iceland, among others are evidence of this fact
Former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn sent shock waves through the region when he abruptly tendered his resignation.
Desalegn said that he had made the decision to facilitate efforts towards political reforms which started with the release of political prisoners. But rather than pursue a reform agenda, the Ethiopian government followed his announcement by declaring a state of emergency. This not only jeopardises the regime’s apparent intent to institute democratic reforms, it also pits citizens against the security forces. And it’s already led to more violence, not stability.
The state of emergency is being defied in a number of regions. Citizens have protested in Gondar, which is in the opposition Amhara region, as well as the opposition stronghold of Nekemte which is in Oromia. Much of the Oromia region is also defying the emergency measures.
As a result, the regime has targeted the Oromia region, and its protesting youths who are collectively known as Qeerro in the Oromo language.
Despite the release of thousands of political prisoners and talk of reforms, the political climate remains more uncertain than ever. It’s now feared that any government measures to suppress ensuing chaos could result in more violence, and deaths.
Instability in Ethiopia could have repercussions across the region. Unrest in the country could have a domino effect in what is an already volatile part of the continent. It could also affect regional peace efforts because instability in one corner of the Horn of Africa could spread and destabilise the entire region. This is especially the case because Ethiopia is home to so many cross border communities.
Implications for the region
Ethiopia is influential in the region and across the continent. It is the second most populous country in Africa and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It also hosts the African Union’s headquarters in its capital, Addis Ababa.
But its standing has been diminished by the political turmoil of the last few years when two of its largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara both started demanding political and economic equality. The ruling coalition’s responses to these demands has highlighted the fact that it isn’t committed to democratisation.
The risks for the region are significant. Unless the regime acts on political reforms to entrench democracy, equal distribution of resources and freedom of the press, Ethiopia – with more than 100 million citizens – could emerge as the largest politically unstable nation in an already volatile region.
An unstable Ethiopia could also affect peace efforts in neighbouring countries. For example, it’s role as a long standing mediator in the South Sudanese peace talks could suffer a setback.
And its army is also the only peacekeeping force in Abiye, an oil rich region that has been at the centre of the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan since 2011.
In addition, Ethiopia is second only to Bangladesh in the number of its troops involved in international peacekeeping. Across its South Eastern borders, it also maintains thousands of troops inside Somalia.
And although its role in Somalia has drawn criticism Ethiopia remains a critical ally to the US’s counter terrorism strategy in the region. Instability could also create a power vacuum that could affect the US-led anti-terror strategy.
Ultimately, an internal crisis in Ethiopia will affect the power balance with its arch rival Eritrea. After the Ethiopia-Eritrea war which ended in 2000, the two countries have remained engaged in a proxy war by supporting each others’ political opposition groups.
Most African states share cross-border societies. The Horn of Africa is no different. The Oromo for instance are a majority ethnic group in Ethiopia and also a minority in Kenya. The Nuer are South Sudan’s second largest ethnic group and also a minority in Ethiopia’s western Gambella region.