As conflict stalks Burkina Faso borderlands, hunger spreads

By Anne Mimault

DORI, Burkina Faso (Reuters) – Suspended from scales in a bucket, nine-month-old Sakinatou Amadou gripped the sides of her makeshift container as a nurse at a small clinic in northern Burkina Faso checked on her recovery from malnutrition.

Sakinatou’s mother is dead and she is being raised in Dori, a trading hub near the Niger border, by her grandmother, whose family of 14 have struggled to support themselves since they fled their village in 2019.

They are among more than 2 million people across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger who have been forced from their homes by a wave of attacks on rural communities by Islamist groups.

With crop yields further compromised by erratic rainfall, some 5.5 million in the three countries on the edge of the Sahara are facing food shortages, a figure the U.N. estimates could rise to 8.2 million by August, when food is most scarce before the harvest.

“People have lost animals, fields and sometimes crops. They have lost everything,” said doctor Alphonse Gnoumou, who runs the health center in Dori that has helped Sakinatou to gain weight.

The town’s once bustling livestock market has shut down due to the violence. Transporting food in the area is dangerous and prices have skyrocketed, said Kadidiatou Ba, who sells vegetables and dried goods from a roadside shack.

“Everything has gone up. We used to pay 40,000 CFA francs ($68) for a sack of beans, now we’re at 75,000,” she said as she waited for customers.

Meanwhile Dori’s population has nearly tripled in two years to 71,000 and the influx of displaced people threatens to overwhelm meagre local services.

Three or four children cram behind each desk at a local school, which aims to feed each pupil a bowl of rice and beans so they can have at least one square meal per day.

“These were very traumatized kids. When they first came with their parents, we saw an indescribable sadness in them,” said head teacher Bokum Abdalaye, as children played in the schoolyard behind him.

“When they see they have a midday meal that they can share with the others, that helps them settle in.”

($1 = 584.3400 CFA francs)

(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Edward McAllister and John Stonestreet)

U.N. urges Mali to end hereditary slavery

By Nellie Peyton

DAKAR (Reuters) – U.N. human rights experts on Friday called on Mali to crack down on hereditary slavery after a series of violent attacks against people born into servitude.

Slavery was officially abolished in colonial Mali in 1905, but a system persists in which people are still forced to work without pay for families that enslaved their ancestors, the United Nations group of experts said in a statement.

Malian law does not specifically criminalize this form of slavery, so perpetrators are rarely held accountable, they said.

In September, a group of people considered slaves were attacked by other Malians who objected to their celebrating Independence Day, according to the U.N. experts.

The attacks went on for two days, leaving one man dead and at least 12 people injured. It was the eighth such attack this year in the Kayes region, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) northwest of the capital Bamako, the experts said.

“The fact that these attacks occur so often in this area shows that descent-based slavery is still socially accepted by some influential politicians, traditional leaders, law enforcement officials and judicial authorities in Mali,” they said.

“We have condemned this heinous practice many times before – now the Malian government must take action, starting with ending impunity for attacks on ‘slaves’.”

At least 30 people have been arrested from both sides and police have launched an investigation, the U.N. statement added.

Malian authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Descent-based slavery is also practiced in Mali’s neighbors Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania, which became the last country in the world to abolish slavery in 1981.

In Mali, prosecutors charge most hereditary slavery cases as misdemeanors, according to the U.S. State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons report. It recommended a 2012 anti-trafficking law be revised to include hereditary slavery.

(Additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Peter Graff)

Fatal Niger operation sparks calls for public hearings in Congress

Fatal Niger operation sparks calls for public hearings in Congress

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. lawmakers called on Thursday for public hearings on an attack in Niger that killed four U.S. soldiers, saying there were still many unanswered questions about the ambush despite receiving more information from the Pentagon.

Two top Department of Defense officials, Robert Karem, assistant secretary for international security affairs, and Major General Albert Elton, deputy director for special operations and counterterrorism, conducted a closed briefing on the ambush for members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator John McCain, the Republican chairman of the committee, said he was pleased with the briefing. McCain last week threatened to issue a subpoena because the White House had not been forthcoming about details about the attack.

“I am pleased at the cooperation we’re getting now,” McCain told reporters.

McCain said there were still many unanswered questions, most notably why it took 48 hours before the body of Sargent La David Johnson was recovered. “What was the strategy; why were we surprised? There’s 100 questions that need to be answered,” McCain said.

The issue has also generated a political firestorm. President Donald Trump was harshly criticized for his handling of a call with Myeshia Johnson, Johnson’s widow, who said the Republican president “made me cry even worse” by saying her husband had known “what he signed up for.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic committee member, said he wanted public hearings on the matter to explain to the U.S. public why the country has 6,000 troops posted in Africa and provide more information about the ambush.

“I need to be able to look families in the eye and explain what our mission is, what mistakes were made in this incident, and were mistakes made, who made them and why,” Blumenthal told reporters after the briefing.Nig

“Most important, there need to be public hearings,” he said.

McCain said he would decide whether to hold public hearings depending on what happened with the military’s investigation, citing security concerns about making anything public too soon.

“We can’t betray sensitive information that would put the lives of these men and women in danger,” McCain said.

On Monday, General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, held an hour-long news conference during which he sought to tamp down criticism that the Pentagon had released too little information about the deaths of the soldiers. [L2N1MY1MD]

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Yemen city on the brink of famine, U.N. agency warns

Residents of one Yemen city are on the brink of famine, a United Nations agency warned Monday, as violent conflicts have prevented humanitarian workers from supplying food.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said it delivered food to Al Qahira, a besieged area of the Taiz governorate, on Saturday, bringing enough food to last 18,000 people for one month. But it said Taiz remains at an “emergency” level on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification scale, one step below famine, and workers must be allowed to continue to deliver aid there.

The WFP said it has been delivering food to some parts of Taiz since December, though fighting between Houthi militants and government forces has complicated the agency’s efforts to move the supplies to the people in need. In a news release, it said about 20 percent of households in Taiz don’t have enough food, and many are facing “life-threatening rates of acute malnutrition.”

Taiz is far from the only Yemen city affected by fighting.

The UN says about 21.2 million of the country’s 26 million residents need some humanitarian aid, a 33 percent increase since violence erupted last March. The WFP says approximately 7.6 million Yemen residents are now “severely food insecure,” which requires urgent assistance.

Other countries are also in need of aid.

On Tuesday, the WFP said it was planning to deliver food this month to 35,000 people who have been affected by Boko Haram’s violent insurgency in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. In a statement, the agency said it recently supplied food to 5,000 people in Chad for the first time.

“We were told that people have been really struggling to survive. Some said that they have been surviving only on maize for weeks,” Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP’s Country Director for Chad, said in a statement announcing the increased humanitarian efforts. “We have started distributions at five sites where the needs are most critical and we are working to reach others.”

The WFP said some 5.6 million people are facing hunger as a result of Boko Haram’s violence, which has prompted 2.8 million people to flee their homes — 400,000 since December alone.

Last week, the WFP issued warnings about the food situations in South Sudan and Haiti, saying that about 6 million people in those countries were facing food insecurity. That included 40,000 residents of war-torn South Sudan that UN agencies said were “on the brink of catastrophe.”

Violent Conflicts Force 1 Million African Children Out of School

Violent conflicts in Africa, fueled by the Boko Haram insurgency, have forced more than 1 million children out of school, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported Tuesday.

The organization, commonly known as UNICEF, reported that the children have been forced out of class in northeastern Nigeria and the neighboring nations of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

UNICEF said that total doesn’t include the 11 million kids in those four countries who were already out of school before Boko Haram began its insurgency six years ago. According to the Global Terrorism Index, the Islamic extremist group killed more people last year (6,644) than any other terrorist organization — including the Islamic State, to which it has pledged allegiance.

But Boko Haram is only partly responsible for the violence in Nigeria.

Fulani militants, who use often violent tactics to control grazing land for their livestock, killed 1,229 people last year, according to the Global Terrorism Index. Because Nigeria houses two of the world’s five deadliest terrorist groups, the country had 7,512 terrorism-related deaths last year. That was more than any other country but Iraq, which established a record with 9,929.

According to UNICEF, more than 2,000 schools are closed in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The organization says hundreds of them have been set ablaze, looted or otherwise attacked, and that some of the closures have stretched on for more than a year. In Cameroon, for example, UNICEF reported that 135 schools closed in 2014 and only one of them has reopened.

Part of the reason for the lengthy closures is that there’s a fear of future terrorist attacks. UNICEF reported that 600 Nigerian teachers have died during the Boko Haram insurgency.

Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director in West and Central Africa, said in a statement that many children are now at risk of dropping out of school entirely as a result of the violence.

“The challenge we face is to keep children safe without interrupting their schooling,” Fontaine said in a statement. “Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom; yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups.”

UNICEF said it’s taken some steps to help educate children in the region, like establishing some temporary learning spaces and expanding some schools, but they’ve reached less than 200,000 kids. Security issues and funding shortages have complicated the group’s outreach efforts.

UNICEF said it will need about $23 million to educate children in the four countries next year.

Boko Haram Proclaims 20,000 Square Mile Caliphate

The extremist group Boko Haram has announced they are mimicking ISIS in declaring their own Islamic caliphate.  The group aims to claim parts of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Dr. David Curry of Open Doors USA said during an event sponsored by the Family Research Council that people are underestimating the brutality of the terror group.

Curry said that in Nigeria alone, over 2,200 Christians were killed by the group in 2014 just for their faith in Christ.  He also said the estimate is low because there are many other deaths at the hands of Boko Haram they have not been able to verify as being motivated by the Christian faith of the victim.

He said that Boko Haram already controls a part of Nigeria the size of Belgium.

“Nigeria has been experiencing attacks much like the Iraqis were facing just a few years ago,” Curry explained. “You have Boko Haram, which has a very similar Al-Qaeda, Islamic State ideology, they have been making attacks, bombings, like you have seen on churches. Now all of a sudden they are beginning to take territory.

“There is a common-path pattern here,” Curry added. “First, individual attacks, then bombings, then the conquering of territory and attacking of civilian sites like army bases and these sorts of things.”

The governments of Chad and Cameroon said Wednesday they have been actively using their military powers against Boko Haram and have killed 250 terrorists this week.

Muslim Mobs Burn Down Christian Homes and Churches

Muslims in Niger attacked Christians, burning their homes and churches over the weekend, in retaliation for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo publishing a cartoon of Muhammad.

The International Christian Concern reported missionaries in the capital city of Naimey said all of their churches have been burned to the ground along with the homes of every pastor in the city.  Some of the missionaries’ homes are among those destroyed by the mobs.

However, the missionaries reported that while smoke is “around all of side our house”, they are going to remain in Niger to speak the truth of Christ.

The protests apparently began at the grand mosque in the city and the mob then began their attack on Christians.

“I just rushed and told my colleagues in the church to take away their families from the place,” Pastor Zakaria Jadi said. “I took my family to take them out from the place. When I came back I just discovered that everything has gone. There’s nothing in my house and also in the church.”

Boko Haram’s leader was born in Niger and is believed to continue to have strong contacts in the country.