“Jasmine Revolution”
Symbol of peace: Flowers placed on the barrel of a tank
in very much calmer protests than in recent days in Tunisia

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011

'The Protester' - Time Person of the Year 2011
Mannoubia Bouazizi, the mother of Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi. "Mohammed suffered a lot. He worked hard. but when he set fire to himself, it wasn’t about his scales being confiscated. It was about his dignity." (Peter Hapak for TIME)

1 - TUNISIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

How eyepatches became a symbol of Egypt's revolution - Graffiti depicting a high ranking army officer with an eye patch Photograph: Nasser Nasser/ASSOCIATED PRESS

2 - EGYPT Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

''17 February Revolution"

3 - LIBYA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

5 - SYRIA Democratic Change / Freedom of Speech (In Transition)

"25 January Youth Revolution"
Muslim and Christian shoulder-to-shoulder in Tahrir Square
"A Summary" – Apr 2, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Religion, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Intelligent/Benevolent Design, EU, South America, 5 Currencies, Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Middle East, Internet, Israel, Dictators, Palestine, US, Japan (Quake/Tsunami Disasters , People, Society ...), Nuclear Power Revealed, Hydro Power, Geothermal Power, Moon, Financial Institutes (Recession, Realign integrity values ..) , China, North Korea, Global Unity,..... etc.) -
(Subjects: Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" (without a manager hierarchy) managed Businesses, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)
"The End of History" – Nov 20, 2010 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll)
(Subjects:Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Muhammad, Jesus, God, Jews, Arabs, EU, US, Israel, Iran, Russia, Africa, South America, Global Unity,..... etc.) (Text version)

"If an Arab and a Jew can look at one another and see the Akashic lineage and see the one family, there is hope. If they can see that their differences no longer require that they kill one another, then there is a beginning of a change in history. And that's what is happening now. All of humanity, no matter what the spiritual belief, has been guilty of falling into the historic trap of separating instead of unifying. Now it's starting to change. There's a shift happening."

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013.

They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."

African Union (AU)

African Union (AU)
African Heads of State pose for a group photo ahead of the start of the 28th African Union summit in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2017 (AFP Photo/ Zacharias ABUBEKER)

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela
Few words can describe Nelson Mandela, so we let him speak for himself. Happy birthday, Madiba.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Kenya boosts minimum wage as inflation bites

Yahoo – AFP, 1 May 2022 

Kenyans are grappling with a rise in fuel and food costs (AFP/Simon MAINA)

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta announced Sunday a 12-percent hike in the minimum wage as the country confronts a surge in the cost of living. 

Inflation in the East African economic powerhouse jumped to a seven-month high in April, mainly as a result of skyrocketing fuel and food prices, according to official figures. 

"As a caring government, we find there is a compelling case to review the minimum wages so as to cushion our workers against further erosions," Kenyatta said at a Labour Day rally. 

He said the 12 percent increase would come into effect from May 1. It takes the minimum monthly wage from 13,500 Kenyan shillings (about $116.5, 110.5 euros) to 15,120 shillings ($130.5, 124 euros). 

However the hike falls far short of the 24 percent that had been sought by the Central Organisation of Trade Unions-Kenya (COTU). 

Kenyatta said the high cost of living was due to factors "beyond my control like the coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict". 

He castigated rival political leaders -- including Deputy President William Ruto -- for seeking to blame the government for the economic woes, as the country prepares for crucial elections in August. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta said the high cost of living was due to factors beyond his
control such as the Ukraine war and the Covid pandemic (AFP/Yasuyoshi CHIBA)

Kenyatta cannot run again after serving two terms but has endorsed his former arch-rival Raila Odinga for the top job. 

The August 9 presidential election is expected to be a two-horse race between Odinga and Ruto, who was initially anointed by Kenyatta as his successor, but found himself frozen out after a shock 2018 pact between Kenyatta and Odinga. 

Kenya's finance minister last month unveiled a $28 billion budget aimed at helping the economy recover after the Covid-19 pandemic threw hundreds of thousands of people out of work. 

Kenyans are struggling to cope with rising costs of basic goods such as food and fuel, a crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine war, while several parts of the country are also suffering from a severe drought. 

Inflation reached a seven-month high of 6.47 percent last month from 5.56 percent in March and 5.76 percent in April last year, the statistics bureau announced last week. 

Last month the country was also hit by a fuel shortage that triggered long queues at petrol stations and strict rationing.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Gilbert Houngbo to be first African to head UN labour agency

Yahoo – AFP, Agnès PEDRERO, March 25, 2022 

Five candidates were in the running to succeed Britisch trade unionist Guy Ryder
as head of the ILO (AFP/Fabrice COFRRIN)

Gilbert Houngbo, the former prime minister of Togo, was on Friday elected the next head of the International Labour Organization, and will become the first African to lead the UN agency. 

After two rounds of voting, the ILO's governing body elected the 61-year-old to succeed British trade unionist Guy Ryder, who steps down at the end of September, after 10 years in the job. 

"You have made history," Houngbo told the governing body after the election. 

"I am deeply and absolutely honoured to be the first representative of the African region to be selected to lead the ILO after 103 years." 

Houngbo was chosen from among five candidates and had been seen in a strong position after the African Union threw its weight behind him. 

Currently head of the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), he also enjoyed strong backing on the labour side. 

His opponents in the race were former French labour minister Muriel Penicaud, South Korea's ex-foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha, South African entrepreneur Mthunzi Mdwaba, and ILO deputy Greg Vines of Australia. 

'Rich symbolism' 

Houngbo's win marks a dramatic shift for the ILO, which since its founding in 1919 has been led only by men from Europe or the Americas. 

The oldest specialised UN agency has 187 member states, which are, uniquely in the UN system, represented by governments, employers and workers. 

The organisation's governing body counts 56 members, with half of them representing governments, and a quarter each representing employers and workers. 

Friday's vote took place by secret ballot behind closed doors. 

The ILO said Houngbo received 30 votes in the second-round voting, securing the majority. Penicaud received 23, Kang two and Mdwaba one. 

After the first round, Vines was eliminated. 

Houngbo, who was born in rural Togo in what he has described as "extreme poverty", hailed the "rich symbolism" of his win. 

The vote outcome, he told the governing body Friday, "fulfils the aspirations of a young African, a young African boy whose humble upbringing turned into a lifelong quest for social justice." 

Former Togo prime minister Gilbert Hounge had strong backing (AFP/Tiziana FABI)

The married father-of-three has spent much of his career working with international organisations. 

He has previously held several high-level positions within the UN system, such as finance director at the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and deputy director-general of ILO itself, from 2013-2017. 

Houngbo will take the ILO helm on October 1 and will have his work cut out as the organisation strives to adapt its norms to a world of work rapidly transforming due to evolving technologies. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has only sped up those changes, leading to the rapid uptake of virtual technologies to enable remote working. 


"We must respond in a concrete manner to the socioeconomic consequences ... of Covid-19," he told AFP in an interview, pointing in particular to the impact on many people in the informal sector, with no safety net. 

"My ambition, my dream, is to run this organisation, which should lead on ensuring that every household... should have minimum social protection." 

While stressing the need to protect workers' rights, Houngbo, who has also worked in the private sector, including at Price Waterhouse, Canada, insisted that he as ILO chief would equally represent the interests of governments and employers. 

"I am at the middle," he told AFP. 

"I think that in a role like mine, the role of director-general, one must be a unifier. That is the challenge." 

With his win, the ILO will become the third large international organisation in Geneva to be headed by an African, after the World Health Organization elected its first African leader in 2017, as did the World Trade Organization last year. 

Houngbo stressed he was not coming in as the representative of a single region. 

"Although my origins are African, my perspective is global," he said. 

"In an age, unfortunately, of divisiveness, my commitment to be a unifying director general stands firm."

Sunday, January 23, 2022

#MeToo wave in Morocco over 'sex for grades' scandal

France24 – AFP, 23 January 2022 

Nadia, a university student and a victim of sexual blackmail, attends a conference
on the subject of sexual aggression, in the western Moroccan city of Casablanca,
on January 20, 2022 FADEL SENNA AFP

Rabat (AFP) – Female Moroccan university students have broken their silence about professors demanding sexual favours in return for good grades, a scandal that has shaken the higher eduction system.

Testimonies have flooded social media in the style of the #MeToo movement, encouraged by activists in the conservative North African nation where victims of sexual violence often keep quiet. 

"I was expelled from university a year ago under the pretext that I had cheated on an exam," said 24-year-old student Nadia, who declined to give her full name. 

"The truth is that I had just refused to submit to sexual blackmail from one of my professors." 

The Hassan I University in Settat, near Casablanca, where she was eventually re-admitted, is now embroiled in a scandal involving five professors. 

One was sentenced to a two-year prison term this month for demanding sexual favours for good grades, in the first such verdict, while four others are due to face court Monday. 

"My case was not an isolated one," said Nadia. "Other girls suffered similar things but no one wanted to listen to us." 

In recent years, several similar cases were reported by local media, but failed to elicit official action. 

But then a social media campaign shifted the conversation, raising awareness of the magnitude of the problem. 

'Wave of testimonies'

The turning point came when screen shots were published online, said to be of messages in which professors demanded sexual favours from female students. 

Members of a women's rights association, give a press conference about the
subject of sexual aggression against women in universities FADEL SENNA AFP

"I had not considered making a complaint, but after the scandal broke, I filed a civil suit," Nadia said. 

"My move is also a way of encouraging other victims to denounce these acts." 

One association that helped bring some of the scandals to light was "7achak" -- an expression in local dialect used to excuse oneself before broaching a taboo topic. 

The movement launched an Instagram page calling on women victims of harassment to share their stories. 

"As soon as the appeal was launched, we received a wave of testimonies," the association's founder Sarah Benmoussa told AFP. "Those accompanied with evidence were published." 

More accusations against university lecturers began to emerge online. 

"I am speaking to you to stop the sexual harassment and the rotten and unacceptable acts of a monster disguised as an instructor," wrote a former student of the National School of Business and Management in Oujda. 

Other victims also shared their experiences involving that professor, resulting in his suspension. 

Some officials at the business school, deemed "complicit", were also dismissed, the higher education ministry said last month. 

'Zero tolerance'

In Tangiers, an instructor at a school of translation was convicted and sentenced to jail in early January over sexual harassment, lawyer Aicha Guellaa told AFP. 

According to her, "nearly 70 complaints" were also filed at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University of Tetouan, but have so far failed to provoke a response from the university administration. 

The reports of sexual harassment in academia sparked an uproar among activists, online and in the local media across Morocco. 

They prompted Higher Education Minister Abdelatif Miraoui to pledge "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment. 

As the number of testimonies grew, several universities launched toll-free hotlines and set up teams to follow up on cases of sexual violence. 

"It's crucial to support the victims and to help them gain access to the judicial system," said human rights defender Karima Nadir of the "Outlaws" group. 

In 2018, after years of fierce debate, a law entered into force, imposing for the first time prison sentences for "harassment, assault, sexual exploitation or abuse". 

"Laws exist," Nadir said, "but few benefit from them."

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Tutu's ashes buried in Cape Town cathedral

Yahoo – AFP, 2 January 2022 

A requiem mass was held Saturday for South Africa's anti-apartheid
icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu (AFP/Nic BOTHMA)

South Africa's spiritual father Archbishop Desmond Tutu, hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, was laid to rest at dawn on Sunday in the Cape Town cathedral where he once preached against the brutal white-minority regime. 

Nobel Peace Prize winner Tutu died a week ago, aged 90, after a life spent fighting injustice. 

His ashes were "interred at St. George's Cathedral in a private family service early today", an Anglican Church statement said. 

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba placed his remains under an inscribed memorial stone before the high altar. 

He urged South Africans to "use this opportunity to turn a new page. 

"Let us commit ourselves... to the radical, the revolutionary change that he advocated,” Makgoba said. 

"Let us live as simply as he lived, exemplified by his pine coffin with rope handles." 

Some 20 members of Tutu's family, led by his widow "Mama Leah" were present. 

Famed for his modesty, Tutu had left instructions for a simple, no-frills funeral with a cheap coffin, followed by an eco-friendly flameless cremation. 

Modest requiem for a titan: South Africa bids farewell to Desmond
Tutu (AFP/Saawmiet MOOS)

Family, friends, clergy and politicians had attended a requiem mass on Saturday with President Cyril Ramaphosa leading the tributes. 

"Our departed father was a crusader in the struggle for freedom, for justice, for equality and for peace, not just in South Africa... but around the world as well," said Ramaphosa. 

"While our beloved (Nelson Mandela) was the father of our democracy, Archbishop Tutu was the spiritual father of our new nation", lauding him as "our moral compass and national conscience". 

Under apartheid, the white-minority government cemented its grip imposing laws based on the notion of race and racial segregation, and the police ruthlessly hunted down opponents, killing or jailing them. 

With Mandela and other leaders in prison for decades, Tutu in the 1970s became the emblem of the anti-apartheid struggle. 

He campaigned relentlessly abroad, administering public lashings to the Western world for failing to slap sanctions on the apartheid regime. 

After apartheid was dismantled and South Africa ushered in the first free elections in 1994, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which exposed the horrors of the past in grim detail. 

He would later admonish the ruling African National Congress for corruption and leadership incompetence. 

Tutu's moral firmness and passion went hand-in-hand with self-deprecatory humour and a famously cackling laugh.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

South Africa court suspends Shell seismic survey plan

France24 – AFP, 28 December 2021

The ruling is a temporary victory for green groups who said seismic exploration
would harm whales, seals and other fragile species RODGER BOSCH AFP

Johannesburg (AFP) – A South African court on Tuesday blocked Shell from using seismic waves to explore for oil and gas in the Indian Ocean, in a victory for environmentalists worried about the impact on whales and other species. 

Backing a suit filed by conservationists, the High Court in the Eastern Cape town of Makhanda ruled that Shell was "hereby interdicted from undertaking seismic survey operations." 

The fossil fuel giant had announced plans to start exploration over more than 6,000 square kilometres (2,300 square miles) of ocean off South Africa's Wild Coast region. 

The Wild Coast is a 300-kilometre (185-mile) stretch of natural beauty, dotted with marine and nature reserves. 

The area of interest lies 20 kilometres (12 miles) off the coast, in waters 700 to 3,000 meters deep (2,300 to 10,000 feet). 

Shell's scheme entails using seismic shockwaves which bounce off the sea bed, and whose signature can point to potentially energy-bearing sites. 

"Many sea creatures will be affected, from whales, dolphins, seals, penguins to tiny plankton that will be blasted," said Janet Solomon, of the environmental group Oceans Not Oil in the runup to the hearing. 

Exploration had been scheduled to start on December 1 and last up to five months. 

A Shell spokesperson said Tuesday: "We respect the court's decision and have paused the survey while we review the judgement. 

'Huge victory'

"Surveys of this nature have been conducted for over 50 years with more than 15 years of extensive peer-reviewed scientific research." 

The campaigners were jubilant at the ruling, but stressed that the relief was only temporary. 

"It's a huge victory," said Katherine Robinson of the NGO Natural Justice. 

"But the struggle is not over -- this decision is just the interdict. We understand that the proceedings will continue." 

A petition against the project had gathered nearly 85,000 signatures. 

Campaigners said the scheme would entail "one extremely loud shock wave every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for five months at a time." 

Shell argued that it took "great care to prevent or minimise" the impact on wildlife, and promised that the work would strictly follow the guidelines of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, a UK government adviser on nature conservation. 

On Tuesday, it also stressed what it described as the benefits for South Africa if oil and gas were found. 

"South Africa is highly reliant on energy imports for many of its energy needs," the company's spokesperson said. 

"If viable resources were to be found offshore, this could significantly contribute to the country’s energy security and the government’s economic development programmes." 

South Africa's energy ministry had backed the scheme, and lashed those who opposed it as thwarting investment in the country's development. 

The High Court's ruling comes after a lower court rejected the conservationists' suit in early December. 

Several fishermen and local groups were also part of the petition.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Botswana loses court bid to revoke gay rights

Yahoo – AFP, November 29, 2021 

Rainbow campaign: Activists gathered outside the Botswana High Court
on October 12 to press their case (AFP/Monirul Bhuiyan)

Botswana's government on Monday lost a legal attempt to overturn a landmark ruling that decriminalised homosexuality. 

The country's High Court in 2019 ruled in favour of campaigners seeking to strike down jail sentences for same-sex relationships, declaring the punishment to be unconstitutional. 

But the government sought to revoke the ruling, arguing that the courts had no jurisdiction in this matter. 

"Since the appellant's grounds of appeal have been unsuccessful... the appeal must fall," Botswana's Court of Appeal ruled on Monday. 

It had started hearing the case in October. 

Homosexuality had been banned since 1965 in conservative Botswana, where offenders could face up to seven years in prison. 

The 2019 judgement was hailed internationally as a major victory for gay rights. 

Judge Ian Kirby, who read out the ruling on Monday, said gay citizens had long lived in "constant fear of discovery or arrest" when expressing "love for their partners." 

"This sometimes led to depression, suicidal behaviour, alcoholism or substance abuse," he said. 

Botswana is one of only a handful of African countries to have decriminalised homosexuality. 

Others are Lesotho, Mozambique, Angola and the Seychelles. 

South Africa is the sole nation on the continent to allow same-sex marriage, which it legalised in 2006.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Tanzania lifts ban on teen mothers attending schools

Yahoo – AFP, November 24, 2021 

Former President John Magufuli had vowed that no student who became
pregnant would finish their studies under his watch (AFP/TONY KARUMBA)

Tanzania said on Wednesday it would allow pregnant students and teenaged mothers to continue with their studies, reversing a heavily-criticised policy instituted by its late autocratic leader John Magufuli. 

In 2017, the East African country began expelling pregnant girls from state schools and banned them from returning to class after giving birth, in a crackdown slammed by rights campaigners. 

Following Magufuli's death earlier this year, his successor Samia Suluhu Hassan has sought to break away from some of his policies and on Wednesday, Education Minister Joyce Ndalichako said that "pregnant school girls will be allowed to continue with formal education after delivery." 

"I will issue a circular later today. No time to wait," she said at a ceremony in the capital Dodoma. 

Magufuli had vowed that no student who became pregnant would finish their studies under his watch, saying it was immoral for young girls to be sexually active. 

"I give money for a student to study for free. And then, she gets pregnant, gives birth and after that, returns to school. No, not under my mandate," he said in mid-2017. 

The decision was widely criticised by human rights lobby groups and international donors, who cut their funding to the country in response to Magufuli's policies. 

At the time, Human Rights Watch published a report saying school officials in Tanzania were conducting pregnancy tests in order to expel pregnant students, depriving them of their right to an education. 

'Welcome step' 

The World Bank, which froze a $300-million loan for girls' education in protest against the ban, hailed Wednesday's decision. 

"The World Bank welcomes the government of Tanzania's announcement to remove barriers to access to education," it said in a statement. 

The Swedish embassy in Dar es Salaam, which cut its funding to Tanzania last year citing shrinking freedoms, also applauded the move. 

"This is a welcome step for many girls, allowing them to unlock their full potential," the embassy said on Twitter. 

Opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT Wazalendo) said their push to reverse the policy had paid off. 

"We did it! A clear example of one struggle, many fronts. Everyone who was involved did something towards this achievement," said ACT Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe. 

Covid-sceptic Magufuli, nicknamed the "Bulldozer" for his uncompromising leadership style, died of a heart condition on March 17 after a mysterious three-week absence. His political opponents insisted he had coronavirus. 

In the weeks after her swearing-in, his successor Hassan reached out to Tanzania's political opposition, vowing to defend democracy and basic freedoms, and reopening banned media outlets. 

But hopes that Hassan would usher in a new era were dented by the arrest of a high-profile opposition leader on terrorism charges and a crackdown on independent newspapers.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Israel, Jordan agree US-brokered solar power for water deal

RTL – AFP, 22 November 2021 

Jordan, which signed a US-brokered solar power for water deal with Israel, is
one of the world's most water-deficient nations / © AFP/File

Jordan will provide solar power to Israel, which will in turn supply desalinated water to its desert neighbour, under a declaration of intent the two countries signed Monday. 

Ministers from the neighbouring countries inked the US-brokered agreement at a Dubai Expo event joined by John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. 

"The Middle East is on the frontline of the climate crisis," Kerry said in a statement. "Only by working together can countries in the region rise to the scale of the challenge." 

The United Arab Emirates, which last year normalised relations with Israel, will reportedly build the solar power plant, the value of which was not disclosed. 

Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said the Israel-Jordan agreement was the "most significant" since the formers enemies signed a peace treaty in 1994. 

"The benefit of this agreement is not only in the form of green electricity or desalinated water, but also the strengthening of relations with the neighbour that has the longest border with Israel." 

Feasibility studies for the project are due to start next year. 

Jordan is one of the world's most water-deficient nations and its cooperation on water with Israel dates back to before the two established formal relations. 

Israel is also a hot, dry country, but its advanced desalination technology has opened opportunities for selling fresh water. 

The declaration of intent says the Jordan photovoltaic plant with a capacity of 600 MW will export green power to Israel, which will supply Jordan with up to 200 million cubic metres of desalinated water. 

Water diplomacy 

Jordan, nearly landlocked, faces dire water prospects as its population expands and temperatures rise. 

Experts say the future cooperation could help improve relations, which Jordan's King Abdullah has described as a "cold peace". 

Under their 1994 peace treaty, the Jewish state recognises Jordan's oversight of Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem, which has since 1967 been occupied by Israel and was later annexed. 

But there are often demonstrations in Jordan in solidarity with the Palestinians. 

The recent deals come after relations had cooled under Israel's former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who took over in June, has made strengthening ties with Amman a priority. 

Even when Israel and Jordan were enemies following the 1948 war that led to Israel's creation, they held water cooperation meetings that helped shape their peace deal. 

They announced in July that Israel would sell 50 million cubic metres of water a year to Jordan, doubling what it already supplies, and in October agreed to raise the amount further.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Gabon paid for protecting forests, in African first

Yahoo – AFP, Tue, June 22, 2021 

Gabon has been a leader in central Africa in preserving its rainforest, creating
13 national parks since 2000 that cover around 11 percent of the country.

Gabon has become the first African nation to receive a financial reward for protecting its forests as part of international efforts to fight climate change, the government announced Tuesday. 

Gabon has received $17 million in recompense for successfully cutting its carbon emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation, the environment ministry said in a statement. 

The payment came "after independent experts verified Gabon's results" showing that the country's carbon emissions in 2016-17 had dropped compared with the annual figures for 2006-15. 

The funds were delivered by the Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), an organisation launched in 2015 by the United Nations and backed by international donors. 

The scheme provides financial incentives to Central African governments to pursue economic growth without harming the vast forests that cover much of the region. 

The world's rainforests are seen as a vital weapon in the fight against climate change by sucking out carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

Gabon, where forests cover 90 percent of the territory, is home to some 18 percent of the Congo Basin forest, known as "the second lung of the planet" after the Amazon. 

Under a 10-year deal signed with CAFI in 2019, Gabon is set to receive a total of $150 million if it meets its carbon-cutting targets. 

Gabon is home to nearly 60 percent of Africa's remaining forest elephants,listed
in March as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature

The small tropical country has pledged to cut its carbon emissions in half by 2025 from 2005 levels. 

The forests in Gabon alone "absorb a total of 140 million tonnes of CO2 each year, which is equivalent to removing 30 million cars from circulation throughout the world," the environment ministry said. 

Gabon has been a leader in Central Africa in preserving its rainforests, creating 13 national parks since 2000 that cover around 11 percent of the country. 

Norwegian Environment Minister Sveinung Rotevatn, whose government is a major donor to CAFI, said Gabon had "demonstrated that with vision, dedication and strong dynamism, reductions in (CO2) emissions can be achieved in the Congo Basin forest". 

Gabon's environment ministry said the first cash payment would notably be used to invest in local forestry projects. 

"The aim is to improve the income, livelihoods and well-being of communities in Gabon," it said. 

Along with fighting climate change, protecting the world's rainforests is seen as key to staving off threats to biodiversity. 

Gabon is home to nearly 60 percent of Africa's remaining forest elephants, listed in March as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Monday, November 30, 2020

Spirit of revolt lives on in Syria's exiles

Yahoo – AFP, Serene ASSIR, November 30, 2020 

Spirit of revolt lives on in Syria's exiles

They may be scarred, but nothing, not even torture, bombing or exile, could break them. 

As the Arab Spring revolts swept through the Middle East and North Africa region like a wildfire, thousands of young Syrians joined protests in March 2011 demanding change in a nation ruled by the family of President Bashar al-Assad since 1970. 

The regime's revenge was swift and brutal, and many of the non-violent activists at the heart of the uprising paid with their freedom and their lives. 

AFP interviewed four Syrian activists who ended up as refugees after surviving extreme violence and immeasurable loss. 

But even now, with no end in sight to their exile, they do not regret their revolution. 

Here are their stories. 

Omar Alshogre was tortured while held in one of Syria's most notorius
detention centres

Stockholm: The public speaker 

The first thing Omar Alshogre sees when he wakes up in his Stockholm flat are the photographs of two prison guards who tortured him in Branch 215, one of Syria's most notorious detention centres. 

It may seem surprising but Alshogre wanted the pictures, which he had to buy off the guards' families and keeps on his bedside table, as a reminder to himself that: "They could not break me, and I'm still alive." 

Alshogre, now 25, says he was just 15 when regime forces first arrested him "along with all the men" in his village near Baniyas city -- a protest hub in a largely pro-government province -- on the Mediterranean coast. 

He was released two days later -- but only after his interrogators had pulled out his fingernails and broken his leg. 

"I understood what freedom meant for the first time, and that's when I started protesting," Alshogre tells AFP via a videoconference app. 

Over the next 18 months, he was detained six more times in different places, including at his cousin's home, in the classroom and at checkpoints. 

In May 2012, regime troops attacked his village, killing his father, a retired army officer, and his two brothers. 

Following his final arrest in November 2012, he was transferred to a total of 10 different prisons and detention centres. 

"I saw more of Syria's prisons than I ever saw of Syria itself," he says. 

Released in 2015, he was a shadow of his former self, weighing just 34 kilos (just under 75 pounds). 

To save her sons' lives, his mother smuggled Omar and his younger brother Ali, then 20 and 11 years old, into Turkey. 

At the height of Europe's migrant crisis, they boarded a smuggler's boat to Greece and crossed Europe to Sweden, where they were granted asylum. 

Alshogre has since learned Swedish and English and speaks both fluently. 

Now, he works for the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a US-based advocacy organisation, and has testified before Washington's Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on torture in Syria's prisons. 

He has given TED talks on his experience, inspiring his audience with a universal message on overcoming pain by finding meaning even in one's darkest hour. 

And recently he won a place at Georgetown University in Washington DC to study business and entrepreneurship. 

"It is not easy to lose your home, your father, your brothers, your school, your town, your mountains and your memories," he says. 

"But if I had the possibility to go back in time, I wouldn't do it. Because the revolution is the first thing we did right in Syria." 

Nivin Al-Mousa learned that her younger brother Hamza, also a non-violent
activist, had been tortured to death

Berlin: The humanitarian 

"When I was pregnant and I had pain in my belly, I would cry. Not for me, but for the Syrians living in displacement camps who can't see a doctor, and for the detainees who suffer constantly," says Nivin Al-Mousa, who has lived in Berlin since 2015. 

When she joined the protests in her town of Taybet al-Imam in the central province of Hama, she never imagined she would end up seeking refuge abroad. 

In 2013, her younger brother Hamza, also a non-violent activist, was detained at a checkpoint. 

"We later learned that he had been tortured to death," says Al-Mousa, who identified his body in one of the pictures of torture victims' corpses released by a former Syrian military police photographer, codenamed "Caesar", who fled the country taking thousands of photographs documenting abuse and torture. 

"The moment you see that picture, a wound opens inside you, and the pain never heals," she tells AFP. 

Al-Mousa, her mother and siblings fled to Turkey in an escape "worthy of a James Bond movie. There were warplanes above us, bombing all around us, and the driver was speeding at 200 kilometres (125 miles) an hour," she says. 

In Turkey, she met her husband Mohammad, who originates from the central Syrian city of Homs and had narrowly survived being randomly shot in the head by a sniper while coming home from university. 

In 2015, he was granted a visa to seek medical treatment in Berlin. There, the family received refugee status. 

Al-Mousa, now 36, has frequent nightmares. "We are all traumatised," she says. 

But for her two daughters' sake, she works hard to adapt to her new life. 

She now speaks fluent German as well as English and Arabic, as do her girls, who are six and four. 

She works for international aid group Humanity & Inclusion, formerly known as Handicap International, helping refugees with disabilities in Germany. 

She also participates in protests in Berlin, home to a large Syrian refugee community, to help shine a light on the suffering of Syria's detainees. 

"All we want is a government that respects our basic rights," Al-Mousa says. "One day, the regime will get the fate it deserves." 

Colmar: The feminist 

Tohama Darwish survived an August 2013 chemical attack on the besieged Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta blamed on the regime, in which rights groups say 1,400 people were killed. 

Then in 2018, the area faced an onslaught when the army, backed by Russian warplanes, crushed the armed opposition. 

"The bombing was so intense, I wished my daughter had still been in my belly so I could run faster," says Darwish, whose daughter Sumu was two at the time. 

Darwish, then a volunteer nurse, and her family joined the tens of thousands who fled Eastern Ghouta to the rebel-held northern province of Idlib. 

There, Islamist fighters accused her of spreading "obscenities" through her work raising community awareness about violence against women. 

"We didn't want to leave Syria," the 30-year-old tells AFP. "Unfortunately, there was no difference between the regime and the Islamists ruling Idlib." 

The family went to Turkey, from where Darwish and her husband applied for asylum in France. 

They now live in state housing in the northeastern French town of Colmar, where they are learning the language as they wait for their residence permits to come through. 

"From a gender perspective, life is better here. It's hard to be a feminist in Syria," she says. 

"I feel guilty for leaving my relatives behind. But I am happy that Sumu is at school here," she says. 

"She will always be Syrian, but her life is here now. When she's older, I will tell her everything that happened." 

Detained for joining protest, doctor Bashar Farahat said the cell in which he and
90 to 100 other prisoners were held was so tiny they had to take it in turns to
sleep while the others stood

London: The doctor 

When Bashar Farahat was released from detention in early 2013, he was barred from resuming his postgraduate paediatrics training at a government hospital in Latakia in western Syria. 

He had been jailed for joining the protests, and beaten by his interrogators "even harder" because he was a doctor with a degree from a public university. 

In April 2013, he was detained again for another six months. 

"In prison, the torture during interrogations was bad. But the worst was the constant torture of living in a tiny cell of 30 square metres (320 square feet) with 90 to 100 other detainees," says Farahat, who is now 36 and a registered doctor working in London. 

"We would take turns to sleep while the others stood," he says. 

As a doctor, his cellmates would ask him to treat their wounds. "But I had nothing to treat them with," he tells AFP of his time in a military intelligence detention centre in Damascus. 

"Occasionally, the guards would give us two vitamins or two anti-inflammatory pills to share among 100 people. People would lose limbs because of simple injuries becoming severely infected," he adds. 

Following his release in November 2013, he fled to neighbouring Lebanon, where he applied for resettlement through the United Nations. 

He arrived in Britain in March 2015, and has since passed the conversion exams allowing him to practise medicine there. 

Now married to an interior designer, he works at a National Health Service (NHS) hospital in north London. 

"When the Covid-19 pandemic began, of course I worried for my loved ones, but I think my experiences in Syria prepared me to work well in a crisis," says Farahat, who feels proud to be able to give back to Britain in its time of need. 

He has also set up a telemedicine website offering vulnerable Syrians online consultations free of charge. 

"We have to be strong, work hard and build good lives, so that when the regime falls we can contribute to Syria's future," he says. 

Looking back, knowing now what he didn't know in 2011, what would Farahat tell his younger self? 

"I would say: go out. Protest. Even more than I did. Do I regret the revolution? Never, not for a second. The revolution made me who I am today."