Africa Theater

Shell workers kidnapped in Nigeria

A militant group in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta kidnapped two German and four Nigerian workers of Bilfinger Berger Gas & Oil Services, a contractor firm for Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell June 15. The workers were abducted around Warri by a group calling itself Iju-Warri, to press demands for social services such as water, roads and schools. (AFP, June 16)

Zimbabwe police demolish township

Police in Zimbabwe fought running battles June 14 with residents of Makhokhoba, one of the oldest townships of the country's second city, Bulawayo as they demolished illegal structures. One woman stripped naked in protest after police destroyed her shack (a traditional African gesture of shaming men). A police spokesman said that more than 20,000 structures had been destroyed and 30,000 arrested in the three-week nationwide operation.

Pentagon "Pan-Sahel Initiative"

The Pentagon is rapidly expanding its little-noted "anti-terrorist" training program in the nations of Africa's Sahel. From page 11 of the New York Times, June 10:

As Africans Join Iraqi Insurgency, U.S. Counters With Military Training in Their Lands
A growing number of Islamic militants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa are fighting American and Iraqi forces in Iraq, fueling the insurgency with foot soldiers and some financing, American military officials say.

Darfur: Doctors Without Borders volunteers arrested

The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is protesting the arrest of a second representative in Sudan. Vincent Hoedt, a Dutch national and regional coordinator for MSF in Darfur, was arrested May 31 in Nyala. A day earlier, MSF's head of mission Paul Foreman was arrested in Khartoum and later released on bail. "These arrests are totally unacceptable," said Geoff Prescott, general director of MSF in Amsterdam. "The government is punishing humanitarian aid workers for doing their job for victims of the conflict in Darfur."

Italy blinks in obelisk controversy

Italy has finally blinked. Afer two generations of delay, the first of three pieces of a third-century Ethiopian obelisk plundered by the Italian fascist occupation in the 1930s has touched ground in the ancient city of Axum, where it was met by a cheering crowd and pealing church bells. Engineers extended the runway to accomodate the four-engine cargo plane carrying the precious cargo from Rome. The remaining pieces are to arrive shortly, Italian authorities pledge. (UK Telegraph, April 21)

Botswana: indigenous rights under attack

Unfortunately, the recent victory for indigenous land rights in Brazil may be followed by a rollback of recent gains for indigenous peoples in Botswana--where the world is paying even less attention. Reads an April 18 alert from Survival International:

Botswana's government is pushing a bill through Parliament to scrap the key clause in the Constitution which protects Bushmen's rights. The move comes half way through the Bushmen's landmark legal action against the government, in which the same clause forms a major plank of the Bushmen's case. The trial marks the first time in Botswana's history that the clause has actually been tested in court, but the government aims to scrap it within a few months.

Italy plays politics with Ethiopian obelisk

Italy has once again retreated from a repeated pledge to return to Ethiopia a third-century 75-foot obelisk from the ancient city of Axum which fascist dictator Benito Mussolini brought to Rome as a prize of conquest after his invasion and occupation of Ethiopia in 1936. Italy initially pledged to return the obelisk in 1947, but never acted to fulfill the pledge. Last year, during a state visit by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a date was finally set--but has been repeatedly put off by Italy, citing technical difficulties. Most recently, on April 13, Italy cancelled a scheduled flight to deliver the first section of the obelisk, with the Italian Culture Ministry citing the lack of radar to ensure a safe landing of the cargo plane at Axum's airport .

Darfur: 180,000 dead

Brian Grogan, a spokesman for Jan Egeland, the UN emergency relief coordinator, told the UK Guardian that an average 10,000 civilians are dying each month in Darfur, totalling 180,000 over the past 18 months. These are only the victims of starvation or disease in refugee camps after being driven from their villages by government-backed militiamen. The estimate excludes those directly killed.

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