African Leaders Almost Demanded Apology From Trump for Crude Remarks

African leaders were very close to officially demanding President Donald Trump publicly apologize for reportedly crude remarks about the continent and immigration, but backed off, reports say.

The African Union drafted its response to the president at a summit this week.

The draft warned that Trump’s “racist and xenophobic behavior” puts the strategic partnership between the United States and Africa at risk.

It says African heads of state are “appalled” by the presidents’ apparent remarks and “dismayed and shocked by the increasingly consistent trend from the Trump administration to denigrate people of African descent and other people of color.” 

But the African Union decided not to release the draft. It pointed to a Jan. 25th letter from Trump in which he pledged his “deep respect” for Africa and announced that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an “extended visit” to Africa in March.

Trump also met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame on the sidelines of the Davos economic forum last week.

Kagame is the current chair of the African Union. He says the AU will have to find a way to get along with Trump.

“When the United States decided to give us Trump as their president, we will deal with that president,” Kagame said.

Trump reportedly called Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador “s—hole countries” during a White House meeting on immigration earlier this month, and wanted to exclude Haiti from any immigration reform deal.

He denied using such crude language.

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Diaspora Voices Missing in South Sudan Dialogue, Activists Say

Activists are criticizing a South Sudan peace initiative for leaving a major group out of the discussions.

The initiative, known as the High Level Revitalization Forum, is aimed at reviving South Sudan’s stalled 2015 peace agreement, and it is supposed to draw together a wide range of voices, experiences and positions. 

Reuben Garang, a Canadian-South Sudanese and president of the Coalition of Advocates for South Sudan (CASS), said the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional trade group that endorsed creation of the forum, should include a representative from the South Sudanese diaspora in the next phase of the discussions in Addis Ababa.

“We need to be at the table. We have never been represented since the negotiations started,” said Garang.

The diaspora is the “sixth region” of the African Union, and its significance is written in the framework of the AU, which also endorsed the forum. The AU describes the diaspora as “peoples of African descent who live outside the African continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality, and who are willing to contribute to the development.”

That’s the idea that William Pay, a South Sudanese-American living in Minnesota, wants to foster at the forum on South Sudan. He said the diaspora’s contributions matter and its members’ pain is real.

“About 90 percent of my family are still in South Sudan or are pushed out of South Sudan because of this current conflict,” said Pay. “So directly I am affected. So there is no way that someone will say [to the diaspora] that your voice will not matter.”

Pay added that including members of the diaspora in talks could also help close the gap and foster dialogue among South Sudanese around the world who have often been criticized for furthering hate speech.

CASS, an umbrella group of South Sudan-focused nonprofits in the U.S. and Canada, sent letters to Workneh Gebeyehu, chairman of the IGAD Council of Ministers, and Ismail Wais, IGAD’s special envoy for South Sudan, seeking to make the case that the diaspora has a large influence and can positively influence the peace process.

Garang said he had received no reply to those letters.

The next round of the forum will be dominated by security concerns, Garang said. It is scheduled to begin February 5.

“That is going to be very contentious,” Garang said. Representatives of the diaspora will be “fighting to get positions.”

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Protests Subside in Senegal Following Shooting of Fisherman

Calm has returned to the city of Saint-Louis in northern Senegal, following violent protests and the looting of shops belonging to Mauritanian nationals on Monday.

The violence erupted after the death of a Senegalese fisherman, shot by members of the Mauritanian coast guard. The Senegalese government condemned the killing but called on protesters to stay calm, promising to address the issue with Mauritanian officials.

Since the non-renewal of a fishing agreement between the two West African countries in 2016, incidents involving Senegalese fishermen and the Mauritanian coast guard have been frequent. Moustapha Dieng, the secretary-general of the Senegalese union of artisanal fishermen, said this is not an isolated incident.

“This is the fourth incident in which fishermen have been shot dead. And there are others who have been injured and will never be able to fish again.”

In a written statement, the Mauritanian military said that “the unfortunate event” occurred because of “the provocative behavior of the fishermen who ignored the orders of the coast guard.” They said the coast guard members shot at the engine in an attempt to disable the canoe, but one of the nine fishermen was hit by a bullet. The statement added that coast guard vessels conducted 62 similar operations last year without incident.

In Mauritania, the issue is being discussed widely in both traditional and social media. Mohamed Diop, editor of the Alakhbar newspaper, said the issue is attracting a lot of attention.

“The Mauritanian media are very interested in the issue because the two heads of state have been informed and discussed it on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa,” he said. “The Senegalese interior minister has said the two presidents decided to address the issue at the highest level to avoid a rift.”

Moustapha Dieng said his union members feel that the Senegal government is not taking the issue seriously.

“When [authorities] board a canoe involved in unlawful fishing, they are allowed by law to confiscate the material, but you have to let the fishermen go. We also want our government to send patrols to the border, just like Mauritania is doing.”

In Mauritania, many residents have denounced the destruction and looting of shops belonging to Mauritanians in Saint-Louis, but most seem to strike a conciliatory tone.

“There is a real attempt to appease the tension, and we can see it because today there was no looting reported in Senegal. And here, the media have been very conciliatory, except a few that are favoring the Mauritanian position in their coverage,” Diop said.

The fishermen’s union in Senegal is hoping discussions between the two governments will resume soon on a new fishing agreement. That would allow its members to conduct their activities in both countries’ territorial waters without fear, in exchange for an annual fee.

The two nations are seeking to avoid an escalation in tensions as they discuss another hot-button issue. Dakar and Nouakchott are hoping to partner to exploit an underwater natural gas field recently discovered at their common maritime border. The two countries severed ties in 1989 following violent incidents and mass repatriation of each other’s citizens. Diplomatic relations have since been restored.

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Israeli Defense Chief: Lebanon Will Pay for Iranian Meddling

Israel’s defense minister said Wednesday that Lebanon would “pay the full price” for Iran’s entrenchment in any future war, the latest in a series of Israeli warnings about Tehran’s growing presence in neighboring Lebanon and Syria.

Avigdor Lieberman said Hezbollah guerrillas have sacrificed Lebanon’s national interests by subjugating the country to Iran. As a result, he said, all of Lebanon would be fair game in a future war.

Speaking to the Institute for National Security Studies’ annual conference, Lieberman said the Lebanese army will be targeted and “if citizens of Tel Aviv are forced to sit in shelters, all of Beirut will too.” 

He also described as “very provocative” Lebanon’s offshore oil and gas exploration tender on the countries’ maritime border and suggested that Lebanon had put out a tender to international groups for a gas field “which is by all accounts ours.”

Hezbollah, Lebanese respond

His comments drew sharp condemnation from Hezbollah and Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally, who described Lieberman’s comments as a “blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects.”

He said Lieberman’s claim is “invalid in form and substance” and that the Lebanese government would follow this up “with the competent international parties to assert its legitimate right to act in its territorial waters.”

Lebanon last year approved the licenses for an international consortium led by France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Russia’s Novatek to move forward with offshore oil and gas development for two of five blocks in the Mediterranean Sea, including one known as Block 9 that is disputed in part with Israel. 

Lebanese officials say the country will start exploratory offshore drilling in 2019 and say Lebanon wants to assert its resource rights along the length of its maritime territories. 

Offshore drilling could lead to dispute

A major find in Lebanon’s southernmost waters could raise the possibility of a dispute with Israel, which is developing a number of offshore gas deposits, with one large field, Tamar, already producing gas, and the larger Leviathan field set to go online next year. 

There are over 800 square kilometers (300 square miles) of waters claimed by the two countries, which are technically in a state of conflict. Israel and Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in 2006.

Hezbollah, in a statement, said Lieberman’s remarks offer new proof of Israel’s ambitions to steal Lebanon’s resources and said it would confront any aggression against Lebanon’s rights.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun also weighed in on Wednesday, rejecting Lieberman’s statements.

“Comments by Lieberman about Block 9 are a threat to Lebanon and its right to sovereignty over its territorial waters,” he said in a statement released by his office.Israel has repeatedly warned of Iran’s increasing efforts to turn Lebanon into “one giant missile site.” Israel’s chief military spokesman this week said it was “prepared for all the scenarios.”

The Iranian-backed Hezbollah wields enormous political and military influence in Lebanon. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said the Shiite militant group does not seek to provoke a war with Israel but would respond with crushing force should Israel attack Lebanon.

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Eritrean Leader Criticizes Israel’s Migrant Deportation Plan

In a rare interview, Eritrea’s president has expressed his displeasure with Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants, saying they deserve far more than the $3,500 they were offered to leave.

President Isaias Afwerki’s interview on a government website Wednesday said the migrants from his country and Sudan paid a “high price” to human traffickers to reach Israel and deserve more like $50,000.

“They need fair compensation to start a new life in their home country,” Afwerki said in the interview with local reporters. He said all those who wish to return home “have every right to do so,” and that Eritrea has offered to register all of its roughly 20,000 migrants but Israeli authorities had refused.

Many Eritreans leaving the east African nation claim they fled a restrictive regime under Afwerki, where men are often forced into a military service with slavery-like conditions. They say they cannot return.

In the interview, Afwerki claimed instead that the Eritrean migrants were enticed abroad to organize an armed opposition but that the “subversive schemes” failed and the migrants now have become a burden.

Israel’s deportation plan has sparked protests by liberal Israelis who say the country should never turn away those in need. They note that of 15,000 African refugee status requests, only 11 have been approved.

On April 1, Israel plans to start expelling the African migrants, some of whom have been in the country for years. About 60,000 migrants crossed Israel’s previously porous desert border with Egypt before a barrier was completed in 2012 along the 130-mile (220-kilometer) frontier.

Since then about 20,000 migrants have left either voluntarily, via a U.N. program, or with the encouragement of the Israeli government, which offers each about $3,500 and a plane ticket to leave. Others have been locked up in a massive detention center in the remote southern desert.

Israel’s Cabinet recently voted to begin shipping out the remaining 40,000 migrants, even against their will, to an unnamed third African country with which it has reached a secret agreement. 

Israeli authorities said the migrants would be deported to Rwanda and Uganda, Afwerki said. 

“We are told they will be deported to any country that can accept them,” he said. “These are human beings, not livestock. No country can claim legal responsibility to receive our citizens.”

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Supporters, Critics React to Trump’s State of the Union Speech

Americans are responding to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, the annual report that the president makes to a joint session of Congress. Mike O’Sullivan reports that after one year in office, Trump prompted strong reactions in his speech Tuesday evening, reflecting divisions in the country.

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Freed from Libyan Jails, Frustrated Migrants Pose Challenge to New Gambia

Jobless, restless and frustrated, 24-year-old Saikou Jammeh persuaded his father to sell the family home and give up his life savings to pay for the journey from Gambia to Europe.

Jammeh saw no future for himself in Gambia, a tiny impoverished country on West Africa’s coast, so he joined an exodus of young men willing to sacrifice everything to leave.

But after being robbed, beaten, and locked in a Libyan prison for several months, Jammeh found himself back where he started — in Gambia with no job prospects and empty pockets.

“I felt abandoned by the government,” he said on a busy street in Churchill’s Town, a suburb of the capital Banjul. “I was just sitting, wondering what to do.”

Thousands of thwarted migrants like Jammeh are returning to Gambia, straining its fledgling government as officials scramble to get European-funded reintegration projects up and running.

President Adama Barrow took office a year ago, ending former leader Yahya Jammeh’s 22 years of autocratic rule, and is under pressure to deliver on promises of sweeping economic reforms.

Nearly 2,500 Gambians were flown home by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) last year, most pulled out of prisons in Libya after reports emerged of Africans being sold in slave markets in the lawless country, the U.N. agency said.

The returnees are a noticeable presence in the nation of 2 million, posing a bigger threat to stability than in other West African countries wrestling with migration, experts said.

“We are not ready to receive all these people,” said Bulli Dibba, permanent secretary of Gambia’s interior ministry.

“We are very much concerned for domestic security,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

In November, a group of newly-returned migrants threw rocks at the IOM offices because they were unhappy with the support they had received, according to IOM spokeswoman Florence Kim.

“The government is already struggling to deal with unemployment,” added Dibba, a veteran Gambian civil servant. “If we have more people coming in, what will we do with them?”

Out of reach

Gambians have accounted for about one in 20 migrants arriving in Italy in recent years, making it the country with the highest number of migrants per capita reaching Europe.

Trying to stem the flow, the European Union is funding job training and youth empowerment programs across the continent with its 3.2 billion euro ($4 billion) Trust Fund for Africa.

While the fund was created in 2015, most of the programs in Gambia only started last year, according to the IOM.

“Thank god my life has grown into a plan,” said Saikou Jammeh, who did an EU-funded CCTV installation course after returning, and is now saving money for school.

But many young Gambians are missing out.

Of the 2,435 migrants who returned to Gambia in 2017, only 170 so far have received reintegration packages from the IOM, which consist of funding for education or business start-ups. The agency has received complaints, and is striving to avoid tensions and divisions within communities, said Kim of the IOM.

Give one former migrant more money than their peers and you create competition, she said. Offer returnees more support than their neighbors and it could spur others to leave for Europe.

Many of the returned migrants are traumatized, illiterate, or live in remote areas — making them difficult to assist.

“I know people who have ideas, but they don’t have any help,” said Donald Greywoode, 36, who quit his office job and set off for Europe on a route known locally as “the back way.”

 

When Greywoode came back, he found himself collecting trash.

Without education, training or job opportunities, boredom and resentment could boil over into conflict, analysts said.

“The stakes are very, very high,” said Franzisca Zanker, a researcher at Germany’s University of Freiburg, who has studied migration governance in Gambia.

Undettered

Several returnees told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that they had not wanted to come home, but having been locked up, abused and starved in Libya, were left with no other choice.

“We don’t see ourselves as voluntary returnees,” said Mustapha Sallah, 26, who came back from Libya in April.

“They said if you don’t want to go home, you die here,” Sallah said. “Leaving was the only option.”

Coupled with the lack of opportunity, such frustration could drive people to migrate once more, experts warned. Others said broader economic changes would be needed to keep youth at home.

“Even after training all these people in all these skills, if the industry is not there, they will still struggle,” said Kebba Sillah, head of Sterling Consortium, a vocational training institute supported by the EU Trust Fund for Africa.

“I think the EU needs to encourage their businesses to come set up here, not just pump in money,” Sillah added.

While many returnees said they would never again attempt the treacherous journey through Libya, some still dream of Europe.

Jerreh Cham, 22, has received EU funding to complete a satellite installation course and attend business management school since returning from Libya in August.

But it is not enough to keep him at home.

“My plan is to get my qualification before reaching Europe,” said Cham, sitting in the yard outside his family’s small home. “If I go with my qualification and everything, I don’t think anybody will discount me. I think they will give me my respect.”

 

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After Trump’s Speech, Members of Congress Say Work Lies Ahead

Members of Congress reacted to U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech, with some praising its bipartisan tone and others wishing he had used the national address to more specifically discuss some of the issues facing the nation.

Republican Rep. Ryan Costello called it a positive speech that highlighted domestic priorities such as infrastructure and immigration, and said Congress needs to use the coming weeks and months to fill out Trump’s broad proposals with more detail.

“He also, I think, was very clear in terms of what we need to do to provide leadership around the globe, to support our allies, to encourage those dissenting voices against autocratic regimes around the [world]. I thought it was very good,” Costello said.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said he was hoping Trump would present a bipartisan message with concrete details about improving infrastructure, advancing American interests across the world and confronting North Korea, and that in some cases he delivered while on others he made little reference.

“We have an opioid addiction crisis here in the United States that is taking tens of thousands of lives. I had hoped that would be something more concretely addressed earlier in the speech with measure about how we could work together, because it is truly unifying, there is no one in congress who doesn’t need and want to address this together,” Coons said.

Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick said he thought Trump did succeed in striking a bipartisan tone.

“He talked about paid medical leave, infrastructure, he talked about opioids. These are all bipartisan issues,” Fitzpatrick said.

Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu told VOA’s Russian service that Trump hit high points in his speech with proposals for paid family leave, prison reform and $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, while disappointing with an “un-American” call to limit family-based immigration.

“I’m pleased his State of the Union speech was less dark than his inaugural speech,” Lieu said. “I’m pleased he has taken a different path than when he was first inaugurated. Hopefully he sticks to it.”

US immigration laws

Immigration has been a major topic of late for lawmakers, with a failure to reach an agreement on undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children and a budget battle combining to bring a brief shutdown of the government.

Trump has advocated a much stricter system that includes boosting border security with a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and restricting the overall number of people who are allowed into the country.

Democratic Rep. Lou Correa was among those unhappy with a four-point immigration reform plan Trump discussed in his speech along with a highlight on gang violence the president blamed on faulty existing immigration policy.

“For many of us, building a wall is a symbol of division, of negativity, and that’s what he wants,” Correa said. “I think what we’re forgetting is this country is a country of immigrants. Whether you’re documented or not, you work really hard to enrich this country. And somehow that message, I never heard it.”

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro also took exception to what he described as Trump’s equation of immigrants with criminals.

“I think people understand that there’s bad people in every batch, but they don’t do it, because they’re immigrants. If somebody is a murderer, it’s not because they’re white or black or brown, it’s because that person is a bad person. And he has continued to make that link, which is unfortunate,” Castro said.

Costello expressed support for Trump’s four-part plan, which also includes a path to citizenship for the young undocumented immigrants and moving away from the visa lottery system to one that is more merit-based.

Several groups of lawmakers have put forth their own immigration reform plans that include some of the same priorities, but so far none has emerged with enough consensus to become law.

​Fitzpatrick said a proposed measure he supports “strikes a right balance between border security and immigration reform.”

Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said Trump did not put forth a package that balances Republican and Democratic priorities on immigration.

“The harsh rhetoric combined with that particular proposal, I don’t think it’s gonna move the ball,” Krishnamoorthi said. “I think we gotta get to the bargaining table and actually work together hash out a compromise.”

Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell said if Trump is serious about reaching out to both parties on immigration, “he should invite Democrats and Republicans to the White House tomorrow” to work on those policies.

Trump also used part of his speech to say he would not repeat mistakes of past administrations regarding North Korea and would keep up strong pressure on the country that has been making advances in ballistic missile technology.

Republican Rep. Steve Chabot said North Korea is a top foreign policy challenge facing the United States, and that it can not be ignored.

“We’re at the times that we were warned about,” Chabot said. “So I think that president, when he talked about North Korea tonight, set the right tone and it’s a serious, serious problem.”

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