Community Bicycle Carnival in Nigeria Promotes Cleaner Air and Culture

Nigeria’s Rivers State has some of the most polluted air in Africa from people burning fossil fuels and trash. One community has sought to reduce pollution by promoting bicycle riding with an annual bicycle carnival. For VOA, Timothy Obiezu reports from Isiokpo, Nigeria.
Videographer: Emeka Gibson

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Cameroon Separatists Release Eight Workers, Still Holding Several Officials

Separatists in western Cameroon have released eight rubber plantation workers they abducted earlier this month. But the anglophone rebels are still holding onto five government officials and a top chief they abducted months ago in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.

In a video circulating on social media, scores of family members and supporters shout with joy that God has spared the lives of their relatives.

Police say the video, taken at the market square in the town of Tiko, also shows eight rubber plantation workers abducted by separatist fighters on January 15. In the video, the eight former abductees look tired and hungry but show no signs of physical injury.

Gabriel Nbene Vefonge, president of the Cameroon Agriculture and Allied Workers Trade Union, was in the crowd welcoming back the former abductees. He said the rubber plantation workers were found in the bush on Sunday and taken to the government hospital in Tiko for medical care.

He told VOA that they were reunited with their families on Monday.

“Family members generally were highly demoralized and we keep praying that such an incident should not occur any longer. These are breadwinners who toil so that they can put bread on the table for their family members. As they continue to join their families, once again we thank God for their release,” he said.

Cameroonian authorities blamed anglophone separatists for the abduction of the eight workers. The military said in a statement Monday that the workers have regained their freedom but gave no further details.

Fighters on social media platforms including Facebook and WhatsApp say the workers were released after pledging never to collaborate with Cameroonian soldiers deployed to fight the separatists.

The whereabouts of five government officials abducted by separatists in the town of Ndian last year are still unknown.

Six government officials were abducted on June 16. One of them was found dead two days later.

The president of the Northwest region’s House of Chiefs, an elected organ that discusses community development, also remains missing. The government said Fon Kevin Shumitang was kidnapped from his palace in the town of Bambalang by separatists on December 7.

Fru Angwafor, president of the Northwest Regional Assembly, a regional lawmaking body, said he is counting on the military to rescue Shumitang.

“At our level we have done the necessary contacts and in matters of security, we can only go to the competent services that have set up the necessary enquiries and strategies to get back our vice president of the regional executive council,” said Angwafor.

Capo Daniel is deputy defense chief of the Ambazonia Defense Forces, one of the separatists groups. He said fighters abducted Shumitang for collaborating with the central government in Yaoundé.

“His arrest was as a result of his participation in that House of Chiefs that does not represent the aspirations of our people. All members of that House of Chiefs will be subject to arrest by the Ambazonian forces for violation of Southern Cameroon territorial integrity,” said Daniel.

Separatists in English-speaking western Cameroon launched their rebellion in 2017 after what they said was years of discrimination by the country’s French-speaking majority.

The conflict has killed more than 3,000 people and displaced more than a half-million.

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Reports Say Burkina Faso President Kabore Has Been Detained by Mutinous Soldiers   

Reports out of the West African nation of Burkina Faso say embattled President Roch Marc Christian Kabore and members of his government have been detained by mutineering soldiers.   

News outlets say there are reports of heavy fighting near the presidential palace in the capital, Ouagadougou.   

Burkina Faso has been embroiled in a conflict with terror groups linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State since 2015. Rumors of a coup have been rife for weeks after a military base in the north of the country was overrun by terrorists killing 49 military members.  

President Kabore fired members of his Cabinet and military leadership in December in response. 

The current unrest began early Sunday when heavy gunfire was heard inside Ouagadougou’s largest military base, Camp Sangoule Lamizana. VOA journalist Henry Wilkins was temporarily detained inside the camp and spoke to one of the organizers of the mutiny, who relayed a list of demands from the mutineers, including “more money and more troops” to aid in the fight against terrorism, along with better training and the organization of a permanent military unit on the front lines.

The mutineers also demanded the resignations of the military chief of staff and chief of the intelligence services, and better care of the wounded and families of soldiers who have died in the conflict. 

The apparent coup in Burkina Faso is the third in West Africa in the last 18 months, following that of Mali and neighboring Guinea.   

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and  Agence France-Presse.  

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Shots Near Burkina President’s Home as Soldiers Mutiny Over Anti-Jihadist Strategy

Shots were heard late Sunday near the home of Burkina Faso’s president after soldiers staged mutinies at several barracks to demand the sacking of the country’s military top brass and more resources for the battle against Islamist insurgents.

Residents also reported they saw a helicopter above the private residence of President Roch Marc Kabore in the capital Ouagadougou.

It followed gunfire earlier Sunday at several army bases, prompting fears of yet another coup in a volatile West African country prone to military takeovers.

Meanwhile, demonstrators protesting over the government’s handling of the jihadist threat set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party.

But the government quickly denied rumors of a putsch, and a list of demands presented by the rebellious troops made no mention of trying to oust Kabore, while emphasizing the need for a better anti-jihadist strategy.

“We want adequate resources for the battle” against Islamist extremists, a soldier from the Sangoule Lamizana base in Ouagadougou said in a voice recording received by AFP.

The disaffected soldiers also wanted top generals to be “replaced,” better care for wounded troops and more support for the families of soldiers killed in battle, the spokesman for the mutinous troops added in the anonymous recording.

The authorities declared an overnight curfew from 8 p.m. local time (2000 GMT) Sunday “until further notice” and the education ministry said schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday across the poor, landlocked country.

The unrest comes a little over a week after 12 people, including a senior army officer, were arrested on suspicion of planning to “destabilize” Burkina’s institutions.

It also comes a day after police used tear gas to disperse banned rallies, arresting dozens. 

Residents in the Gounghin district, where the Sangoule Lamizana base is situated, reported seeing soldiers firing in the air and sealing off the area around the barracks.

Shots were also heard at the Baby Sy barracks in the south of the capital, as well as at an air base near the airport, which was also surrounded by soldiers wearing balaclavas, witnesses said.

There was also gunfire at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya, residents there told AFP, and mobile internet services were cut.

The government moved quickly to try to restore control.

“Information on social media would have people believe there was an army takeover,” government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement. “The government, while acknowledging that there was gunfire in some barracks, denies this information and calls on the public to remain calm.”

Defense Minister General Barthelemy Simpore said on nationwide TV that “none of the republic’s institutions has been troubled” by the revolt.

He added that there were “localized, limited” incidents “in a few barracks,” and that he was investigating.

Police fired tear gas to break up a rally by around 100 people who gathered at a square in central Ouagadougou to show support for the mutiny, an AFP correspondent reported.

Sangoule Lamizana camp houses a military prison where General Gilbert Diendere — a former right-hand man to deposed President Blaise Compaore — is serving a 20-year term for an attempted coup in 2015.

He is also on trial for his alleged part in the 1987 assassination of the country’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, during a putsch that brought Compaore to power.

Compaore, overthrown by a popular uprising in 2014, fled to Ivory Coast, and is being tried in absentia for the assassination.

The latest turbulence coincides with a jihadist insurgency that swept in from neighboring Mali in 2015, overwhelming Burkina’s poorly trained and badly equipped armed forces.

Around 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP tally, while around 1.5 million people are internally displaced, according to the national emergency agency CONASUR.

Anger at Kabore’s failure to stem the bloodshed has risen, spilling over into clashes with the security forces.

On November 27, dozens were injured when hundreds turned out to protest.

Among the soldiers arrested this month over the plot to “destabilize institutions” was Lieutenant-Colonel Emmanuel Zoungrana, who had been commanding anti-jihadist operations in the former French colony’s badly hit western region.

In a statement, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it was very concerned at the situation and expressed its solidarity with Kabore, the government and its people.

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Cameroon: 17 Die in Capital City Explosion Caused by Fire 

Cameroon says it has opened an investigation to find out the names and nationalities of 17 people who died Sunday in a fire that caused an explosion in the capital, Yaounde. The explosion in a popular nightclub also wounded eight people. The government is calling for calm as thousands of football fans visit Yaounde for the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.

Hundreds of people including Cameroonian government officials turned out in Bastos, a Yaounde neighborhood, on Sunday morning. They watched as neighbors and workers of Livs, a popular nightclub, and Cameroon’s Military Fire Brigade, searched three torched buildings in the area. 

Among the civilians helping to search for the injured was 27-year-old Gustav Lemaleu. 

Lemaleu says civilians and the Fire Brigade of Cameroon’s ministry have saved the lives of at least 40 people. He says it is difficult to know the names and nationalities of the injured and the dead because clients do not present identification documents before having access to Livs. 

Lemaleu said he is certain that the victims include people visiting Cameroon for the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations. 

In a statement, the government says an accidental fire at the nightclub spread to a cooking gas store. There were loud explosions from six gas canisters, causing panic in the neighborhood. 

Public Health Minister Manaouda Malachie says President Paul Biya was informed of the incident as soon as it occurred. Manaouda says Biya has instructed health workers to transport the wounded to Yaounde Central Hospital. 

He says Biya has asked the Public Health Ministry to treat the wounded free of charge and that arrangements be made for the dead to be buried in their places of origin after the investigation. He says Biya has instructed his ministry to give psychological assistance to traumatized family members of the injured whenever the traumatized relatives are identified. 

Rene Emmanuel Sadi, Cameroon’s minister of communication, visited the site of the incident. He says it is too early to know the names and countries of origin of the dead and wounded. 

“We are still at the level of inquiries [investigations],” he said. “The incident is quite serious. There are people who are dead. Others are injured and investigations are going on. I think when all these things are finished, I will be giving the exact information concerning this very serious incident.” 

Sadi said the death toll may increase. 

President Biya has called for calm and assured football players, fans and match officials attending the Africa Cup of Nations in Yaounde of their safety.  

Cameroon is hosting thousands of people for the tournament, which started on January 9th and will end on February 6. 

 

 

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UN Appeals for $60 Million for Victims of Violence in Cameroon

UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, is appealing for nearly $60 million for tens of thousands of victims of intercommunal clashes over dwindling resources in Cameroon’s Far North region.

The United Nations Refugee Agency Friday released an appeal for just under $60 million for support for those fleeing intercommunal violence in Cameroon’s Far North region.

The appeal is aimed at helping UNHCR and its partners provide needed humanitarian aid for those displaced by the crisis during the next six months.

An ongoing dispute over diminishing water resources between herders on one side and fishermen and farmers on the other last month erupted into a violent confrontation. The U.N. refugee agency says 44 people were killed, more than 100 injured, and 112 villages burned to the ground.

In the space of two weeks, UNHCR spokesman Boris Cheshirkov said 100,000 people fled to neighboring Chad or elsewhere in Cameroon.

“This has become a severe crisis because of the climate emergency. And the surface waters of Lake Chad shrinking and the Logone river, which runs along the border between Cameroon and Chad. It demarks the border and this is where the tensions began,” he said.

This crisis follows a previous deadly encounter in August. Some 45 people reportedly were killed, dozens injured, and more than 30 villages set ablaze. An estimated 23,000 fled to Chad or elsewhere in Cameroon.

Cheshirkov said the appeal will provide critically needed relief over the next six months for both the displaced and those sheltering them in Chad and Cameroon.

Priority needs, he said include shelter, blankets, mats, and mosquito mats.

“The funds will also cover growing water, sanitation, and hygiene needs. Child protection, prevention, and response to gender-based violence, documentation, education—all of these are urgent priorities. We estimate that 9 out of 10 of the Cameroonian refugees that are now in Chad as a result of this crisis are women and children,” he said.

Cheshirkov said the situation has calmed down in the last few weeks. He says security has been reinforced. He notes government-led reconciliation efforts, supported by the UNHCR are underway. He added urgent action is needed to address the root causes of the conflict.

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Heavy Gunfire Heard at Military Camp in Burkina Faso Capital

Heavy gunfire could be heard from the main military camp in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou early Sunday morning, a Reuters witness said.

The gunfire at the Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses the army’s general staff, began at least as early as 5 a.m. (0500 GMT) and could still be heard as of 6:30.

A government spokesperson said he also heard gunfire and was seeking information.

Burkinabe authorities arrested at least eight soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government. 

 

 

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Comoros Loses Both Goalkeepers as COVID Sweeps Through Squad

Comoros, the surprise package of the Africa Cup of Nations, is struggling to put a team together for their last-16 game against host nation Cameroon after 12 players and management tested positive for COVID-19, their federation announced Saturday.

The 12 positive tests include both of the Coelacanths’ fit goalkeepers, with the third goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina already injured. Comoros is due to face Cameroon on Monday.

“The Coelacanths affected by COVID … include coach Amir Abdou, our only two goalkeepers, Moyadh Ousseini and Ali Ahamada,” the federation tweeted two days before a historic match for the Comoros who qualified for the last 16 in their first appearance at the tournament.

In a video posted on the account, general manager El Hadad Hamidi also named five outfield players who have tested positive: midfielders Nakibou Aboubakari, Yacine Bourhane, striker Mohamed M’Changama and defenders Kassim Abdallah and Alexis Souahy.

With no goalkeepers currently available for the game, the Comoros are in serious trouble.

Confederation of African Football rules for the tournament dictate that teams must play games as long as at least 11 players test negative for the coronavirus.

If no goalkeeper is available, an outfield player must stand in.

“We are trying to do everything in our power to find alternative solutions” but “without the coach, without major players and especially without our only two goalkeepers who remained, the situation is quite complicated,” admitted Hamidi.

The Comoros, representing a tiny island nation off the southeast coast of Africa, snatched their qualification to everyone’s surprise by beating Ghana 3-2 and advancing as one of the best third-placed sides. 

 

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