Sunday, February 26, 2017

Remembering Ali Osman: Composer, Academic and Conductor of Egypt's Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra
Ati Metwaly
Ahram Online
Saturday 25 Feb 2017

Egypt’s music scene lost Ali Osman, Sudanese composer, conductor, educator and a man whose work with Al Nour Wal Amal, the visually impaired and blind women orchestra was among his most precious accomplishments

On 16 February, Egypt’s music scene lost the renowned composer Ali Osman Al Haj (also known as Ali Osman). Born in 1958 in Omdurman, Sudan, Osman’s passion for music brought him to Cairo in 1978. Though at first he thought Egypt would be a stop on his way further, he made his second home here and founded a family. Adopted by Egypt, Ali Osman is considered among the third generation of Egyptian composers, listed beside names such as Baligh Hamdi (1932-1993), Rageh Daoud (born 1954) and Omar Khayrat (born 1949), among others.

Besides his compositions, Osman’s biography is rich in academic accomplishments, while as a dynamic artist he made a strong impact on the community, particularly through his work as artistic director and principal conductor of the Al Nour Wal Amal (or Light and Hope) Orchestra, an ensemble consisting of visually impaired and blind women musicians.

I had the chance to meet Ali Osman on several occasions in the context of his work with the Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra, which even if it represented an important part of his activities, remains but a fraction of the musical depth and versatility he represents. In November last year, as I was interviewing Ali Osman for a project, he spoke mostly about his arrival to Egypt and work with the orchestra, revealing one side of his musical passion.

“In Sudan I was a self-taught musician, playing rock music on guitar and drums. I got to a stage when I needed more knowledge and skill. I felt that my self-teaching techniques started being a limitation. I realised that either I should start studying professionally or give up music altogether,” he spoke with his characteristic soft tonality.

Naturally, Osman could not give up music and, following his secondary education, he began looking for a conservatory oversees.

“At first I wanted to study in Canada, but there was no Canadian embassy in Sudan, so I had to come to Egypt to proceed with visa. I arrived in the late 1970s only to discover the daunting procedures required in order to get a student visa to Canada. This is when I thought of trying my luck at the Cairo Conservatory. I was accepted and began my formal musical education, giving up my Canada plan.”

This change of plan proved very rewarding for the young musician. At the Cairo Conservatory, he studied double bass with Rodney Slatford (USA) and then composition with a number of renowned Egyptian professors including Gamal Abdel-Rahim, and during his postgraduate studies with Awatif Abdel-Kerim. His professors also included Bertold Hummel (Germany) and Robert Woshborn (USA). As he graduated and matured academically, writing his thesis on traditional Sudanese and Arabic music, Osman began teaching composition, counterpoint and harmony at the Cairo Conservatory in 1990, and in 1999 at the Higher Institute of Arabic Music in Cairo.

“It was also in 1990 that one of the professors working with Al Nour Wal Amal Association had to travel abroad for his PhD. He asked me to replace him in teaching solfège at the association,” Osman recalled the days when he joined the team working with the visually impaired and blind women musicians. “I began working on many aspects of the orchestra, while the maestro Ahmed Abul Eid was their music director, conductor and main person responsible for their artistic development.”

Alongside his work at Al Nour Wal Amal and the conservatory, Osman kept making his mark in composition. In 2000, he was granted a four month scholarship as “composer in residence” by Prohelvetia Cairo, and travelled to Switzerland where he also recorded his first full CD by the Swiss Radio.

That same year, Ahmed Abul Eid began looking for an assistant. “He called me at midnight, I remember, and told me that since I’ve known and worked with the girls for many years, I should join him,” Osman explained, underlining that at that time, he was not sure if he was ready for the added responsibility. “But since he almost ordered me I could not say ‘no’.”

Following Abul Eid’s passing in 2004, Osman became fully in charge of the orchestra, a task he carried out with profound dedication until the last days of his life. Acting as a mentor, conductor and often a father, Osman shaped the musicians, patiently carved their understanding of the material and helped them create the most beautiful art. He was their conductor, artistic director and tutor, but also in many ways their friend.

Shocked by his passing, the girls from the Al Nour Wal Amal Orchestra shared the news on social media stating: “Today we have lost the smile, the joy and the great support of the orchestra, the brother and friend to all the people working in the Al Nour Wal Amal Association.”

And though the association relies on the expertise of a number of professional musicians, Osman was the orchestra’s solid artistic backbone. He chose the repertoire, deepened the delivery of already mastered compositions and pushed the musicians to learn new ones, often walking them through the work note by note. With all the challenges that can come with this ensemble, he not only embraced the work but also seemed to be enjoying it on the musical and human levels.

“It is a different kind of work from working with sighted musicians,” he told me during the interview.

“With the visually impaired orchestra, we have to go through each detail and help the musicians memorise the score. I would then work with each section of the orchestra separately, and in the final stage combine all the sections and begin to implement a musical vision. It is not an easy work and requires a lot of patience, but it is worth it,” he added with fatherly warmth before moving onto the topic of performing to an audience. “What you see on stage are the women playing alone. I no longer conduct. My work is completely within the rehearsal walls. If you are dedicated to your work during the rehearsals, you will have good results in the concert.”

On the very few occasions when I had the chance to watch him working with the girls, he would walk them through the score, making sure that each note is clean and well heard, and each motion well respected. At times, he would sit at the piano, with one or two musicians by his side duly following his instructions. During the final rehearsals the association’s hall was filled with musicians. Osman would walk in among the girls, whisper to them or tap them on the shoulder and then the music would take on a new, more vibrant shape.

During their performances, he often stood to the side of the stage, or at the back, watching and listening. As the orchestra received strong applause, time and again, in Egypt and abroad, Ali Osman was proud and happy for the musicians, but always very humble.

As a prolific composer Osman’s interest in traditional music and his formal conservatory education merged in a unique creative manner, translating into works for orchestra, chamber ensembles, solo instruments and voices. Representing the third generation of Egyptian composers, he remained deeply rooted in his origins, touching on the idioms of the south, only to create rich amalgams at the thematic and formal levels. He juggled Arabic musical modes and rhythmic patterns and Western harmonies; he explored and experimented, pushing the music towards a contemporary imagery of sound.

Always nurtured by traditional material, Osman would find in it inspiration for many of his compositions, from orchestral works such as a symphonic poem, A Day in the Life of a Shepherd in the Sudan or A Nile Trip from the South to the North, to chamber works. Many of Osman’s compositions featured the instruments in their original contexts and formats, such as El-Maqamat El-Masri (Modes of Egypt), a work that revives the solo harpsichord embedded in Arabic modes or El-Mohager, a short piece for flute, oboe and riq (Arabic tambourine).

On his blog, Osman explained his approach to music in those words: “My main principle is that music is a human activity and I would like to keep it that way. It does not mean that I do not like experimental or abstract music but I deal with these styles when I am dealing with something beyond imagination. I basically depend on national musical elements but I do not lock myself in them. I use the technique that I need to express myself, depending on the idea that I am trying to present.”

A number of Osman’s works were published by Oxford University Press and Peermusic in Germany. Many of his compositions have been performed in Egypt – at the Cairo Opera House, the American University in Cairo, among other venues – and internationally, in Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, China, the USA and the UK.

His Afromood for violin, piano and tambourine, was performed very recently, on 8 February 2017, by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, USA. Entitled “Music Beyond Borders: Voices from the Seven,” this series of free concerts was the orchestra’s project aiming to raise awareness of and give a platform to music from the countries (including Sudan) that are subject to Trump’s travel ban. A few months earlier, in September 2016, Osman’s compositions were featured by the Arab Youth Philharmonic Orchestra at the Young Euro Classic music festival in Berlin.

Osman also contributed to numerous publications, writing on folk and traditional music idioms and their contemporary contexts. He co-wrote with several scholars, including Samha El-Kholy, the series of books issued by the Culture Ministry: Egyptian Contemporary Music (2000–03). He was also on the musical jury of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture in 2012.

Whether working in academia, on his compositions or with the blind musicians, Osman made music his whole life; he turned it into the language in which he could best express himself. On his blog he notes, “If all aesthetics books identify music as completely abstract, how could it be an international language? This definition goes well with the modern abstract music of today, but conventional music is an international language, one that allows people to attend a concert and unite in the feelings that the musical style and the mood carry.”

As the creative field mourns the composer, conductor and educator, it seeks consolation in the strong mark he left on the music field – and in the many valuable offerings he leaves us with.

This obituary was first published in Al Ahram Weekly

For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at@AhramOnlineArtsand on Facebook atAhram Online: Arts & Culture
Egypt's Antiquities Ministry Restores Colossus of Ramsess II at Karnak Temples
Restoration began one month ago on a statue of the celebrated 19th dynasty pharaoh, which decorated the façade of the Karnak Temples' first pylon

Nevine El-Aref
Ahram Online
Tuesday 21 Feb 2017

The head of the colossus statue. Photo courtesy of restorer Abdel Razek Ali

Karnak Amun-Re statue not recently restored as claimed

Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities is conducting comprehensive restoration work on a colossus statue of king Ramsess II that once decorated the façade of the first pylon of the Karnak Temple Complex.
Mostafa Waziri, head of the ministry’s Luxor antiquities department, told Ahram Online that reconstruction of the statue began one month ago, and is expected to be completed within two months. The statue would then be erected in its original position, he said.

The colossus of Egypt's most celebrated pharaoh stood in front of Karnak's first pylon along with five others. Four of these colossi depict the king standing and the two others sitting.

During the fourth century AD, Waziri said, the colossi were subjected to damages by a destructive earthquake. Their blocks were selected and placed in wooden shelters on the first pylon's western side.

In 2016, the ministry decided to restore and reconstruct one of these statues. Luxor governorate has supported the project by providing the materials needed for restoration.

The statue is carved in gray granite, weighs 65 tons and stands 10.8 metres tall. 
UK's Continued Suspension of Flights to Sharm El-Sheikh 'Unjustified': FM Shoukry to Johnson
Ahram Online
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told his British counterpart on Saturday that the UK's continued suspension of direct flights to Egypt’s Sharm El-Sheikh resort city was “unjustified and incomprehensible.”

Shoukry made the comments during a meeting with the UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who visited Egypt for the first time as foreign secretary last week to boost Egypt-UK relations, and hold talks on several regional issues of common interest.

In an official statement by Egypt’s foreign ministry on Saturday, spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Shoukry pointed to Cairo's major accomplishments in improving airport security, according to measures agreed on by the two countries and international standards of airport security.

“A continuation of flight suspension to Egyptian tourist destinations despite the progress made in airport security is unjustified and affects the core of the economy and the main source of living for millions of citizens who rely on the sector's revenues,” Shoukry said.

He described the British decision as inconsistent with Britain’s repeated promises to support Egypt.

The UK has repeatedly stated its support for Egypt, especially in the field of fighting terrorism. In statements ahead of his visit, Johnson described Britain as a “longstanding friend” and a “champion of a renewed Egypt."

Egyptian tourism, a pillar of the country's economy and a key source of hard currency, has taken a blow since the crash of a Russian passenger plane in Sinai October 2014, which left all 224 passengers dead.

Sharm El-Sheikh's economy is believed to have suffered the most, especially following Moscow's suspension of direct flights to Egypt in November 2015.

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for downing the plane.

Egyptian investigations into the cause of the crash are still on-going.

A number of European countries that had suspended flights to Sharm El-Sheikh in 2015 recently allowed direct flights to the South Sinai tourist hotspot to resume. The UK -- a major source of tourists for Egypt -- has yet to follow suit.

Egypt’s revenues from tourism dropped from $6.1 billion in 2015 to $3.4 billion in 2016, according to statements by Central Bank of Egypt Governor Tarek Amer in January.
Egypt FM Heads to Washington DC for Talks With US Officials 
Mahmoud Aziz
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to the United States on Sunday for talks with US officials, state news agency MENA reported.

Shoukry is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Raymond McMaster, as well as some leading representatives from Congress.

During his visit, Shoukry will discuss preparations for President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's upcoming visit to the US to meet with President Donald Trump, which would be the first meeting between an Egyptian and US president in years.

The last official meeting in Washington between the countries' two presidents came between former presidents Hosni Mubarak and George W. Bush in 2004.

Cooperation between Egypt and the new U.S. administration is expected to deepen. Rhetoric from both sides since Trump's election has been warm, in contrast to relations under the administration of Barack Obama, which grew strained after the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013.

In reaction to the ouster, which it described as a "military coup," the Obama administration temporariily suspended US military aid to Egypt. The administration,however,resumed it in 2015, amid growing threats of terrorism in the region.

El-Sisi was the first president to congratulate Trump on his election in November 2016.

The two leaders met in September last year on the sidelines of 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly held in New York, when Trump was running for the presidential post.

Trump described his meeting with El-Sisi as "productive and great.”
Britain Agrees $150 Million Loan Guarantee to Egypt on Visit
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Britain on Saturday finalized a $150 million loan guarantee to Egypt, where Boris Johnson was on his first visit to the country as Foreign Secretary and as a human rights organization urged him to speak about what they described as "appalling" abuses.

In a statement, the Foreign Office said Johnson and President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed British support for Egypt's economy including joint work on aviation security, anti-terrorism efforts, and work to resolve regional conflicts especially in Libya and Syria, adding that human rights and the benefits of a free society to promote stability and economic growth were mentioned.

"The UK and Egypt have many shared interests, we are Egypt's top economic partner and strong allies against terrorism and extremist ideas," Johnson said in the statement. "I look forward to continuing to strengthen the close relationship between our two countries."

Earlier, the human rights organization Reprieve urged Johnson to speak about the abuses it described, including the case of Irish national Ibrahim Halawa, who was 17 when arrested and imprisoned in Cairo in 2013. Halawa was detained in a mosque near Ramses Square as the Muslim Brotherhood held a "day of rage" over the ouster of the Islamist Mohamed Morsi.

Reprieve's Harriet McCulloch had implored Johnson to "urge El-Sisi to end these appalling abuses, and free Ibrahim and the many like him." No mention of Halawa was made in Johnson's statement.

Before the visit, Johnson said "the U.K. is a champion of a renewed Egypt because stability, peace and growth in this region are the bedrock of opportunity and security."

Britain also pledged to boost university partnerships and teacher training, increase funding of economic development and social welfare programs, and increase funding new and existing social startups.

Egypt is undergoing painful economic adjustments as part of El-Sisi's economic reform measures, with inflation hitting 30 percent in January in a climate where state repression and mass arrests have blocked off most forms of dissent or opposition.

Johnson and his Egyptian counterparts did not make themselves available for questions by the media following the meeting.

*This story has been edited by Ahram Online
Tunisia Nears Political Crisis As Opposition to Cabinet Reshuffle Mounts 
Karem Yehia
Sunday 26 Feb 2017

Tunisia is on the verge of a political crisis -- the most dangerous since the formation of a national unity government last summer -- following a limited Saturday cabinet reshuffle that sacked a minister and a former leader of the country's prominent Tunisian General Labour Union.

Immediately after the sackings were announced, the union called an urgent meeting on Sunday -- an official holiday in Tunisia -- to discuss the conflict.

The union is one of the largest in the country and one of the most influential in domestic affairs.

The syndicate is a signatory to the Carthage Declaration, which sets out the policy priorities of the national unity government. The consensus document was suggested by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi last summer and led to the formation of the government.

As an organisation, the union generally rejects having direct representatives in any cabinet; however, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed's government has employed two of the union's leaders: Abid Briki, minister of public functions, who was removed from his post on Saturday, and Mohamed El-Tarabolsi, minister of social affairs.

The reshuffle can be traced to a demand on the part of the union's newly appointed Secretary-General Nour Eddin El-Tabouby calling for the resignation of the education minister, in solidarity with demands by the teachers syndicate and in response to the government’s refusal to negotiate on raising the wages of private sector workers.

In the hours following the reshuffle, the union leaders called for escalation against the government, while the widely circulated Shrouk newspaper ran the headline "fears of breakdown in national unity."

Expelled minister Briki appeared on a TV programme to attack El-Chahed's government policies, threatening to reveal corruption cases he said had been presented before the government but were all ignored.

Chahed has appointed Ahmed Adhoum and Khalil Ghariani, as ministers of religious affairs and public functions, respectively, following the sackings.

The reshuffle did not include the minister of education, despite calls to expel him in light of his latest dispute with the teachers syndicate.

Sources in the Tunisian General Labour Union considered the appointment of Ghariani, a prominent leader in the Businessmen Union, to succeed Briki as a provocative act.

Some Tunisia watchers have said the reshuffle could empower the country’s Ennahda Islamist party in the government, by also expelling Faisal El Hafyan, former deputy minister of trade.

Reports suggested this move favoured the Secretary-General of Ennahda Ziad El-Azari, with whom El-Hafyan had a recent political and media feud.
Imperialist States Which Destroyed Libya Issues Joint Statement 
From Government of France, Government of the United Kingdom, Government of Italy, Government of the United States of America, Government of Germany, Government of Spain Published on 25 Feb 2017 —View Original

The Ambassadors of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States reiterate our commitment to preserving the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and national cohesion of Libya and our support for the Libyan Political Agreement of 17 December 2015 as the basis for an inclusive political solution of the current conflicts. We continue to support the Presidency Council as the legitimate governing body, recognised as such by UNSCR 2259. We continue to stand by UNSMIL’s efforts to address the political, security, economic and institutional crises facing the country.‎

We condemn the clashes which took place in Tripoli on February 23 and 24, as well as the indiscriminate use of violence against the Libyan people across Libya.

We welcome the cease-fire reached between the forces on the ground in the Abu Selim neighbourhood of the Capital, thanks to the intervention by the Presidency Council, and we reiterate that the use of force is the sole prerogative of State institutions and its security forces.

We condemn the use of violence and any threat levelled against Prime Minister Sarraj and Libyan institutions, as was the case in the attack of February 20th 2017.

We further call on all parties to cease violent acts which result in the loss of civilian lives, and undermine the prospects for political and social reconciliation of the country.

We reaffirm our position that Libyans should decide their own future, and we stand ready to support their efforts to build a strong, prosperous, and unified Libya and implement the Libyan Political Agreement’s vision for a peaceful transition to a new, elected government.
Libya Neo-colonial Regimes Announces Ceasefire After Tripoli Clashes
2017-02-25 19:30

Tripoli - A ceasefire went into force early on Saturday in the Libyan capital after two days of fighting between rival gunmen injured nine people and forced residents to cower indoors, the government said.

The fighting between two rival armed groups in eastern Tripoli erupted on Thursday after one accused the other of kidnapping four of its members, the Tripoli-based news agency LANA reported.

It said families trapped in the conflict zone of Abu Slim appealed to the authorities to intervene to halt the violence which closed down the city centre.

The UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) said it had successfully brokered a ceasefire between the two groups, with help from town elders from Tarhuna and Gharian south of Tripoli.

An agreement has been reached to set up three committees to follow up on the accord, the GNA said in a statement released overnight.

One committee will be tasked with enforcing the ceasefire, another consisting of health ministry officials will follow up the condition of those wounded and the third will assess damage, the statement said.

The Libyan Red Crescent on Friday said nine people had been injured in the fighting. There was no official casualty toll.

LANA said the fighting with heavy weapons in the centre of Tripoli erupted on Thursday and raged throughout the day. A truce was reached, but quickly collapsed and clashes continued on Friday.

Residents caught in the crossfire said their homes were shaken by the sound of exploding rockets, as columns of smoke rose from the zone of fighting while tanks and trucks mounted with heavy anti-aircraft guns moved in the zone.

"Two apartments in housing blocks on the airport road were hit by rockets. I can see columns of smoke," local resident Nuria al-Mosbahi told AFP on Friday.

A convoy carrying GNA chief Fayez al-Sarraj came under heavy gunfire near the Abu Slim sector on Monday, but he and other top officials with him survived unharmed.

Libya has been submerged in chaos since the Pentagon-NATO engineered overthrow of longtime Revolutionary Pan-Africanist leader Moammar Gaddafi in 2011.

Sarraj's fragile GNA, formed under a UN-backed deal signed in late 2015, has struggled to impose its authority, particularly in eastern Libya where a rival administration holds sway.

UN envoy German career diplomat Martin Kobler has deplored the fighting and called, in an online statement, for "calm, dialogue and the protection of civilians".
Neo-Colonial Regimes Impose Travel Ban in Libya
2/24/17 AT 6:02 AM

The military administration in eastern Libya has banned men and women between the ages of 18 and 45 from traveling abroad without explicit permission, a week after introducing a ban on women traveling alone.

The chief of staff in the eastern Libyan government, Abdel-Razek al-Nadhouri, said the measure was imposed to prevent people from joining terrorist networks abroad, the BBC reported.

Libyans who wish to to travel outside the country will now require permits from the ministry of interior or intelligence agency in the administration.

Libya disaster anniversary

Some Libyans took part in a celebration marking the sixth anniversary of the Pentagon and NATO-engineered counter-revolution, which toppled revolutionary Pan-Africanist Muammar el-Qaddafi, in Benghazi on February 17. Since Qaddafi's demise, Libya has been split by rival neo-colonial regimes.

Libya has several rival juntas competing for power: There is a U.N.-backed administration, known as the Government of National Accord, based in Tripoli, while the eastern government is backed by the Libyan army and overseen by Khalifa Haftar, a top military general and CIA asset. A third administration has recently emerged in Tripoli, calling itself the National Salvation Government.

Al-Nadhouri announced an order on February 16 banning women under 60 from traveling abroad without a male companion. The chief of staff said women were being used as spies under the guise of working for civil society groups, but women’s rights activists in Libya denounced the move.

The eastern government backtracked and suspended the order on Tuesday, following a meeting between al-Nadhouri and the director of eastern Libya’s civil society commission, Abir Mneina, the BBC reported. But now the eastern administration has broadened the scope of travel restrictions in the country.

Since the toppling of former African Union Chairperson Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in a state of instability, with rival factions competing for political control and militias multiplying across the country. The chaos has allowed militant groups to take root in the country, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS,) although forces allied to the U.N.-backed Tripoli government recently liberated the coastal city of Sirte, which was ISIS’s main stronghold in Libya.
Aid Group: 13 Migrants Suffocate in Libya Shipping Container
By Maggie Michael 
AP February 23

CAIRO — Thirteen African migrants suffocated inside a shipping container while being transported over four days between two Libyan towns, a Red Crescent official said Thursday.

Osama al-Fadly, head of the Red Crescent in Libya, told The Associated Press that the deceased were among 69 migrants, many from Mali, who were packed into the container.

The locked container was transported from the central town of Bani Walid to Khoms in western Libya, from where the migrants were to be taken across the Mediterranean.

Instead, the traffickers unloaded the human cargo near an anti-trafficking force in Khoms on Tuesday. Al-Fadly said the deaths occurred Monday.

Al-Fadly said many of the survivors had their limbs broken when they were thrown out of the container. A 5-year-old girl was among the survivors. Two of the victims are aged 13 and 14, respectively, he said.

On its official Facebook page, the Red Crescent in Khoms posted pictures for the survivors, some of them with their arms in bandages, swollen eyes and bruises. The bodies of the victims were lined up, covered with bed covers, and then moved to black plastic bags that the Red Crescent marked with names and numbers of those who were identified by fellow migrants.

The tragedy is one of the latest in Libya, where human trafficking has thrived amid lawlessness in this North African country since the 2011 downfall of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Competing governments based in eastern and western Libya rely on militias to maintain security and order. However, the militias gradually grew in number and weaponry and some have become involved in human trafficking.

Rights groups say migrants traversing Libya have been tortured, raped and subjected to forced labor. With the summer approaching, the number of migrants trying to cross the sea spikes and deaths become more frequent.

Earlier this week, dozens of migrants washed ashore at the western Libyan city of Zawiya after their rubber boat lost its engine. A survivor told the aid group that more than 100 people drowned in stormy weather.

The Libya-to-Italy smuggling route across the Mediterranean has seen record numbers of migrant drownings in 2016, Fabrice Leggeri, director of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, said last week. Some 4,579 migrant deaths were documented in 2016, up from 2,869 deaths the previous year and 3,161 in 2014. The real number of deaths is believed to be much higher.

More than 180,000 people made the crossing last year, an increase of 17 percent from 2015.
Bodies of 27 Migrants Recovered in West Libya, 13 in Shipping Container
By Reuters For Citizen Digital
25 February 2017

Bodies of 27 migrants recovered in west Libya, 13 in shipping container

Members of the Red Crescent remove the dead bodies of unidentified people after being found buried in Ganfouda district in Benghazi, Libya, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori

The bodies of 27 migrants have been recovered in Western Libya, 13 of whom died of suffocation in a shipping container, the Red Crescent said on Thursday.

The migrants found in the container appear to have been locked inside it for several days as it was transported to the coast at Khoms, where they were to attempt to cross the Mediterranean towards Europe, the Red Crescent said in a statement.

Fifty-six migrants were rescued from the container, some suffering from serious injuries and fractures, the statement said.

Another 14 migrant bodies were recovered from the sea near the coastal town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, on Thursday, while some 124 migrants were rescued in the area, a local Red Crescent spokesman said.

Libya has become the main gateway for migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. A record 181,000 migrants reached Italy along the route last year.

Within Libya, migrant smugglers operate with impunity, and migrants are subjected to a wide range of abuses, including rape, torture and forced labour.

Earlier this week the bodies of 74 migrants were found on the shore near Zawiya, another town west of Tripoli. The local coast guard said smugglers had stolen the engine from their boat.
Haftar and Sarraj in Cairo: The Details of Egypt’s Sham Libyan 'Unity' Summit
 Asmahan Soliman and Hossam Bahgat
February 25, 2017

While Libyan National Army General Khalifa Haftar and the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) Fayez al-Sarraj did travel to Cairo last week to work toward a resolution to the ongoing conflict in Libya, Egypt had to exert significant effort to ensure the meeting even occurred, according to a source in the Egyptian government close to the matter.

Despite reports that Haftar, Egypt’s ally and one of the key military forces in Libya aligned with the Tobruk government, and Sarraj, the United Nations-backed head of the GNA’s Presidential Council, failed to meet one another while in Cairo on February 13 and 14, the Egyptian official confirms that they in fact met twice.

Despite reports that Haftar and Sarraj failed to meet in Cairo, an Egyptian official confirms that they met twice.

Sarraj, Haftar and Egyptian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy — who heads the Egyptian committee on Libya — met briefly on the first day to “break the ice.” This was followed by a second, longer meeting at the Egyptian Defense Ministry that included Hegazy, Sarraj, Haftar and Tobruk House of Representatives (HoR) Speaker Aguila Saleh, who arrived in Cairo on the morning of the second day.

Despite these meetings, Haftar refused to hold direct talks with Sarraj, according to remarks both sides gave to the press. It was a stance that forced Hegazy and Egyptian officials to conduct indirect negotiations.

At the end of the two-day meeting, Egypt’s hopes for a trilateral declaration were dashed. The three Libyan leaders requested further time to speak with their allies within Libya and refused to release a joint statement, which Egypt had intended to introduce as an official document titled “Cairo Understandings” that would have served as a future cornerstone in resolving the power struggle into which Libya was plunged amid the political and security vacuum left by the imperialist-backed Libyan counter-revolution and subsequent overthrow and brutal assassination of former President Muammar Qadhafi.

Egypt was thus forced to release a brief statement, which the Libyan parties insisted should be drafted to reflect Egypt’s view of their stances rather than any mutually accepted commitments.

Released through Egypt’s Defense Ministry, the statement affirmed “the continuation of Egyptian efforts with Libyan counterparts to end the political deadlock.” It is careful to articulate that it only represents what Egypt “determined” to be the common ground shared by Libya’s leaders that “could be translated” into subsequent steps, including the formation of a joint committee composed of members from the HoR and Tripoli-based High Council of State tasked with reviewing amendments to the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) — the agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco and brokered by the UN in December 2015 that created the GNA. Once the amendments are approved, the Tobruk government would then give a vote of confidence to the GNA, which would be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections no later than February 2018. The heads of the LNA, HoR and GNA would remain in their current positions pending the new elections.

The Libyan Political Agreement

The United Nations-sponsored Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) was signed in Skhirat, Morocco in December 2015 and created the Government of National Accord (GNA) presided over by the nine-member Presidential Council led by Fayez al-Sarraj, a former parliamentarian who was living in exile in Tunis before the GNA was formed. After holding its first meeting in Tunis on January 8, the GNA entered Tripoli in March. The following month, the Tripoli-based General National Congress announced in accord with the LPA that it would “transfer its authority” to the newly formed High Council of the State, which would function as an adviser to the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) and consist of 145 members, most of whom are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions. However, the HoR gave the GNA a vote of no confidence and refused to introduce constitutional amendments to ratify the LPA.

A half successful attempt

In the absence of an announced meeting and a joint statement, the talks in Cairo did not produce any tangible change in the Libyan leaders’ positions, excepting the suggestion to form a joint committee to review amendments to the LPA, which Egyptian officials who participated in the talks told Reuters that Haftar and Sarraj agreed to.

“The two sides have agreed. I have doubts about the implementation as the atmosphere between them is … tense but we hope the opposite happens,” one official said.

Even before the meeting in Cairo last week, the possibility for a resolution in the Libyan conflict had increasingly been hitched to amendments to the LPA, both within the country and internationally.

Egypt’s aims for the Cairo meeting were not limited to direct negotiations and the issuance of a joint statement.

Nonetheless, Egypt’s aims for the Cairo meeting were not limited to direct negotiations between Haftar and Sarraj and the issuance of a joint statement.

According to Egyptian officials who spoke with Mada Masr earlier this month, Egypt had set three principal aims for the two-day meeting, some of which appear to have been successful. First, the Egyptian government intended to reassert itself as the most important Arab actor in Libya after a prolonged absence. Second, Egypt intended to ensure that any potential resolution to the Libyan conflict be carried out under its supervision and enhance Haftar and Saleh’s position when necessary.

Egypt’s third focus centered on limiting the influence of international parties on the resolution discussions and enhancing the role of countries neighboring Libya. There was also a desire to change a perception which has emerged of Egypt that paints it as a biased party and stumbling block on the road to reconciliation, due to its military and political support of Haftar and his allies.

Time was of paramount importance for Egypt in pursuit of these ends, according to government sources. Egyptian officials moved quickly to invite all counterparts, despite Haftar’s tarrying and a lack of any firm commitment from any other parties. The haste was tied to a number of reasons but principally to Egypt’s wish to hold the meeting before the annual Arab League summit — which will take place in Jordan at the end of March — so that it could introduce a resolution consolidating new agreements and then garner unilateral Arab support from those countries that support Haftar and Saleh (Egypt and the United Arab Emirates) and the government of Sarraj (Algeria, Tunisia and Qatar).

Additionally, Egypt wanted to emphasize its role within an initiative launched by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, which envisaged holding a trilateral summit between Egyptian, Tunisian and Algerian officials in Algiers.

The trilateral initiative was celebrated in an editorial published in Egypt’s state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper on February 20 titled “Egyptian-Algerian-Tunisia Troika,” which reiterated multiple times that Egypt does not intend to take over control of the Libyan reconciliation process.

Time was also a crucial element in the international calculus, amid fears that the escalation in the militarization of the conflict between the East and West governments could open a proxy war between Russia, which supports Haftar, and NATO, who announced last week that it is prepared to offer military support to Sarraj.

Restless bedfellows: Haftar and Egypt

The Egyptian government official and European diplomats in Cairo say that Haftar initially attempted to avoid participating in the Cairo meeting altogether and then was slow to agree on a specific date. As late as one week before the meeting was to be held, Haftar had to tried to back out, according to the Egyptian government official, before submitting to Egyptian and Russian pressures and arriving in Cairo late on Monday February 13.

European diplomats in Cairo, who spoke to Mada Masr over the last two weeks, say that Haftar had expressed discomfort at a tangible yet limited change in Egypt’s position centered on an increasing openness to the primary two parties in the conflict and illustrated by having hosted delegations from the Tripoli and Tobruk governments.

Egypt possesses a degree of resentment for Haftar due to what officials feel is his retreat from the basic understandings that had been integral to their provision of support to him.

Sarraj travelled to Egypt in mid-January on a visit that, according to diplomatic sources, secured an agreement to hold a meeting Haftar under Egyptian sponsorship. Following the meeting in Cairo, Sarraj made a series of positive public remarks that appeared to dissipate tension with the LNA leader ahead of an Egyptian-led summit.

In a speech at a meeting of the African Union’s High Level Committee on Libya, held in Brazzaville, Sarraj praised the LNA for its fight against the Islamic State and near liberation of Benghazi. The head of the Presidential Council then petitioned the African Union and international community to take immediate measures to lift the arms embargo on Libya and to offer technical support in training security and military forces.

Haftar, however, seemed to attempt to disrupt Egypt’s plans for reconciliation, as his media office published a statement on the same day as the Brazzaville summit that denied that there were any preparations for a joint meeting between him and Sarraj in Cairo or anywhere else.

Egyptian and European sources, however, confirmed that a prompt Russian intervention forced Haftar to attend the Cairo talks in the end.

While Egypt continues to support Haftar and has worked to guarantee a larger political role for him in Libya’s future, a European diplomat in Cairo says that the Egyptian government is no longer “solely obsessed with” the removal of Islamists from Libya. Egypt is increasingly aware that the LNA will be unable to impose its control over western Libya, in light of the continued arms embargo and in the face of strong opposition from militias loyal to the GNA, most notably in north western Misrata.

The role of Khalifa Haftar

The current and future role of Khalifa Haftar is one of the primary points of contention between the Government of National Accord in the west and the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR). The disagreement is evident in the fact that the Libyan Political Agreement does not acknowledge any role for Haftar and grants Fayez al-Sarraj the power to appoint the head of a national Libyan military. However, the HoR wants to maintain authority over any future military coalition, which it insists Haftar should head with HoR Speaker Aguila Saleh taking on the post of supreme commander of the armed forces. Haftar, who supported Muammar Qadhafi until he announced he announced his split from the former president while living in exile in the United States, is currently at the head of the Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA launched Operation Dignity in March 2014 and has since taken control of Benghazi and most of eastern Libya from the Islamic State and other Islamist factions with the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Haftar cemented his position as a significant political force after he seized control four key oil ports — including Ras Lanuf — on Libya’s east coast from the Petroleum National Guard (PNG) in September 2016.
The change in Egypt’s position is most notable in the statements it has issued concerning Libya over the last two months, repeatedly confirming, on one hand, the need to maintain the unity of the Libyan state and regional security, and rejecting any move to marginalize other actors in the conflict on the other.

This posture was reiterated in the Tunis Declaration which Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Tunisian and Algerian counterparts signed earlier this week. Many Islamist factions, including the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Justice and Construction Party and the Salafi leader and head of the Islamist Al-Watan Party Abdelhakim Belhadj, have responded to this change in position with qualified support for Egypt’s efforts to secure reconciliation.

“Haftar promised to provide Russia a naval base on the Mediterranean, probably in Barca, in return for increased Russian military support to Haftar.”

On the other hand, the Egyptian government official says that Egypt possesses a degree of frustration with Haftar due to what officials feel is his retreat from the basic understandings that had been integral to their provision of support to him. Haftar “rushed” to strengthen broad military cooperation with Russia without enough consultation with Cairo, the official says, despite Egypt having offered to facilitate between the two parties.

Further, the official believes that Egypt is being sidelined in the talks between Moscow and Haftar on a range of issues.

“Haftar promised to provide Russia a naval base on the Mediterranean, probably in Barca, in return for increased Russian military support to Haftar in order to allow him to increase the land under his territorial control. [This would also entail] a promise by Russia to secure American and European approval to guarantee a role for Haftar in any future political arrangements in Libya,” he says.

Haftar visited Moscow twice in the last year and boarded the Russian aircraft carrier the Admiral Kuznetsov in January, after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the ship to anchor off Libyan shores as it made its way back from a mission to support Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. On board, Haftar held a video conference call with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, in what is the most publicly visible sign of Russia’s increasing support for Haftar.

Trump enters the fray

Any frustration felt toward Haftar did not prevent Egypt from attempting to secure support from the United States for him, as US and Libyan sources revealed last week that there had been “undeclared efforts exerted by Egypt to establish direct relations and contacts between Haftar and the new US administration led by President Donald Trump, which is reconsidering how to deal with Haftar as the strongman in Libya.”

The Egyptian official news agency prominently highlighted the remarks that Trump’s Middle East campaign advisor Walid Phares gave to the local “Libya Al-Hadath” television channel earlier this week, reporting that Phares said, “The Trump administration will deal with the national Libyan military institution led by General Haftar. This army is the one officially acknowledged by the administration, despite international political disagreements and suggestions to build another army.”

Phares’s comments represent a potential change in the US position on Haftar, as the previous US administration had offered military support to militias supporting Sarraj in their battle against the Islamic State in Sirte last year.

“There is a preliminary understanding between generals in Cairo and in Washington on how to address the situation in Libya.”

In a similar direction, another Egyptian source close to the issue tells Mada Masr that Egypt’s attempts to steer reconciliation efforts between Libyan players coincide with a possible meeting in Washington DC between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Trump.

“There is a preliminary understanding between generals in Cairo and in Washington on how to address the situation in Libya, as the final common target between Cairo, Washington and Moscow is to quash all militias with an Islamist background. Not only the Islamic State, but every militia similar to it: everyone without exception,” the source says.

According to two Egyptian diplomatic sources, the United States has openly asked Egypt to participate in a military force to intervene in Libya, but Egypt has responded that the Egyptian Armed Forces “would not show enthusiasm” at the prospect of the continued presence of ground forces in the neighboring country. Egypt has also stated that it prefers to direct any intervention through joint African-Arab peacekeeping forces, with the condition that these forces would be mandated by the UN to intervene “when necessary” without having to set up a prolonged presence inside Libya.

The Libyan issue will surely occupy a primary position in Shoukry’s diplomatic visit to Washington DC on February 26, a visit that also aims to secure an official invitation for Sisi to travel to the White House.

Translated by Mai Shams El-Din
J.C. Penney to Close 130 to 140 Stores, Sales Dip
Feb 24, 2017 12:28 p.m. ET
Market Watch

Add J.C. Penney Co. to the growing list of American retailers that will shrink to survive a shift away from traditional stores.

The 114-year-old chain, which had avoided mass closings despite years of losses, said it would shut as many as 140 of its roughly 1,000 stores by June. The company said it was also offering a voluntary buyout program to 6,000 of its employees.

Penney on Friday eked out its first annual profit since 2010, but executives said they were closing weaker stores so they could focus their investments on revamping those in stronger markets. Penney said it would identify the locations that are set to close next month, though executives said many were smaller stores in rural locations.

The company joins a parade of traditional chains announcing plans to close locations this year after struggling to draw shoppers during the holiday season as more shopping moves online. Macy's Inc. has plans to close 100 locations and is exploring options for the rest of its real estate, while Sears Holdings Corp. is closing 108 Kmart and 42 Sears stores.

Analysts have said that hundreds of department stores are likely to close, especially in weaker and older malls as they lose business to online rivals such as Inc. as well as off-price retailers like TJX Cos. This week the parent of TJ Maxx and Marshall's said it would open about 1,800 stores -- about a 50% increase from its current base.

Penney Chief Executive Marvin Ellison said the closings will allow Penney to adjust its business to "effectively compete against the growing threat of online retailers." He said the remaining store base gives Penney an advantage since the locations can be used to ship or pick up online orders, minimizing delivery costs. In 2016, about 77% of Penney's online orders touched a physical store.

In an interview, Mr. Ellison acknowledged that smartphones are changing how people shop, giving them greater transparency on pricing and less reason to browse different areas of department stores. But he said the department-store model is "not broken. We just have to adjust."

In 2016, while retail sales rose across the board, online retailers took much of the spoils. During the year, spending rose 11% at online retailers and fell almost 6% at department stores, according to Commerce Department figures.

The closings were necessary, analysts said, even though it will make it harder for Penney to capture business it might have gained from Sears or others that were closing in the same malls or nearby locations. "The company is now making the right moves with its real estate," analysts at Citi wrote in a note to clients.

Shares of Penney fell 9% to $6.25. The stock has now dropped 25% this year, leaving a market cap of less than $2 billion for a business that booked revenue of $12.55 billion last fiscal year but just $1 million of profit.

Mr. Ellison, a former Home Depot Inc. executive, took over the company in August 2015 and has been trying to reduce its reliance on apparel by adding Sephora boutiques inside its stores and more items for the home, such as appliances. The company has been trying to recover ground lost to a failed overhaul by former CEO Ron Johnson, who upended its pricing strategy and offerings in an effort to make the chain more hip.

During the quarter ended Jan. 31, the company's same-store sales fell 0.7%, compared with 4.1% growth in the previous year's period. Penney expects the metric to be down 1% to up 1% for the year.

In all for the fourth quarter, Penney posted a profit of $192 million, or 61 cents a share, compared with a loss of $131 million, or 43 cents, the prior year. Revenue slipped 0.9% to $3.96 billion.

Penney's results cap a week in which chains such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. recorded strong sales growth but department store operators including Macy's and Kohl's Corp. reported lower revenue and profits.

Unlike its rivals, Kohl's executive said they had no plans for mass closings at the 1,150-store chain. On Thursday, CEO Kevin Mansell said Kohl's will instead focus on lowering inventories, remodeling locations and shrinking its footprint by relocating some weaker stores into smaller locations.

The dwindling visits to U.S. shopping centers even caught up with Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, two retail stalwarts that previously shrugged off the trend. L Brands Inc., which owns the two brands, warned its profits could fall nearly 25% this year, sending its stock tumbling Thursday.

But another mall giant, Gap Inc., posted higher comparable quarterly sales for the first time in two years. "If you read the headlines today, you'll see the words dead, dying, sick. We are none of those," CEO Art Peck told investors late Thursday. "We are healthy and strong and have a plan and clear direction."

Write to Anne Steele at
Anti-Trump Protest Includes Talk of Revolution
Erik Larsen , @Erik_Larsen
9:29 p.m. ET Feb. 25, 2017

Anti-Trump protest outside Toms River Town Hall by the organization, "Our Revolution," which is trying to create a Tea Party-like movement on the left. Erik Larsen, Asbury Park Press

Toms River Protest
(Photo: Erik Larsen, Asbury Park Press)

TOMS RIVER - Passionate followers of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and other anti-Trump protesters disappointed in the defeat of Hillary Clinton, put establishment Democrats in the state of New Jersey on notice Saturday: We're coming for you next.

A peaceful protest took place in the morning and afternoon that started on foot at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church on Hooper Avenue and continued south along Hooper Avenue to Town Hall on Washington Street, a distance of about one mile.

A national organization founded as a spin-off of the Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, entitled, "Our Revolution," had organized a day of local protests, demonstrations, rallies and speeches across the country on Saturday.

In Toms River, their first stop was at St. Joseph's. The organization had stated on its website that Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. was expected to be speaking inside. Protesters rallied outside the parish center before making the 15-minute walk to the municipal building, which was closed, but where Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J. maintains a local field office inside. Once there, several community organizers and representatives of progressive organizations took turns addressing a crowd of more than 100 people over a public address system.

Richard McFarland, a devoted follower of Sanders, and a former Democratic congressional candidate in New Jersey's 11th district in North Jersey, urged those Democrats present to run for their Democratic county committees.

McFarland said he met Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last July and told him that he served on his county committee in Passaic County and that Weaver had offered him some revolutionary-like advice.

"I thought he was going to tell me motions to make and things to do, and what he told me instantly was, 'take it over, take over your county committee and then go back and take over all the other county committees in your state. Then take over the state,'" McFarland recalled. "The Democratic county committee is a basic legislative body of the Democratic Party, it is where the rules are made and where the leaders are chosen. Now if you're not happy with the way the Democratic Party is going right now and I don't know if there is anyone here who is happy with it."

He said the Democratic Party leadership had lets its members and the American people down in election cycle after election cycle.

"We've lost the Congress," he said. "We've lost the White House and now we're about to lose the Supreme Court, I would say that's a complete and total catastrophe. ... We got to this catastrophe because you are not a part of the leadership. ... Ultimately what we have to do is take over the Democratic Party and the way we're going to do that is that everybody has to run for the inside fight — we all have to run for the county Democratic committee."

Nancy Lawrence, 64, Toms River, did not necessarily come to start a revolution. A retired history teacher, Lawrence expressed concern about the rhetoric that has been coming out of the administration of President Donald Trump, particularly his unrelenting attacks against the media.

"You know what, I hate to say it, I taught history, but that was one of the first things (Adolf) Hitler did," Lawrence said. "He delegitimized the press ... I don't want to say much more. It's scary, scary, very scary."

James Moffat, 65, of Englishtown, said he had come because he believes in the principles being espoused here. He said he fears that Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress will ultimately repeal Obamacare, but eventually Social Security and Medicare too.

"We have to be sure he doesn't take away our healthcare and our benefits," Moffat said.

Lawrence, who was listening, agreed. She said if left unchecked, the Republicans may replace Medicare with vouchers.

That is unacceptable, she said.

"What we need is universal healthcare, every other industrialized country has that, and what a shame that we don't," Lawrence said.

Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359 or

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Tunisia to Participate in Joint Military Exercises With France, U.S. and Germany
Tunis — The Tunisian army has scheduled a series of joint military exercises in 2017, with the collaboration of some European countries and the United States, Belhassen Oueslati, spokesman of Tunisian Defense Ministry, said on Thursday.

The spokesman confirmed that these military exercises will cover separate periods in 2017 and different regions of the country, while some of them will be held abroad.

Among the countries participating in these military exercises are France, the U.S. and Germany, in addition to the presence of international observers from Spain and the Netherlands.

According to Oueslati, these exercises will include joint land and air operations between the Tunisian army and different participating units.

"These exercises are part of the Tunisian military institution efforts in order to promote and develop its offensive and defensive capacities facing potential challenges, notably the fight against terrorism," said Oueslati.

The Tunisian army had previously participated in similar exercises including those in Mauritania in 2013, Chad in 2014, Niger in 2015 and Senegal in 2016.

Somalia: The Forgotten War on Terror
10:48 25.02.2017
Andrew Korybko
Sputnik International

The capital of the war-torn state of Somalia was once again attacked by a devastating car bomb just days after the inauguration of President Mohamed, briefly propelling the country to global attention.

This isn’t by any means the first time that violence has ripped through Mogadishu, and it probably won’t be the last, but what’s different about this attack is that it came right after the country finally seemed to be back on the path of stabilization. The election of President Mohamed gave the international community hope that he could strengthen Mogadishu’s authority over the countryside and bring all of Somalia’s parties together in advancing the federal solution outlined in the 2012 constitution. In spite of the high hopes that the rest of the world has pinned on Somalia, however, there appears to be comparatively less commitment in helping it reach these goals.

Many people remember the months-long news about the rise of piracy off of the Somali coast and the subsequent naval deployments that many countries ordered in response to this threat a handful of years ago, but that was the last time that the international community ever lent considerable assistance to the country, and even then the motives of several players during that time were questionable. The African Union leads a so-called peacekeeping force in Somalia, but it’s been unable to stem the growth of the Daesh-linked terrorist group Al Shabaab, which has been suspected of carrying out the latest car bombing. This organization also threatens the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Kenya, two of Africa’s most promising economies but each with their own challenges when it comes to the Somali minority within their respective borders.

The UAE and Turkey are also involved, too, as both of them have or are in the process of acquiring military bases in the country. Last but not least, one shouldn’t overlook the role played by the US over the years, whether it was through the disastrous conventional military deployment in the 1990s or the intermittent drone strikes and commando raids that its unleashed on the country since then. While it usually doesn’t make the global news much, this strategic state positioned in the Horn of Africa and along the maritime trade route linking Europe and Asia is extraordinarily important for geopolitical reasons, and that’s why the impact of Somalia’s forgotten War on Terror can easily reverberate far past its own shores.

Bischara Ali, political analyst from Somalia and the executive director of The Horn of Africa Center for Strategic & International Studies Center, and Aaron D. Chiroma, of the University of Jos (Nigeria) and freelance writer, commented on the issue.
Somalia Faces Unprecedented Drought
February 21, 2017 8:07 AM

Even the hyenas won't eat the carcasses of Mohamed Aden Guleid's sheep, goats and camels, which litter the landscape in Somalia's northwest Somaliland region.

There is too little meat on their bones because of a devastating drought.

“I had 550 of these livestock; now only 50 of my livestock remain,” he said. “My family contains 10 members, and I must provide for them.”

Herds of animals are dying across Somalia following two failed rainy seasons. Here in Somaliland, at least 40 percent of goats and sheep have perished, amounting to more than 10 million animals.

Herders wait for water trucks

If April's rains fail again, the people who have depended on these animals for generations may be next. The United Nations warns of famine, and says more than 6 million people need food aid already in all of Somalia. Forty have died so far in Somaliland, according to the National Drought Committee.

Those seeking respite from the drought trek for days to towns in hopes of finding food and water.

Aid agencies and the government send water trucks to fill dried out wells, and each morning, dozens of herders with hundreds of thirsty animals flock to the wells but the reach of the trucks is limited.

Rains must come

Mohamud Ibrahim Yassin says only a few dozen of his 150 animals made the 20-kilometer walk to one well a few hours east of Burao town. He says the rest were too weak to walk, but too skinny to sell.

"If we get rains, they will survive, but if there is no rain, I don't think they will survive," he said.

Although Yassin has some hope of getting himself through the drought, for others, the rains will be too late.

Living on handouts

The family of Geelo Ismail Mohamed lost all 100 of their camels over the past seven months, and fled the hinterlands. Now they live on the outskirts of a village in a makeshift hut of wooden poles and scraps of cloth.

“We thought that it would get better in two or three months,” said Mohamed, who is in her 70s. “After three months, we realized we couldn't do anything; we couldn't move, we couldn't sell, so we came here.”

She says they used to support themselves by selling camel milk, but now, they depend entirely on handouts.

“That life [before the drought] will not come back, now we have this life, and this is what Allah has for us,” she said. “I did not ever see a drought like this. This is widespread; this is everywhere.”

Not enough funds

Adequate April rains or not, aid groups are short on funding, both for immediate drought relief and long-term recovery for families like Mohamed's.The U.N. has appealed for more than $800 million to deal with the drought.

Yet Somaliland's own National Drought Committee has raised less than $7 million.

“What's coming from the international community, from the donors, even the local fundraisers, the way people are supporting, you find it's just a drop in the ocean. It's not contributing much,” said Mukhtar Mohumed Hassan, of the Save the Children aid group, which delivers water to wells and cash to those who lost all their animals.

Mohamed Musse, of Somaliland's National Environment Research and Disaster Preparedness agency, says the rest of the world is moving too slowly.

“We need help, and we need it immediately,” he said. “[By the time our appeal] goes all the way to New York, somebody approves, by that time people are dead, people are finished.”

For millions in Somalia, surviving the drought is a race against time.
Canada's Role in the Overthrow of Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah
Yves Engler
February 24, 2017

A half-century and one year ago today Canada helped overthrow a leading pan Africanist president. Ghana’s Canadian-trained army overthrew Kwame Nkrumah, a leader dubbed "Man of the Millennium" in a 2000 poll by BBC listeners in Africa.

Washington, together with London, backed the coup. Lester Pearson's government also gave its blessing to Nkrumah's ouster. In The Deceptive Ash: Bilingualism and Canadian Policy in Africa: 1957-1971, John P. Schlegel writes: "the Western orientation and the more liberal approach of the new military government was welcomed by Canada."

The day Nkrumah was overthrown the Canadian prime minister was asked in the House of Commons his opinion about this development. Pearson said nothing of substance on the matter. The next day External Affairs Minister Paul Martin Sr. responded to questions about Canada's military training in Ghana, saying there was no change in instructions. In response to an MP's question about recognizing the military government, Martin said: "In many cases recognition is accorded automatically. In respective cases such as that which occurred in Ghana yesterday, the practice is developing of carrying on with the government which has taken over, but according no formal act until some interval has elapsed. We shall carry on with the present arrangement for Ghana. Whether there will be any formal act will depend on information which is not now before us."

While Martin and Pearson were measured in public, the Canadian high commissioner in Accra, C.E. McGaughey, was not. In an internal memo to External Affairs just after Nkrumah was overthrown, McGaughey wrote "a wonderful thing has happened for the West in Ghana and Canada has played a worthy part." Referring to the coup, the high commissioner added "all here welcome this development except party functionaries and communist diplomatic missions." He then applauded the Ghanaian military for having "thrown the Russian and Chinese rascals out."

Less than two weeks after the coup, the Pearson government informed the military junta that Canada intended to carry on normal relations. In the immediate aftermath of Nkrumah’s overthrow, Canada sent $1.82 million ($15 million today) worth of flour to Ghana and offered the military regime a hundred CUSO volunteers. For its part, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which had previously severed financial assistance to Nkrumah's government, engaged immediately after the coup by restructuring Ghana's debt. Canada's contribution was an outright gift. During the three years between 1966 and 1969 the National Liberation Council military regime, received as much Canadian aid as during Nkrumah's ten years in office with $22 million in grants and loans. Ottawa was the fourth major donor after the U.S., U.K. and UN.

Two months after Nkrumah's ouster the Canadian high commissioner in Ghana wrote to Montréal-based de Havilland Aircraft with a request to secure parts for Ghana’s Air Force. Worried Nkrumah might attempt a counter coup, the Air Force sought parts for non-operational aircraft in the event it needed to deploy its forces.

Six months after overthrowing Nkrumah, the country's new leader, General Joseph Ankrah, made an official visit to Ottawa as part of a trip that also took him through London and Washington.

On top of diplomatic and economic support for Nkrumah's ouster, Canada provided military training. Schlegel described the military government as a "product of this military training program." A Canadian major who was a training advisor to the commander of a Ghanaian infantry brigade discovered preparations for the coup the day before its execution. Bob Edwards said nothing. After Nkrumah's removal the Canadian high commissioner boasted about the effectiveness of Canada's Junior Staff Officers training program at the Ghanaian Defence College. Writing to the Canadian under secretary of external affairs, McGaughey noted, "All the chief participants of the coup were graduates of this course."

After independence Ghana's army remained British dominated. The colonial era British generals were still in place and the majority of Ghana's officers continued to be trained in Britain. In response to a number of embarrassing incidents, Nkrumah released the British commanders in September 1961. It was at this point that Canada began training Ghana's military.

While Canadians organized and oversaw the Junior Staff Officers course, a number of Canadians took up top positions in the Ghanaian Ministry of Defence. In the words of Canada's military attaché to Ghana, Colonel Desmond Deane-Freeman, the Canadians in these positions imparted "our way of thinking." Celebrating the influence of "our way of thinking," in 1965 High Commissioner McGaughey wrote the under secretary of external affairs: "Since independence, it [Ghana’s military] has changed in outlook, perhaps less than any other institution. It is still equipped with Western arms and although essentially non-political, is Western oriented."

Not everyone was happy with the military's attitude or Canada's role therein. A year after Nkrumah's ouster, McGaughey wrote Ottawa: "For some African and Asian diplomats stationed in Accra, I gather that there is a tendency to identify our aid policies particularly where military assistance is concerned with the aims of American and British policies. American and British objectives are unfortunately not regarded by such observers as being above criticism or suspicion." Thomas Howell and Jeffrey Rajasooria echo the high commissioner’s assessment in their book Ghana and Nkrumah: "Members of the ruling CPP tended to identify Canadian aid policies, especially in defence areas, with the aims of the U.S. and Britain. Opponents of the Canadian military program went so far as to create a countervailing force in the form of the Soviet equipped, pro-communist President's Own Guard Regiment [POGR]. The coup on February 24, 1966 which ousted Kwame Krumah and the CPP was partially rooted in this divergence of military loyalty."

The POGR became a "direct and potentially potent rival" to the Canadian-trained army, notes Christopher Kilford in The Other Cold War: Canada's Military Assistance to the Developing World, 1945-1975. Even once Canadian officials in Ottawa "well understood" Canada's significant role in the internal military battle developing in Ghana, writes Kilford, "there was never any serious discussion around withdrawing the Canadian training team."

As the 1960s wore on Nkrumah's government became increasingly critical of London and Washington’s support for the white minority in southern Africa. Ottawa had little sympathy for Nkrumah's pan-African ideals and so it made little sense to continue training the Ghanaian Army if it was, in Kilford's words, to "be used to further Nkrumah’s political aims." Kilford continued his thought, stating: "that is unless the Canadian government believed that in time a well-trained, professional Ghana Army might soon remove Nkrumah."

During a visit to Ghana in 2012 former Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean laid a wreath on Nkrumah's tomb. But, in commemorating this leading pan-Africanist, she failed to acknowledge the role her country played in his downfall.

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Muhammad Ali Jr. Detained by Immigration Officials at Fla. Airport
Danielle Lerner, The (Louisville) Courier-Journal
8:00 p.m. ET Feb. 24, 2017

Muhammad Ali Jr., claims airport security held him and questioned him about his name and religion.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The son of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali was detained for hours by immigration officials earlier this month at a Florida airport, according to a family friend.

Muhammad Ali Jr., 44, and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, the second wife of Muhammad Ali, were arriving at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Feb. 7 after returning from speaking at a Black History Month event in Montego Bay, Jamaica. They were pulled aside while going through customs because of their Arabic-sounding names, according to family friend and lawyer Chris Mancini.

Immigration officials let Camacho-Ali go after she showed them a photo of herself with her ex-husband, but her son did not have such a photo and wasn't as lucky. Mancini said officials held and questioned Ali Jr. for nearly two hours, repeatedly asking him, "Where did you get your name from?" and "Are you Muslim?"

When Ali Jr. responded that yes, he is a Muslim, the officers kept questioning him about his religion and where he was born. Ali Jr. was born in Philadelphia in 1972 and holds a U.S. passport.

Reached for comment via email Friday, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection wrote, "Due to the restrictions of the Privacy Act, U.S. Customs and Border Protection cannot discuss individual travelers; however, all international travelers arriving in the U.S. are subject to CBP inspection."

“To the Ali family, it's crystal clear that this is directly linked to Mr. Trump's efforts to ban Muslims from the United States.”

The line of questioning is indicative of profiling and designed to produce answers that corroborate what officials want to hear, Mancini said. Neither Camacho-Ali nor Ali Jr. have ever been subjected to detainment before, despite extensive global travel experience, he said.

"To the Ali family, it's crystal clear that this is directly linked to Mr. Trump's efforts to ban Muslims from the United States," Mancini said, referring to President Trump's executive order signed Jan. 27 that instituted a ban for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Officials at the Fort Lauderdale airport did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Camacho-Ali and Ali Jr. live in Deerfield Beach, Fla., a 20-minute drive from the airport. While Ali Jr. was detained, Camacho-Ali ran around the airport asking, "Where's my son?" and begging for help, according to Mancini. Because incidents involving customs officials are considered to be on federal soil, local police had no jurisdiction to help her. Ali Jr. was eventually released two hours later, and the family contacted Mancini the following day.

Mancini said he and the Ali family are contemplating filing a federal lawsuit and are currently trying to find out how many other people have been subjected to the same treatment as Ali Jr.

"Imagine walking into an airport and being asked about your religion," he said. "This is classic customs profiling."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Zimbabwe President Mugabe Says: ‘I Don’t Listen to Prophets of Doom’
President Robert Gabriel Mugabe (RGM) turned 93 years old on February 21, 2017. The following is Part One of the interview the President had with Tazzen Mandizvidza (TM) of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corportion ZBC.

TM: Thank you very much Mr President for affording us this time to talk to you. We know you have a busy schedule. Let me start by saying congratulations, makorokoto on turning 93.

RGM: Thank you.

TM: Your Excellency, during the Harare Agricultural Show some years back, a palmist once read your palm and predicted that you will live up to 100 years, makore zana. But almost every year we come across the so-called prophets proclaiming that President Mugabe is going to die on this date and that date but you are here, you are alive. What would you want to say to these so-called prophets as you celebrate 93 years?

RGM: So-called prophets. Why don’t you say prophets of doom? Uhhm? They are prophets of doom who prophesy what really are their wishes, so they turn their wishes into prophecies or dreams perhaps, but hardly any dreams. I would want to think. It’s just wishes, that this man must go. This man must go and the man is not going. So year in year out, it’s the same wish. And the same prophesy.

Why do you care about them? I don’t care about them anymore. We have had even some pastors praying for my death. And even a bishop in my church, wekuMatabeleland uya watakazobata anemudzimai akazviregera. So we get such people in society. They won’t see some of them. In fact, the numbers may tend to increase sometimes. Ndakanzwawo chimwe chichiti President arikufa muna October, asi kana asingade kufa ngaataure, nhai? (laughs) So there it is. I don’t pay much attention to them at all.

TM: Meanwhile, Your Excellency, there have been calls for you to step down on account of your age and how do you answer such calls including from non-Zimbabweans like Julius Malema?

RGM: Do you listen anything from Malema? Who is Malema? The call to step down must come from my party; my party Congress, my party Central Committee. I will step down. But then what do you see, get? It’s the opposite. They want me to stand for elections, they want me to stand for elections everywhere in the party. And it’s their voice I heed and the voice of no one else.

Of course, if I feel like I can’t do it anymore, I will say so to my party so that they relieve me. But for now I think I can’t say so and even if I might feel I wanted to rest but with, you know, that volume of wishes for the President to stand, the number of people who will be disappointed is galore and I don’t want to disappoint. More so, that the majority of the people feel that there is no replacement actually nor successor who to them is as acceptable as I am.

But the people, you know, would want to judge everyone else on the basis of President Mugabe as the criterion, but I have been at it for a longer period than anyone else. Leaders will have to be, you know, as it were given time to develop and to have that ability to meet with the people and to be judged by the people.

Silently in the majority of the cases, the people must see and be convinced that yes so and so can be a good successor. Others think because they have been this long in the party or they are this in the party they are capable of succeeding the President. It’s not that easy.

TM: But Your Excellency, are you now changing your mind? You are on record as saying you will not groom a successor, but now you sound like you are saying maybe somebody needs to be given time. Are you now thinking of grooming a successor?

RGM: No, no, no. that doesn’t suggest grooming a successor. A successor is groomed by the people actually. You see. Those around you can get the confidence of the people as they operate around you and gain the confidence of the people. When the people see their leaders, they can trust their leaders beyond corruption, their leader’s knowledgeable, sure, that’s grooming I mean.

TM: Thank you Mr President. Now allow me to move on to the First Lady. When Dr Grace Mugabe was requested to lead the Women’s League, I remember you pointed out that you advised her on what to expect in the political arena. But now, today with so many stories about her, the family and yourself, how do you console her against all that? And don’t you regret maybe you could have advised her not to get into this?

RGM: Against all the what?

TM: The stories that are coming out about her, about you, the criticism and all that.

RGM: The criticism. Well the criticisms, I get are criticisms from the opposition. From the party, well there have been a few criticisms from vananaMutsvangwa and so on and so forth who, you know, I then saw something quite different in her. They thought she was an ambitious woman who would want to work herself into a position of power. But I had my first wife Sally, she organised the women.

We did not have the Women’s League here, the Ghana’s style, the (Kwame) Nkrumah style of the Women’s League which gained acceptance in our region was introduced by my wife and others in Zimbabwe, my late wife I mean. But in fact people were saying aaah the leaders must not disallow their wives from participating in politics, we want their wives to lead us, but what you get nowadays from some quotas is that the leader’s wife should not participate in politics. Why not? Why not? I don’t know what criticism you are referring to? She is very acceptable, very much accepted by the people. I thought you saw her on television today (Friday).

TM: Yes, I did Your Execellency.

RGM: It’s fireworks isn’t it? (laughs)

TM: Yes, it indeed (laughter all round)

TM: Sometimes the media tends to write so many stories and when she is facing all that, how do you comfort her as a seasoned politician?

RGM: I donot know what do you mean? She is well seasoned now, she is a very strong character.

TZ: Let’s move on from the family to look at economic issues. My first question is on the land reform. I remember you once said on his deathbed the late Father Zimbabwe Cde Joshua Nkomo told you to ensure the land is given to the people.

RGM: Two things, land to the people, unity.

TM: Yes, two things but let me focus on the land first. If you were to talk to him what would you say about the land reform?

RGM: Yes, I would say we have continued to give land to the people and most of the land, which used to be in the hands of the settlers is now in the hands of our own people and what there is now for us is to ensure there won’t be any retrogression. That those we have given the land will keep it, use it, cultivate it properly and ensure that its made productive.

So I would say what you wanted me to do I think I have done and done well. And I think our objective earlier on which constituted our first grievance as we fought the struggle, that the people, land that is possessed by settlers must be repossessed by we the indigenous and not just that, but that it should also be defended, protected and never be allowed once again to fall into the hands of the settlers. I think we have done that well.

TM: The issue of unity we will talk about it later on. Still on the economy, Zimbabwe’s economy is still on a recovery path, but Your Excellency, what else would you want to see done in order to speed up the process and also to ensure that those jobs that were promised by Zanu-PF towards the last election are made available?

RGM: Well the process, you know, it’s a gradual one as we improve the economy sector by sector and bring about employment alongside that improvement. Naturally, we shall also be transforming the overall economic sectors in accordance with our Zim-Asset and transforming means, adding value to the raw materials that might come out of agriculture, mining et cetera.

So we ensure that upon the exportation of goods from these sectors, we shall receive, perhaps, double or even more than double what we might have got if we did not transform them all and add value to the particular goods. That whole process its an economic process. As you transform the economy, you are actually ensuring greater employment sector by sector. It’s the creation of industry, by the way and industry is created in mining, in agriculture and in commerce by that transformative process, which ensures that we can now talk of our country having transformed and a greater part of our people having been employed.

By the way employment, getting a job is not the only thing that we need to look forward to, we would want to see our people turned into entrepreneurs such thats what I was talking about this morning kuma researchers. Is it just the production of tobacco, or production of tobacco and turning tobacco into cigarettes but in the process, if our producers were dependent on foreigners for the production, are we now the main producers.

Have we really become the producers of our own goods? Have we become the masters of our own economy, or are we still, you know, thinking of whites as the best entrepreneurs and Africans as the labourers for these entrepreneurs ? I have my worry in that regard, great worry indeed. Because even where we have said to our people get together form companies, partnerships, collectives as African, Zimbabwean entrepreneurs , you know they would want to see investments made by whites, where they are able themselves to get together and invest in the particular area. They want to see a European invest and then they go and work for that European as director, as managers, the CEOs, yes.

Of course the whites would be happy to see us to continue to work for them. If yesterday they did not, as they held the economy, did not want Africans to be at the management level, today in order to secure their positions no and ofcourse also because they recognised Africans are well educated and well skilled, they would be very happy to stay in the country, run various enterprises with Africans, African young people from universities at the top as accountants, managers CEOS etc be there in the background, after all they are not that many.

They are in the background and they play their game. They have a company here, they like Zimbabwe a lot and they want to stay here and they have something also in South Africa so they are not foolish at all. One leg here and one leg in South Africa but those who were here, I think it’s better here than in South Africa. We are seeing in the agricultural sector quite a number of these surreptious operations where they come and say “you don’t have to worry if you have a farm, we can cultivate for you. Stay where you are, live in town, we will do the work for you”.

At the end of the day of course they cultivate, they have the machines and you are in town and you say, “ah yes, I am using him he is a worker in my farm”. He is a worker on your farm yes, and he will say yes I am just a worker, a manager here. Year in, year out and what happens after five years, he is in the same position. Stupid, stupid we, as indeed we are doing that. Ndozvatirikuita hameno kuti chiiko? Kutadza here basa, kana?

Those who are doing it I know there are some who are really genuine about farming and they are doing farming. Even though they are in town they have some jobs to do at the weekend, Fridays like today they go and ensure that their managers are doing the right thing at the farms and stay on for some time and correct a number of things at the farms and have their own children in some cases. But there are others who really have gone to sleep and the whites have taken over once again, its sad isn’t it? Yataiti tinoda nyika, maida kuti muzope varungu zvakare? Aah!

TM: Your Excellency, you mentioned the concept of weekend farmers vari kumabasa kumatown during the week then voenda kufarm paweekend, are you therefore suggesting a model where if one is farming they should be farming, kana watsvaka basa watsvaka basa kutown? Somebody has argued that Zimbabweans are doing two jobs, one as a farmer and then a banker somewhere else, so should we be moving towards that where we are seriously on the land?

RGM. I think for now that double dealing is necessary because it is those in the banks, those in management areas, those working in town, those employed in the civil service, where we have given them farms, they are the ones with the capacity, financial capacity, with money, you know, really to do something on the farms. Then there are others without that capacity and I would like to believe that those who have financial capacity by and large have been ensured that the farms belong to them and they will become like managers.

Some have their own children who have been to university and done agriculture and it’s not that bad everywhere. But it is bad in some cases. Kozoti vasingagone zvavo including some of our chiefs. Eeh kozoti mamwe maheadman vanofunga kuti if they have an area of control vanokwanisa kusettler wo vanhu, aah nzvimbo iyi ndakaipihwa ndeyangu. So persons coming from elsewhere can be resettled, provided they pay something. That has been happening.

Fanika nyaya yemachiefs, yeah, I know machiefs vanorimirwa nevarungu and who say aah oh today ah oh murungu akanaka uyu, akanaka anotirimira. So especially vamwe vakasaririra varungu vatanga tisati tabvisa, vari juxtaposed to the farms dzema chiefs, nemaheadman and ivavo who are neighbours, you know, the trickery of doing something for their neighbours who are chiefs and headmen yah and then the chiefs say ah, regai kubisa uyu wakanaka.

Nharo chaidzo idzo. Musatibisire uyu and we have had missions, paid to us to ask kuti ah the ministry would want this European who is next to us and who has been doing quite a lot for us yah yah yah, he is also a member of the party. Anoita zvakati, zvakati, zvakati aah tinomuda.

TM: Your Excellency, from that let me take you to the issue of investments. You have signed a lot of investment agreements including mega investment deals with China and recently you met the Chinese President while you were on your annual vacation. From that meeting, Your Excellency we just want to know, what did you focus on?

RGM: We just focused on programmes that we have with them and the programmes which they themselves have offered us so that they can be accelerated and where I think one or two areas like defence. They felt I should raise the issue ye claim yavo yeplatinum yavakapa ku a Chinese company kuti iitwe exploit so the money therefrom can be used to secure and pay the debt which they have rema arms avakatenga kuChina.

I think that was the only fresh one. The rest were just, you know, pushing, pushing. Trying to push so that there is speed in executing and ensuring that the programmes are done. But some are underway actually. They are underway but others have stalled because Finance has not been able to pay mainterest on the funding. They have delayed paying but they been paying but slowly anyway.

The programmes with the Chinese are very good programmes. It was really to ensure that we are strongly together nanaXi Jinping on the programmes they promised us and that the others that come from the $60 billion and we have those which are bilateral, the others in these multilateral grouping and we have so many African beneficiaries mu $60 billion. Isu I think we have gone for about three or four programmes to be funded from mari ye $60 billion. So hushamwarika, kana taendako hamungarege kutaura zvamurikuita.

TM: Asi muchitarisa shamwari dzedu muchiita compare nedzimwe nyika dzirimuAfrica varikutipawo here zvakawanda. In comparison with others in terms of investments?

RGM: I think so. I don’t know what they are giving other countries but it depends on our capacity not only to absorb the funding but to ensure also that we repay what we should repay by way of the refunds. Mamwe mafunds are not gratuitous, they are not grants. They are debts, loans that are being extended to us and we should be able to repay or start repaying them. When then we fail to do so then our friends say ah, but whats happening? And this has been the situation in some cases regarding the Chinese loans.

TM: Let me bring you back home. There were calls made for the establishment of a Women’s Bank I think as far back as 2013, what has been stalling or delaying the launch of such a bank. I know you are championing the empowerment of women

RGM: I push, I just push from the back but I think it’s oncoming. You don’t just establish a bank by word of mouth. It must have funds. It must have depositors. And not just initial little amounts. It must attract on regular basis deposits. I think we have been going through bad times. No liquidity flowing cash was vanishing and I don’t think it has returned yet but we hope it will return.

So unless we can say there is now the possibility of having the bank resourced financially and then you will be paying lip service to it. And I think this is what we have tended to be doing. it’s still the talk on the lips of the women. Mai SME, Nyoni, I call her Mai SME, yah she has been very very very interested in having a bank, a women’s bank and we back her in that, but ka interest yake, yemadzimai ndokunge vaine mafunds to be deposited.

But if they say we have a bank and at the same time from their earnings and there is the informal sector and they carry what they carry those earnings into their pillows and briefcases back home and hold the funds back home and become reluctant to release them, then the bank will not have any resource and will continue to talk of illiquid banks, illiquidity in the system. Thats what has happened. Dzimba idzi dzizere nemari. Tikati kumapurisa nemasoja go yee house by house and dig for the funds that are being hidden there.

Don’t take them as yours but dig them up and tell us who and who have them. You will be guilty, I will be guilty, I don’t know who will not be guilty here nekuti tinotya . . . (laughs) . . . dzimwe (laughs) ukaona tumari twako wotya (claps) kuti aah ndikanoisa uko kuti ndizonoitora mangwana hapana. So you tend to keep it. it’s not your fault, its not his fault. It’s the fault of a system that has not yielded enough cash. Mind you the dollar is not our currency we are actually using it.

MaAmericans vari kuti aah we will not impose sanctions on that one we want them to use our dollar and make it more popular but then they will say aah that is as far as we can go but we can’t issue them fresh piles of dollars when they need them. Ndopouya masanctions ipapo and that’s how we have been restricted, that’s the cause of most of the liquidity that we have, illiquidity that we have because we have not been able to replenish the dollars.

If you look at some of the dollars that have gone round tsvina (laughs) ine mari yacho, goodness me! Kana ari madollars, one dollar I think they are the dirtiest of all, the smaller ones, one dollar, two dollar.

TM: Your Excellency, talking of the dollars, we have the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries they are calling for the adoption of the rand as the official currency and I know right now we also have the bond notes they are also in circulation but does it appear like Zimbabweans are not confident of having their own currency, what is the solution to having our own currency in Zimbabwe?

RGM: (Laughs) . . . My you don’t seem to know the history we had with our own currency, that galloping inflation and we thought of giving it up and adopting the dollar. That’s how it all happened, the rand, we are a multi-currency country.

Well, I don’t know why the Ministry of Finance together with the Reserve Bank have not wanted to use other currencies. I have asked actually again and again kuti why not have euros, why not have yen, why not have rand alongside with the dollar? Ah tichazviita, tichazviita. At least if we had the euro, I don’t think we have sanctions on the euro but the euro is slightly more expensive than the dollar but the difference is minimum.

TM: That’s okay Your Excellency, last year you lamented over how diamond mining has not benefited the nation, you even spoke about how Zimbabwe had been prejudiced of up to $15 billion but now we have the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamond Company in place but why is it that the benefits are not yet apparent?

RGM: Oh! Oh! Oh! These various companies which operated alongside the ZMDC operated for quite a long period. We don’t know how the earnings, you know, from their operations were accounted for and they just regarded them as their own earnings and nothing seems to have come to the ZMDC, which was partner. In turn nothing seems to have come to Government as revenue.

Then we decided, after studying how the diamond sector was controlled in two countries, perhaps three, Botswana, Namibia and Angola, and there just one company. It may have two operations or so, the system in Botswana, system in Namibia those two, I looked at they were satisfied that there was need for consolidation, they don’t allow anyone else, no small company, hakuna makorokoza so the diamond industry is in the hands of the state and maybe the State and the private company together in this case and I was told by Khama how they are very strict about the earnings dzemadiamonds because that the resource they depend upon in the main for their survival.

So anyway we offered the other companies, the Chinese one, the Lebanese one and neyanaMhlanga all the three, the choice do you want to join Government in a consolidated company or do you want to stay out and go? Make your choice, the Chinese said they wanted to go, the Lebanese said they wanted to go, the South Africans said they wanted to go, Mbada ndeyema South Africans yana Mhlanga they wanted to go. Aaah, we said think again. They didn’t want consolidation hmmmm, so we said why would you resent consolidation it’s a get together, working together and then you share a product.

Because they used to pocket everything they got ivo anaMbada ivava. Alright your question is why has there been no change, well ah it’s because it’s much more recent, getting you know this new company together, the consolidated company together has taken time yet it had to have the machinery and in a number of cases also it has been taken to court and it tended to delay the process of its operations. It affected the speed with which it could begin its operations.

TZ: Thank you very much Your Excellency for being with us on this special programme. That brings us to the end of part one of the programme President Robert Mugabe at 93. Viewers note that we shall be bringing you Part Two where we will continue with this discussion.