Educating Children One Radio Wave at a Time

Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario. Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region.

“Boko Haram has disrupted the lives of 1.3 million children with a radical insurgency that has burned villages, displaced people, and created a culture of fear,” said UNICEF’s Crisis Communications Specialist Patrick Rose.

Now entering its eight year, Boko Haram’s violent insurgency has intensified and spilled over in the Lake Chad region, displacing over 2 million people across four countries.

The group has particularly targeted education, destroying more than 900 schools and forcing at least 1,500 more to close.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 611 teachers have been killed and another 19,000 forced to flee. Boko Haram has also attacked students to keep them out of school and forcibly recruited students into its ranks.

Such targeted attacks and destruction have created an education gap in crisis-affected areas, especially where displaced communities have fled to.

“Short of going through and building new schools in all of those communities when we don’t know how long this conflict is going to last, we tried to develop ways that we could reach these children and deliver some sort of educational routine that will keep them at least learning,” Rose told IPS.

Created with support from the European Union (EU) and in partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, UNICEF’s radio education programs serve as an alternative platform for the 200,000 children in the two countries unable to access schools.

It includes 44 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

The curriculum also includes a child protection component such as psychosocial support, guiding teachers to create a space for children to share their experiences and learn how to manage their fears.

“When you have children who have been deeply disturbed by displacement, many of whom have witnessed the murders of their own families, and you create a situation in which they are expected to spend eight hours a day in a classroom that isn’t engaging at all with the reality that they are encountering outside, you get a fundamental dissonance and ultimately low engagement,” Rose said.

As part of its Education in Emergencies initiatives, UNICEF works closely with communities to identify the risks they face as individuals and schools as a whole.

In one such workshop about fears, one girl wrote “kidnappy,” reflecting the deep distress and risk of kidnapping that young girls face.

Not only does the radio program have the potential to decrease the likelihood of kidnapping as children listen from home, but it also creates a “positive” space that addresses children’s realities.

Discussions are underway with the governments of Cameroon and Niger to make radio courses certified, allowing children to receive a certification and pass the school year.

Rose called the approach to the complex crisis “unique,” as it moves from a focus on individual countries to a multi-country response.

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By  Tharanga Yakupitiyage

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Africa: Drought and Jobless, Hopeless Youth, Fertile Grounds for Extremism

Ouagadougou – The high-level symposium, which was held ahead of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17, stressed that Africa’s heavy reliance on the natural resource base for livelihoods is a challenge, and its mismanagement increases household risks and amplifies the vulnerability of millions of people.

Ignoring the plight of jobless young people in sub-Saharan Africa is a recipe for political instability and global insecurity, warned a high-level symposium of Africa’s interior, environment and foreign affairs ministers in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

The high-level symposium, which was held ahead of this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD) marked on June 17, stressed that Africa’s heavy reliance on the natural resource base for livelihoods is a challenge, and its mismanagement increases household risks and amplifies the vulnerability of millions of people.

This was the first time high-ranking officials drawn from Africa’s foreign affairs, environment and interior ministries met jointly to find solutions to Africa’s growing challenge of rural youth unemployment that is driving distress migration and radicalisation of disillusioned young men.

Participating ministers called for support to create land-based jobs in the rural areas to ward off the temptation for the most disillusioned to take up alternative but dangerous sources of income.

They called for the identification of sites where tenure or access to land rights can be secured and provided to vulnerable at-risk-groups.

The high-ranking officials also called for partnerships to create 2 million secure land-based jobs through rehabilitation of 10 million hectares of degraded land.

As well, they called for investment in rural infrastructure, rehabilitation tools and skills development and prioritisation of job creation in unstable and insecure areas.

The symposium examined the threats connected to sustainability, stability and security, namely, conflicts linked to access to degrading natural resources, instability due to unemployment of rural youth and insecurity and the risk of the radicalization triggered by social and economic marginalization and exposure to extremist groups.

Drought, Unemployment and Hopelessness, Fertile Grounds for Extremism

Presidents Roch Marc Christian Kaboré of Burkina Faso, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita of Mali and Mahammadou Issoufou of Niger stressed that drought, food insecurity, water scarcity, unemployment, hopelessness about the future and poverty are fertile grounds for extremism, and a sign of insecurity, instability and unsustainability.

Two days earlier, more than 400 civil society representatives from African participated in their World Day observance, also in Ouagadougou, and organised by Spong, a local non-governmental organisation, to prepare for the International Summit of Non-State Actors titled, Desertif’actions 2017, to be held on 27 and 28 June 2017 in Strasbourg, France, which will be dedicated to land degradation and climate change, bringing together 300 stakeholders from 50 countries.

The outcomes of the Strasbourg Summit will be presented to the 13th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) to be held in Ordos, China, in September 2017, and the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention.

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By IPS World Desk

This story is part of special IPS coverage of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, observed on June 17.

Caption: According to UN Agencies, more than 13.4 million people are severely food insecure in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Picture credit: FAO.

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The region in Niger quietly piloting a Boko Haram amnesty

In mid-December 2016, in rural Diffa region on Niger’s southern border with Nigeria, fourteen men gave themselves up to authorities. The group said that they were former fighters of Boko Haram and that they had abandoned their weapons in the bush.

News of this impromptu surrender from the Islamist militant group responsible for tens of thousands of deaths and millions of displacements came as a surprise to most in the area. But not to regional authorities.

Since late last year, they had been quietly testing a tactic of asking families whose children have joined Boko Haram to spread word of an amnesty. If they surrendered, fighters were told, they would be pardoned and assisted in rejoining their communities.

Before then, the main regional response to the brutal Islamist militant group had been military. This has had some successes in weakening the combatants, and the last major Boko Haram attack in Niger in which civilians were killed was in September 2016. But in Nigeria, where the group originated, and beyond, gruesome assaults, abductions, and bombings of schools and markets continued.

To those in Diffa, these attacks have been shocking. But more distressing to many has been the rate of voluntary conscription amongst Niger’s youth. Imams and village chiefs return to one question: “What about this savagery is attractive to our young?” Families and leaders tussle with this issue, but many simply refuse to countenance that those who join Boko Haram from Niger are truly radicalised.

It was with this belief in mind – as well as an awareness of the limits of a ground war – that the experimental amnesty plan was hatched last year. The exact details of the “secret messaging” campaign are unclear, but local leaders express pride in their initiative, which they say is ongoing, and follow it closely.

As the prefect of Maïné-Soroa told me, “Governor [of Diffa Region] Dan Dano calls every night to ask how many Boko have surrendered.”

As of late-March, the number stood at nearly 150 across Diffa.

Planning ahead

In terms of numbers, the amnesty scheme has so far proven to be effective. The logic behind it is also clear. Uganda’s use of a similar strategy to entice defections from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the early-2000s is widely believed to have weakened rebel ranks. And Diffa’s experiment comes at a time when Boko Haram is already facing factional splintering and other difficulties.

[Making sense of Boko Haram’s different factions: Who, how and why?]

As a locally-designed and -executed initiative, it is also impressive and promising. Often when disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) schemes are implemented, they are imported internationally with little local ownership. But this is not the case with Diffa, and other regions facing the same problem are watching the bold experiment closely.

However, while local leaders are buoyed by progress so far, not everyone is convinced.

Some believe that the policy is a distraction from tackling the longer-term push factors – such as poverty and a weak state – that lead youth to join Boko Haram in the first place. Meanwhile others worry that funds from other more widely beneficial development projects will be re-directed to rehabilitating former combatants.

As Niger’s Minister of Justice Marou Amadou says of ex-Boko Haram fighters, “it costs us money to house them, to feed them”.

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By Edward Rackley

Picture credit: Issouf Sanogo/Getty Images.

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Op-Ed: Emerging US Africa Policy focuses on security issues

American support for democracy, development and health may no longer be policy cornerstones as they have been for all post-Cold War presidents, Democratic and Republican. At the White House, a former Pentagon Africa counterterrorism director has been chosen as senior Africa policy aide. No choice has yet been made for the post of Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the State Department. By R. Kramer for

Little has been said about Africa policy by the new US president or his administration, but recent announcements and appointments provide an emerging outline of an approach that gives priority to security concerns.

Support for democracy, development and health may no longer be policy cornerstones as they have been for all post-Cold War presidents, Democratic and Republican.

On March 30, the Pentagon announced President Donald Trump’s approval of revised combat rules for US forces fighting the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabaab in Somalia, reducing protections for civilians as the US military launches an intensified assault in east Africa. Earlier this month, the White House announced a budget blueprint that includes a $54-billion rise in overall military spending, alongside deep cuts for the State Department and international assistance.

At the White House, a former Pentagon Africa counterterrorism director has been chosen as senior Africa policy aide, continuing the president’s choice of career military officers for key foreign policy posts.

According to three sources with personal knowledge of the selection, White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster has chosen Rudolph Atallah, a retired lieutenant-colonel who spent 21 years in the US Air Force, to be senior director for Africa at the National Security Council (NSC). Atallah has been a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre, a Washington DC think tank, as well as CEO of a security consulting firm.

The selection has not been confirmed by the White House, which has announced only one NSC appointment since McMaster took the NSC post in February – that of Dina Powell as a deputy national security adviser for strategy.

Africa watchers also are eager to see who will head the Africa Bureau at the State Department. Sources tell AllAfrica that leading candidates for the Assistant Secretary of State position include Jeff Krilla, vice president for government affairs at Kosmos Energy — who served as deputy secretary in the State Department’s human rights bureau under President George W Bush — and Charles Snyder, a retired Army officer who has held senior military and State Department posts.

The same sources, who do not want to be identified publicly, say two others who have been considered are James R Dunlop, a senior adviser at the consulting group led by former George HW Bush national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and J Peter Pham, who heads the Africa Centre at the Atlantic Council.

Military experience could prove an advantage for Krilla, who is an officer in the Naval Reserves, and Snyder, who spent 22 years in the Army, retiring in 1991 with the rank of Colonel, and served as the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for Africa before joining the State Department.

While Africa policy was not debated during the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump as candidate and president has consistently emphasised his commitment to fighting terrorism. Speaking to Congress last month, he pledged to “demolish and destroy” the Islamic State and has directed the Pentagon and other agencies to draw up a plan to make this happen.

Career military officers he has appointed to key posts – in addition to McMaster, a lieutenant-general in the Army – are Defence Secretary James Mattis, a recently retired Marine Corps general and NSC senior director for counterterrorism, Christopher P Costa, a retired Special Forces intelligence officer.

Atallah, the presumed Africa director choice at the White House, retired from the Air Force in 2009 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. From 2003 to 2009 during the George W Bush administration, he was Africa Counterterrorism Director in the Office of the Secretary of Defence, according to his Atlantic Council biography. He previously served as defense attaché accredited to six west African countries and director of the Sub-Saharan Africa Orientation Course at the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), which coordinates the global US military campaign against terrorism.

Fluent in Arabic and French, Atallah was born in Beirut, according to his biography on the website of the consulting company he has headed, White Mountain Research.

Atallah is the second person chosen as NSC Africa director. Robin Townley, who was named to that post by Lt-Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s first NSC head, was unable to take the job after his security clearance was rejected by the CIA.

Before being forced out of office after less than a month amid controversy over his Russian ties, Flynn restructured NSC responsibilities. He added to the Africa portfolio four north African countries that have been in the NSC’s Middle East portfolio since the early 1970s, when Henry Kissinger was both national security adviser and Secretary of State. The four are Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Only one African nation, Egypt, remains assigned to the Middle East portfolio rather than to the Africa policy team.

In a strategy paper submitted to the Trump transition team in December, the Atlantic Council’s Peter Pham advocated reassigning the four north African nations “so that the responsibility for Africa aligns with the Department of Defence’s combatant command areas of responsibility”. Pham also criticised assignment of north African nations to the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department, rather than to African Affairs:

“While Egypt’s placement is understandable, given its importance as a lynchpin of the Middle East balance of power, and should not be changed,” Pham wrote, “the reality is that, on most political, security, and economic issues, the other four Maghrebi nations have more to do with Africa than with the Middle East – threats to security, trade, and even flows of migrants move along a north-south axis, reaching from the Mediterranean across the Sahara.”

The US’s Africa Bureau is currently led by a career foreign service officer, Peter H Barlerin, who took over as acting assistant secretary following the retirement on March 10 of Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a career ambassador who served in the post since 2013. Sources say Barlerin is scheduled to be replaced by Carol O’Connell, who has been tapped to become the top deputy assistant secretary for Africa and will serve as acting assistant secretary until a Trump nominee is confirmed by the Senate.

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By Reed Kramer

Picture credit: Senegalese soldiers take part on a large annual military exercise, known as Flintlock, in Thies. The exercise has been bringing together African, European and US counter-terrorism forces every year for the past decade. Seyllou/Getty Images.

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Former Boko Haram Abductees Speak Out

Though still fearful for her life and the safety of her family, one of the girls who escaped abduction by Boko Haram in Nigeria has appealed to global leaders to intervene and help bring back 195 schoolgirls still being held by the terrorist network. Next month it will be three years since the Nigerian militants abducted more than 270 girls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.

Last October, the Boko Haram fighters freed 21 of the girls, including one with a baby that triggered global outrage and spurred the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Telling our story

“We have to share our story and tell the world about it for the world to know,’ the student, using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Sa’a* (20) said at press conference on the sidelines of the two-day Global Education and Skills Forum.

Earlier SAA and another girl, identified as Rachel*, who lost her father and siblings to Boko Haram, told the Forum that the kidnapping of the schoolgirls was a painful episode that the world should not forget.

“The only thing we need to do is to ask the world leaders to bring back the girls. We cannot do anything other than speak out,” said SAA, who escaped from the clutches of Boko Haram. She jumped off a moving truck when the group attacked and burnt her school and books in Borno State in April 2014.

Sa’a, who was moved from Nigeria and is currently studying in the United States, said the traumatic ordeal should not be allowed to happen to any student. Her resolve to continue her schooling was the reason she has come out publicly about her experience.

“Every child needs to be educated and to go to school,” Sa’a said. “We must never forget this until all the girls are safely back. Next month it will not be three days but three years and they are not back. It is painful.”

Sa’a told the conference that after they were abducted and forced at gunpoint into trucks, she decided to jump off a moving truck together with a friend who sustained injuries. They were helped by a shepherd and made their way to safety.

Emmanuel Ogebe is a human rights lawyer and director of the Education Must Continue Initiative, which has assisted child victims and IDPs from conflicts, primary Boko Haram. Most of the victims are in Nigeria and a handful in the United States.

“Most venerable targets of Boko Haram have been educational institutions and religious institutions. Pastors have been killed in thousands and over 600 teachers have been killed by Boko Haram and we see vulnerability in both areas,” Ogebe told IPS.

“It is a painful situation of what happened to the girls because we understand that there were early warnings that the terrorists were going to strike and supported by the fact that teachers escaped and left the girls. The sense of failure to protect is very story in addition to the fact that the government did not protect the girls at school even when they were warned.”

Since January this year, Sa’a has started college under a project by the Education Must Continue Initiative, a charity which has helped about 3000 other internally-displaced children go to school. She now has an ambition to study science and medicine.

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By Busani Bafana

Credit picture: Nigerian student Sa’a, one of the more than 250 schoolgirls abducted by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram in the northern Nigerian city Chibok in 2014, waits to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2016, before the House Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organisations on the US Role in Helping Nigeria Confront Boko Haram and Other Threats in Northern Nigeria. Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images.

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Kenya-Somalia border fencing on course

The fencing of three kilometres of the Kenya-Somalia border is complete after the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) took over its construction over two months ago. The project, initiated by the Ministry of Interior in 2015, has since been switched to wire fencing along the porous border.

Concrete poles joined with barbed wire, mesh and razor wire have been erected on a three-kilometre stretch.

Kenya decided to put up a wall after the April terror attack on Garissa University College, in the northeastern of the country, that left over 140 dead last year.

But the project stalled after the National Youth Service (NYS) personnel working on it downed their tools for what they said was lack of pay.

Speaking while inspecting the ongoing works on Thursday, Maj-Gen K.T. Chepkuto from the KDF engineering department said they intend to complete the 30 kilometre-stretch in the next four months.

“We will do the first 30 kilometres within the stipulated time since people are energised,” he said.

He noted that the Kenyan military officials are working closely with the Somalia National Army (SNA) to ensure the work is done peacefully.

“The only possible challenge could be from Bula Hawa, but SNA are working with us to ensure the project progresses swiftly,” he said.

Mandera County Governor Ali Roba lauded the progress made in two months.

Earlier, he had questioned the national government’s commitment in securing the county.

Mandera borders Bula Hawa, making it vulnerable to attacks by the Somalia-based Al Shabaab terrorist group.

Visible work

“We are happy with the progress of the security sensitisation programme as visible work has been done unlike in the last two months when we visited the site,” he said.

He said the fencing is not intended to lock anybody out of Mandera but it is about security by restricting human access only through identified entry and exit points.

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By Manase Otsialo

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What Trump means for Africa

Donald Trump is the next president of the United States of America, the world’s most powerful country, and no corner of the globe will be immune from the consequences. As crazy as it might seem, this is no time for schadenfreude: his election is bad news – very bad news – for Africa too.

Goodbye AGOA?

Trump doesn’t like trade deals, especially ones that he thinks are weighted against America. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) is a prime example: it’s designed to give African countries easier access to US markets by scrapping import duties on certain goods. Non-oil exports from Africa to the US, under the auspices of AGOA, have now reached $4.1 billion, which makes it a vital economic lifeline for the continent.

Chicken farmers aside, South African businesses have been among the major beneficiaries of the trade deal, but how long will a Trump administration maintain this tax-free access to US markets?

The War on Terror redoubled

Under Barack Obama, Africa has become a major frontline in the war on terror. The US military has invested significant resources in both propping up African militaries and establishing a series of military bases across the continent. At the same time, it has expanded its drone program.

This is all in the name of fighting terror, and has been accompanied by the kinds of abuses that we have been accustomed to in the name of the War on Terror: collateral damage, widespread torture, summary executions, unaccountable drone strikes.

Trump is a candidate who has said he will encourage torture, and wants to keep Guantanamo Bay open, so expect these abuses to be intensify under Trump’s administration, with even less thought given to the protection of civilians or human rights.

Good news for Al Shabaab and Boko Haram

“If Donald Trump were elected and implemented the foreign policy he campaigned on, he could become the single most effective recruiting tool for terrorist organisations across the globe,” commented the Institute for Security Studies Zachary Donnenfeld. That’s because Trump’s belligerent, hardline stance – coupled with his rhetorical attacks on Muslims, and pledges to ban Muslims from entering America – plays into the propaganda espoused by terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. He is doing their work for them.

His promise of hardline tactics in the War on Terror won’t help, either – studies have repeatedly showed that abuses committed against civilians are likely to push people towards terrorist organisations. This is all good news for the likes of Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

Bad news for gay rights

It’s already difficult to be gay in Africa, and life is only likely to get harder under Trump, who is opposed to gay marriage in the US. This stance is likely to embolden African leaders who have persecuted LGBT communities in their own countries, such as Yoweri Museveni’s Uganda. Even South Africa voted this week to scrap a United Nations gay rights watchdog.

The trend in Africa is already negative when it comes to gay rights; a Trump administration certainly won’t try very hard to halt this trend, while his very public stance against gay marriage may even accelerate it.

Slow economic growth

Africa’s economies are already reporting sluggish growth, thanks to a slow global economy and lower commodity prices. Trump’s election looks likely to make this even worse. “We are probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight,” commented economist Paul Krugman.

What does this mean for Africa? Well, for one thing, the ‘Africa Rising narrative’ is definitively over (not that it was ever accurate in the first place). There will be less investment, less spending, and less Africans escaping the poverty the trap. If anything, expect poverty statistics to rise.

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By Simon Allison

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