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Greece — In an emotional visit to a fenced-in refugee center on this Greek island, Pope Francis told hundreds of displaced families Saturday that "you are not alone" — and underscored it by taking three families of Syrian Muslim refugees back to Rome with him.
The 12 refugees, including six children, joined the pope on his plane after a five-hour visit to the Moria detention center. The pope also asked European leaders to do more to help the thousands of refugees stuck in camps.
Two of the families are from Damascus, and one is from an area of Syria now occupied by the Islamic State, according to a statement by the Vatican press office.
The pope "desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees" and worked out an agreement between the Greek and Italian authorities regarding the families, the statement said.
"Refugees are not numbers; they are people who have faces, names, stories and need to be treated as such," Francis tweeted.
The 12 refugees will be cared for in Rome by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic lay organization dedicated to charity, the Vatican said. The Vatican is already hosting two refugee families in Rome.
Nour Essa, 30, a Palestinian-Syrian scientist, is one of the 12 who returned to Rome with the pope. She will be relocated along with her 3-year-old son and husband. The family fled because her husband was being pressured to join the Syrian army.
"We heard of the EU-Turkey deal which would be implemented on March 20 and decided despite the bad weather to get on one of the boats to Lesbos," she said. "We were very lucky: Friends of ours that were living with us in Turkey that came the next day were not given papers and are still in jail in Moria camp. Instead, we will be refugees in Italy!"
The pope's gesture came as the European Unionbegins to implements a controversial plan to deport refugees from Greece back to Turkey.
The deal stipulates anyone arriving clandestinely on Greek islands on or after March 20 will be returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum in Greece. For every Syrian sent back, the EU will take another Syrian directly from Turkey for resettlement in Europe.
In return, Turkey was granted concessions including billions of dollars to deal with the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees living there, and a speeding up of its stalled accession talks with the EU.
Human rights groups have denounced the deal as an abdication of Europe's obligations to grant protection to asylum-seekers.
Hours before Francis arrived, the European border patrol agency Frontex intercepted a dinghy carrying 41 Syrians and Iraqis off the coast of Lesbos. The refugees were detained and brought to shore in the main port of Mytilene, the Associated Press reports.
When the pope visited 250 refugees at the Moria detention center, one young girl fell sobbing to her knees in front of him. The pontiff gently lifted her to her feet and stroked her hair. A woman told the pope that her husband was in Germany, but that she was stuck with her two sons in Lesbos.
The pope made the rounds among many of the refugees, shaking hands with young people along a fence and later addressing the group.
"I want to tell you that you are not alone," he said. "In these weeks and months, you have endured much suffering in your search for a better life. Many of you felt forced to flee situations of conflict and persecution for the sake, above all, of your children, your little ones."
Francis was met at the airport by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras along with Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, and the Archbishop of Athens.
West Africa has been on high alert following recent terror attacks on hotels in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. And now in Ghana, a leaked security document says Ghana and Togo are the next targets of the al-Qaida affiliate that claimed responsibility for the previous attacks. Ghanaian President John Mahama has told the nation not to panic.
The leaked memo says the threat of a terror attack in Ghana is “real,” citing intelligence from the National Security Council Secretariat. It is addressed to Ghana’s immigration service.
The document calls for stronger border surveillance, including “thorough profiling” of people from Mali, Niger and Libya.
The memo was shared on social media and picked up by local press.
President Mahama sought to reassure the nation on state-run radio Thursday.
“We have trained our own special forces. Currently a significant number of them [are] on standby. We are preparing for any such eventually but we need the alertness of the public," said Mahama.
Ghana's government put the nation on high alert in March after al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacked a beach resort outside Abidjan, killing 19 people.
The leaked document says information from Ivory Coast, including confessions obtained from the mastermind of the attack there, indicates that the attackers entered that country in a 4x4 vehicle registered in Niger. The memo says the attackers concealed their explosives and weapons in the spare tire compartment.
Mahama said the leak was unfortunate.
"They didn’t need to put the intel in there. You just to send a directive asking for alertness and asking them to search more thoroughly vehicles and all that. Every country in West Africa is at risk and we are at risk not only from external forces but even from internal forces. We have evidence of radicalization of our own citizens who have gone out to join some of these terrorist groups," he said.
The head of the West African Center for Counter Terrorism in Accra, Mutharu Muqthar Mumuni, says panic must be avoided.
“We need to ensure vigilance and reporting of suspicious activities; however, we’ve got to be very careful in order not to condone acts that have the proclivity to lead to gross basic human rights violations relating to lynching of innocent people," said Mumuni.
The AQIM attacks in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast marked an alarming expansion for the group whose operations until then had been confined to North Africa and parts of the Sahel region.
As Chinese influence grows, Taiwan struggles to maintain its grip on its partners in Africa. Kenya has deported Taiwanese nationals to China and there are other examples.
The Cold War is not dead – at least between China and Taiwan. In the mid-20th century both Taipei and Beijing had sought recognition as China's official government. On an international level, this meant establishing relationships with countries around the world.
While Beijing has in the meantime won this diplomatic race, a small number of countries still maintain diplomatic relations to Taiwan and recognize it as an independent entity. In January, Taiwan elected a new president, Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). She has made it clear that while she wants to maintain a peaceful relationship with China, she would not allow it to meddle in Taiwan's affairs.
For Africa, the relationship to the world's second biggest economy, China, has meant an alternative to relying on the former colonial powers of the West. China is a strong market for Africa's minerals and other exports. The pull of China's economic might has also meant a shift away from diplomatic ties that existed during the Cold War era for ideological reasons. China and Taiwan demand that countries decide in favor of just one of them. Relations with both are not possible under the "one China" policy.
Today only three African countries, namely Sao Tome and Principe, Burkina Faso and Swaziland, maintain official ties to Taiwan. Yet recent events in Kenya and Gambia have demonstrated that Taiwan and China can be difficult diplomatic terrain for African nations.
A diplomatic row surfaced earlier this week, when Kenya deported 45 Taiwanese nationals to the Chinese mainland. The Taiwanese were part of a group of 77 people arrested in Kenya in November 2014 over cyber fraud and visa offenses. There are plans to try the group in mainland China. Earlier this week, a video circulated online of the Taiwanese nationals blocking acces to their prison cell and resisting attempts by Kenyan police to deport them. Now that the group has been extradited, Taiwan is negotiating with China over visiting rights for its nationals.
In recent years, Chinese firms have been involved in major road and infrastructure projects in Kenya. "We don't have official relations with Taiwan. We believe in the "One China" policy,” Kenya's Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed told news agencies.
Gambia was the last African country to break diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In 2013, President Yahya Jammeh declared that he would rather work with Beijing. The Chinese government, however, declined the offer. At the time, Taiwan had a China-friendly leader and the two sides had agreed not to take advantage of the other's diplomatic partners. China kept its promise for three years. In March 2016, however, it decided to take Gambia up on its offer. Observers believe that this could be a reaction to the election in Taiwan of a pro-independence candidate for the presidency.
There were once 30 African states which had ties to Taiwan. Now there are just three and they include Swaziland. The relationship to the democratic Taiwan could be seen as an attempt of Africa's last absolute monarchy to polish its image, according to political analysts Timothy Rich and Vasabjit Banerjee in a study for Hamburg's GIGA Institute. It is easy to see why the Chinese have not yet made headway in Swaziland, they say. Unlike Zambia, it has few rare minerals that could interest China. Additionally Swaziland has profited from Taiwanese development aid. In 2012, the kingdom received computers at the value of $300,000 (265,000 euros) and $150,000 worth of rice.
Zambia is often referred to as a strong partner of China in Africa and has profited from Chinese investment, particularly in the mining sector. In 2006, however, that relationship looked likely to fall apart. At the time, presidential candidate Michael Sata criticized labor conditions in Chinese firms in Zambia. He threatened to cut ties to China and instead turn to Taiwan. China countered his statements, saying that it would pull its diplomats and businesses out of Zambia should Sata win the upcoming elections. The British paper ‘The Telegraph' called the Zambia's elections a ‘referendum on China'. When Sata finally won the elections, he however swallowed his election promises and maintained the relationship to Beijing.
Under apartheid, South Africa's government enjoyed a very strong relationship to Taiwan. Beijing on the other hand supported the ANC and anti-apartheid movement. In 1998 South Africa severed its political ties to Taiwan. Today, South Africa and China are strong economic partners – they both belong to the five-country group of BRICS states – and South Africa's ruling ANC enjoys a close relationship to China's Communist Party. According to a study by political analysts Sven Grimm and Yejoo Kim, Taiwanese businesses were given a relatively humane farewell in South Africa as they were given a one-year period to settle their affairs. Taiwan still maintains a liaison office in Pretoria and Cape Town, but Taiwanese nationals have found it increasingly difficult to do business in the country.
In 2011, South Africans felt the heavy hand of Chinese influence when the country refused entry to the Dalai Lama. He had been invited to a world summit of Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Fellow laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu was outraged by the South African government's decision. China views the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, as a violent separatist.
The Foreign Affairs Ministers of Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria had separate audience with the Prime Minister and Head of Government Philemon Yang this Tuesday 12th April 2016
During the separate audience, each of them handed a sealed message from their President to President Paul Biya.
The Equato - Guinean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Co-operation, Agapito Mba Mokuy who was the first to be received handed his sealed letter from his President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
Shortly after, he discussed issues of cooperation and fraternity between the two countries.
He also briefed reporters on his country’s mood before elections few days from now, saying everything is going on smoothly and that his government has urged its Nationals to be promoters of peace as they actively participate in the voting process.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Minister of State, Minister of Foreign Affairs Khadidja Boukar Ibrahim came after with a sealed letter from his President Muhammadu Buhari.
After a close to 15 minutes talks with the Prime Minister he later on told reporters that the relations between Cameroon and Nigeria is progressing positively.
Common security issues and the plight of Nigerian refugees were also part of their discussions.
He was accompanied to the Prime Minister’s Office by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Cameroon Hadidja Moustapha.
Authorities in Democratic Republic of Congo have expelled a prominent American researcher weeks after he published a report linking soldiers to the massacres of civilians, the government and the researcher's organization said on Saturday.
Jason Stearns, the director of the Congo Research Group at New York University, was expelled from the country, to which he makes regular research visits, for making false declarations to immigration services, government spokesman Lambert Mende said.
"(Immigration authorities) wanted to present him to a judge but finally they decided to expel him," Mende said, adding that he did not have any details on the nature of those declarations.
The group said the reason given by authorities for Stearns' expulsion on Thursday was his "undesirability", and said the immigration irregularities were "minor procedural matters, which we are taking steps to address".
Its statement said the authorities referred to Stearns' report about the massacres, without giving further detail.
Last month's report said that soldiers in Congo's army had participated in massacres of civilians in the country's northeast since 2014, although it said it was unclear to what extent the military hierarchy was involved.
Mende sharply criticized the report at a news conference in the days after it was released, accusing Stearns of "abusive generalization".
Rights groups say more than 500 people have died in a wave of machete attacks and other raids since October 2014. The government has blamed most of them on a Ugandan Islamist group that has operated in eastern Congo since the 1990s.
Political tensions are high in Congo, where President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is required by the constitution to step down before the end of the year.
Opponents, however, accuse him of trying to delay a presidential election due in for November in order to hold onto power. The United Nations and rights groups say the government is cracking down on dissent through arrests and intimidation of opponents.
The government denies both of these charges.
Stearns is a former coordinator of the U.N. panel of experts in Congo and author of a widely read book about the country's civil wars from 1996-2003.
African public officials are among the high-ranking figures to find their names in the leaked Panama Papers. Kofi Annan's son Kojo and a nephew of South Africa's President Zuma are among those listed in the disclosures.
The law firm Mossack Fonseca in Panama sells anonymous offshore companies around the world. It’s not illegal to own such a company or shares, but they can be used to cover up deals that could be illegal. Research by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and a German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung has uncovered trade deals between Mossack Fonseca and several African public officials.
Clive Khulubuse Zuma - nephew of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma
South Africa's President Jacob is currently battling parliamentary impeachment proceedings following corruption allegations including the Nkandla and Gupta Family scandal. The Panama Papers could provides the Zuma's opponents with fresh ammunition in theri bid to oust him. The documents link President Zuma in an oil mining deal between a British Virgin Islands-based oil company Caprikat Limited and Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
According to the documents, Zuma helped Caprikat to secure oil fields in the DRC and ordered his nephew to head the firm's operations in the country.
Kalpana Rawal - Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya
Kalpana Rawal, Kenya's deputy Chief Justice was implicated in several business deals linked to two companies based in British Virgin Islands. Rawal and her husband were directors of the companies prior to her appointment as deputy chief justice. The documents revealed Rawal's involvement in real estate in the United Kingdom through offshore companies. Rawal has not stated if she had declared any of her investments to Kenya's judicial service commission. Kenya's constitution bars public servants from owning a bank account outside the country.
John Addo Kufour – son of Ghana's former President John Agyekum Kufour
Ghana's former President John Agyekum Kufour 's eldest son, John Addo Kufour, was also mentioned in the revelations. During President Kufour's first term, the son and his mother allegedly controlled a bank account in Panama worth $75,000 (66,000 euros). They appointed the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, to manage the fund which was called The Excel 2000 Trust. Local media in Ghana had reported allegations that the younger Kufour gained lucrative government contracts and private sector business deals through his father. But an official commission later found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Mamadie Toure - widow of Guinea's late President Lansana Conte
Mamadie Toure, widow of Guinea's late president, Lansana Conte, was allegedly granted the power of attorney to Matinda Partners and Co Ltd, a British Virgin Islands company, in November 2006. Authorities in the US claimed that Toure received $5.3 million to help a mining company win a mining concession from President Conte shortly before he died in 2008.
Mounir Majadi - personal secretary to Morocco's King Muhammed VI
Mounir Majadi, personal secretary to Morocco's King Muhammed VI, allegedly purchased a luxury 1930s schooner “Aquarius W” in 2005 on behalf of SMCD Limited, a British Virgin Islands firm. After the purchase, the vessel was registered in Morocco and renamed “El Boughaz I.” It is now owned by King Mohammed VI.
Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos - Angola's oil minister
Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos is Angola's oil minister. Oil is the southern African country's main export. He also held the portfolio for energy and water. Prior to the Panama files, de Vasconcelos had never been linked to any corruption allegations. According to the Panama Papers, he was secretly ran a company based in the South Pacific. The company was worth $1 million, according to his own statements. The company was disbanded in 2009.
Ian Kirby – head of Botswana’s court of appeal
Ian Kirby began his career as a tax specialist and has been the head of the Court of Appeal, the highest court in Botswana, since 2010. According to research by ICIJ, Kirby had shares in seven offshore shell companies based in the British Virgin Islands. The purpose for which these companies existed is unknown, but Kirby told ICIJ that he and his wife had invested only the required minimum contribution in the company and want to use them for investment purposes. Due to the economic crisis they had lost a large part of the money.
Jaynet Desiree Kabila Kyungu – twin sister of President Joseph Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo
She is considered one of the most influential people around President Joseph Kabila. Jaynet Desiree Kabila Kyungu has been sitting in Democratic Republic of Congo's parliament since 2012. She also has a media company. The Panama Papers revealed that Kyungu together with a Congolese businessman were co-heads of an offshore company based in the South Pacific. The company is said to have shares in one of the largest mobile operators in the DR Congo.
Kojo Annan – son of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations
Kojo Annan purchased an apartment in London for $500,000 in 2013, according to the ICIJ's Panama Papers, through an offshore company headquartered in South Pacific nation of Samoa. He is also registered as a director of two other companies, based in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. His company acted according to applicable laws and purposes, according to Kojo Annan's lawyer. Kojo's father, Kofi Annan, was Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) between 1997 and 2006. During this period, the UN placed an order under the oil-for-food program to a Swiss company for which Kojo Annan worked. Allegations of corruption and nepotism were made, but an independent investigation found no proof.
Reactions in Africa
Mouhamadou Mbodj, coordinator of the "Forum civil" and Transparency International in Senegal, said he was not surprised by the Panama Papers' revelations. In a DW interview, Mbodj said money disappearing through tax havens was exactly the reason why African countries lacked better social policies. "This probably can be explained by the absence of these funds and that's also the reason why so many people emigrate to Europe," Mbodj said.