Egypt: Journalists accused of terrorism


A group of bloggers and journalists have been accused of plotting ‘to destabilise the nation’ for having ties with the outlawed Ginbot 7 group


A court in the capital, Addis Ababa has charged 10 Ethiopian journalists and bloggers belonging to the social media activist group Zone 9 with terrorism. They have been held in detention since April, and all deny receiving financial aid and instructions from terrorist groups to destabilise the country.

Nine of the accused – one is charged in absentia – smiled and waved to friends and family as they entered the packed courtroom.

The judge said the group’s work was a cover for clandestine activities and accused it of plotting “to destabilise the nation”.

“They took training in how to make explosives and planned to train others,” the AFP news agency quoted Judge Tareke Alemayehu as saying.

The bloggers are accused of working in collusion with the banned US-based opposition group Ginbot 7, which calls for the violent overthrow of the ruling party in Ethiopia.

New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the government was trying to stifle opposition and media freedom in the country, and called on the authorities for the group’s immediate release, saying they had been doing their jobs.

Correspondents say Ethiopia has increasingly faced criticism from donors and human rights groups for jailing its critics – many of whom have sought asylum abroad in fear of being arrested and tortured in jail.

“Expressing critical views is not a terrorist act. Once again, the Ethiopian government is misusing anti-terrorism legislation to suppress political dissent and intimidate journalists,” Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa representative, said in a statement.

The lawyer for some of the accused said the charges had no “credible substance”.

Zone 9′s website, which often has pieces that are critical of the government, has the strap line “we blog, because we care”.

In June, one of the leaders of Ginbot 7 facing the death penalty was controversially extradited from Yemen to Ethiopia. Andargachew Tsege was sentenced to death in absentia in 2009 for plotting a coup.

In an interview with the BBC, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn denied that the authorities were being heavy handed in applying anti-terror laws which came into force five years ago. He warned that those found to be linked to “terrorist groups” would be dealt with. “If you have any connection with terrorists don’t think that the Ethiopian government will let you [go] free”, he said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the decision, accusing Ethiopia of making a “mockery of its own judicial system”, according to deputy Africa director, Leslie Lefkow.

“Hiding behind an abusive anti-terrorism law to prosecute bloggers and journalists for doing their jobs is an affront to the Ethiopian constitution,” she said.

HRW accuses Ethiopia of using the anti-terrorism laws to silence dissent and jail critics. Several journalists have been jailed under the law, including two Swedish journalists jailed for 11 years in 2012. They were pardoned after serving 15 months. Two years ago, prominent Ethiopian journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in jail for having links with Ginbot 7.

The trial for the bloggers and journalists is expected to resume on August 4th.

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Ethiopia: First wines to attract fresh investment


The first wines at the Ziway vineyard are to be bottled this year, bringing the promise of attracting new foreign investment.

In Ziway, southern Ethiopia is an unexpected sight — vineyards bursting with merlot, syrah and chardonnay grapes ripening in the African sun.

The scene is more reminiscent of France’s Beaujolais region than this corner of the Horn of the Africa, but the French beverage giant Castel, which bottled its first batch of Ethiopian wine in 2014, is helping change the way outsiders view the country. It is also boosting government hopes of attracting foreign investment, key to its plans to reach middle income status by 2025.

The country’s growth rates are already among the highest in Africa, hitting 11.2% in 2013, according to the government, although the International Monetary Fund (IMF) puts the figure at 8.2%.

For Castel, the ambition is merely to produce good wine, and Ethiopia is an ideal, if surprising, place to do that.

“We don’t find it difficult because the climate is good, it’s not too hot,” said Castel’s Ethiopia site manager Olivier Spillebout, at its vineyards in Ziway, 160 kilometres south of the capital Addis Ababa.

The sandy soil, short rainy season, cheap land and abundant labour were what drew the company’s billionaire president Pierre Castel. The company has been working in Africa for half a century, and in Ethiopia since 1998 when it purchased a state-owned brewery, St George.

But the late prime minister Meles Zenawi thought a vineyard would boost Ethiopia’s image abroad, and asked Castel if it would be interested. So in 2008 the firm spent $27m setting up Ethiopia’s first foreign-owned vineyard.

Castel aims to sell half of the 2014 production of 1.2m bottles on the domestic market, and half to Ethiopian diaspora communities in North America, Europe and elsewhere in eastern Africa.

In Ethiopia, a bottle of Castel wine sells for $10 dollars, and is of better quality than comparably priced imported wines from South Africa or Italy.

The bottle’s design echoes Ethiopian traditions, showing the bulbous carafe traditionally used to serve the still popular, and potent, honey wine.

Even so Spillebout claims his wines are popular with drinkers of sweet and syrupy traditional wines, which are often served with raw meat, a local delicacy.

Castel said it does not expect to earn profits from its Ethiopia vineyard until 2016, eight years after it set it up; its main concern is keeping up with demand, having sold nearly a quarter of its first batch of wine since April, and said it plans to expand the vineyard to eventually boost production to three million bottles a year.

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Egypt: Global media renew calls for release of Al-Jazeera journalists


Al Jazeera journalists Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have now been imprisoned in Egypt for over 200 days.

Media organisations and journalists across the globe this week took part in a coordinated campaign to exert pressure on the Egyptian authorities over the three jailed Al Jazeera journalists.

The 200th day in prison for Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed saw many media outlets taking to social media and using the hashtags #FreeAJStaff and #journalismisnotacrime to build as much publicity as possible and try to pressure the Egyptian government into releasing the reporters.

The Al Jazeera journalists were arrested last December and accused of aiding the Muslim Brotherhood following the military’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by providing it with a media platform and equipment.

In June 2014, following a trial dismissed by the defendants as a “sham” , the trio were convicted. Greste and Fahmy were sentenced to seven years, while Mohamed received an additional three years for a separate charge.

Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi has recently been quoted as saying he regrets the trial.

Media campaign roundup

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Food aid to be reduced for 800,000 refugees


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is reducing food aid to nearly 800,000 refugees in Africa.

The agency said the cuts of 40 to 60% will affect refugees in the Central African Republic (CAR), South Sudan, Chad, Uganda, Mauritania, Mozambique, Ghana, Liberia and Burkina Faso.

The cuts are “threatening to worsen already unacceptable levels of acute malnutrition, stunting and anemia, particularly in children,” the WFP and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said in a joint statement.

WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon told Voice of America there were two main reasons for the cut.

“Mostly it is because of funding difficulties. We have not got the money to keep full rations on for these people”.

He said security concerns and the difficulty of shipping food by road also play a role. WFP could transport or drop the food by air, but that makes the operation prohibitively expensive, Smerdon added.

Now, the two agencies have launched an urgent appeal to address the funding shortfall that has led to this situation.

UNHCR is asking for $39m to fund nutritional support and food security activities to refugees in the affected countries, while WFP is appealing for US$186m to maintain its food assistance to refugees throughout Africa until the end of 2014.

Worst hit have been refugees in Chad, CAR and South Sudan where a total of nearly half a million refugees are experiencing ration cuts of 50 to 60%.

A substantial increase in the need for food assistance has been generated by an unprecedented number of refugee emergencies in 2014. Of the 11.7m refugees under UNHCR’s protection at the end of 2013, the highest number since 2001, 3.3m live in Africa.

According to Paul Spiegel, UNHCR’s deputy director of programme support and management, there has been a lot of earmarking by donors for certain situations such as that in Syria, with the result that some situations, particularly CAR, have been severely under-funded. Protracted refugee situations have also not attracted the same level of funding.

As donors increasingly prioritise funding for the emergency phase of refugee crises over protracted situations, UNHCR has had to shift its approach in the last two years.

“The big shift has been that we’re looking at saying ‘if we can avoid camps, let’s do so’,” Spiegel told the UN humanitarian and news anlysis service, IRIN.

“Having refugees be amongst local communities is better for so many different reasons: it allows them to be more self-reliant, reduces long-term dependence and UNHCR can use its funding to improve existing communities.”

Long-term refugees are often unable to wean themselves off food aid, usually because they are confined to remote camps where there are little or no possibilities for them to generate an income. Governments, however, have the final say on the refugees they host, and for now few are willing to grant refugees even basic economic freedoms such as the right to work and live outside of camps. Overcoming this reluctance will mean convincing host nations that, given the chance, refugees have the capacity to boost rather than burden local economies.

“We’re now gathering more and more information in Africa and the Middle East to show that improving refugee livelihoods, if it’s done in a smart way, can have a positive effect on host communities,” explains Spiegel.

UNHCR is also attempting to reshape its livelihoods strategy to be more responsive to socio-economic realities and more inclusive of host communities.

Alexander Betts of Oxford University’s Refugee and Forced Migration Studies is director of the Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) which is also keen to expand the evidence base for giving refugees greater economic freedom. In June, Betts and his team released research from Uganda, which allows the 387,000 refugees it hosts to live and work outside designated refugee settlements. The study found that 78% of the refugees surveyed did not receive any international aid and instead relied on farming land allocated to them in the refugee settlements or trading with fellow refugees and their Ugandan neighbours. “What we’ve tried to do with the research is offer data that can demonstrate that governments prepared to offer basic economic freedoms [to refugees] can in turn reap benefits,” said Betts. However, he acknowledges that far more research into the economic lives of displaced populations is needed if there is to be a major shift in host nations’ attitudes towards refugees.

Meanwhile WFP and UNHCR are faced with hard choices about which groups of refugees are more able to withstand ration cuts.

According to WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs, “in situations of funding constraints, WFP conducts vulnerability assessments to prioritise its assistance to the most vulnerable.” Prolonged ration cuts, however, inevitably lead to refugees adopting increasingly drastic coping strategies. “Refugees initially try to make do by skipping meals, taking out loans and pulling their children out of school,” said Byrs. “In the longer-term, ration cuts can lead to more risky behaviour such as crime, sexual exploitation and conflict with host communities. “We are urging donors to try to find innovative ways to supply badly needed funding.”

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Funding for Terror – UNEP / Interpol Report  


Ivory from poached elephants is the primary source of income for Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, says report.

Global environmental crime is worth up to $213 billion a year and helping to finance criminal and terrorist groups threatening security and sustainable development worldwide, according to a report released on June 24th by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Interpol.

Ivory from poached elephants is the primary source of income for Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) according to the report. Ivory poaching is also carried out by rebel groups including insurgents in Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as Janjaweed, which carried out atrocities in Sudan’s Darfur region and also operates in Niger and Chad.

Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked al Shabaab are estimated to make between $38 and $56 million per year from the illegal trade in charcoal, the report says.

“The illegal trade in wildlife and environmental crime are now widely recognised as significant threats on a global scale, to be tackled with urgency,” said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.

“Beyond immediate environmental impacts, the illegal trade in natural resources is depriving developing economies of billions of dollars in lost revenues just to fill the pockets of criminals,” he said.

The report was released as part of a week-long global environment conference at UNEP’s Nairobi headquarters aimed at tackling challenges from poaching to marine pollution and boosting the “green economy”.

At the Nairobi meeting, the first ever United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) (which came amid fresh warnings of potential al Shabaab attacks), Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania announced the East Africa Initiative on Illegal Timber Trade. The three countries intend to work together, along with INTERPOL and UN agencies, to curb the illegal timber trade that is stripping East Africa of one of its most valuable natural resources. The illegal timber trade costs the world economy between $30 and $100 billion annually, says Interpol.


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Controversial UK Khat Ban


Possessing khat, a plant used as a stimulant by Somali and other communities, has been made illegal in the UK.

The plant khat is now banned as a class C drug despite advice from the UK government’s official advisers that it should not be classified.

The ban came into force at midnight on June 24th, despite fears the move will criminalise communities from the Horn of Africa.

Police have been told to take a ‘softly softly’ approach to the new law, with users given a warning for a first offence, a £60 fine for a second and only facing possible jail time for a third offence.

“Our message is very much that the best result for us will be if don’t arrest anyone,” Detective Superintendent Simon Rose told the London Evening Standard.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) guidance said: “It is important that officers… retain their operational discretion; taking into account that khat has historically not been a controlled drug and was part of the culture for certain communities linked to the Horn of Africa.”

The ban comes after members of Cardiff’s Somali community previously called for khat to be outlawed while others say it does not have a negative effect. Some opponents to the ban say alcohol has a wider effect on people.

However, Nasir Adam, a community regeneration officer in Cardiff, said he expected the majority of the city’s Somali community would welcome the ban, saying excessive use has an effect on people’s mental health and has caused the break-up of families.

National policing lead for drugs, Chief Constable Andy Bliss, said the police were working with healthcare providers and community leaders to ensure people are aware of the change in law and that there was support available to them. In Bristol, almost 30 businesses previously selling khat say they may have to close as a result of the ban.

Danny Kushlick, director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, a charitable think tank campaigning for the legal regulation of drugs, said it was unfair that khat was being banned whereas alcohol if used in excess.

“Yet again the government has ignored the advice of its experts and prohibited another drug,” he said.

In a written statement in 2013, UK Home Secretary Theresa May said despite the recommendation of the Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) not to ban khat, the body acknowledged that there was an absence of robust evidence in a number of areas. She said the whole of northern Europe, most recently the Netherlands, and the majority of other EU member states have banned khat, as well as most of the G8 countries including Canada and the USA.

Mrs May said failure to take action in the UK would place the country at serious risk of becoming a single hub for the illegal onward trafficking of khat to countries where it is banned.

The ban has been criticised by a wide variety of drug experts for having no evidential backing.

The Home Office’s own report from 2011 found there was “a general lack of robust evidence on the link between khat use and social harms”. Reports of harm to the Somali community were based on “often contradictory anecdotal statements”.

Legislation against the drug in Europe and north Africa “had little success in curbing demand and has taken place with little consideration of evidence”, it found.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also accepted khat is not a “seriously addictive drug”. And Theresa May’s own drug advisers – the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) – recommended against prohibition.

“In summary, the evidence shows that khat has no direct causal link to adverse medical effects,” its report found.

Experts are concerned that the ban on the drug might push Somalis, Kenyans and other user communities into criminal circles. Others believe it may push users toward other illegal drugs like amphetamine. The required amount of khat needed for someone to get high is physically large, so users may be tempted toward narcotics which can be more easily concealed.

There are also concerns about the economic effect of the ban on southern economies. In 2013, the value of khat exported from Kenya to the UK alone was over £15.4m per year.

At various times in recent years, khat has been Ethiopia’s second most lucrative export product after coffee. In 2012-13, khat export revenues for Ethiopia were estimated at £160.1m.

“Increasingly the world is looking toward drug policies that minimise harm to people who use drugs as well as producer and transit countries,” said David Bewley-Taylor, director of the Global Drug Policy Observatory.

“However, this new law is pulling a page from an outdated playbook. Even worse, it passes on the greatest costs to low-income producer countries when official experts found the substance does not pose a serious threat.”

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Africa’s growing middle class fuels surge in shopping malls


As spending power grows on the continent, so the number of shopping malls increases.

A surge in disposable income and the growth in Africa’s middle classes has led to an upswing in the number of shopping centres across the continent, according to a report in mid-June.

With shoppers searching for new ways to spend their money, and investors keen to help them to do it, some 14 new shopping centres opened their doors between 2012 and 2013, according to research by Sagaci, a market intelligence organisation.

Excluding South Africa, there were 242 shopping centres in the continent in 2013, the report said.

“The middle class is developing. And the people in it want to spend their money,” Julien Garcier, a partner at Sagaci, told AFP.

More than 180 other retail developments are in the pipeline, according to the researchers, funded “largely by local investors”.

Just one shopping centre closed in 2013, the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya, which was shut after an attack by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab in which at least 67 people were killed.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), about 150m people can be considered firmly in the continent’s middle class, with the same number again part of the more vulnerable “floating” middle class.

Sub-Saharan African economies are currently some of the fastest growing in the world, and expected to expand by more than five percent in 2014.

While much of the continent’s growth has come from oil, gas and other natural resources, the emergence of a middle class has also boosted consumer growth.

According to a study by the African Development Bank (AFDB) published in 2011, nearly 34% of Africa’s population are middle class, with the group almost tripling in size from 1980.

In May, the accountancy firm Ernst & Young published a report that said that many investors are now moving into “consumer-related sectors as Africa’s middle class expands”.

Garcier says his research suggests that some 30% of households living in the biggest African cities earn more than $500 (€370) a month.

“In all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the size (of the middle class) is underestimated,” he said.

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