Newswire : Nigerian Chima Williams wins Goldman Environmental Prize for helping communities in the polluted Niger Delta

Chima Williams (center) working


May 27, 2022 (GIN) – A Nigerian lawyer who took up the cause for delta communities harmed by a subsidiary of the oil conglomerate Royal Dutch Shell will be recognized this year with a “Nobel Prize for grassroots advocacy to protect the environment,” formally known as the Goldman Environmental Prize for 2022.
 Chima Williams, executive director of Friends of the Earth Nigeria (Environmental Rights Action), was recognized for his role in helping the Goi and Oruma communities of the oil-rich Niger Delta region get justice.
 The victory came after 13 years of litigation when a Dutch court awarded damages to the communities for oil spills which happened between 2004 and 2007 due to exploration by a subsidiary of the oil giant.
 It was the first time a parent company was held liable for actions of its subsidiary in the delta.
 Oil and gas are vital to the Nigerian economy and account for almost half of the country’s GDP. But that wealth was never shared with the delta community. On the contrary, the delta was soon so damaged by frequent oil spills and flares that it was designated one of the most polluted places on earth by Amnesty International.
 Life expectancy in the region is estimated to be 49 years, 10 years lower than the rest of the country.
 In an interview with Al Jazeera, Williams described the halcyon days before Shell first found oil in 1956.
 “Before the advent of oil in commercial quantity,” he recalled, “the Niger Delta used to be known as the most peaceful, the most hospitable, and the most luscious part of the country.
 “Port Harcourt, seen as Nigeria’s oil capital, was christened ‘the garden city,’ he reminisced. “Landscapes in the Niger Delta were a beauty to behold. The people were fishing folks and farmers, supplying the needs of households and families in the Niger Delta and across Nigeria.
 “All those cherished memories of the Niger Delta people have been consigned to the dustbin,” he said bitterly, “because the fishes they catch now are poisonous.”
 In his acceptance speech, Williams, who lives in Benin City, Edo State, gave thanks to all those who supported the litigation. He called on the global audience to join the campaign for environmental justice. 
 “After all, the environment is our life – a healthy environment breeds healthy people and only healthy people can make a healthy world.”

Newswire: U. N. says “Invisible shipwrecks” hide true number of migrants lost at sea

African refugee child


Mar. 22, 2021 (GIN) – The sight of refugees clinging to leaking boats, barely floating in frigid waters, or worse, washing up lifelessly on sandy shores, almost fails to shock after these images repeat over and over, year after year. But consciences were re-awakened this week when a toddler from Mali was seen lifted from a sinking vessel packed with refugees. A team of Red Cross nurses worked frantically to resuscitate the girl who had suffered cardiac arrest. They hoped for a miracle. It never came. Nabody was one of 52 people, including nine children from sub-Saharan African countries, on board a vessel off Spain’s Canary Islands, who spent five days in the Atlantic Ocean after leaving Dakhla on the Western Sahara coast. “There are no words to describe so much pain,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted.  The attempted rescue made the front pages of several Spanish newspapers and highlighted the continuing plight of people fleeing violence or seeking better lives in Europe. In 2020, over 23,000 migrants landed on the Islas Canarias, a figure eight times higher than the prior year.  The effect of COVID-19 pandemic on tourism and other industries in north and sub-Saharan Africa have pushed many more to embark on the perilous Atlantic crossing. While the number of deaths fell this year, so-called “invisible shipwrecks” mean the real number is probably much higher, officials at the U.N. migration agency said. These “shipwrecks” are events that cannot officially be corroborated because the vessels cannot be located and information is insufficient. If officials learn about them at all, it is often through bereaved family members. Sometimes, the only indication is floating bodies and this week rescuers found the bodies of four children washed up on the shores of Libya from a boat believed to be carrying North and West African migrants and refugees. Canary Island officials have raised the alarm, particularly as more children are making the journey by boat. Since October, more than 2,000 such children have arrived. Among them was 16-year-old Diawoiye from Mali, who fled conflict and economic insecurity in his own country. He spent six days at sea making the journey. “In Mali, there’s a war now … my mother and father are over there, and now they are getting old and there’s no money, so I left and came here,” he told Al Jazeera. The Canary Islands’ regional government has opened 21 emergency centers for unaccompanied children but more needs to be done to support the refugee children, said Catalina Perazzo, a spokeswoman for Save the Children.     

Newswire: Sahle-Work Zewde becomes first woman President of Ethopia

Sahle-Work Zewde

Oct. 29, 2018 (GIN) – “Congratulations Madam President! Women do make a difference. We are proud of you!” That was the excited message from María Fernanda Espinosa Garces, President of the United Nations General Assembly, to a U.N. colleague selected to be the first woman president in Ethiopia In a unanimous vote, Ethiopian lawmakers this week approved Sahle-Work Zewde for the presidency, replacing Mulatu Teshome, who resigned unexpectedly a day earlier. Her appointment has raised hopes among advocates for gender equality in the conservative country. While the position of president is largely ceremonial, it carries important symbolic weight and social influence. It also comes as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed just days before, approved a gender balanced cabinet and filled half of the slots with women. A veteran technocrat, Sahle-Work Zewde has worked in diplomacy for more than three decades. Born in the capital Addis Ababa, Zewde attended university in France. After graduating, she served as Ethiopia’s ambassador to France, Djibouti, Senegal and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional trade bloc in East Africa. Prior to her appointment as president, she was the UN’s top official at the African Union. She is fluent in English and French as well as Amharic, Ethiopia’s official working language. The 68-year-old technocrat replaces Mulatu Teshome, who resigned unexpectedly a day earlier. Abebe Aynete, a senior researcher at the Ethiopian Foreign Relations Strategic Studies think-tank, told Al Jazeera: “As a person who knows the Ethiopian system inside out, Zewde, as president, will offer more continuity in terms of policy but will have her own priorities, including female empowerment.” “I consider it as a sort of a glass ceiling being broken down, showing females can also reach positions of high profile,” said Aynete. The administration of reformer Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, which assumed office in April, has appointed numerous women to influential positions that have been traditionally reserved for men, including Ethiopia’s first female Defense Minister Aisha Mohammed. Madam Muferiat Kamil was appointed to lead the newly-created Ministry of Peace, responsible for the police and domestic intelligence agencies.

Newswire : Supreme Court upholds Muslim travel ban

by: Frederick Lowe, Northstar News

Supreme Court.jpg

U. S. Supreme Court building

The U.S. Supreme Court handed President Trump a major victory Tuesday by upholding his ban on immigrants and visitors from seven mostly Muslim countries.
In a 5-4 ruling in the case titled Trump v. Hawaii, the justices rejected the argument that Trump overstepped his authority under immigration laws and that the targeting of mostly Muslim-majority countries amounted to religious discrimination.
Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the majority opinion said the ruling concerned the nation’s security.
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the court’s ruling blindly endorsed a discriminatory policy motivated by animosity towards Muslims.
Sotomayor added that the ruling is a total and complete shutdown of Muslims coming to this country under a façade masquerading as national security measures.
Trump’s order issued in September 2017 was the third version of the travel ban. It imposed a 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia Yemen, North Korea, and Venezuela entering the U.S. Later, the order put a 120-day hold on the admission of refugees.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the clear authority of the President to defend the national security of the United States. In this era of worldwide terrorism and extremist movements bent on harming innocent civilians, we must properly vet those coming into our country,” Trump said in a statement.
Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, advocacy and rights groups warned of an increase in attacks against Muslims, reported Al Jazeera.
Since Trump took office, reports of crimes against Muslims have climbed, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman of Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Al Jazeera.

Newswire: Liberian sports figure, George Weah, promises sweeping changes as country’s new President

George Weah

George Weah, new President of Liberia

Jan. 1, 2018 (GIN) – George Weah, Liberia’s president-elect, declared the country open to investment and pledged to tackle entrenched corruption, in his first speech to the nation since decisively winning an election this week.

Speaking at a press conference at his party headquarters, Weah thanked his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for enabling Liberia’s first democratic transition in over 70 years but said he was determined to usher in sweeping changes.

Weah, 51, faces sky-high expectations from young supporters who are desperate for jobs and better wages. “You’ve got a very marginal, small group of people who are doing exceedingly well and then a large majority who are just barely scraping by,” Robtel Neajai Pailey, a Liberian academic, told Al Jazeera.

“A large population of the under 35-year-olds are the ones who showed up in large numbers to elect Weah,” she said.

Weah faces the messy reality of reviving an economy gutted by low prices for chief exports rubber and iron ore and dwindling donor support. Unlike Mrs. Sirleaf’s 35 years of global experience, his only experience in government office has been his three years as a senator, representing Monrovia, a time during which his opponents criticized him for failing to speak up during legislative sessions.

President-elect Weah emerged from the Monrovia neighborhood of Gibraltar with an uncanny ability to weave behind a soccer ball all the way up the pitch, and eventually gained fame as a world-class striker for the Italian team A.C. Milan. He won the soccer world’s greatest individual honor, the Ballon d’Or, and was named by FIFA, soccer’s governing body, as the African Player of the Century.

He never got to compete in the World Cup, because Liberia was engulfed by civil war, instigated by President Charles Taylor, during the height of Weah’s soccer years and was unable to muster up 10 other players good enough to qualify.

Weah and Vice President-elect Jewel Howard-Taylor will take office later this month.

Newswire : US denies visa to Gambian school robotics team

Robot built by high school students in The Gambia will be shipped to Washington, DC, for event without its inventors.

By: Azad Essa and Colin Baker, Aljazeera News

The team built the robot during rigorous seven-hour shifts throughout Ramadan [Moctar Darboe/Al Jazeera]

Five teenage pupils from The Gambia, a small nation in Africa. who built a robot for a prestigious international competition in the United States will not be able to accompany their invention to the event after being denied a visa.
The Gambian pupils become the second team of students refused entry to the US to attend the FIRST Global robotics event in Washington, DC, on July 16-18. On Saturday, it was reported that an all-girls team from Afghanistan were also denied a visa to travel to the US to showcase their creation at the same competition.
Moktar Darboe, director of The Gambia’s ministry of higher education, research, science and technology, told Al Jazeera that the team, made up of high school pupils aged 17-18, were “very disappointed”.
“They put in so much effort into building this, and now, after all the sacrifice and energy they put in, they have been left disheartened,” Darboe, who is also the team’s mentor, said on Monday.
The robot, a ball sorting machine, will be shipped off in the next day or two, he added.
The Gambian American Association will represent the team at the event and the students in The Gambia’s capital, Banjul, will watch it over Skype.
The FIRST Global Challenge is open to students aged 15 to 18 from across the globe. According to FIRST, around 158 countries will be represented, including 40 African countries. Only the teams from Afghanistan and The Gambia have had their visas rejected so far.
Darboe said that the visa was denied shortly after their interview at the US embassy in Banjul in April. They were not given any explanation. “We were only told that we did not qualify and that we could try again.”
According to Darboe, the students had to pay $170 each for the visa application. “Their parents had to sacrifice a lot to pay this fee.” The students continued building the robot despite being denied the visa, hoping the decision would ultimately change.
They were further buoyed by a visit of US Ambassador C Patricia Alsup to their project site last month. “She gave us hope not to give up, and she said they would give us all their support to help us go further,” 17-year-old Khadijatou Gassam, a science student and spokesperson for the team, said.
The US embassy in Banjul told Al Jazeera that it did not comment on consular affairs. Kevin Brosnahan, a spokesperson for the state department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, said he was unable to discuss individual visa cases.
Last week, the US Supreme Court allowed the partial enforcement of President Donald Trump’s travel ban on residents, citizens and refugees from six Muslim-majority countries – but both The Gambia and Afghanistan are not on the list.
In March, at least 60 African citizens were denied visas for African Global Economic and Development Summit in the US state of California. Organizers said at the time they were not sure if the rejection was linked to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies or if talk of the travel ban was being used to “to blatantly reject everyone”.
Darboe said building the robot was difficult. When parts arrived, customs officials took their time in releasing them. “They asked us if were building RoboCop,” he said.
Fatoumata Ceesay, the team’s programmer, told Al Jazeera that she had come to terms with the fact their creation will be run by other students in the US. The 17-year-old said they had worked under trying conditions, day and night, and with little guidance over the entire Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. “And we started building it after the [visa] rejection. We built it despite knowing we weren’t going,” she said.
Gassam says that she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to represent The Gambia and “show the world [that] ‘yes, we can do it'”. “But we’re not giving up, despite the challenges we face, we still continue to work hard,” she said. “Next year it will be somewhere else, so I think next year we have hope to get there.”