Despite a Successful 2014 for Africa, Hundreds Continue to be Hacked to Death in DRC

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KINSHASA, DRC - In 2014, many African countries have seen long-awaited triumphs in the form of heightened foreign direct investment, peaceful political transitions and quickly expanding economies.

While there are undoubtedly many hurdles left to overcome, there are many pockets in Africa that are taking advantage of these opportunities, including Botswana who's per capita GDP is now $15,176 and Burkina Faso who has the most improved education in Africa with increased enrollment across all grades. (Source: Legatum Institute's 2014 Africa Prosperity Report)

These multifaceted expansions paint an encouraging picture of the Africa that investors and aid workers alike have been dreaming of for decades: plenty of jobs, youth engagement, financial stability, robust national security and an enhanced standard of living for all.

Despite this backdrop, however, there are still unimaginable, archaic and tragic atrocities going on in remote areas of the continent that should be front page news. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has long been a disaster -- a country ravaged by decades of war, poverty and "big man" politics, but although many think the 1994 Rwandan Genocide is over, the DRC is still plagued by its side effects every single day.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report this week on December 16th, indicated that over 200 Eastern Congolese citizens have been murdered since October. Because President Joseph Kabila has no grasp on the country's army security processes, the rebel group called Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) continues to terrorize the countryside and murder civilians with machetes and axes, while their victims are unable to effectively seek help or protection. The group is a Ugandan-led Islamist faction that has been operational in the area since 1996, and their motive is to avenge the death of their comrades who have been counterattacked and pushed out by the DRC's army or the UN's mission, MONUSCO.

The group is also particularly brutal in the methods they've been using to evoke fear and desolation. For those that they kidnap instead of hacking to death immediately, captives are sometimes crucified, held in coffins lined with nails, or forced into being ADF soldiers' wives. But although these gruesome and horrific acts have been going on since October, the government and international community already on the ground have failed to stop or even curb the violence.

These "war crimes", as so deemed by HRW, deserve a swift and powerful response. There are already peacekeepers on the ground who can supplement the national army's battle to defeat and unravel rebel groups, and it is urgent that this is implemented before another attack happens, leaving dozens hacked into pieces and more displaced.

While many developing countries, especially in Africa, are reaping the benefits of globalization, world trade and improving standards of living -- there are still monstrosities happening every day that belong in a period centuries ago, before human rights and international justice were reality. In such a modern, civilized age, it's time we stick up for those who have to face unfathomable, barbaric dangers on a regular basis.

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

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Does Middle East Harbour Fears of Oil Drying Up?

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MIDDLE EAST - Will the world soon experience a major oil and gas crunch? Many global countries are gradually becoming self-dependent and planning to adopt new drilling technologies in the hope of discovering their own oil reserves. The Middle East, which has long maintained its stature as the world’s largest oil exporter, now feels great pressure. Someday the oil reserve will dry up under the burden of consumption of a vast volume of barrels of crude oil per day.

Governments and those involved in framing policies in the Middle East are now aware that the world’s oil fields are depleting at a rate of 9.1% per year, which is terrifying. It has been reported that if nothing is done to overcome the threat, then oil production could fall 38% in only five years. A recent report in the Guardian revealed that conventional sources of oil are expected to continue to decline and future oil demands will need to be satiated through more unconventional resources.

This is a matter that requires immediate attention for most of the oil producing nations in the Middle East. What if the economic highs created by the precious oil drop down to nothing? This very fear has brought economic diversification to the center stage. The only saving grace that can protect the global population from experiencing this painful outcome is to introduce a diversification strategy.

The concept of economic diversification is to improve the GDP. Economic diversification is a process that generates a growing range of economic outputs. This diversifies the markets for exports or income sources outside of domestic economic activities (i.e. income from overseas investment). The Middle East and its constituting nations have adopted the concept, where previously they were characterized by the lack of it.

Other sectors will now stand with pride and make their own contributions to the GDP and thus lead to a flourishing fiscal health. At the moment, private sectors are the first visible output of the economic divergence protocol.

Price and demand are two of the most important aspects of the global economic system and fiscal diversification is one way to escape the complex phenomenon. Countries and their respective economic systems are experiencing problems such as low growth rates, lack of public and private incentives to accumulate human capital, lack of competition in manufacturing, and similar problems. This is something that has coaxed the countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council to opt for economic diversification.

Economic diversification can reduce a nation’s economic volatility and increase its real activity performance. With oil consumption going up at a very steep rate, diversification is something that can pacify the fear in the Middle East associated with its diminishing oil reserve.

The answer lies in the relationship between fiscal divergence and private sector economic reforms. The theory suggests that diversification will help increase the private sector and will lower the contribution of the public sector to a certain level. One of the reasons for more private sector involvement is that a part of economic divergence relates to the issue of the foreign direct investments. A report from LSE suggests FDIs can bring in capital, create new jobs for people living in the Middle East, encourage development of new technology, and formulate management methods. These will help the countries build and expand their societies and knowledge communities.

It can safely be said that the potential of the Middle Eastern nations to attract FDI is severely limited without a well-functioning private sector. The growth of the private sector in the overall GCC economy has not only brought a fresh breath of air but has also created ripples in the employment market as a whole. The premise is simple: Take the revenue from oil and gas and invest it in other budding industries and sectors.

The expectation of fiscal diversification is freedom from the monopoly of oil and gas revenue on the GDP, and newcomers entering the economic arena. The Gulf would soon be relieved from the fear of depleting oil reserves and could still manage the country with a growing private sector. There would be well-paying jobs in the Middle East and the standard of living would still be maintained.

Follow Vinita on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Middle East Correspondent: @vinita1204

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Racism Remains in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Apartheid, Photo by UN Photo
Apartheid, Photo by UN Photo

SOUTH AFRICA - The World Hates me Because I am Black... Thus I will Love the World Because I am Black.

I will always remember this moment: my mom and little brother coming into the house with mail. She hands me a large envelope with the biggest smile. I quickly glance to see Howard University in big, bold, blue font with 'CONGRATULATIONS' on the bottom.

I didn't know at the time that I would be attending a premier HBCU and one of the leading research institutions in the world. My reality soon became engulfed in Black pride, Black beauty, and Black history. Professors continuously remind the student body of the academic, technological, and cultural contributions by African people to the global network. Because of my experience at Howard University, I learned to appreciate my skin color.

I am currently studying abroad at the University of Stellenbosch in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The town is racially and economically segregated. Walking on one side of Eikstad Mall, a shopping centre, I mainly see students, the white middle class, and employees. However, the other side of the mall reveals a different story. Blacks and Coloureds fill the area while White tourists enthusiastically take pictures. The university itself is notoriously known as a racist university because of its history as an Afrikaans-only school. Even the architect of Apartheid taught at this university. So as a young Black woman, I am defying the slowly dying Apartheid-schema:

WHITE = GOOD & SUPERIORITY; BLACK = BAD & INFERIORITY

Stares continuously confront me as I walk through the streets of Stellenbosch. They range from genuine curiosity to a loaded question of “why are you here?” However, I must mention that the stares vary by the perpetrator's color (I am using color to make a claim and demonstrate my observations; I am not aiming to generalize nor to negatively portray South Africa and its people). White people look with curiosity, fascination, objectification, lust, and a complex, deep-seated hatred and contempt. Coloureds glare at me as if I remind them of a Black perpetrator in their past (Blacks and Coloureds do not have an amicable relationship mostly due to the systematic marginalization of Coloured placed slightly above Blacks - similar to the history and relationship between Blacks and Latinos in America). Black Afrikans stare at me with … well... I would argue curiosity, disgust, and confusion.

Does my natural Afro, American accent, and African-Native-American-European mixed features evoke a 'stop-and-stare' reaction in a non-American country?

Of course.

That would definitely be the acceptable explanation if these stares were solely genuine curiosity.

But they are not.

The actual is not the main issue. I do not favor staring because of my experiences in childhood. Staring is a natural phenomenon that will never disappear; I accept that. The main issue is what lies behind the staring that is not spoken, but clear: a covert global campaign promoting Black inferiority.

Everywhere I turn I see Black women destroying their natural hair with non-stop weaves, wigs, and braids. The Afrikan cultural traditions of decorating one's head with flattering hair-dos and wearing clothes that demonstrates one's roots and status became replaced with conflicting European standards of beauty. Like diamonds in the rough, I see Black people retain their heritage through their language, dancing, and the undying dedication towards Ubuntu. But this is overshadowed in Stellenbosch. Even if I travelled to Afrikan places that fought against the damaging effects of colonialism; like a mouse, it silently scurries in and conveniently leaves droppings as a reminder of its presence.

Ultimately, I travelled from an HBCU bubble, Black pride island back into the real world. A world that constantly reminds me that it loathes my skin color and anything associated to it. At every restaurant, I am confronted with “you don't belong here and should never belong here.” At a club, I am asked for extra identification. At the bar, several customers are served before me. In stores, I am monitored but not helped. From tourists, I am greeted with a traditional Afrikan language. To others, I am worthless until my American origin graces their ears. These experiences have truly influenced my study abroad journey. However, there is one that moves my soul to tears: the contempt for Black Americans from Black Afrikans.

Howard reminds me that I have brothers and sisters in Afrika and in the Afrikan diaspora, yet I believe the feeling is not mutual. A Black-American girl from Boston told me that in her conversation with some Afrikans, she mentioned that she identifies herself as African-American. To her surprise, she was met with laughter and a firm “you are not Afrikan.” We can always debate on 'what is Afrikan,' but the disregard of our historical bond disturbs me. Clearly the definitions of Afrikan, Black, isiXhosa vs. isiZulu, Zimbabwean vs. South African are significant to most. Yet, all hope is surely not lost.

One of my best days spent in South Africa was at Mzolis in Gugulethu, a township. My flatmates, Christine and Alyssa, and I were chilling in a lounge with Afrikan men watching a soccer game . Our passionate, young 'tour guide' stopped all conversations to remind us that our ancestors were taken from Africa for the slave trade; however, everyone in that room are brothers and sisters. The men instantly agreed and jokingly identified our African origins based off our physical appearances, mannerisms, and speech. Apparently, I am undeniably South African, but it is a debate between Xhosa and Zulu origins.

In coming to South Africa, I was reminded of the world's hatred for Blackness. But I also experience the community's love for me. South Africa presents me the challenge to love my existence. It shows me the remarkable diversity of Africa and Africans. As I prepare to return to America and Howard University, I shall remember this:

The world hates me because I am Black, Thus, I will love the world because I am Black, I love the world because it is Black, And that will never change.

Follow Chrycka on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Poet & Literary Critic: @chrycka_harper

This post is dedicated to my Black sister, Christine Smith, that shared the experiences described in this post in our semester spent in South Africa.

Saudi Arabia Grapples with Women's Right to Drive Within Existing Restrictions

SAUDI ARABIA - A common Western activity such as driving has been an issue for women in Saudi Arabia for ages. Although women over thirty have been allowed to drive, this right has been curtailed by the stringent restriction to which they are forced to adhere.

Currently, "Saudi Arabian laws" limit their freedom to drive outside of a proscribed schedule which prohibits them driving after 8:00 p.m. Also, an additional restrictive and seemingly punitive issue is that women who are driving are forbidden to wear make-up while operating the vehicle. One would presumably understand the restriction against distracted drivers using cell phones and other communication devices thus taking their attention away from the road, but the wearing of make-up does not seem to fall into this category as women are allowed to wear it in all other instances.

This matter came to the attention of the world because the consul of Saudi Arabia has put on the table for discussion the possibility of removing the time constraints, and also considering the option of allowing women older than 30-years-old to operate a vehicle during restricted hours. Though, these discussion are not open to the public, it seems that this is a growing necessity for a society that is increasingly mobile and where the use of a vehicle would greatly enhance the performance of such mundane duties such as grocery shopping, picking up children from school, etc.

Although the decision to reassess the restrictions imposed on women drivers seems precipitous, in fact women have been actively campaigning for this basic right to drive for years. The consul stated that there is the necessity to create a “female traffic department" in order to bring precise control over the matter, in case a car suffers some damage while being utilized by a woman. There are also restrictions when it comes to women interacting with men while driving. Though these discussion seem to be a recognition of the need for equal rights for women in terms of driving, the additional restriction makes us wonder if this response is a ploy to seemingly comply with women's rights group while in fact devaluing the struggle in which many women defied the laws, boldly driven their cars, and consequently suffered punishment.

Additionally, the existing restriction have resulted in a culture of families hiring drivers to transport women. But, what happens when the traditional family does not have the economic resources to hire someone? Women then are directly dependent of spouses, siblings, parents and even their children in order to accomplish their daily activities, and such restriction are unduly punitive for women who are in the lower classes. Thus, the current debate is considering the possibility that under certain conditions women might drive more days of the week during the hours between 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Restrictions regarding wearing make-up and interacting with men during the driving are not up for discussion and will likely remain in place.

According to The Associated Press, "There have been small, but increasingly bold protests by women who took to their cars in open defiance....over the past year despite the restrictions. The driving ban, which is unique in the world, was imposed because the kingdom's ultraconservative Muslim clerics say "licentiousness" will spread if women drive.”

A protest occurred last October when Saudi women drove around their neighborhoods and recorded themselves on videos which they then posted on social networks such as YouTube as a means to publicize their plight and reinforce their belief in the right to protest this unjust situation. Although there isn't a written law that limits schedules or outlines formal details on restrictions imposed on women driver, these unwritten cultural restrictions have been ubiquitously enforced, and punishments have varied between jail time or other sanctions.

In 2011 forty women protested against the driving ban and as a consequence one of them was sentenced to 10 lashes; however this barbaric punishment was subsequently overturned by the king. The revocation of this sentence can be viewed as an improvement since the situation has been discussed for years over what type of judgement should be meted out for women who break the de facto "driving ban" laws, and corporal punishment of women who are considered disobedient is actively practiced in other traditional cultures.

Since the consuls' discussion are private and there has been no indication of when an announcement of their decision will be made, women who have been demanding their right to drive continue to peacefully protest by driving despite these anachronistic traditions.

Human Trials to Test Ebola Vaccine Begin

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Institute of Health (NIH) has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin human testing of a new Ebola vaccine. This will be welcome news for the millions of Americans who now face the very real possibility of encountering someone with the disease or contracting it themselves.

Currently, 357 people are being monitored in New York for possible exposure to the deadly virus, and Texas which was the epicenter for the first mortality from Ebola in the U.S. has been declared Ebola free.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "Nine people have been treated in the U.S. for Ebola, including Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who died last month. One doctor, Craig Spencer, remains hospitalized in stable condition in New York."

The vaccine is undergoing a "human safety trial," which means it will be tested on "healthy human subjects to evaluate the immune response, identify any side effects and determine the appropriate dosage." (Source: NewLink Genetics)

The vaccine was developed by the pharmaceutical company Glaxosmithkline and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and is one of several being developed worldwide.

Earlier in the outbreak, the drug Zmapp was administered to seven aid workers. Five of the workers survived, though it's unclear how large a role the drug played in their survival. Due to the emergency status of the outbreak, treatments are not being monitored and tested as thoroughly as they would be if there was more time. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has granted an $24.9 million 18-month contract with the manufacturer of Zmapp to expedite the development process.

VSV-EBOV is another experimental vaccine for the Ebola filovirus, developed by scientists at the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory and is currently being tested in clinical trials in the U.S. at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md. This vaccination purportedly does not induce any fever or other symptoms of illness. There is also evidence that this type of vaccine which can be administered orally or intranassaly as nose-drops may have potential as a treatment for those already infected. (Source: Wikipedia)

In Canada, permission has been granted for the vaccine VSV EBOV to be sent to Africa, but problems such as refrigeration during transport and storage have come up. Many of the villages that are most in need are in remote areas with bad roads, infrequent electricity, and and treatment is further hindered by the citizens mistrust of new technologies. It's clear that while developing a vaccine is an enormous step forward in the Ebola fight, there are still many political and practical obstacles to overcome.

Follow Sarah on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Journalist: @SJJakubowski

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Rwanda's Leading Murderer | Paul Kagame

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KIGALI, Rwanda - Ever since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the international community has been slow to criticize Rwanda's new government and slow to intervene in matters there. This hesitancy to get involved is rooted back to their fear of being to blame for another outbreak of civil war, or worse, genocide. Despite having dirty hands from not stepping in to prevent or stop the genocide, they're fearful of further worsening their guilt by interposing in Rwandan affairs and having a role in any resurgence of violence.

This pattern in the past two decades has created the perfect scenario for Rwanda's president, Paul Kagame. By the end of the genocide, he was viewed as an international hero for easing the chaos and in essence, helping to end the genocide. For his role in restoring stability in Rwanda, the international community paid him back by turning a blind eye to his illegal, murderous and scary actions that would continue to this day. His role in the First and Second Congo War are undeniable, as his political and military decisions were directly tied to thousands of deaths and continued war and violence that spread into neighboring countries.

Twenty years after the Rwandan genocide, Kagame is still in power and still continuing to enforce his intense and total grip on power across the country. Opposition leaders and journalists are commonly jailed, silenced, exiled, or worse, killed. In the past several months, over 40 bodies have turned up in Lake Wreru on the border of Rwanda and Burundi. Rwanda's government conveniently claims that since they were found in Burundi, they are Burundi's responsibility. However, the lake is fed by Akagera River that flows in from Rwanda. To add to the suspicion, many of the bodies were wrapped in plastic bags, indicating that the disappearances were planned and not accidental.

To add to Kagame's list of crimes, there have been a string of mysterious murders in South Africa where former Rwandan government officials that were exiled have been murdered in their hotel rooms and the like. Adding all of these occurrences up, it is evident that these events are not coincidences but are a part of a larger plan to remove dissent and criticism from the country. And without the international community stepping in to hold Kagame and his team accountable, how far will he go? After two decades of overlooking their wrongdoings, when it will it become too much?

Follow Jessamy on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Africa Correspondent: @JessamyNichols

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Islamic New Year 2014 | The Prophet and Kaaba

dubai 2014 new years eve fireworks, photo by robin appleby

dubai 2014 new years eve fireworks, photo by robin appleby

DUBAI, This year, the new Islamic New Year fell on October 24. The date will mark the anniversary of the Prophet Muhammad's journey from Mecca to Medina in year 622. He led his followers over 200 miles across barren desert to escape persecution. At the time, Mecca was a polytheistic city which was viewed by many different religions as a holy center.

The frequent migrations of these many religious practitioners was to visit the Kaaba, which is a sacred stone structure that was once used to house effigies of gods and goddesses and its presence subsequently changed the city into a prosperous trade center.

When the Prophet insisted that there was only one God people were quite resistant to this credence. At that time theKaaba wasfilled with false idols and, furthermore, in the terms of all the Abrahamic religions it is required that a percentage of one's income (if possible) be given to charity. People worried that this new religious edict would harm the economy as well as their pockets.

As the Prophet Muhammad started his life as a merchant and didn't turn to religion until he was in his 30s -- people questioned both his authority to preach and his sincerity in proselytizing these new values. Consequently, he was threatened and began to fear for his life. The Prophet had heard that the city of Medina would be a sanctuary for the new followers of Islam and thus moved to there.  The first groundswell of converts to Islam were rapidly growing, and thus he found Mecca to be more welcoming.

The year of this journey, called the Hijra marked the beginning of the Islamic calendar. While the Prophet's birth and the founding of the Islamic religion are important, it was decided that the show of devotion in the face of adversary that a more powerful symbol representative of Islamic value should be adopted as the first of the calendar year.

Eventually it became safe for the Prophet Muhammad to return to Mecca. This pilgrimage, called the hajj, became required for all Muslims to make at least once in their lifetime during the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.  However, exceptions are made for those unable to travel. As well as being a personal journey, it is also a way to encourage solidarity amongst Muslims and people from all over the world from all backgrounds came and continue to gather together to give allegiance to Allah.

The Muslim calendar is on a lunar cycle versus the Gregorian calendar used by much of the West. Thus, the start of a month is marked by the first sighting of a crescent moon, and each new day begins at sundown on the previous, versus a new day starting at sun up in the West. Because the 12-months of the calendar differ in length from the more widely used Gregorian calendar, Islamic dates and holidays vary in comparison from year-to-year.

The New Year is recognized in relatively quiet way, with prayers and reflections, but as with the other major religions and in honor of their holidays, we wish our Muslim readers Sana sa'eedah!