Maiduguri, Jul 29 (AP/UNB) — Suspected Boko Haram extremists killed more than 60 people in an attack on villagers leaving a funeral in northeastern Nigeria, a local official said Sunday. It was the deadliest extremist attack against civilians in the region this year.
Muhammad Bulama, council chairman of the Nganzai local government area, told reporters that 11 other people were wounded during the attack at midday Saturday.
He called it a reprisal after villagers and civilian self-defense forces fought off a Boko Haram ambush in the area two weeks ago, killing 11 extremists.
Nigerians last week marked the grim 10-year anniversary of the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and created one of the world's largest humanitarian crises. The extremists are known for mass abductions of schoolgirls and putting young women and men into suicide vests for attacks on markets, mosques and other high-traffic areas.
The extremists, who seek to impose a strict Islamic state in the region, have defied the claims of President Muhammadu Buhari's administration over the years that the insurgency has been crushed. The violence also has spilled into neighboring Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
Nigeria's military did not immediately comment on Saturday's attack.
Bunu Bukar, secretary of the Borno Hunters Association, a self-defense group, said the extremists roared up on Saturday on motorbikes and opened fire on villagers returning from offering funeral prayers for a relative. He said his colleagues had recovered nearly two dozen bodies.
Bana Musa, who also serves on the local council, told The Associated Press that some people managed to escape the gunfire.
Congo, July 26 (AP/UNB) — Two-month-old Lahya Kathembo became an orphan in a day. Her mother succumbed to Ebola on a Saturday morning. By sunset her father was dead, too.
They had been sick for more than a week before health workers finally persuaded them to seek treatment, neighbors said. They believed their illness was the work of people jealous about their newborn daughter, a community organizer said, and sought the guidance of a traditional spiritual healer.
The Ebola outbreak in eastern Congo is ravaging Beni, a sprawling city of some 600,000, in large part because so many of the sick are choosing to stay at home. In doing so, they unknowingly infect caregivers and those who mourn them.
"People are waiting until the last minute to bring their family members and when they do it's complicated for us," says Mathieu Kanyama, head of health promotion at the Ebola treatment center in Beni run by the Alliance for International Medical Action, or ALIMA. "Here there are doctors, not magicians."
Nearly one year into the outbreak which has killed more than 1,700 and was declared a global health emergency this month, a rise in community deaths is fueling a resurgence of Ebola in Beni. During a two-week period in July alone, 30 people died at home.
Health teams are now going door-to-door with megaphones trying to get the message out.
"Behind every person who has died there is someone developing a fever," Dr. Gaston Tshapenda, who heads the Ebola response in Beni for Congo's health ministry, told his teams.
Many people still don't believe Ebola is real, health experts say, which stymies efforts to control the disease's spread.
Ebola symptoms are also similar to common killers like malaria and typhoid, so those afraid of going to a treatment center often try to self-medicate at home with paracetamol to reduce fever.
But Ebola, unlike those other illnesses, requires the patient to be kept in isolation and away from the comfort of family.
Dr. Maurice Kakule, who became one of this outbreak's first Ebola patients after he treated a sick woman at his clinic, is now trying to make it easier for those who are ill to get help in and around Beni, near the border with Uganda.
He and other survivors, who are now immune to the disease, run a motorcycle taxi ambulance. After receiving a phone call for help they go to homes, reassure the sick and take them for medical care without infecting others.
People's most common fear is that they will only leave an Ebola treatment center in a body bag, Kakule says.
"Some have heard of the problem of Ebola but there have been no survivors in their family," he said. "Since they had relatives die at a treatment center, they think people are killed there and that's why they categorically refuse to go."
They fear, too, that they will die alone, surrounded only by health care personnel covered in protective gear from head to toe.
To try to humanize the care of patients in isolation, ALIMA's Ebola treatment center in Beni places some patients in their own transparent room called a "CUBE," where they can see visitors from their beds. Others share a room with one other patient and a glass window where loved ones can gather.
While there is no licensed treatment for Ebola, patients in eastern Congo are able to take part in clinical trials. That's a welcome change from the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa when many patients entered Ebola centers never to come out alive again. More than 11,000 people died.
Still, the measures needed to keep Ebola from spreading remain difficult for many people to accept.
"We cannot be oblivious to the fact that when you're sick with Ebola you're put somewhere away from your family, with a 50% chance of dying alone from your loved ones," said Dr. Joanne Liu, president of Doctors Without Borders, which is helping to fight the outbreak. "I don't blame people for not finding this attractive, despite the fact that we have a clinical trial going on."
The day after the deaths of baby Lahya's parents, a morgue team in protective clothing carried their carefully encased bodies to a truck for a funeral procession to a Muslim cemetery on the edge of town.
In the background was the sound of workers hammering away as they built more space at the nearby treatment center to accommodate the growing caseload.
Lahya developed a fever but has tested negative for Ebola. The infant with round cheeks and gold earrings is in an orphanage for now, while her 3-year-old sister is being cared for by neighbors who hope to raise them both.
But the sisters will have to wait a bit longer to be reunited — their adoptive father and former nanny both have tested positive for Ebola and are being treated.
The fateful decision to avoid treatment centers haunts survivors like Asifiwe Kavira, 24, who fell ill with Ebola along with eight of her relatives.
Health teams came to the house in Butembo, trying to persuade them to seek treatment. Most of the family, though, said they wanted to treat their fevers at home. After three days of negotiations, Kavira finally agreed to seek help, believing she was on the brink of death.
She would be the only one to survive.
Her mother, grandmother, brother and four other relatives all died at home. An older sister joined her at the treatment center, but medical care came too late.
"I tell people now that Ebola exists," Kavira says, "because that is how I lost my entire family."
Nigeria, July 26 (AP/UNB) — Suicide bombings, mass kidnappings, tens of thousands of people killed. A ghastly insurgency by the homegrown Islamic extremist group Boko Haram marks 10 years this week in northeastern Nigeria, where many residents say life has been set back by decades.
"It feels like 100 years, because everything seems to be moving slowly and not getting any better for me and my family," said Hassan Mamman, who fled to Maiduguri, the region's main city, after Boko Haram attacks on his rural home. He is among millions of people displaced. "I miss my community and always crave it but the merchants of death just won't let us have that much-needed peace."
Friday marks a decade since Nigerian forces clashed with the extremists at Maiduguri's central mosque. More than 700 people were killed, including leader Mohammed Yusuf, according to officials and rights groups.
From that violence sprang the insurgency of Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language means "Western education is taboo." The extremists have sought to establish a strict Islamic caliphate in Nigeria, carrying out attacks as far away as the capital, Abuja. The violence has also spilled into neighboring Chad, Cameroon and Niger. In recent years some fighters have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group, creating a new threat.
Boko Haram seized the world's attention with the mass kidnapping of nearly 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in 2014, sparking a #BringBackOurGirls campaign supported by then-U.S. first lady Michelle Obama and others. While many schoolgirls have since been freed, countless other people abducted over the decade remain lost to their loved ones. They include aid workers; on Wednesday a recently seized nurse pleaded in a video for Nigeria's government to help, saying they could be killed.
While Nigerian officials have repeatedly claimed victory over Boko Haram, weary residents say there is no end in sight to the attacks that have created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with more than 7 million people still dependent on food aid.
In interviews with The Associated Press, a range of people described how their lives and culture have been torn apart. "Our age-long legendary values for decency, where there is mutual respect and regard between men and women, have been eroded in just 10 years," said Hamsatu Allamin, who leads a peacebuilding foundation. Women widowed by the fighting have become beggars or sex workers, she said. Children no longer respect their elders.
"We have been plunged backward by many decades," said Abba-Aji Kalli, who leads a civilian self-defense force. Sometimes the damage appears irreversible, he said.
Some observers allege that certain Nigerian officials are profiting from the unrest via corruption and have little interest in ending the bloodshed. Rights groups have accused some Nigerian security forces of abuses in the fight against Boko Haram including extra-judicial killings and mass arrests. Nigeria's government has angrily rejected such allegations.
"We will continue to pursue and strengthen all options for peace and will not relent," said Baba Sheikh Haruna, spokesman for the governor of Borno state where Maiduguri is located. He said the government recently welcomed more than 150 Boko Haram members who surrendered and expressed hope that the 10-year anniversary would cause other fighters to reflect and lay down their arms.
Some 1.9 million displaced people are waiting for the chance to go home, said Hilde Jorgensen with the Norwegian Refugee Council. "Many of them are in camps that are overcrowded, without proper shelter or access to clean water."
Not even the camps are safe. Boko Haram gunmen on motorcycles stormed a military-guarded camp in Maiduguri on Thursday night, killing a man and child and looting shops, local authorities said.
One of the many displaced people is Musa Jidda, who fled after Boko Haram attacked his rural home in Marte.
"Here I am, stripped of all that made me a man and a breadwinner," Jidda said. "Every day my heart bleeds in bitterness of seeing my family and I turned beggars. I cannot feed my family. Even what they give us here to feed on is not enough. All I want is for them to open this camp gate and let me go home."
Even though Boko Haram has been in the public eye for 10 years, not much is still known about the extremist group, said Matthew Page, associate fellow with the London-based international affairs group Chatham House.
"It's a very decentralized group, which contrasts with other jihadist groups that are tightly organized," Page said. "Boko Haram doesn't have much in the way of coherent strategy and focus, yet they have defied the odds and survived."
He said Nigeria's government has been ineffective in combatting Boko Haram, largely as a result of corruption. "So there is a kind of uneasy standoff. Boko Haram could continue for 30 years."
Some residents of Maiduguri, however, are not giving up hope that peace can return.
Mamman, whose displaced family has sheltered in the city for five years, said he imagined the extremists could be weary as well after a decade on the run.
"Ten years is just enough for them to give up and embrace peace," he said. He plans to do his part. He is now studying at the University of Maiduguri and says he will use his experience to persuade Boko Haram's members "in my own little ways" to put down their arms for good.
Cairo, Jul 25 (AP/UNB) — Hundreds of Sudanese on Thursday took to the streets in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere in the country to insist that an upcoming transitional government be made up of experts and technocrats, rather than political parties.
There was no immediate response to such demands by Sudanese political parties but the opposition Congress party posted videos for the protests in Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman.
In the video from Omdurman, protesters are seen demanding accountability for those implicated in the crackdown against the protesters since the uprising against long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir began in December.
Over 250 people were killed in the uprising, according to protest organizers.
The military overthrew al-Bashir in April, but the protesters remained in the streets, calling for a swift transition to civilian rule. In early June, security forces dispersed their main sit-in, killing at least 128 people, according to the organizers. Authorities put the death toll at 61, including three members of the security forces.
The Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters, said in a statement Thursday their marches reject any party allocations in the Cabinet during the transitional period.
Earlier this month, the military council and the pro-democracy movement reached a power-sharing agreement, including a timetable for a transition to civilian rule.
The deal would establish a joint civilian-military sovereign council that would rule Sudan for a little over three years while elections are organized. A military leader would head the 11-member council for the first 21 months, followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.
The pro-democracy movement would appoint a Cabinet, and the two sides would agree on a legislative body within three months of the start of the transition. Last week, they signed a political declaration that outlines the deal, but have yet to sign the second, final part of the agreement — the so-called constitutional agreement — which is meant to specify the division of powers during the transitional period.
The deal marks a significant concession by the protesters, who had demanded an immediate transition to civilian rule. Rebel groups within the protest movement had rejected the deal, arguing it fails to meet their demands for peace.
Protest leaders engaged in intensive talks for over a week in Ethiopia's capital with the Revolutionary Front, an alliance of Sudanese rebel groups that are also part of the movement. The Revolutionary Front includes rebel groups from Darfur as well as Blue Nile and South Kordofan provinces.
On Wednesday, they said at a press conference that they have agreed to reconcile their differences and that the transitional government should be responsible for implementing the peace deal.
Mogadishu, Jul 22 (AP/UNB) — A Somali police officer says a car bomb in the capital has killed at least 10 people.
Capt. Mohamed Hussein said at least 15 others were injured when the car packed with explosives and parked near a busy security checkpoint by the city's airport was detonated by remote control on Monday morning.
The powerful explosion which rocked Mogadishu occurred in the morning when many people were on the road going to work and others were travelling to attend the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia's Mecca.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast but Somalia's homegrown Islamic extremist rebels, al-Shabab, often carry out such attacks. Al-Shabab is allied to al-Qaida.