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Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, ‘Mr. Green’ as new forestry minister

Lee White, who has lived in Gabon for three decades and is a citizen, takes over one of the most sensitive jobs in the country.

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Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, 'Mr. Green' as new forestry minister
Newly appointed Gabon Minister of Water and Forests, British Lee White was, before his appointment, the head of Gabon's National Parcs (Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, ANPN). -(AFP)

Here’s your new job: You have to protect the country’s precious tropical forests. You have to stop illegal logging and fight the entrenched corruption backed by powerful forces which goes with it. By the way, you are a committed environmentalist — and you are foreign-born.

This is the challenge facing Lee White, a green activist born in Britain, who this week was named minister of water and forests in Gabon.

Related: Gabon vows no mercy over $250 million hardwood theft

White, who has lived in Gabon for three decades and is a citizen, takes over one of the most sensitive jobs in the country.

Long-running tensions between logging and conservation have been sharpened by corruption and falling revenues from oil, Gabon’s main money-earner.

“My appointment was a surprise for many people here,” White admitted in an interview with reporters after President Ali Bongo Odimba appointed him on Monday.

He said Bongo had asked him to “put an end to bad practices… (as well as) the corruption in the ministry”.

Related: Mystery in Gabon: Illegal haul of sacred wood disappears

White acknowledged the scale of the tasks ahead.

“We have to sustainably manage the Gabonese forest to improve the living environment of the Gabonese people, to stabilise its natural treasures and to preserve our ecosystems,” he said.

Almost 80 per cent of Gabon is covered by forests.

The forestry sector is a historic pillar of the economy, accounting for 17,000 jobs and 60 per cent of output excluding oil.

About a quarter of Gabon’s population live in rural areas, and many people depend on the forests for food and livelihood.

At the same time, the forests themselves are a treasure trove of biodiversity, much of it rare or endangered. 

Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, 'Mr. Green' as new forestry minister
Tropical forest exploitation, Gabon. Biosphoto / Jean-Francois Noblet

Related: Gabon threatens crackdown over theft of sacred wood

They are a haven for great apes, forest elephants and the black panther, as well as rare species of trees, some of them giants towering up to 60 metres (200 feet) high.

Manchester-born –

White, 53, was born in the northwestern English city of Manchester but grew up in Uganda — in a biography he recalls fighting at school with the son of former dictator Idi Amin.

In 1989, he arrived in Gabon, where he studied for a doctorate in zoology.

He took up Gabonese nationality in 2008 and the following year took over as head of the National Parks Agency (ANPN), a massive conservation project of 13 wildlife zones set up by the late president Omar Bongo, the incumbent’s father.

He was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for his dedication to nature conservation in Central Africa.

Lee’s high-profile defence of the rainforest and wildlife — often with the verdant Raponda Walker Arboretum near Libreville as a backdrop — made him a familiar face in the national media, which dubbed him “Monsieur Vert” (“Mister Green”).

Bongo turned to him for the job after firing the last forestry minister over a timber-smuggling scandal.

Related: Gabon’s president sacks vice president and forestry minister

Analysts say the job will require remarkable skills, juggling tact and principles, as well as rock-solid support from the top.

“This appointment can only be good news for protectors of the environment in Gabon,” said Gaspard Abitsi, director of a US-based NGO, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in Gabon.

“He is perfectly familiar with the challenges of conservation on a national and international level.”

Graft –

Others are more cautious about the prospects of reform.

“There are enormous management problems at the ANPN, and this agency only accounts for 10 per cent of the land,” said Marc Ona, president of an NGO called the Brainforest Association and a member of the opposition.

“From now on, Lee White will have to manage all of the forests in Gabon… If he hasn’t succeeded at the ANPN, why would he succeed with the whole expanse of the territory?” 

“The problem,” said Ona, “is not which individual heads the ministry but the whole forestry system, which is corrupt.”

In a report issued in March, a British NGO, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) pointed the finger at a Chinese group, Dejia, which has wide-spreading logging interest in the Congo Basin.

Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, 'Mr. Green' as new forestry minister

It accused the firm of exceeding its logging quotas and spinning a web of patronage extending to ministers as well as the opposition.

The then forestry minister, Guy Bertrand Mapangou, initially lashed the report as biased and “inquisitorial” and seeking to “discredit” the country.

But within weeks, the government suspended Dejia’s licence at two logging sites.

Related: Gabon recovers 200 containers of rare hardwood, 153 still missing

On May 21, it fired Mapangou and Vice President, Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou over the so-called “kevazingogate” scandal.

In February and March, authorities had seized nearly 5,000 cubic meters (176,000 cubic feet) of banned kevazingo wood — the equivalent of about 150 large container-loads, valued at around $8 million (seven million euros).

The contraband timber was found at storage sites belonging to Chinese companies at Libreville’s Owendo port — some of it disguised in containers bearing the stamp of the forestry ministry.

Related: 30 containers of kevazingo seized in Gabon

Kevazingo, also known as bubinga, takes many years to mature. Logging the wood is illegal in Gabon, but the temptation to flout the ban is huge. In Asia, kevazingo can fetch up to $2,000 per cubic metre.

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Morocco’s sale of 8% stake in Maroc Telecom to inject $920 million into state budget

52.74 million shares, priced at 127 dirhams will be sold as a block order to local institutional investors

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MAROC TELECOM STORE | Maroc Telecom has been sold by the Moroccan government

Morocco says it plans to sell off an 8 percent stake in Maroc Telecom, which will lead to an 8.87 billion dirham boost towards financing the country’s budget. This privatisation programme is aimed at improving state financing according to the Morocco capital market regulator, AMMC.

Another 6 percent stake in the company comprising of 52.74 million shares, priced at 127 dirhams will be sold as a block order to local institutional investors such as retirement funds, insurance companies and banks on June 17, according to the prospectus.

Related: Digital colonialism: The price Africa pays for cheap internet

The remaining 2 percent will be sold on the Casablanca stock exchange in a public offering at a share price of 125 dirhams starting on June 26 and closing on July 5 2019.

The 2 percent stake also includes 2.9 million shares, representing 0.3% of Maroc Telecom’s capital, to be sold to the company’s employees at a share price of 117.7 dirhams, the prospectus showed.

The sale will cut the state’s stake in the company to 22% from the current 30%. Maroc Telecom is listed on both the Casablanca stock exchange and the Euronext exchange in Paris.

Related: Formula One in talks to make African comeback

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Morsi’s death: Timeline of events in Egypt since 2011 post-Mubarak era

Key dates in Egypt since the Tahrir Square-led revolt known which drove Hosni Mubarak out of power and events that led to Morsi’s death

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People carry images of Egypt's first popularly elected president Mohamed Morsi, who reportedly died from a heart attack on Monday

Former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi was buried in Cairo Tuesday, a day after he died following his collapse in court and nearly six years since his ouster by now President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, leaving the country in a leadership crisis as the incumbent plans perpetuity.

Here are key dates in Egypt since the Tahrir Square-led revolt known as the ‘January 25 revolution’ which drove Morsi’s predecessor Hosni Mubarak from power in February 2011.

Revolution

On January 25, 2011, thousands of Egyptians, inspired by the Tunisian revolt that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, protest in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt demanding longtime dictator Mubarak’s overthrow.

On February 11, after days of vast protests centred in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Mubarak’s newly appointed vice president Omar Suleiman announces that the president has resigned and the army is in charge. 

A crackdown on the protests has left at least 850 dead.

Tens of thousands people take part in a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers. News of Morsi's death are making the rounds in the media
Tens of thousands people take part in a mass rally against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers on November 27, 2012 at Egypt’s landmark Tahir Square in Cairo. Clashes between police and protesting youths erupted near Cairo’s Tahrir Square, ahead of the demonstration. The planned demonstrations came a day after Morsi stuck by his controversial decree in a meeting with judges that was aimed at defusing the worst political crisis since his election in June. AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

Islamist victory

Islamist parties win a majority of seats at parliamentary elections between November 2011 and January 2012. 

On June 30, 2012, Morsi, a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader, wins 51.7 percent of the vote to become Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected president. He is also the first Islamist to head the country.

Egypt’s military rulers dissolve parliament in June. In August, Morsi dismisses military chief Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and replaces him with Sisi, in a purge of top brass.

Morsi ousted

On July 3, 2013, following massive protests against Morsi’s divisive rule, the military led by Sisi overthrows Morsi and detains him. Morsi denounces a coup and calls on his supporters to defend his legitimacy.

On August 14, police disperse two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo, killing about 700 people in clashes, according to official figures.

The government names the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organisation” in December.

Ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi greeting press members as he stands behind the bars. Morsi's Death has been reported
Ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi greeting press members as he stands behind the bars during his trial on charges of espionage on behalf of Qatar at the Police Academy in Cairo, Egypt. /Mohamed Gamil / Anadolu Agency

President Sisi

Sisi is elected president with 96.9 percent of the vote in May 2014. His election comes after the approval of a new constitution bolstering the military’s powers.

In late 2015 a new parliament is elected, packed with Sisi supporters.

Repression

Sisi presides over a fierce clampdown. Hundreds of suspected Islamists are sentenced to death or life in prison in mass trials slammed by rights groups.

Secular opposition activists are also jailed.

Local and international rights groups accuse the regime of torture, forced disappearances, summary executions and repression of dissent.

The authorities deny the accusations, pointing to the need for stability and the fight against terrorism.

Jihadist threat

The country also witnesses deadly attacks, perpetrated mainly by the Islamic State group, which kills hundreds of police officers and soldiers in attacks centred on the Sinai peninsula.

On October 31, 2015, a Russian airliner carrying tourists from an Egyptian beach resort explodes after taking off, killing all 224 people on board. IS says it had planted a bomb on the plane.

On November 24, 2017, a suspected IS attack on a mosque in the Sinai leaves more than 300 dead.

More than 100 die in attacks on Christians, also claimed by the group.

In February 2018, the army launches a vast “anti-terrorist” operation.

Backing for Sisi

In February 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin travels to Cairo for the first time in a decade and signs a deal to build the first Egyptian nuclear power plant.

In March 2015, the Obama administration lifts a partial freeze on military assistance decided after Morsi’s overthrow.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia visits Egypt in April 2016.

In April 2017, US President Donald Trump praises Sisi as the Egyptian leader visits Washington. Sisi is hosted at the White House for a second time in April 2019.

In October 2018, Sisi visits Paris, where he receives strong support from President Emmanuel Macron, who in turn visits Egypt the following January.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C-R) shaking hands with US Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (L) days before Morsi's Death
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (C-R) shaking hands with US Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (L), commander of the US Central Command (USCENTCOM), as Sisi and Defence Minister General Mohamed Zaki (R) receive the General at the presidential palace in the capital Cairo. (Photo by – / EGYPTIAN PRESIDENCY / AFP) /

Sisi boosted

In March 2018, Sisi is re-elected with 97.08 percent of the vote. His only opponent is one of his supporters.

In April 2019, a controversial constitutional revision allowing the extension of Sisi’s presidency and strengthening his powers is approved by referendum.

Morsi dies

People wave flags of Egypt during a protest against the military government in Egypt after Egypt's first popularly elected president Mohamed Morsi, who reportedly died from a heart attack on Monday at a court session
People wave flags of Egypt during a protest against the military government in Egypt after Egypt’s first popularly elected president Mohamed Morsi, who reportedly died from a heart attack on Monday at a court session, at the Times General Square in New York, United States on June 17, 2019. Atilgan Ozdil / Anadolu Agency

On June 17, 2019, Morsi collapses in court during a retrial over charges of collaborating with foreign powers and militant groups.

He arrives at hospital dead, according to the attorney general’s office.

Rights groups say the Islamist was denied medical treatment in detention and demand an investigation.

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UN wants government to end terrorist bombings in northeast Nigeria

“This is another terribly sad day for civilians in northeast Nigeria and for the humanitarians who are working to help them”

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Red Cross officials attend to victims of a triple suicide bombing, in Konduga, 38 kilometres

The United Nations has condemned the multiple suicide bombings in the northeast of the country that killed 30 people, including a community volunteer and injured 40 others.

UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon said in a statement in Abuja on Monday that the government must deploy more security solutions to end the spate of terrorist bombings in that part of the country.

“This is another terribly sad day for civilians in northeast Nigeria and for the humanitarians who are working to help them,” Kallon said in the statement.

“The UN and its partners deplore these abhorrent acts of violence and call for those responsible for these attacks to be swiftly brought to justice,” he said.

“Our deepest condolences go to the families of the victims in Konduga,” the UN chief said. “We hope all those injured can access the urgent medical attention they require and wish them a full recovery.”

Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga, 38 kilometres (24 miles) from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, where football fans were watching a match on TV on Sunday evening. 

Although no group has claimed responsibility, the attack bore the hallmarks of Boko Haram, which is seeking to impose a hardline Islamic law in Nigeria’s mainly-Muslim north. 

A victim is attended by health officials, following a triple suicide bombing in Konduga, 38
Graphic content / A victim is attended by health officials, following a triple suicide bombing in Konduga, 38 kilometres (24 miles) from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, on June 17, 2019. – Thirty people were killed late on June 16 in a triple suicide bombing in northeast Nigeria, emergency services reported, in an attack bearing the hallmarks of the Boko Haram jihadist group. Three bombers detonated their explosives outside a hall in Konduga, 38 kilometres (24 miles) from the Borno state capital Maiduguri, where football fans were watching a match on TV. (Photo by Audu Ali MARTE / AFP)

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned “the heinous acts”, releasing a statement urging security agents to track down the perpetrators and devise strategies to prevent a recurrence. 

Buhari, a 76-year-old retired general, who was re-elected in February, is facing mounting demands to improve security. 

The last suicide attack was in April carried out by two female suicide bombers outside the garrison town of Monguno, killing a soldier and a vigilante. 

Konduga has been repeatedly targeted by suicide bombers from a Boko Haram faction loyal to longtime leader Abubakar Shekau. 

The faction typically attacks  soft civilian targets such as mosques, markets and bus stations, often using young women as bombers. 

Boko Haram’s insurgency has claimed more than 27,000 lives and forced two million to flee their homes, sparking a dire humanitarian crisis. 

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