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Ghana moves to end dreams of ‘Western Togoland’

We are in a democratic state, and you don’t just arrest people because you think they have an intention to demonstrate

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With his white hair and walking stick, Charles Kormi Kudzordzi does not look like the leader of a revolutionary separatist movement seeking to forge a new West African nation.

Even his supporters call the frail 85-year old “Papavi”, or grandfather.

But Ghana’s security forces are not taking any chances.

A joint police and military operation cracked down this month on a group that said it was preparing to declare its own nation in the eastern Volta region bordering Togo.

Soldiers blocked roads and stormed houses, arresting 89 people across the region, most of them around the town of Ho, 150 kilometres (93 miles) northeast of Ghana’s capital Accra.

The separatists, members of the innocuous-sounding “Homeland Study Group Foundation”, or HSGF, call their dream country “Western Togoland”.

“We are not leaving anything to chance,” said Prince Dogbatse, Volta region police spokesman. “We’re on high alert… to protect the territorial boundaries of Ghana.”

Police say the group not only has an anthem, constitution and flag, but is also training a militia force.

The Volta region is also a stronghold of Ghana’s main opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

‘Storm in a tea cup’

A video taken by a local journalist of the arrests shows Kudzordzi leaning heavily on a carved wooden stick, flanked by men in combat helmets and automatic rifles leading him towards a military helicopter.

The retired teacher pauses, as if out of breath, before getting in.

Kudzordzi was flown to the confines of the high-security walls of Ghana’s Bureau of National Investigations in Accra, accused, with seven other men, of being the group’s leaders, and charged with treason.

They risk the death penalty if found guilty.

Kudzordzi – who was granted bail but could not meet the conditions – will next appear in court on May 22 with his co-accused.

A further 81 supporters have been released on bail on illegal gathering charges.

Separatists say the Volta area has a unique history and culture and warrants being its own country, but reject accusations of planning violence to achieve their goal.

“Our activities have always been in the open,” the fugitive secretary of HSGF, George Nyakpo, told AFP.

Local lawmaker Rockson-Nelson Dafeamekpor accused police of heavy-handedness.

“We are in a democratic state, and you don’t just arrest people because you think they have an intention to demonstrate,” said Dafeamekpor.

“It’s a storm in a tea cup.”

‘Sovereignty lost to rigging’

The region’s problems are deeply rooted in divisions created by its colonial past.

During the so-called “Scramble for Africa”, Britain seized much of what is today Ghana, while Germany grabbed areas to the east, then Togoland.

After Germany’s defeat in World War One, Togoland was split west-east between Britain and France.

When Britain abandoned its empire in 1956, Ghana was among the first African colonies to gain freedom. The people of British Togoland were given a choice between Ghana and Togo, and Britain said nearly two-thirds opted to incorporate their area into Ghana.

Separatists say that vote was rigged.

“It was the craftiness of Britain… that deprived us of our self-rule and sovereignty,” the HSGF said in a statement last year.

Bigger than Lesotho

If Western Togoland were a country, it would be home to millions of people and possibly rich in oil and gold reserves.

Multiple ethnic groups live in the area; Christians, Muslims, and followers of voodoo.

Separatists say the territory is a strip 550 kilometres (340 miles) long and 60 kilometres wide — stretching from the border with Burkina Faso in the north to the Gulf of Guinea, sandwiched between Ghana and Togo.

UN documents from 1955 estimate then-British Togoland at 33,776 square kilometres (13,041 square miles) – slightly bigger than Lesotho.

But while the colonial-era area was landlocked, separatists today claim access to the sea.

Historians reject a claim by separatists that in 1956 the people of Togoland were promised another referendum after 50 years.

“It is not true,” said Professor Wilson Yayoh, from Ghana’s University of Cape Coast.

Long history of Togoland

Backers of Western Togoland claim widespread support, but many in Volta seem suspicious.

“Their mission is impossible,” said trader Doris Mawusi. “Ghana is our homeland and we are here to stay.”

“We don’t trust these HSGF people,” said Joseph Doe, a 57-year-old fisherman. “They are pursuing their parochial interests. What track record do they have to rule over us?”

The separatists began campaigning in 1972 as the “National Liberation Movement of Togoland”, dominated by the Ewe tribal group.

Their calls to renegotiate borders sparked tensions between Ghana and Togo, and in 1976, Accra banned the group.

Back then, US diplomatic cables said the government was “unusually sensitive to Ewe separatist challenges, which may be real or imaginary”.

Today, the issue seems to cause no less twitchiness in the Ghanaian capital.

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Ex-health minister arrested for embezzling Ebola funds in DR Congo

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July, was detained while hiding in an apartment in Kinshasa

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DR Congo's health minister resigns after removal from key Ebola response role
Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga. (AFP)

Former DR Congo health minister Oly Ilunga has been arrested over allegations he embezzled public funds to tackle the Ebola epidemic, police said on Saturday.

Ilunga, who resigned as health minister in July after being removed as head of the country’s Ebola response team, was detained while hiding in an apartment in the capital Kinshasa ahead of a bid to flee the country, officers said.

He is in custody due to “misdemeanors of the mismanagement of funds allocated to the Ebola response,” police spokesman Colonel Pierrot-Rombaut Mwanamputu told AFP.

Ilunga will be referred to prosecutors on Monday, he added.

It comes after Ilunga was questioned in August as part of an inquiry into the management of funds to fight the outbreak, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives since August 2018.

Ilunga, 59, had already been banned from leaving the country.

He stepped down after criticising plans by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) to introduce a new, unlicensed vaccine to fight the epidemic.

His lawyer told AFP in September that some payments had been made to local chiefs after the killing of a WHO doctor in April.

More than 200,000 people have been vaccinated during DR Congo’s tenth and most serious Ebola epidemic.

It is the second-worst Ebola outbreak in history after more than 11,000 people were killed in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia between 2014 and 2016.

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Telemedicine revolution saving lives in Ivory Coast

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

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Telemedicine revolution in saving lives in Ivory Coast

Every time Catherine Coulibaly’s 19-year-old son had to make a routine appointment with the cardiologist for his heart condition, she gritted her teeth as she silently counted the financial cost.

It wasn’t just the hospital fee — there was the transport, food and accommodation, too, all of it amounting to a hefty burden for an Ivorian family on a modest income.

But thanks to telemedicine – consultations that doctors conduct through the internet or by phone – this cost is now a fading memory. 

Her son can book an appointment at a telemedicine facility in a nearby town in northern Ivory Coast.

There, he is attached to monitoring machines which send the data sent to Bouake University Hospital in the centre of the country, where it is scrutinised by a heart doctor.

The fledgling technology has long been championed by health advocates for rural economies.

Ivory Coast has become an African testbed for it, thanks to a project linking the Bouake hospital’s cardiac department with health centres in several northern towns, some of which are a four-hour drive away. 

Telemedicine “caused a sigh of relief for the population of Bouake, Boundiali, Korhogo, everyone,” says Auguste Dosso, president of the “Little Heart” association, which helps families with cardiac health issues.

Some 45 percent of the Ivorian population live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank’s latest estimate in 2017. And the minimum monthly wage — not always respected — is only around $100, or 90 euros. 

Heart disease surging

The pioneer behind the scheme is cardiologist Florent Diby, who set up an association called Wake Up Africa.

In Ivory Coast, heart disease, diabetes and other “lifestyle” ailments are surging, Diby explained. 

“Urbanisation is making people more sedentary, and there’s the rise in tobacco consumption, changes in diet, stress,” Diby said.

Three decades ago, only around one in eight of the Ivorian population had high blood pressure — now the figure is one in four, on a par with parts of Western Europe.

But in Ivory Coast — and across Africa — well-equipped cardiology units are rare.

“Ninety percent of heart attacks can be diagnosed by telemedicine, so for us cardiologists it’s a revolutionary technology,” said Diby.

The beauty of the telemedicine scheme is that neither the doctor nor the patient has to travel far. 

The cardiac patient is hooked up to the electrocardiogram (ECG) and other diagnostic machines with the help of a technician in a local health centre, which is connected to a computer in Bouake’s University Hospital. 

The cardiologist there can then see the results in real time, provide a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. 

The five-year-old project has already linked 10 health centres to the seven cardiologists at Bouake, enabling 4,800 patients in other towns to receive consultations by telemedicine each year. The goal is to expand this to 20 sites, doubling the intake.

Expertise France, the French public agency for international technical assistance, subsidises up to 185,000 euros of the network, which pays for equipment such as computers, artificial intelligence software and internet connections. 

Diby is now calling for telemedicine to be expanded in other medical fields such as neurology and psychiatry, not just in the Ivory Coast, but across West Africa too. 

That opinion is shared by other experts. Sixty per cent of Africans live in rural areas, where shortages of doctors are usually acute.

But numerous hurdles need to be overcome, especially investment in computers and access to the internet, according to a 2013 analysis published by the US National Library of Medicine. 

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Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

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Hajar Raissouni. Photo credit - Amnesty.org

Hajar Raissouni writes for the Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities.

She was arrested as she left a clinic in Rabat where her lawyer Saad Sahli said she had been undergoing treatment for internal bleeding. 

But the 28-year-old was examined by a medic and the prosecution said she showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

In a statement, it insisted her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

On Friday, Rights groups urged Moroccan authorities to immediately release her, as her lawyers have firmly denied the “illegal abortion” charge.

Raissouni, who is religiously but not yet legally married, is also accused of having “sexual relations outside marriage” and faces a court hearing on Monday.

Her lawyers are lodging a complaint against police for forcing her to have a medical examination, her uncle Souleymane Raissouni told AFP.  

Also arrested were her fiancee, a doctor, a nurse and a secretary. 

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International on Friday joined social media users in calling for her release.

“Instead of intimidating Hajar Raissouni by prosecuting her on unjust charges, the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director.

Ahmed Benchemsi, regional communications director at HRW, echoed Morayef’s call for all charges to be dropped.

The case had “a whiff of political manipulation since the defendant is a reporter from one of Morocco’s last newspapers,” he said.

Touafik Bouachrine, the owner of Raissouni’s newspaper, was sentenced in November to 12 years in prison on charges of rape and other offences.

He also denies all charges and his lawyers say his trial was politically motivated.

Raissouni’s arrest sparked heated debate online, and some 150 journalists signed a petition against “campaigns of defamation” against her.

Moroccan law punishes abortions with up to five years in prison, except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger.

However, NGOs say up to 800 women have clandestine abortions every day in the North African country.

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