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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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Somalia’s floating restaurant and beach provide fun refuge

We considered that pirates could hijack it, and use it to attack cargo ships -restaurant owner

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Somalia's floating restaurant and beach provide refuge
The luxury La Lanterna Bar restaurant boat, sails in the Indian Ocean near Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Few restaurateurs consider the threat of piracy in their plans but Abdulkadir Mohamed did so for his La Lanterna floating restaurant now moored off Mogadishu’s popular Lido beach.

“We considered that pirates could hijack it, and use it to attack cargo ships,” he said on the top of the double-deck boat as it bounced on the warm waters of the Indian Ocean a short distance from the Somali capital’s coastline.

“We made it slow,” he explained, so pirates would not see it as a prize vessel to seize and use in any of their attacks.

Pirates were once the scourge of the region, chasing oil tankers and other ships and demanding ransoms for those they captured. But as Somalia has regained a semblance of stability after almost three decades of conflict and chaos, piracy has faded, even if sporadic bombings still strike the capital.

A modicum of calm means Somalis are seeking out more leisure activities outside their homes, and the Lido beach, with its bleach white sand, is drawing the crowds.

Somalia's floating restaurant and beach provide refuge
Young boy walks along the seashore on the Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia.

With extra security and checkpoints to protect the 2.5 km (1.5 mile) stretch of sand from possible Islamist attacks, the beach offers a place to escape from the battle-scarred capital.

“Sitting on Lido Beach, having tea or coffee in the evening, you can see different colors and feel sometimes that you are in another world,” said Omar Abule, the manager of travel agent Visit Mogadishu, describing the cobalt waters and orange sunsets.

Families plunge into the water – the women from this religiously conservative country still wear their headscarves and loose garments as they sit or swim in the sea.

Visitors feeling more adventurous can don a life jacket and take a small launch to La Lanterna as it bobs near the beach. After clambering aboard, they can have a coffee or cold drink and order a snack, an opportunity to forget challenges ashore.

“I am happy to get on board such a boat,” said Samira Mohammed on La Lanterna. “Coming to Lido beach gives you big hope.”

Abdifitah Mohamed Siyad, director of tourism and investment in Mogadishu’s local government, said the city had been ruined by wars and most people had “stories of grief”.

“The remedy for the people is to create happiness for them, create an environment for tourism, a time for them to tour, a time for them to chat and forget the past,” he said.

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Botswana suspends elephant hunting ban

Landlocked Botswana has the largest elephant population in Africa, with more than 135,000 roaming freely

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Botswana suspends elephant hunting ban
African savanna elephant (Loxodonta africana), around a water hole, Nxai pan national park, Bostwana. Biosphoto / Sylvain Cordier

Botswana on Wednesday lifted its ban on elephant hunting, saying the population had increased and farmers’ livelihoods were being impacted, in a move set to trigger outrage from conservationists.

A prohibition on elephant hunting was introduced in the country in 2014 by then-president Ian Khama, a keen environmentalist.

But lawmakers from the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) have been lobbying to overturn the ban, saying numbers have become unmanageably large in some areas.

President Mokgweetsi Masisi took over from Khama last year and a public review began five months later, with reports suggesting growing political friction between Masisi and his predecessor.

“Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension,” the environment ministry said in a statement.

It said a cabinet committee review that found that “the number and high levels of human-elephant conflict and the consequent impact on livelihoods was increasing”.

“The general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting ban should be lifted,” it added, vowing that hunting would be re-started “in an orderly and ethical manner”.

Landlocked Botswana has the largest elephant population in Africa, with more than 135,000 roaming freely in its unfenced parks and wide open spaces.

Some experts say the number of elephants in the country, renowned as a luxury safari destination, has almost tripled over the last 30 years, and that the population could now be over 160,000.

Crops destroyed –

Farmers struggle to keep elephants out of their fields where they eat crops and can kill people.

Lifting the hunting ban could be a popular move with rural voters ahead of an election due in October.

Many of Botswana’s elephants roam across borders into Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

All four countries have called for a global ban on elephant ivory trade to be relaxed due to the growing number of the animals in some regions.

“We cannot continue to be spectators while others debate and take decisions about our elephants,” Masisi told a meeting of the countries’ presidents this month in Botswana.

“Conflict between elephants and people is on the rise as the demand for land for agriculture and settlements is growing,” he said.

While elephant numbers have increased in some areas, over the past decade, the population of elephants across Africa has fallen by about 111,000 to 415,000, largely due to poaching for ivory, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Zimbabwe said this month it had sold nearly 100 elephants to China and Dubai for a total price of $2.7 million over six years due to overpopulation.

Botswana last year rejected claims by a leading conservation charity that there had been a surge of elephant poaching.

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Kenyan High Court due to pass rule on homosexuality

Activists believe Kenya has a chance to blaze a trail in Africa.

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Kenyan High Court due to pass rule on homosexuality | News Central TV
Kenyan court. (File photo)

Kenya’s High Court is on Friday expected to deliver a long-awaited ruling on whether to scrap colonial-era laws which criminalise homosexuality in the country.

However, the LGBT community fears yet another postponement. In February, the three-judge bench pushed back its decision, citing a heavy workload, prompting dismay from a persecuted community who have fought for years to be accepted.

“There are a lot of mixed emotions around this because people are just wary of the fact that it could be postponed yet again,” Brian Macharia of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK), one of the petitioners, told AFP.

“Everyone is just hopeful and we recognise that things could go either way.”

Gay rights organisations are asking the court to scrap two sections of the penal code that criminalises homosexuality.

One section states that anyone who has “carnal knowledge… against the order of nature” can be imprisoned for 14 years. Another provides for a five-year jail term for “indecent practices between males”.

Activists believe Kenya has a chance to blaze a trail in Africa where homophobia is virulent in many communities, with similar laws in over half the countries on the continent.

While convictions under the decades-old laws are rare, gay activists say the legislation is unconstitutional and fuels homophobia.

The National Gay And Lesbian Human Rights Commission says it dealt with 15 prosecutions under the laws in 2018, with no convictions recorded.

‘Unimaginable harm’ –

The petitioners argue that under Kenya’s 2010 constitution, every person is said to be equal before the law.

However, members of the LGBT community are blackmailed, evicted, fired, expelled from school, or assaulted over their sexual orientation, but are unable to access justice without effectively confessing to a crime.

“LGBTQ people in Kenya for years and years have faced and suffered violence and harm in unimaginable ways, but justice has not been afforded to them because of the penal code,” said Macharia.

Activists are optimistic of an eventual ruling in their favour, given recent decisions by the court.

In March, the High Court banned forced anal testing of men suspected of being gay.

And in September, a court ruled that “Rafiki” (“Friend”), a film about a lesbian love affair which was the first Kenyan movie to be shown at the Cannes film festival, could be screened domestically for seven days after its initial banning.

Macharia said Kenya’s powerful churches had been holding special events in the leadup to the ruling to fight what they term “the LGBT agenda”.

“The church is spreading a lot of hatred, a lot of misinformation,” he said.

The petition is being fought by an association of Catholics, Protestants and evangelicals.

Twenty-eight out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws penalising same-sex relationships, according to Neela Ghoshal, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) specialist in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

The death penalty is on the books, under Islamic sharia law, in Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, although there have been no known executions in recent times. In southern Somalia, gay men are believed to have been put to death in territory ruled by the Al-Shabaab jihadist group.

Angola, Mozambique and Seychelles have scrapped anti-gay laws in recent years.

On the other hand, Chad and Uganda have introduced or toughened legislation.

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