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Liberia wrestles with the ecology in a bid to protect its sharks

Kathleen Ndongmo

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A woman carries fishes in Monrovia. - AFP
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Fifteen years or so ago, local fishermen who ventured off the coast of Liberia could expect to come back with 200, maybe 300, of the fish in their boats, 45-year-old George Toe recalls.

Those were the good old days, when catching a couple of sharks helped fill a fisherman’s pocket and fed a hungry family.

“Now it is difficult to get even 10,” he says. “Now you have to go 45 miles (72 kilometres) in the water before you meet up with any.”

Toe’s worry encapsulates the dilemma facing Liberia, an ex-colony of former Caribbean slaves and their free descendants, as it seeks to protect these beautiful, endangered but often under-estimated species.

Each year, tens of millions of sharks and rays are hauled from the sea, typically to meet a particularly high demand in East and Southeast Asia for shark fin soup or products used in traditional medicine.

Experts say the plunder is having a devastating effect on the health of the sea — but protecting the species often meets resistance from fishermen, who see the catch as a vital source of income.

Fishing provides a livelihood to more than 30,000 people in Liberia and accounts for two-thirds of all animal proteins consumed nationally.

What’s at stake in shark and ray conservation is not just the survival of these ancient species but supporting commercial fish stocks.

“Loss of sharks can lead to dramatic imbalances in the ecosystem,” says campaign group Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).

Catching sharks ricochets down the food chain as big fish decimate small fish in the absence of the apex predator. 

Monitoring Programme

Under a three-year initiative, the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority will collect data on shark and ray populations, monitoring their numbers and location, and track fishing, both legal and illegal. 

The action follows a pledge on training and data collection that Liberia made with 12 other West African countries in 2014 to help shark and ray conservation.

A trial programme has recorded 19 species in Liberian waters, from great hammerhead sharks to devil rays. 

All feature on the Red List of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable as they grow slowly, hit sexual maturity late and have a low reproductive rate, according to the EJF. 

“Accurate population monitoring and sustainable management of these species are essential for long-term solutions, both for the Liberian fishing community and for the ecosystem they depend on,” said Emma Glassco, head of the fisheries agency. 

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Lifestyle News

Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb

Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb.

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Two UN personnel killed in Benghazi by car bomb
Libyan firefighters extinguish a fire at the site of a car bomb attack in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on August 10, 2019. - "Two members of the UN mission, one them a foreigner, were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb" in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said. (Photo by - / AFP)

A car bombing in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi killed two United Nations staff on Saturday, a security official said.

“Two members of the UN mission were killed and at least eight others wounded including a child, by a car bomb” in a shopping area of the Al-Hawari district, the official said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast, which happened as a UN convoy was passing through the area.

Benghazi, Libya’s second city and the cradle of the 2011 uprising that overthrew dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was hit by years of violence targeting diplomatic offices and security forces after his fall.

An attack on the US consulate on September 11, 2012, killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

In 2017, military strongman Khalifa Haftar drove hardline Islamists and jihadists out of Benghazi after a three-year battle.

Haftar, who backs an eastern-based administration that opposes the Tripoli-based unity government, went on to seize Derna, the last city in eastern Libya outside his control.

But bombings and kidnappings have continued.

A May 2018 attack left seven people dead and last month, a car bombing at the funeral of an ex-army commander killed at least four people and wounded more than 30 others.

A Libyan lawmaker is also feared to have been abducted by an armed group in the eastern city, the UN and lawmakers said in July.

Haftar controls most of eastern Libya, and early this year he ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to purge the south of what he called “terrorist groups and criminals”. 

On the heels of that campaign, his LNA launched in April an offensive to take the Libyan capital from the UN-recognised Government of National Accord. 

The LNA on Saturday announced a truce around Tripoli for the three-day Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, after the unity government conditionally accepted a ceasefire called for by the UN.

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Central Africa News

76 people survive shipwreck in DR Congo

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu.

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DR Congo boat accident claims 11 lives, dozens missing

76 people have survived a shipwreck on Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official said Saturday. However, more than a dozen people are feared to have drowned in the same incident.

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu. 

“We have already registered 76 survivors,” said Swedi Basila, the regional transport minister for South Kivu province, adding that up to 20 people were still missing.

“No body has been found until now,” he told AFP.

The vessel had been on its way to the island of Idjwi when it hit a large rock and capsized, Basila said.

River transport is one of the most used in DR Congo with its numerous waterways. Boat mishaps are common, typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo.

Tolls are often high because there are no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.

In April, at least 167 people were killed in two accidents, prompting President Felix Tshisekedi to make it mandatory for boat passengers to have life jackets. 

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Lifestyle News

EFCC charge Atiku Abubakar’s lawyer with corruption

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”

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Former Nigerian Vice President, Atiku Abubakar

Nigerian anti-corruption investigators have charged the lawyer of defeated presidential challenger Atiku Abubakar with money laundering, an official said Friday.

Legal advisor Uyi Giwa Osagie is accused of handling $2 million without going through a “financial institution”, a lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) told AFP.

Election runner-up Abubakar has launched a legal challenge against the result of the fiercely contested poll in February that saw him lose out to incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. 

Several people close to the defeated candidate have been targeted by the anti-graft agency since the vote, in what Abubakar’s supporters have described as a witch hunt. 

Osagie was first detained in February after his house was raided in Lagos but released from custody several weeks later. 

Boladale Adekoya, a spokesman for Abubakar’s campaign accused anti-corruption investigators of being “more dedicated to partisanship than rule of law”.

“They are clearly acting on behalf of a higher authority,” he told AFP. 

Abubakar’s son-in-law was also detained in the wake of the election as part of a money-laundering probe but has yet to face charges.

Buhari swept to power in 2015 on a pledge to fight the rampant graft in Nigeria — but critics accused the former military ruler of using the crackdown to go after his opponents during his first term. 

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