rfi 2024-03-05 16:36:07



Diplomacy

France’s Macron heads to Prague for talks on Ukraine, nuclear energy

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged Ukraine’s allies not to be “cowards” in supporting the country to fight off the Russian invasion. He was speaking during an official visit to the Czech Republic to discuss military support for Kyiv.

“War has returned to our land, powers that refuse to stop are extending the threat each day,” Macron told members of the French community at the start of his one-day trip to the Czech Republic.

 “We are surely approaching a moment for Europe in which it will be necessary not to be cowards…We will have to live up to history and the bravery it implies,” he said.

Macron was to meet Czech President Petr Pavel and Prime Minister Petr Fiala to discuss the Czech government’s plan to buy weapons outside Europe for Ukraine and address a nuclear forum.

At a security conference in Munich last month, Pavel said the Czech Republic – an EU and NATO member of 10.8 million people – was able to collect a substantial amount of weaponry for Ukraine outside the continent.

He said that working with Canada and Denmark, the Czechs had “identified” 500,000 rounds of 155-millimetre ammunition and 300,000 122-millimetre shells “which we would be able to deliver within weeks” given the needed funds.

The Financial Times said Prague was looking to amass $1.5 billion to pay for the munitions for Ukraine, which has been battling a Russian invasion for two years.

Fiala said at an international conference in Paris last week that around 15 nations were ready to join the initiative, including France.

  • Slovakia’s neighbours boost border checks to stem illegal migrant flows

Specific pledge for Ukraine

Macron said his country would take part in the initiative but did not disclose any details as to how much it would contribute.

The Netherlands, for instance, has already pledged to donate 100 million euros. 

Prague now expects the French leader to come up with a specific pledge during Tuesday’s talks.

A French adviser said the Prague visit would be an opportunity to “discuss this initiative” and come up with “precisions”.

This would be a bit of a breakthrough as Paris has so far tended to funnel defence spending into its domestic industry and favoured weapon production on European soil for EU money.

Macron also stirred controversy last week when he suggested the West might send soldiers to Ukraine, an idea largely rejected by France’s allies.

The French government later said the suggestion did not concern combat troops.

  • France creates €100m fund for Ukraine to buy weapons

Nuclear energy sector

Later on Tuesday, Macron is due to address a nuclear forum in the Czech capital, attended by several French energy companies.

These include the power giant EDF, nuclear fuel distributor Orano and nuclear reactor producer Framatome.

EDF is one of two bidders in a multi-billion Czech tender to build up to four new units at its two nuclear power stations, alongside South Korea’s KHNP.

Macron’s visit to Prague follows an invitation from Pavel during the Czech president’s visit to Paris last December.

The visit was tarnished by a deadly shooting in Prague, in which a student killed 14 people and then himself at Charles University.

Macron, who was quick to offer condolences to his guest Pavel, will lay flowers at the site on Tuesday.

(with AFP)


Security

Africa-led mission to Haiti ‘urgently needed’, according to the UN

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed alarm at the “rapidly deteriorating security situation” in Haiti and called for more funding for the planned international police mission to be led by Kenya. 

Haiti’s capital was largely shut down Monday with residents only venturing out for essentials as authorities imposed a state of emergency and a curfew after a weekend attack on a prison freed thousands of inmates.

As the latest crisis deepened, Prime Minister Ariel Henry was expected to return to the country after a trip to Kenya.

The mission – initially approved in October by the UN Security Council for one year – had envisioned Kenyan police on the offensive with their Haitian counterparts, who are outnumbered and outgunned by gang members.

The UN says the deployment of this international mission is “urgent”.

Arnaud Royer is the Representative in Haiti for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), led by Volker Turk. 

No other option

Royer told RFI that Turk has been calling for any form of international support for Haiti for the past two years.

“Similar calls come from the local population too. Because there is no other option. The gang violence is now concentrated in the capital, Port-au-Prince, a city of 4 to 5 million inhabitants. It has become one of the most acutely violent situations in an urban environment in the world.”

Last year 5,000 homicides were reported in Haiti,  according to a UN report published last month.

“People get killed by bullets even inside their homes in Port-au-Prince,” Royer says.

“Others live in makeshift camps for displaced people. And there is zero boot on the ground, nobody to protect civilians. You can argue that the mission is too small or problematic, but it is absolutely urgent to bring it to Haiti, and to be more serious about the arms embargo.” 

Five contributors, two African

The upsurge in violence over the weekend came on the heels of a visit by Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to Kenya on Friday, to sign a “reciprocal” agreement for the mission with Kenya’s leader President William Ruto.

Ruto said he and Henry had “discussed the next steps to enable the fast-tracking of the deployment”, but it was not immediately clear whether the agreement would counter a Nairobi court ruling in January that branded the deployment “illegal”.

  • Can Kenya help solve Haiti’s deep insecurity crisis?

“I take this opportunity to reiterate Kenya’s commitment to contribute to the success of this multinational mission. We believe this is a historic duty because peace in Haiti is good for the world as a whole,” Ruto said in a statement.

Ruto said last year that he was ready to provide up to 1,000 personnel, an offer welcomed by the United States and other nations that had ruled out putting their own forces on the ground.

Five countries have told the United Nations of their intent to join the Kenya-led mission: the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad.



Unpopular decision

Opposition politician Ekuru Aukot, who filed the petition against Kenyan troop deployment, told French news agency AFP on Friday that he would lodge a case “for contempt of court”.

“William Ruto does not care about the rule of law or the constitution of this country,” he said. “We will question the validity of this secretive agreement,” he added.

In Haiti, many citizens have described the idea of any new foreign mission as “imperialism”.

Others point out that “the Kenyan police have a long history of abuse and violations,” as Martin Mavenjina of the Kenya Human Rights Commission told RFI recently.

In the face of criticism, Ruto had described the Kenyan undertaking as a “mission for humanity”, in step with its long record of contributing to peacekeeping missions abroad.

Haiti, one of the world’s poorest nations, has been in turmoil for years, and the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise plunged the country further into chaos.

No elections have taken place since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant.

Protesters have demanded Henry’s resignation in line with a political deal that required Haiti to hold polls and for him to cede power to newly elected officials by February of this year.

 (with newswires)


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris 2024 Olympics unveil official posters that ‘tell a story’

The official posters for the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, were unveiled on Monday at the Musée d’Orsay — a former railway station transformed into an imposing museum stretching along the Seine River. 

The respective posters for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, complement each other to form a double poster and were unveiled by Paris 2024 director of design Joachim Roncin and the artist behind them, Ugo Gattoni.

“I want it to be something very happy, because it’s going to a huge party. I want it to be very joyful. Hopefully people will be inspired by these posters.”

“It’s the art deco style,” Roncin said. “I wanted something very flamboyant, very rich, very colorful. It’s typical of Paris, when you look at various restaurant styles, you can see the art deco style. When you look at the entrance on the subways, you can see the art nouveau style.”

No coincidence that it has this feel, perhaps, since these Games mark the centenary of the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Everywhere you look, even amid a blur of colors, the details are intricate and precise.

In the background you can see the Olympic flame arriving on a three-mast tall ship into the French port of Marseille, having sailed from Greece, and the high-rolling waves representing surfing events in Tahiti.



No artificial intelligence used

Most of Paris’ iconic monuments appear like the Eiffel Tower and the Stade de France which will be used during the Games.

Les Invalides, which holds former French emperor Napoléon Bonaparte’s tomb; the imperious Grand Palais; the Arc de Triomphe, and the Château de Versailles, whose resplendent gardens will host equestrian and pentathlon events.

Roncin said 15,000 to 30,000 posters for the Games will go on sale, and will also appear on billboards all over Paris from Tuesday.

  • Turning motion into art using soft pastels and Olympic vigour

It will be a relief to purists that no AI (artificial intelligence) was used to design the posters, which is part of the reason why Roncin selected Gattoni.

“It was very important to work with Ugo because he’s a manual artist, he works with his hands. Nothing is digital assisted. Today we live in the world where there is a lot of AI,” Roncin said. “I wanted to bring this savoir-faire à la française (French know-how); to do these hand-drawn posters and colors as well, with the hand.”

It took six months to decide which colors to use and Gattoni has spent more than 2,000 hours working on the posters.

“It has this fresh feel … an atmosphere of good vibes,” said Gattoni, whose work also included studying all the previous Olympic posters.

“Just like the 1924 poster, this poster has to work in 100 years’ time. For me this is super important.”

History of posters

The first official Olympics poster appeared for the 1912 Games in Stockholm and was chosen through an artistic competition. Since then posters have been the responsibility of organisers in the host city.

In the first half of the 20th century, a limited number of posters were designed and used for communication and promotional purposes in a pre-radio and pre-television era, giving the general public necessary practical information.

In the second half of the century, the number of posters produced increased.

  • Made-in-China ‘Phryges’ toys are surprise mascots for Paris Olympics 2024

They reflected the artistic, political and social context of their era as the Olympics also branched out of Europe and North America toward Oceania, Asia and Central America.

According to the Olympic Studies Center, at this point “they play a double role: In addition to announcing the Games, they provide a foretaste of their visual identity.”

The Paris Olympic Games run from 26 July – 11 August and then the Paralympics from 28 August – 8 September 2024.

(with newswires)


Justice

Filmmaker Roman Polanski on trial in Paris on defamation charges

Filmmaker Roman Polanski will face a defamation trial on Tuesday in France for questioning the veracity of the sexual assault allegations made by actress Charlotte Lewis.

The 90-year-old Franco-Polish director, currently residing in Paris, is not expected to appear in court; he will instead be represented by his legal team. Charlotte Lewis (56), who resides in the United Kingdom, will be present at the trial.

Three-time Oscar and Palme d’Or winner Polanski has faced a string of sexual assault allegations throughout his career, all of which are now statute-barred, and none of which have prevented him from continuing to work in film despite his denials.

Lewis claimed in May 2010 that Polanski had sexually assaulted her during an audition at his Paris home in 1983, when she was just 16 years old. The actress, who later starred in Polanski’s 1986 film Pirates, did not go to the police in the UK, but instead shared her account with the American police.

  • Polanski ordered to stand trial in France for defaming accuser

In December 2019, Polanski refuted these accusations as an “odious lie” in a Paris Match magazine interview, arguing that inconsistencies in Lewis’ account were being ignored.

Polanski referenced a quote attributed to Lewis from a 1999 interview with News of the World, in which she allegedly remarked: “I wanted to be his mistress […] I probably desired him more than he did me.” Lewis disputed the quote’s accuracy in 2010.

‘Smearing, discrediting, defaming’

Following Polanski’s Paris Match interview, Lewis filed a defamation lawsuit, which led to the subsequent magistrate hearing – a near-automatic procedure in press law where the substance of the accusations are examined during the trial.

  • French César awards introduce gender parity after Polanski #MeToo scandal

Polanski’s legal team denied any defamation in their client’s comments made to Paris Match: “Roman Polanski has the right to defend himself publicly, on the same basis as the person accusing him,” said lawyer Delphine Meillet, who, alongside Alain Jakubowicz, defends Polanski.

In her defence at the trial, she summoned Stuart White, the author of the News of the World article about Lewis.

“Smearing, discrediting, defaming; these are all integral parts of the Polanski system as exposed courageously by Charlotte Lewis,” stated her lawyer, Benjamin Chouai.

Polanksi has been accused of other sexual assaults throughout his career, which he denies.

France has refused to extradite him back to the US where he faces charges for the statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Attempts to get Switzerland and Poland to hand him over also failed.

(With newswires)


Women’s rights

Abortion is enshrined as a constitutional right in France

French lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that will enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in France’s constitution. The historic move is designed to prevent the kind of rollback of abortion rights seen in the United States in recent years.

In an exceptional joint session of parliament convened at the Palace of Versailles, the bill was approved in a 780-72 vote. Abortion enjoys wide support in France across most of the political spectrum, and has been legal since 1975.

The vote makes France the first country to have a constitutional right to abortion since the former Yugoslavia inscribed it in its 1974 constitution. Serbia’s 2006 constitution carries on that spirit, stating that “everyone has the right to decide on childbirth.”

Nearly the entire hall in France stood in a long standing ovation, and many female legislators in the hall smiled broadly as they cheered.

There were jubilant scenes of celebrations all over France as women’s rights activists hailed the measure promised by President Emmanuel Macron.

“France just made history as the first country in the world to constitutionalise abortion rights!” tweeted New York based Human Rights Watch. “Reproductive rights are human rights.”



Macron described the move as “French pride” that had sent a “universal message”, and a special public ceremony is planned to celebrate the move in Paris on International Women’s Day on 8 March.

The Eiffel Tower was lit up in celebration after the change was passed with slogans including “My Body My Choice” flashing on the edifice.

“This is a fundamental step… A step that will go down in history,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told the lawmakers as he urged them to pass the legislation.

Vatican unhappy

He said they owed “a moral debt” toward all women who had suffered before the legalisation of abortion.

But Attal said the freedom to abort remained “in danger” worldwide, with our “freedoms in essence threatened… at the mercy of decision makers”.

“In one generation, one year, one week, you can go from one thing to the opposite,” he said, referring to rights reversals in the United States, Hungary and Poland.

Such joint parliamentary sessions are extremely rare in France and called only for momentous occasions such as constitutional changes, the last of which was made in 2008.

  • Vatican opposes inclusion of abortion rights in French constitution

Meanwhile, the Vatican is unhappy.

Vatican News on Monday reported that “the Bishops’ Conference of France  (CEF) reaffirms its opposition to enshrining the ‘right’ to abortion in the French Constitution.”

Last week, the Bishops’ had “acknowledged” the “difficulties that may force some women to resort to abortion,” but the bishops lamented that “support measures for those who would like to keep their child” have not been discussed in the debate.

According to the statement, the French Constitution should instead place the “protection of women and children at its centre.”  

(With newswires)


Liberia

Former Liberian rebel commander appeals life sentence for war crimes

Former Liberian rebel commander Kunti Kamara will on Tuesday begin his appeal against a life sentence handed down by a Paris court in 2022 for complicity in crimes against humanity.

On 2 November 2022, a French court also convicted Kamara of torture and aggravated acts of barbarism for which the court sentenced him to life in prison.

In 1993 and 1994, in the midst of Liberia’s civil war, Kamara was alleged to have committed multiple acts of violence in and around the town of Foya, in Lofa county in northwestern Liberia.

At the time, Kamara was a regional commander of the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO) – a rebel group that fought the National Patriotic Front of ex-president Charles Taylor.

Prosecutors accused him of executing civilians and organising forced marches, describing ULIMO‘s control of Lofa county in the 1990s as a “governance by terror”.

“ULIMO had the region under control, using terror as a mode of governance: public executions, cannibalism, forced labour, torture, rape and sexual slavery…” Prosecutor Aurélie Belliot recounted during the trial, as reported by Justice Info website.

‘I was a simple soldier’

Twelve witnesses and eight civil parties were heard during the three weeks of hearings. They formally recognised Kunti Kamara as one of the perpetrators.

When Kamara was given one last opportunity to speak before the Assize Court in Paris, he said: “I have nothing to say except that I am innocent today, I will be innocent tomorrow. I was a simple soldier”. He had previously said he was the victim of a conspiracy.

  • Former Liberia warlord given 20 years’ jail for war crimes

Kamara’s lawyer Maryline Secci, was critical of the fact that her client’s trial should be based entirely on testimonial evidence, decades after the events.

“Sometimes the accusation is based on only one direct witness,” she said. “This would be worth almost nothing in a common law case, so why accept it in this case?” she asked the jury in 2022.

“Our position is not to say that nothing happened in Liberia, but that Mr. Kamara did not commit these crimes,” Secci said. “Remember that reasonable doubt should benefit the accused.”

Presumption of innocence ‘ignored’

Even during the hearings, Secci believes Kamara did not benefit from the presumption of innocence to which he is entitled.

“While the goal of universal jurisdiction is commendable, we are faced with an extremely complex context and our own ignorance. No one here has a true understanding of what the civil war in Liberia was like. We are looking at this through our own cultural prisms and that is problematic,” she argued.

  • US court finds former Liberian military commander Thomas liable for war crimes

The tribunal was set up in 2012 to try suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide detained on French soil, irrespective of where their alleged crimes were committed.

Kamara was arrested in France in 2018 and his is the first case taken by the unit that is not related to the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

Witnesses and plaintiffs will again travel to France from Liberia for the appeal trial that is scheduled to last until 29 March.

Impunity is still total

Despite the trauma that this new trial represents, the lawyer for the eight civil parties, Sabrina Delattre, hopes that the trial “will be able to lift the veil a little on what it was”.

She told French news agency AFP: “The conviction is still there” that “Liberia is a country which was ravaged after a civil war for 20 years and that impunity is still total there despite the recent promises of the new president.”

The crimes of the civil war (1989 and 2003), which left a total of 250,000 dead, have never been judged by the country where former rebel leaders now occupy high positions in the government.

During his inauguration speech in late January, new President Joseph Boakai said his government will explore the possibility of opening a War Crimes and Economic Crimes Tribunal (WECC).

(with newswires)


Geopolitics

NATO exercises begin in Nordic region amid heightened tensions with Russia

In response to the escalating tensions in Europe, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now in its third year, NATO has begun an extensive military exercise across its newly enlarged Nordic territories spanning Norway, Sweden and Finland. 

Starting this Monday, over 20,000 soldiers from 13 nations will participate in drills spanning nearly two weeks across the northern regions of Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

The Norwegian-led exercise, named “Nordic Response 2024” marks Finland’s largest ever involvement in a foreign military drill, with over 4,000 Finnish soldiers participating.

This comes after Finland’s historic decision to join NATO in April 2023, following decades of military non-alignment.

With Sweden’s formal accession to NATO membership nearing completion, both countries have shifted from neutrality to alliance in response to resurgent Russian aggression in the region, specifically the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.



Evolving security situation

Previously known as “Cold Response,” the biannual drill has been expanded to include Finland and eventually Sweden, underlining the evolving security situation in the region.

According to Brigadier Tron Strand from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Commander of the Norwegian Air Operations Centre: “We need to be able to fight back and stop anyone who tries to challenge our borders, values and democracy. With the current security situation in Europe, the exercise is extremely relevant and more important than ever before,” he added.

  • Zelensky warns ammunition shortfall damaging Ukraine’s defence at Munich Security Conference

The participating nations in the exercise that runs until 15 March are France, Belgium, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United States.

Roughly half of the participating troops will drill on land.

The rest will train at sea – with over 50 participating submarines, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers, and amphibious vessels – as well as in the air with 100 fighter jets, surveillance aircraft and helicopters.

German military leaks 

This comes as Berlin finds itself embroiled in a controversy involving a leaked audio recording regarding the potential escalation of Germany’s direct support for Ukraine’s defence effort against recent Russian gains on the battlefield. 

The 38-minute recording purportedly features German military officers discussing the potential use of long-range Taurus cruise missiles in Ukraine

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has described the matter as “very serious” and has pledged a thorough investigation into the leak.

The debate over supplying Taurus missiles to Ukraine has accentuated the delicate balance between supporting Ukraine and avoiding direct involvement in the conflict with Russia, as the weapons could – in theory – be used against targets far into Russian territory.



While Germany remains a key supplier of military aid to Ukraine, Scholz has expressed reluctance to escalate the situation, emphasizing Germany’s commitment to preventing a war between Russia and NATO.

  • EU leaders reject Macron’s suggestion that sending troops to Ukraine is possible

Downplay of Macron’s deployment ‘gaffe’

The chancellor has long emphasised his determination to help Ukraine without escalating the war and drawing in Germany and NATO, stressing that no German soldiers will go to Ukraine.

Last Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said the future deployment of Western troops on the ground in Ukraine was not “ruled out” – a suggestion that was quickly dismissed by Germany. 

Other Western countries – including the United States and Britain – also said they had no such plans, while the Kremlin warned that conflict between Russia and the US-led NATO military alliance would be inevitable if European NATO members sent troops to fight in Ukraine.


Defence

Albania turns Soviet-era air base into regional NATO air operations hub

NATO member Albania on Monday inaugurated a refurbished Soviet-era air base, the alliance’s first in the Western Balkan region. It comes amid rising tensions in southeast Europe over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The air base is named after the small town of Kucova, 85 kilometers south of the capital Tirana.

Officials said the new air base will serve as a modern hub of operations, for training and hosting an array of fighter jets.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama welcomed the reactivation of the air base, which was officially closed in 2005, as “another element of security from our region of the Western Balkans, which we know well may be endangered from the neo-imperialist threats and ambitions of the Russian Federation.”

After the speeches at the ceremony on Monday, two US F-16 and two F-35 fighter jets from Aviano Air Base in Italy flew over while two Eurofighters landed.



 

Located in an Albanian city formerly named for Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the site was once home to dozens of Soviet- and Chinese-made planes left for years to rust in the open air on a former communist airbase.

For the past two years, NATO funded the base upgrade with around €50 million. It included renovations to the control tower, runways, hangars and storage facilities.

  • Did NATO’s expansion drive Vladimir Putin to war?

“The inauguration of Kucova air base demonstrates that the Alliance – with a 360-degree approach – is heavily engaged in this relevant region,” said NATO representative Lieutenant General Juan Pablo Sanchez de Lara.

 

Albania’s Defence Minister Niko Peleshi underlined that “we must be ready to defend ourselves with the only winning formula on the table: the union of our defence forces and capabilities”.

RFI correspondent Louis Seiller spoke to a man who used to work at the base in its communist heyday in the 1970s. He said the fact that the base was being rehabilitated would bring much-needed employment to the region as well as an opportunity to fix the existing infrastructure.

Not everyone is thrilled about the arrival of NATO. 80-year-old Itim told RFI that like the Russians or the Chinese, NATO will serve its own interests first.

“If there’s a war, we’ll be the ones on the frontline,” he says, pointing to his house nearby.

The new base is also likely to irk Moscow, which strongly opposes any NATO expansion into eastern and central Europe – especially in the Balkans which has traditionally been torn between East and West.

Albania joined NATO in 2009 and is a candidate for EU membership.

(With newswires)


History

France called to fully recognise use of torture during Algerian war

Several NGOs and rights groups have asked France to recognise its use of torture during the Algerian war of independence, moving beyond an “incomplete” recognition in 2022.

“Undertaking the path towards understanding the repressive chain of events that ended with recourse to torture, including rape, is a constructive tool,” wrote about twenty organisations in a dossier sent to the Elysée palace on Monday.

“Recognising the use of torture is “not an act of contrition, but an act of faith in the values of the nation.”

The groups, which include the Human Rights League (LDH) and representatives of former soldiers in the 1954-1962 Algerian war, say that torture was part of France’s approach to war, “theorised, taught, practiced, covered and exported by French governments.”

  • France admits torture, murder of key Algerian independence fighter

Incomplete recognition

In 2022, during a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Evian agreement, which ended the war, the French presidency had made a step towards the recognition that the groups are seeking.

“We recognise with clarity that in this war there were some who, ordered by the government to win at any cost, placed themselves outside the Republic. This minority of fighters spread terror, committed torture, against and hostile to all the values of the Republic,” the presidency wrote in a statement published 18 October 2022.

  • 60th anniversary of the Evian peace accords between France and Algeria

The statement was courageous, but incomplete, according Nils Andersson, president of the Act against colonialism today organisation, which signed the documents sent Monday.

The admission does not recognise the chain of command that lead to the use of torture. Doing so is not about “condemning nor judging, but to look history in the face, with the aim of appeasement,” he said at a news conference presenting the document on Monday.

“It will allow us to move on to the next step” understanding how this was possible and moving forward towards peaceful coexistence.”

(with AFP)


World Obesity Day

Undernutrition and obesity a ‘double burden’ in Africa: WHO study

According to a World Health Organization study published by The Lancet medical journal, obesity has increased alarmingly in low and middle income countries, particularly in Africa. World Obesity Day, held on 4 March, aims to raise awareness around what the WHO describes as an “epidemic”.

While some of the populations in Africa still face undernutrition, others no longer have this problem, but their diet is of poor quality and obesity is on the rise, according to a WHO study released last week by The Lancet medical journal.

In 2022, the WHO already warned of a “time bomb” for public health, pointing to ten countries particularly affected by weight gain, most of them in southern Africa: Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Seychelles and South Africa.

But also, further north: Gabon, Mauritania and Algeria, which holds the record for the highest number of obese people on the continent.

Gabon

In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that in Gabon, while 18 percent of children under the age of 5 suffered from chronic malnutrition, 40 percent of adults were overweight.

“I’ve put on a lot of weight in ten years”, Ruth, 30, a diabetologist from Gabon told RFI.

“I think my weight has almost doubled. I’ve gone from 52 kg to almost 105 kg today. I’ve never been to the doctor, but I know I have a weight problem.”

  • More that 1 billion of world’s population is clinically obese, study shows

According to a study by Unicef and the Ministry of Health in 2023, 35 percent of schoolchildren in Gabon’s main cities were obese.

“We are very concerned about the prevalence of obesity in schools, particularly in large cities, where we are seeing severe, morbid obesity in the very young”, stresses Éric Baye, a Gabonese doctor.

Sedentary lifestyle

The chronic and complex illness is accompanied by a greater risk of death from heart disease and certain cancers.

Obesity is also a major risk factor for diabetes. And there are countries with higher prevalence rates, particularly in North Africa and South Africa.

Obesity primarily affects people living in urban areas, although rural areas are now also affected. The finger is pointed at junk food and a sedentary lifestyle.

Colette Azandjeme, a professor of public health and nutritionist at the Mother and Child Hospital in Cotonou, Benin, believes that one of the causes of obesity is “the nutritional transition that has seen our lifestyles change and become more westernised.

“We’re moving from a much more traditional diet to a Europeanised, energy-dense diet. We’re exposed to increasingly processed and ultra-processed foods,” she says.

At the same time, our lifestyles have become more sedentary: “there is very little physical activity to compensate for this,” says Azendjeme.

“Over time, we’ve lost the habit of walking a lot. There are more motorbikes, more cars.

“We sit in front of the television for longer. We adopt activities that are in offices: in sales, in commerce, where we sit for longer periods of time,” she explains.

The World Obesity Day organisers say that an estimated 1.9 billion people will be living with obesity by 2035.


Business

Apple facing €1.8bn EU fine for breaking music streaming competition laws

The European Union issued its first antitrust penalty against Apple on Monday, fining the US tech giant €1.8 billion for breaking the bloc’s competition laws by unfairly favoring its own music streaming service over rivals.

Apple banned app developers from “fully informing iOS users about alternative and cheaper music subscription services outside of the app,” said the European Commission, the 27-nation bloc’s executive arm and top antitrust enforcer.

“This is illegal, and it has impacted millions of European consumers,” Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commissioner, said at a news conference.



Apple behaved this way for almost a decade, which meant many users paid “significantly higher prices for music streaming subscriptions,” the commission said.

The €1.8 billion fine follows a long-running investigation triggered by a complaint from Swedish streaming service Spotify five years ago.

The EU has led global efforts to crack down on Big Tech companies, including a series of multbillion-dollar fines for Google and charging Meta with distorting the online classified ad market.

The commission also has opened a separate antitrust investigation into Apple’s mobile payments service.

  • Europe agrees landmark law to rein in Big Tech dominance

In a statement, Apple hit back at both the commission and Spotify, saying it would appeal the penalty.

“The decision was reached despite the Commission’s failure to uncover any credible evidence of consumer harm, and ignores the realities of a market that is thriving, competitive, and growing fast,” the company said in a statement.

It said Spotify stood to benefit from the decision, asserting that the Swedish streaming service that holds a 56 percent share of Europe’s music streaming market and doesn’t pay Apple for using its App Store met 65 times with the commission over eight years.

“All told, the Spotify app has been downloaded, redownloaded, or updated more than 119 billion times on Apple devices. It’s available on the App Store in over 160 countries spanning the globe. And there are many more ways Apple creates value for Spotify, at no cost to their company,” according to Apple.

“Ironically, in the name of competition, today’s decision just cements the dominant position of a successful European company that is the digital music market’s runaway leader,” Apple said.

The commission’s investigation initially centered on two concerns. One was the iPhone maker’s practice of forcing app developers that are selling digital content to use its in-house payment system, which charges a 30 percent commission on all subscriptions.

But the EU later dropped that to focus on how Apple prevents app makers from telling their users about cheaper ways to pay for subscriptions that don’t involve going through an app.

The investigation found that Apple banned streaming services from telling users about how much subscription offers cost outside of their apps, including links in their apps to pay for alternative subscriptions or even emailing users to tell them about different pricing options.

The fine comes the same week that new EU rules are set to kick in that are aimed at preventing tech companies from dominating digital markets.

The Digital Markets Act, due to take effect Thursday, imposes a set of do’s and don’ts on “gatekeeper” companies including Apple, Meta, Google parent Alphabet, and TikTok parent ByteDance — under threat of hefty fines.

The DMA’s provisions are designed to prevent tech giants from the sort of behavior that’s at the heart of the Apple investigation. Apple has already revealed how it will comply, including allowing iPhone users in Europe to use app stores other than its own and enabling developers to offer alternative payment systems.

The commission also has opened a separate antitrust investigation into Apple’s mobile payments service, and the company has promised to open up its tap-and-go mobile payment system to rivals in order to resolve it.

(With newswires)


Migration

Three held in France after migrant girl’s drowning

Three men were in custody Monday over the capsizing of a migrant boat in northern France in which a seven-year-old girl drowned, prosecutors said.

The suspects were aboard the overloaded small boat when it capsized on Sunday in the Aa canal, around 30 kilometres from France’s northern coast.

“We have to work out who was responsible for this group, who brought the victims aboard the boat,” prosecutors in the northern French city of Dunkirk said.

People attempting to reach Britain have increasingly been boarding boats on inland waterways to avoid stepped-up patrols on the French coast.



Among the passengers in the capsizing were ten children aged seven to 13 and six adults, investigators said Sunday.

The latest death of a migrant trying to reach Britain followed just days after a 22-year-old Turkish man was killed and two more people went missing in the English Channel off Calais.

  • UK accused of not doing enough to stop Channel migrant crossings

A total of 78 migrants attempting to cross to Britain were pulled from the sea by French rescuers overnight from Saturday to Sunday, the maritime authority for northern France said.

One group of 11 people was retrieved after they ran aground on a sandbank.

Further rescue operations were underway on Monday morning, with fair weather apparently encouraging more crossing attempts.

More than 670 people reached Britain from France in small boats in February, according to British interior ministry figures, compared with 29,437 over the whole of 2023.

(With newswires)


Justice

Trial of deadly 2015 high speed train crash opens in Paris

The French national rail operator, SNCF, along with two of its subsidiaries and three rail workers are due to appear at the Paris criminal court at the start of a two month trial for their role in the accident involving a high speed TGV train on a test run in 2014 that left 11 people dead and 42 injured.

The SNCF and its subsidiaries Systra and SNCF Réseau are on trial for “injury and involuntary homicide” for the 14 November 2015 accident that killed 11 of the 53 people on board the train and injured everyone else.

The defendants are facing 88 civil parties, including survivors who were not employees, but were on board the train anyway.

The crash occurred near Strasbourg, in eastern France, on what was supposed to be the final test run of the new high-speed line connecting the city with Paris.

The train struck a bridge and derailed, breaking in two as it landed in the Marne-Rhine canal.

Systra, the company responsible for railway tests, is being prosecuted for its decision to try a test speed of 330 kilometres – the train’s upper limit – rather than the 187 kilometre per hour operating speed.

A 2017 investigation that lead to the charges against the defendants concluded the train’s drivers had not received the necessary training to carry out such high-speed tests.

Non-employees on board

The three companies are accused of failing to take precautions to prevent “inappropriate actions of the driving team in terms of braking”.

On board the train were employees as well as their guests, including four children, and one of the questions in the trial is why non-employees were on board.

SNCF and Systra, as the test operators, and the project owner, SNCF Réseau, face fines of up to €225,000 if found guilty in the trial that runs through 16 May.

Two SNCF employees, including the train’s driver, and one Systra employee will also be on trial, facing maximum sentences of three years in prison and fines of up to €45,000 each.

During the investigation, the lawyers for all the defendants suggested that they would be pleading for acquittal.


WOMEN’S RIGHTS

France set to make history by enshrining abortion rights in constitution

French lawmakers head to Versailles Palace Monday for a special parliamentary congress – the final step in an historic process to guarantee the right for women to access abortion. The issue has been at the centre of a long political and legal tug-of-war, and comes two years after the United States Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion.

A total of 925 members of the National Assembly and the Senate will travel by bus to Versailles on Monday afternoon to vote on amending Article 34 of the constitution in order to “guarantee the freedom of women to have access to an abortion”.

Three-fifths of them need to vote for the amendment in order for it to pass; and if they do, as expected, France will become the only country in the world to clearly protect the right to terminate a pregnancy in its basic law.

The government said in its introduction to the bill that the change was needed after the rollback of abortion rights in the United States, where in June 2022 the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that guaranteed access to the procedure nationwide.

Since then, some 20 states have banned abortion outright or severely restricted access, while others have moved to protect it.

‘Writing history’

The move to enshrine abortion rights in the French constitution passed its biggest hurdle on Wednesday, when it was adopted by the Senate.

Elected officials and NGOs welcomed the result. Planning familial (Planned Parenthood) called it “a message of hope to feminists around the world”, while hard left MP Mathilde Panot said: “We are writing history.”

The Osez le Féminisme (Dare Feminism) activist group hailed the move as a “victory for feminists and for all women who want to guarantee the right to control their body”.

  • Abortion rights champion Simone Veil honoured at France’s Panthéon

Alice Bordaçarre, head of Women’s rights and gender equality at the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), said taking steps to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution would shield it from attack.

She warned that “entire rights”, or pro-life, groups’ voices were getting louder in France and other countries – especially the US, Brazil, and Russia – supported by the Vatican.

“Some of the conservative parliamentarians [in France] are using the same arguments,” she told France 24, adding that “women’s rights are human rights”.

Extra safeguard

While abortion and access to contraception has been legal in France since 1975 under the Veil Act, there was nothing preventing successive governments from rolling back the law.

Rights organisations have said enshrining the law as a constitutional right would protect it from political manipulation and fluctuations in public opinion.

“Hopefully this change will inspire other European nations to follow suit,” said Anna Blus, researcher at Amnesty International specialising in women’s rights.

She referred to situations in other countries such as Poland, where it is hoped the new government will take steps to lift restrictive measures on abortions.

Getting an abortion in Europe is neither easy nor guaranteed.

  • Should France guarantee supply of abortion drugs by producing its own?

Discrepancies across Europe

Ninety-five percent of women in Europe live in countries that allow some access to abortion. Thirty-nine European countries have legalised access to abortion on request, albeit with some restrictions.

Six countries have strict limits in place, although only three (Andorra, Malta and San Marino) do not allow abortion at all.

But even when the procedure is legal, short timeframes, complicated administrative steps, lack of access and social stigma can block access.

“Living in Europe is taking part in abortion lottery,” said Megan Clement, editor of the feminist newsletter Impact.

“Access to abortion is extremely patchy, and there is very little congruence between countries or even within countries,” she told France 24. “It totally depends where you live, as to whether you have access to a safe abortion within a reasonable timeframe.”

Uneven access

In 2022, the French government passed a law extending the limit on elective abortions from 12 to 14 weeks, and allowed midwives to perform the some procedures while also prohibiting doctors from using the the so-called conscience clause to refuse to do them.

Abortion care is fully reimbursed by France’s social security system, but access varies across the country, particularly in rural areas.

To address such inequalities, one suggestion is to increase access to medical abortions, using a pill that can taken at home, unsupervised.

While the World Health Organization said abortion pills could be safely self-administered within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, French law only allows medication abortion within the first nine weeks.

The method accounts for at least 90 percent of abortions taking place before 13 weeks of pregnancy and at least half of abortions overall in Europe.


European elections

French far right makes immigration focus of EU election campaign

Launching its campaign for June’s European parliament elections, France’s far-right National Rally wants the vote to be a referendum on immigration.

“It is quite clear these elections on 9 June are a referendum against being submerged by migrants,” Jordan Bardella, the president of the National Rally (RN), who will lead the party in the elections, told the first campaign rally in the southern port city of Marseille on Sunday.

“It is up to the French people to decide who is allowed to enter the country and who is not. With us France will protect its borders,” he said in the closing address, in front of a poster with the campaign’s slogan: “France is back, Europe returns to life”.

According to the French national statistics office, Insee, 10 percent of people living in France in 2022 were born abroad, compared to five percent in 1946, and 8.5 percent in 2010. About a third of those immigrants have become French.

In January, the Constitutional Council struck down large parts of a new immigration law that included far-right backed measures to limit access to social benefits for foreigners and establish migration quotas.

Polls predicting success

The RN poses a major challenge to France’s mainstream parties, especially President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance, with some opinion polls giving the party up to 30 percent of the vote.

  • Who is Valérie Hayer, Macron’s unknown champion for the European elections?

Like elsewhere in Europe, the far right in France has made headway on issues like the cost of living crisis and the farmers’ protests over high costs and too much regulation. They have also benefited from a general resentment towards the political elite.

Bardella and Marine Le Pen, the daughter of the party’s founder and a former party president, both lashed out at Macron during the meeting in Marseille.

Macron bashing

Le Pen, who had placed herself last on the list, called Macron a president “under siege”, pointing to the hostile welcome he received from farmers at the annual agriculture fair in Paris last week, and protests against his unpopular reforms.

She also criticised Macron’s recent comments that he would not rule out deploying European troops to Ukraine, saying the President “thinks he can find political salvation in warlike posturing that astounded the French people”.

(with Reuters)


Environment

French police arrest activists for breaking into ‘forever chemicals’ plant

Eight environmental activists were arrested on Saturday after they broke into a French chemicals to denounce the production of so-called “forever chemicals” – PFAS compounds – which reportedly can have serious impacts on health and the environment.

Around 300 people from the Extinction Rebellion and Youth for Climate groups cut through fences to reach the Arkema site at Pierre-Benite factory near Lyon in southeast France, a spokesman for the organisers said.

Once inside they deployed banners and spray-painted graffiti including “PFAS tell the truth” and “Arkema is poisoning us”. Police counted around 150 protesters.

“We want to close to door for the ‘forever chemicals’ that Arkema is dumping into the Rhone river,” Julien, a spokesman for the organisers, told AFP news agency.

“And at the same time, we want to open the door because everything that’s happening here is being done in secret,” he said. 

Forever pollution

PFAS, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a family of around 4,000 chemical compounds often referred to as “forever chemicals” because of their long lifespans in bodies and the environment. They resist grease, oil, water and heat.

Experts say that exposure to some types of PFAS have been linked to serious health effects.

American regulators said this week that materials with PFAS would no longer be sold to package microwave popcorn or other greasy foods in the United States.

Arkema said in a statement that the Pierre-Benite site would stop using PFAS compounds to manufacture its products by the end of this year.



  • Pharmaceutical plant found to have leaked neurotoxin in south-western France

France’s industry minister Roland Lescure denounced the protest, saying on X that “Disagreeing and debating, yes. Destroying, no”.

The protest came as another chemicals group, Daikin, is seeking to build a new production site nearby, which has sparked protests from residents.

Regional authorities said: “The new site from Daikin will not lead to PFAS runoffs in the water, unlike the Arkema site which has been subject to a September 2022 decree that calls for halting the use of PFAS surfactants by the end of 2024.”

(AFP)


Culture

Cinémobile, a cinema on wheels bringing the big screen to rural France

For the past four decades, people in the centre of France have had a cinema unlike most: one on wheels. The Cinémobile – a lorry that transforms into a movie theatre – tours towns across the Loire Valley, delivering thousands of showings to rural communities each year.

Of the 41 years that Cinémobiles have been operating, Philippe Leroy has driven them for 33. 

“Time goes quickly. I don’t feel like I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, but it’s more than a job – it’s a passion,” he says. 

With one of the day’s four showings down and the second underway, driver-projectionist Leroy is taking a break outside the Jacques Tati, one of three Cinémobile trucks that crisscross the Centre-Val de Loire region, setting up in one of 46 different towns every day.  

Back when he started in the early 1990s, he laughs, “I wouldn’t be out here talking to you”. In those days the projector ran on reels of 35-millimetre film – five or six of them for every full-length feature, handed down from permanent cinemas and sometimes held together by tape. 

“We couldn’t leave the projector, because [the film] might break at any moment,” Leroy recalls. Now everything’s digital, he explains. “Today, with one of these little hard drives, it’s all good.” 

The first Cinémobile set out in 1983. Launched by a local cultural association, the scheme was taken over by the regional council in 1989.

Technology isn’t the only thing that’s changed since then.

“We don’t have the same audiences anymore,” says Leroy. “We get a lot fewer people.” 

In the days before premium TV and video on demand, a Cinémobile might sell as many as 600 tickets in a single day, says Leroy, who remembers putting on extra late-night showings of Titanic to pack in spectators queuing down the street. 

These days, people in even the remotest of areas have plenty of options for watching the latest blockbuster. To keep drawing an audience, Cinémobiles have to provide something more. 

Listen to this story on the Spotlight in France podcast:

Moving pictures

Today the truck is in Mer, a town of around 6,300 people about 20 kilometres from the nearest bricks-and-mortar cinema. 

“Here the cinema comes right to their door, so that’s even better. Plus tickets are cheaper,” says Pascal Lerede, the town councillor in charge of events. 

Subsidised by the region and local councils, the Cinémobiles sell full-price tickets at €6.50, with reductions for schoolchildren, seniors, people with disabilities and others. 

Their programming differentiates them too. Managed by regional cultural agency Ciclic, the line-up includes independent films, shorts, documentaries and locally shot productions alongside mainstream hits. 

This afternoon there’s a showing of Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans for a class of middle schoolers studying English, followed by Comme Un Prince (Like A Prince) – a French film shot at the nearby chateau of Chambord.   

Other days might feature talks by directors, or post-screening drinks. The project works closely with schools, too. Of 58,800 tickets sold last year, 23,200 went to pupils, from high schools right down to nurseries.

Théophile Petitjean, another projectionist who arrives to take over from Leroy, says his favourite showings are the ones for the very youngest – some of whom may never have been to another cinema in their lives. 

He recounts: “Once a little one came up to me afterwards and asked: ‘Mister, how far did we drive during the film? Where are we now?’” 

Cinema on wheels

More experienced cinemagoers, however, won’t notice much difference between a Cinémobile and a traditional cinema. 

“It’s no different,” says local councillor Lerede, who comes whenever the Cinémobile passes through Mer once a month. “It’s a bit smaller than a cinema, but just as comfortable. The seats are good and there’s a big screen – it’s like being at the cinema.” 

Designed and built by a local company, the lorries convert from vehicle to cinema in around 45 minutes. A push of a button sees the sides of the trailer concertina outwards to create a screening room with between 80 and 100 seats, depending on the model, all of them in traditional red upholstery. 

Meanwhile the driver folds out a set of steps or a ramp for wheelchair access. 

Two comforts the trucks lack, though are toilets – logistically tricky – and popcorn. In between pinning up posters, vacuuming the carpet, manning the ticket booth and running the film, Petitjean explains, they wouldn’t have time to make it. 

Culture in the country

But the point isn’t to recreate a multiplex experience in miniature. 

“The Cinémobile supplements permanent cinemas – we’re not here to compete with them, not at all,” says Leroy. “We’re here to offer some extra cultural programming. We bring culture to rural communities.” 

That’s a mission that chimes with the priorities of the day. The first act of France’s new Culture Minister Rachida Dati, appointed as the country saw some of its biggest farmers’ protests in years, was to launch a nationwide consultation on access to culture in rural areas. 

“Numerous initiatives exist to bring cultural offerings to these areas, but they are still not sufficiently recognised or supported,” a ministry press release said, hailing the power of cultural activities to strengthen social bonds, bring new economic opportunities and even “literally change lives”. 

‘It gets us together’ 

While Leroy doesn’t put it quite so grandly, he does believe the Cinémobile provides something special.  

“Some people come because they’re cinema lovers and they want to see the film. And others come because they’re glad we’ve made the effort to come to them,” he says. 

“There are people who come who don’t even know what they’re about to see. They come, they buy a ticket, and they ask: ‘Oh by the way, what’s the film tonight?’” 

Others just want an evening out, he adds. “They come by in work clothes in the afternoon, then that evening they’ll come back all dressed up because that’s their outing for the week or the month.” 

“It gets us together,” says one neatly dressed woman who’s just exited the 4:30pm showing. She’s here with three friends, all spry pensioners, who came to see the film shot in Chambord, where they like to go walking. 

“It gets us together,” her friend agrees of the Cinémobile. “It’s nice.” 

Even with their senior discounts, they say, the prices here are “really exceptionally good”. With the loyalty card they get six showings for €24 – the equivalent of €4 a film. 

Plus this way they can come by foot, instead of driving to the multiplex a town over. “When I lived in the Paris region, I was 500 metres from a cinema,” one says. “Now it’s 300 metres away, so I can’t complain!” 

The same woman announces she’s coming back for the 8.45pm showing – a French comedy about a city-dwelling academic who moves to the countryside to try his hand at farming. 

“It’s topical,” she informs her pals.  

“Maybe I’ll come back too,” muses one.  

“I’m not coming out again,” declares another, to a chorus of objections.

“Oh go on!” urges her friend. “I’ve still got two tickets left. Come on, off we go.” 


This story appears on the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 107.


KENYA

Inside Mitahato, the Kenyan village where residents speak French

In Mitahato, a small village in rural Kenya, it’s common to see words like bienvenue adorning entrances, and to hear people saying bonjour or comment ça va as they pass each other along the leafy pathways. This regional community north of Nairobi prides itself on having become the country’s first French-speaking village.

After learning French while working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, senior UN human rights advisor Chris Mburu was inspired to open a library and learning centre in his Kenyan hometown. 

Since then the French language has spread, with people of all ages gathering regularly at Mburu’s centre – dubbed the “Mitahato French Village” – to learn French in the local dialect, Gikuyu.

“Mitahato has astounded Kenyans and foreigners alike by embracing French, a language that very few people in Kenya are willing to learn, let alone speak,” the centre’s website says.

Knight’s award

Last year Mburu was awarded the Chevalier medal, a prestigious award from the French government for his efforts in spreading French.

France‘s ambassador to Kenya, Arnaud Suquet, confirmed the embassy’s support of the centre connecting Kenya and France through language and culture.

Suquet said Mburu came from “humble beginnings”, and that after holding a senior diplomatic job at the UN he had returned to “give back to his community”.

  • Using human waste to power green energy in Kenya’s Kibera slum

People from around the world visit Mitahato’s French resource centre to learn about the community and to exchange about French knowledge and culture with the locals.

The villagers, meanwhile, are eager to keep up with their French and to be able to effectively communicate with French-speaking visitors.

“Mitahato is indeed a francophone village and we will continue to partner to bring the French language even closer to the people,” Suquet said.

Grandparents welcome 

French teacher Solomon Chege’s class is made up of pupils of all ages with a common goal: to learn French.

“We have more than 100 students,” Chege told RFI, adding they were continuously growing because of the free classes on offer. 

Sixty-year-old Jane Njeri attends the same class with her granddaughter Margret Wanjiru. Meanwhile a mother and daughter have sat side by side learning the language ever since the centre was inaugurated in 2020. 

  • Kenya eyes New Year boost to tourism with visa-free system

“People used to wonder what a shosho (grandmother) was doing in a class full of kids,” says Njeri.

“We are enjoying an opportunity we never had in our childhood. I am happy because my mind is engaged, I am happier because I can talk to visitors in a new language.’’

Unlike fellow villagers learning French for personal reasons, Joseph Kanyara, an electrical engineering graduate from the Technical University of Kenya, has bigger ambitions.

“I want to advance my studies in engineering in France. I want to go there when I’ve mastered the language … currently I’m at level two,’’ he says.


Humour

‘Festival of Laughter’ in Abidjan celebrates African stand-up comedy

Comedians from across French-speaking Africa are in Abidjan this weekend for the ninth Festival of Laughter – an event that aims to promote stand-up comedy on the continent, with a hefty dose of self-mockery.

The Festival of Laughter is organised and hosted by Nigerien-born comedian Mamane, who among his many talents hosts a satirical radio show “The Very, Very Democratic Republic of Gondwana” on RFI.

The festival is both a way of celebrating African humour and developing comedy as a career path on the continent.

Today’s highlight at the Palais de la Culture is the so-called “Battle of Ethnic Groups”. Far less violent than the title suggests, it invites comedians of different origins to go head-to-head to establish which ethnic group is the funniest.

Contestants from all over West and Central Africa – Congolese, Cameroonians, Togolese, Burkinabé and, of course, Ivorians, compete in improvised sketches, directed by Mamane himself.

  • African satirist Mamane plans drama school to promote ‘freedom’

“We suggest a theme and put a sketch together quickly, in full view of everyone,” says Kaboré l’Intellectuel, from the comedy duo Les Zinzins de l’art – winners of the 2018 RFI prize for stand-up comedy (Talents du rire).

Themes such as heartbreak or what’s known as “goumin”.

“How does each ethnic group express itself when faced with “goumin”? I’m Burkinabé and “goumin” is a taboo subject for us, it hardly exists. [But] the Ivorians, they cry a lot, a bit like the French,” he told RFI’s Marine Jeannin.



Daring to offend, laughing together

As part of the battle, contestants are invited to make fun of their community says Cameroonian comedian Sylvanie Njeng. Even if it can cause offence.

“There will always be someone, somewhere, who will take offence,” she told RFI.

“But what’s interesting is the self-mockery. Your ethnicity is part of you and then you come along, talk about it and what characterises it.

“It’s often said that it’s the preconceived ideas that cause offence. Once we’ve developed that, played it out altogether, you see that nobody wants to set one ethnic group aside and make fun of it.”

She insists the aim “really is to laugh together, not to poke fun”. And says its does everyone good to see different ethnic groups on stage.

“I, for example, am Boulou from the south. I’m sure that after this edition, I’ll be the star of the village!”


Insurgency

Burkina Faso prosecutor says around 170 ‘executed’ in attacks on villages

Around 170 people were “executed” in attacks on three villages in northern Burkina Faso a week ago, a regional prosecutor said in a statement on Sunday.

Prosecutor Aly Benjamin Coulibaly said he received reports of the attacks on the villages of Komsilga, Nodin and Soroe in Yatenga province on 25 February, with a provisional toll of “around 170 people executed”.

The attacks left others wounded and caused material damage, the prosecutor for the northern town of Ouahigouya added in a statement.

He said his office ordered an investigation and appealed to the public for information.

Survivors of the attacks told France’s AFP news agency that dozens of women and young children were among the victims.

Local security sources said the attacks were separate from deadly incidents at a mosque and a church in northern Burkina Faso that also happened a week ago.

The authorities have yet to release an official death toll for those attacks.

  • Sixty civilians murdered by men in army uniform in northern Burkina Faso
  • Sahel countries Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso sign mutual defence pact

Burkina Faso has been struggling to contain violent Islamist insurgencies linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that have spread from neighbouring Mali over the past decade, killing thousands and displacing more than two million.

According to Acled, which gathers data on victims of conflict worldwide, the violence claimed 439 lives in January alone.

Anger over the state’s inability to end the insecurity played a major role in two military coups in 2022.

Current strongman Ibrahim Traore came to power in a military coup in October 2022, vowing to win back territory from jihadists.

In February 2023, France officially ended its anti-insurgency military operations in the Sahel state, on the orders of the military junta.

(with newswires)


NAMIBIA – WILDLIFE

How jackals’ taste for melons helps fruit flourish in Namibian desert

Black-backed jackals in Namibia urinate on sweet melons that grow in the Namib Desert to prevent other jackals stealing their favourite fruit, new research has revealed. The finding sheds new light on how the plants have populated the harsh environment, providing other species with a crucial source of food and moisture.

Namibian scientist Saima Shikesho made the discovery while studying the role the jackals played in distributing the seeds of the nara plant – a desert shrub only found in Namibia that produces large, round, sweet melons encased in tough, spiny skin.

Shikesho was surprised, when she reviewed images obtained via camera traps, that the small fox-like animals occasionally squatted or cocked their legs to urinate on the fruit.

“It could work as territorial marking, but another question that came in my mind was: ‘Are they trying to hide the scent of ripe melons, or like, it’s about to ripen but it’s not really there and therefore, if I mark it, maybe other animals will stay away from this one resource’?”

Seed dispersers

Until now, it was unclear who or what was responsible for distributing the seeds of the nara plant – an important source of food, moisture and even shelter for animals and humans in the Namib’s harsh environment.

While both wild and domestic herbivores – including oryx, cattle and donkeys – also eat the fruit, they have large molar teeth that crush the seeds.

Jackals have less developed molars, which means the seeds pass through them intact.

Shikesho found 200 undamaged seeds in just eight jackal droppings, and none in the droppings of donkeys, cattle and oryx, which are a type of antelope.

The seeds collected from jackal droppings germinated more successfully than seeds taken from ripe fruit.

  • Sparrow-sized bat confirmed as Mozambique’s newest mammal

Shikesho, who is now a PhD candidate at Dartmouth College in the US, carried out the research while doing her master’s at the University of Cape Town.

She set up the camera traps to monitor eight different nara plants in the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

The shrubs were fenced off to exclude herbivores, but small openings were left for jackals and similar-sized mammals to get through.

Other carnivores such as Cape foxes and brown hyenas also visited the plants and took melons, but Shikesho’s study, published in the Journal of Zoology, found that jackals visited the plants more than 96 percent of the time.

The nara melons don’t change colour when they ripen, making it extremely difficult to tell ripe fruit apart from unripe ones.

When Shikesho had to collect ripe melons to extract seeds for her germination experiment, she sought help from experts within the local Topnaar community.

“They have to carry this stick and poke the melon,” she says. “And then they’ll say, ‘That one is ripe, that one is not ready’.”

‘Mind-blowing’

That jackals can make such distinctions with one quick sniff was “kind of mind-blowing for me”, says Shikesho.

“That’s like a high-level decision-making process.”

Archaeological evidence shows that humans have used the nara fruit for around 8,000 years.

  • Bone-sharing and ‘separate rooms’ help hyenas, porcupines, warthogs use same den

They remain a vital source of livelihood and sustenance for the Topnaar people, who also herd cattle, sheep and goats along the Kuiseb River in western Namibia.

The community uses the plants’ roots for medicine, turns the cooked melon pulp into dried fruit rolls, and expresses oil from the seeds.

Shikesho says she enjoyed sharing her findings with the community, which was unaware of the role the jackals played in spreading nara seeds.

“I like that part of research,” she says.

“We as scientists understand why we’re doing research, but in most cases we don’t really explain it to people who don’t really think about science.”

International report

Islamic State attack on Istanbul church raises fear of further terror

Issued on:

Heavily armed police are protecting churches across Istanbul day and night after an Islamic State attack on a Catholic church in Istanbul. The terrorist group has warned of further attacks against Christians and Jews.

Turkish security forces have detained hundreds of suspects in the aftermath of January’s deadly attack on Santa Maria Catholic Church in the Sariyer district, which killed one person.

The death toll could have been considerably higher if the gunmen’s automatic weapons had not jammed.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility in a statement that warned it was targeting Jews and Christians in Turkey. 

Istanbul’s small Christian community, although fearful, remains defiant.

“It’s not necessary to be a member of the congregation to be frightened. It’s something that would terrify anyone,” declared Ilhan Guzelis after attending his local church service.

“We’re scared, but believe me, we’ve never hesitated to come to our church, to worship here, and to pray to God.”

Game of cat and mouse

Two men, a Russian and a Tajik national, have been arrested for carrying out the attack, while over a hundred others have been detained across the country.  

Experts say Turkish security forces are now engaged in a deadly cat-and-mouse game with the terror group also known as Isis or Daesh. 

“This is a mutual competition between the security forces and terrorist cells,” Murat Aslan of the Ankara-based Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (Seta) told RFI.

“Both sides will try to identify or deceive each other. And in this case, I believe the Daesh terrorists were skilful, at least to bypass the security measures.”

Aslan warns the job is becoming harder for Turkey’s security forces as the face of Islamic State evolves. He cites changes to assailants’ personal appearance, for example: recent attackers have worn regular clothes and shaved their beards, which helps them blend into a crowd.

“They are regular citizens. So it’s not that much easier to distinguish exactly who is radical or not, for instance. In the latest incident in the church, the individuals were like regular citizens,” he said.

Turkish targets

Adding to security woes is the proximity of Turkey to Syrian territory once held by Islamic State and other radical jihadist groups.

“There are armed groups in Turkey. They still have baggage in Turkey, the remnants of the armed groups inside Turkey, even Isis remnants back from the Syrian war,” claims Sezin Oney of the Politikyol news portal.

The last time Islamic State successfully carried out a major attack in Turkey was in 2017, when a gunman went on the rampage during New Year celebrations, killing 39 people at an Istanbul nightclub.

But Aslan warns that Turkey offers numerous targets.

“The church attack was really significant in terms of the potential of Daesh,” he says.

“Turkey hosts a lot of churches and Jewish holy sites. Once [terrorists] enjoy a presence here and set up hidden cells, they can easily select a target.”

Fears for tourist season

With Turkey‘s lucrative tourism season only a month or so away, bringing with it further potential targets for Islamic State, the government security crackdown is predicted to intensify.

Christians like Guzelis have mixed feelings over the presence of such patrols around the city’s churches.

“After such an incident, it is good for us that [the police] come here to protect us here again, even as a presence; we are grateful for this,” he says.

“I wish that there would be no such matters, that everyone would live together here as brothers and sisters. But we are sorry for what happened; it creates a bitterness in us.”

Read also:

  • As Turkey bombards Kurdish forces in Syria, is the US preparing to pull out?
  • With spy raids, Turkey warns Israel not to seek Hamas revenge on Turkish soil

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 33

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen, a special treat: RFI English listeners’ musical requests. Just click on the “Play” button above and enjoy!

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday. This week, you’ll hear musical requests from your fellow listeners Sultan Mahmud from Naogaon, Bangladesh, Hossen Abed Ali from Rangpur, Bangladesh, and Jayanta Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India.

Be sure you send in your music requests! Write to me at thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Prezident oldida qo’shiq kuyladi” by Mohisharifa Matchonova, performed by Aida; “Heart of Gold”, written and performed by Neil Young, and “Gypsy Queen” by Chris Norman, performed by Norman and Smokie.

The quiz will be back next Saturday, 9 March. Be sure and tune in! 

Spotlight on France

Podcast: #MeToo hits French cinema, mobile movie theatre, leap year paper

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How a wave of #MeToo allegations against French directors is shaking up the cinema industry; the Cinémobile movie theatre bringing culture to the countryside; and the satirical news rag that appears just once every four years, on 29 February.

Seven years after the #MeToo movement shook Hollywood, Judith Godrèche and other actresses in France have broken the omertà around sexual abuse within the French movie industry, accusing several prominent directors of assault. Investigations are underway. Bérénice Hamidi, a specialist in the performing arts at Lyon University, talks about the extent to which this marks a turning point in French cinema culture, which for decades has fostered the idea that artists have “a free pass” to transgress the rules, and that the artist cannot be separated from his art. (Listen @0′)

With unrest still rumbling among farmers, France’s new culture minister says she wants people in rural areas to have more access to culture. A third of the French population lives in rural communities and Culture Minister Rachida Dati has launched a national consultation on schemes to serve them – schemes like the Cinémobile, a lorry that transforms into a cinema and visits small towns across central France. It’s been running for more than 40 years and despite entertainment being easier than ever to find online, something about the mobile movie theatre keeps audiences coming back. (Listen @18’08)

French administration has not always made it easy for people born on 29 February – a date that occurs just once every four years. But the satirical Bougie du sapeur newspaper has embraced and indeed lives for the date. Founded in 1980, its previous edition was on 29 February 2020. Editor Jean d’Indy talks about using humour to look at the news of the past four years in this year’s edition. (Listen @12′)

Episode mixed by Cecile Pompéani. 

Spotlight on France is a podcast from Radio France International. Find us on rfienglish.com, Apple podcasts (link here), Spotify (link here) or your favourite podcast app (pod.link/1573769878).

International report

Will Turkey ditch Russian missiles for US military jets?

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As Turkey’s rapprochement with the United States gathers pace, the future of Turkish-purchased Russian S-400 missiles is increasingly in question. The missile deal is a potent symbol of Ankara’s close ties with Moscow, but Washington is offering to sell Turkey its advanced F35 military jet for the removal of the Russian weapons.

Ankara was kicked out of the jet program after it purchased Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington said compromised the F-35’s stealth technology.

Now Turkey’s purchase of the advanced F-35 military jet could be back on the agenda.

Acting deputy of Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, during a visit to Istanbul last month, offered to revive the jet sale if the Russian missiles were removed.

Along with the $2.5 billion (€2.3 billion) price tag for the Russian missiles, Ankara paid a heavy price militarily and economically by being expelled from the F-35 program.

Founding partner

Turkey was one of the founding partners of the jet program, with Turkish companies building numerous parts for the plane.

Diplomatically the missile sale created a deep divide between Turkey and its NATO partners, raising questions over its allegiance to the Western military alliance.

“After the purchase of the anti-aircraft missiles, which was unprecedented, some people in [President] Erdogan’s cabinet also admitted this was a big mistake,” says Onur Isci, a Russian affairs expert at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University told RFI.

“Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s was a very costly endeavor.”

  • The escaping Russians finding a better life in Turkey

The S-400 missile sale was a powerful symbol of deepening Russian Turkish ties and deteriorating relations with Washington.

The sale came in the aftermath of Ankara’s accusations of Washington’s involvement in the 2016 failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first leaders to offer Erdogan support during the attempted putsch.

Important symbol

While the Russian missiles sit in a warehouse undeployed, they remain an important symbol of Erdogan’s close ties to Putin, making their removal difficult for the Turkish president.

“The buying of the S-400 air defence system from Russia was a diplomatic catastrophe of historical magnitude,” says former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, now a regional analyst.

“Unfortunately, it is not possible. I am led to believe that Erdogan will walk back from that mistake … It was an unforced error. It was an own goal, whichever metaphor you like.”

  • Turkey’s bid to join EU back on the table at upcoming summit

However, US-Turkish ties are improving with Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s NATO membership and Washington’s reciprocating by allowing the sale of F16 jets to Turkey.

But the F16 is inferior to the F35, which neighbor and rival Greece is set to purchase as part of its military modernisation, causing alarm in Ankara.

“When you read Turkey’s hawks, everybody is afraid that the air force balance over the Aegean is not tilting or is going to be tilting in favor of Greece,” warns Soli Ozel, who teaches international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. 

Waiting game

Whether Ankara takes up Washington’s offer of F-35 jets in exchange for removing the Russian-made missiles – possibly to a Turkish ally like Azerbaijan, Qatar, or even Libya – depends on the progress of improving relations with the United States.

“It’s very important if we see any more moves from Washington,” says Yoruk Isik, a geopolitical analyst in Istanbul with the Washington-based Middle East Institute

“The F35 was the first signal in years that that was a really positive signal from Washington. Ankara is waiting to hear the continuation of that message.”

Erdogan’s close ties with Putin have benefited Turkey in deferments on energy payments for Russian energy. The Turkish leader is predicted to be looking to Washington to pay a high price to remove the Russian weapons. 

“Turkey can easily renounce on S-400; it’s a political decision, it’s not a military necessity,” said Huseyin Bagci, head of the Foreign Policy Institute, a research organisation in Ankara.  

“So far, the S-400 has helped Turkey to increase the level of negotiations with NATO and the United States of America.”

Ankara’s purchase of Russian missiles was widely seen as a diplomatic triumph for Moscow, dividing Turkey from its NATO allies.

Their removal would be a similarly significant victory for Washington.

The Sound Kitchen

A pioneering female French journalist

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about Françoise Giraud. There’s “The Listener’s Corner” with Paul Myers, Erwan Rome’s “Music from Erwan”, and of course, the new quiz question, so click on the “Play” button above and enjoy! 

Hello everyone! Welcome to The Sound Kitchen weekly podcast, published every Saturday – here on our website, or wherever you get your podcasts. You’ll hear the winner’s names announced and the week’s quiz question, along with all the other ingredients you’ve grown accustomed to: your letters and essays, “On This Day”, quirky facts and news, interviews, and great music… so be sure and listen every week.

Erwan and I are busy cooking up special shows with your music requests, so get them in! Send your music requests to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr  Tell us why you like the piece of music, too – it makes it more interesting for us all!

Facebook news: As you know, there are two different Facebook pages for you – one is the RFI English Clubs page, reserved for members of the official RFI English Clubs, and the other is the RFI Listeners Club page, open to all RFI Listener Club members.

It is confusing, and every day I must decline membership to listeners who mistakenly go to the English Clubs page instead of the Listener Club page.

So we’ve decided to merge the two pages into one: The RFI English Service Listener Forum. You will need to re-apply to the page by answering some questions (which if you don’t, I will decline your membership request). Soon, the RFI English Clubs and the RFI Listeners Club pages will be closed.

It will be less confusing and there will be more radio lovers to interact with, so don’t be sad!

Would you like to learn French? RFI is here to help you!

Our website “Le Français facile avec RFI”  has news broadcasts in slow, simple French, as well as bi-lingual radio dramas (with real actors!) and exercises to practice what you have heard.

Go to our website and get started! At the top of the page, click on “Test level”. According to your score, you’ll be counseled to the best-suited activities for your level.

Do not give up! As Lidwien van Dixhoorn, the head of “Le Français facile” service told me: “Bathe your ears in the sound of the language, and eventually, you’ll get it”. She should know – Lidwien is Dutch and came to France hardly able to say “bonjour” and now she heads this key RFI department – so stick with it!

Be sure you check out our wonderful podcasts!

In addition to the breaking news articles on our site, with in-depth analysis of current affairs in France and across the globe, we have several podcasts that will leave you hungry for more.

There’s Paris Perspective, Spotlight on France, and of course, The Sound Kitchen. We have an award-winning bilingual series – an old-time radio show, with actors (!) to help you learn French, called Les voisins du 12 bis. And there is the excellent International Report, too.

As you see, sound is still quite present in the RFI English service. Keep checking our website for updates on the latest from our team of journalists. You never know what we’ll surprise you with!

To listen to our podcasts from your PC, go to our website; you’ll see “Podcasts” at the top of the page. You can either listen directly or subscribe and receive them directly on your mobile phone.

To listen to our podcasts from your mobile phone, slide through the tabs just under the lead article (the first tab is “Headline News”) until you see “Podcasts”, and choose your show. 

Teachers, take note! I save postcards and stamps from all over the world to send to you for your students. If you would like stamps and postcards for your students, just write and let me know. The address is english.service@rfi.fr  If you would like to donate stamps and postcards, feel free! Our address is listed below. 

Another idea for your students: Br. Gerald Muller, my beloved music teacher from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, has been writing books for young adults in his retirement – and they are free! There is a volume of biographies of painters and musicians called Gentle Giants, and an excellent biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., too. They are also a good way to help you improve your English – that’s how I worked on my French, reading books which were meant for young readers – and I guarantee you, it’s a good method for improving your language skills. To get Br. Gerald’s free books, click here. 

Independent RFI English Clubs: Be sure to always include Audrey Iattoni (audrey.iattoni@rfi.fr) from our Listener Relations department in all your RFI Club correspondence. Remember to copy me (thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr) when you write to her so that I know what is going on, too. NB: You do not need to send her your quiz answers! Email overload!

We have a new RFI Listeners Club member to welcome: Masahiro Kobayashi from Kawaguchi-City in Japan.

Welcome Masahiro! So glad you have joined us!

This week’s quiz: RFI English journalist Jessica Phelan, our French history expert, was on Alison Hird and Sarah Elzas’ podcast, Spotlight on France Number 105 with a piece on a pioneering French female journalist, Françoise Giraud. You were to listen carefully to the podcast and send in the answers to these questions: What is the name of the news magazine Françoise Giraud co-founded, what is the name of the other founder, and in what year was the magazine first published?

The answer is: L’Express is the name of the magazine, which was first published in 1953. The co-founder’s name is Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “What will you remember most about 2023?”

Do you have a bonus question idea? Send it to us! 

The winners are: Fatematuj Zahra, the co-secretary of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh.  Fatematuj is also the winner of this week’s bonus question. Congratulations, Fatematuj!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week is Hari Madugula, the president of the RFI Young Stars Radio Club in Hyderabad, India; Sultan Mahmud, the president of the Shetu RFI Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh; RFI Listeners Club member Alan Holder from the Isle of Wight, England, and RFI English listener Jibon Akhter Shammi from Bogura, Bangladesh.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Piva” by Joan Ambrosio Dalza, performed by Paul O’Dette; “Respect” by Otis Redding; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and “Crosstown Traffic” by Jimi Hendrix, performed by Hendrix with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Alison Hird’s article “Why are girls in France flunking maths and how can the equation be changed?” or listen to her story on Spotlight on France Number 106, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 25 March to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 30 March podcast. When you enter, be sure you send your postal address with your answer, and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

Send your answers to:

english.service@rfi.fr

or

Susan Owensby

RFI – The Sound Kitchen

80, rue Camille Desmoulins

92130 Issy-les-Moulineaux

France

or

By text … You can also send your quiz answers to The Sound Kitchen mobile phone. Dial your country’s international access code, or “ + ”, then  33 6 31 12 96 82. Don’t forget to include your mailing address in your text – and if you have one, your RFI Listeners Club membership number.

To find out how you can win a special Sound Kitchen prize, click here.

To find out how you can become a member of the RFI Listeners Club, or form your own official RFI Club, click here

International report

Turkey and Egypt turn page on decade of friction with show of friendship

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Cairo this week formally ended more than a decade of animosity with his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, with the two leaders committing their countries to a new era of cooperation.

A military band and gun salute welcomed Erdogan when he arrived in Cairo on Wednesday, as Sisi rolled out the red carpet for his Turkish counterpart.

Not long ago, the two leaders were more used to exchanging angry barbs. But now the talk is about cooperation to prevent Israel’s looming military offensive against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip and the growing humanitarian crisis there.

“We will continue the cooperation and solidarity with our Egyptian brothers for the bloodshed in Gaza to stop,” Erdogan declared at a joint press conference with Sisi.

“In the medium term, we are ready to work with Egypt for Gaza to recover and be rebuilt.”

Decade-long rift

Bilateral relations plunged into a deep freeze after Sisi ousted Erdogan’s close ally, Mohamed Morsi, in a 2013 coup.

Erdogan’s visit to Cairo resulted from intense and ultimately successful diplomatic efforts to end years of antagonism between the leaders.

“Reconciliation, an official visit by the Turkish president to Egypt, a meeting there is in and of itself significant,” observes international relations expert Soli Ozel, a lecturer at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University.

“Given what transpired in the past, obviously, this is a major move on the part of both President Erdogan and President Sisi.”

Clampdown on critical media

For years, groups affiliated with Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and critical of Sisi broadcast from Istanbul – further stoking tensions between Turkey and Egypt.

“These Political Islam-inspired narratives across the whole region are obviously something that is considered corrosive by the Egyptian government,” says political scientist Jalel Harchaoui, of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London.

Harchaoui claims moves by Ankara to curtail opposition TV broadcasting in recent years facilitated the rapprochement with Cairo.

“It has always found a home in terms of being able to get broadcast across the region in Istanbul. But Erdogan was able to reduce these freedoms as part of his conversation with Cairo,” Harchaoui says.

Regional realignment

Turkey’s deployment of troops in the Middle East and North Africa is also a point of tension with Cairo. Turkey and Egypt backed rival sides in the Libyan civil war.

But Erdogan, speaking to the media with Sisi, pledged a new era of cooperation.

“We had the opportunity to evaluate the issues in Libya, Sudan and Somalia,” the Turkish president said. “We give full support to the unity, togetherness, territorial integrity and peace of these three brotherly countries.”

  • What are Turkish troops and Syrian militia fighters doing in Libya?

During his Cairo visit, Erdogan underlined that rapprochement with Sisi was part of a more comprehensive policy of repairing ties across the region.

“We never want to see conflict, tension, or crises in Africa, the Middle East or other places in our geography,” Erdogan said.

“With this aim, we are determined to increase our contacts with Egypt at every level for the establishment of peace and stability in our region.”

Libya breakthrough?

Turkey and Egypt are two of the region’s powerhouses, and rivalry between the countries has only exacerbated conflicts in the region, particularly in Libya, argues Libyan security analyst Aya Burweila.

“In general, I think this is good,” she said of their rapprochement. “I think it’s helpful for Libya as well because both sides support different factions in Libya. And the stalemate has gone on for such a long time.

“It’s about time that the existing powers figure out something that everybody can agree on, and there is a deal to be had.”

  • Newly reconciled, Turkey and Egypt could be a force for stability in Africa

Burweila believes Erdogan’s rapprochement with Sisi and the broader region is also born out of the realisation that cooperation is more productive than rivalry.

“I think both parties realised that the best way forward is to cooperate and discuss, and that Turkey has realised that without economic partners in the Middle East, it cannot move forward,” she said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, on a visit to Libya this month, stressed the importance of Erdogan’s meetings in Cairo to secure Libya’s long-term future.

Erdogan and Sisi also discussed the development of the region’s energy resources.

Such cooperation, observers suggest, could mark a new era in bilateral relations between these two regional heavyweights.


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

From 20 to 22 September 2022, the IFTM trade show in Paris, connected thousands of tourism professionals across the world. Sheo Shekhar Shukla, director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, talked about the significance of sustainable tourism.

Madhya Pradesh is often referred to as the Heart of India. Located right in the middle of the country, the Indian region shows everything India has to offer through its abundant diversity. The IFTM trade show, which took place in Paris at the end of September, presented the perfect opportunity for travel enthusiasts to discover the region.

Sheo Shekhar Shukla, Managing Director of Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board, sat down to explain his approach to sustainable tourism.

“Post-covid the whole world has known a shift in their approach when it comes to tourism. And all those discerning travelers want to have different kinds of experiences: something offbeat, something new, something which has not been explored before.”

Through its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Shukla wants to showcase the deep history Madhya Pradesh has to offer.

“UNESCO is very actively supporting us and three of our sites are already World Heritage Sites. Sanchi is a very famous buddhist spiritual destination, Bhimbetka is a place where prehistoric rock shelters are still preserved, and Khajuraho is home to thousand year old temples with magnificent architecture.”

All in all, Shukla believes that there’s only one way forward for the industry: “Travelers must take sustainable tourism as a paradigm in order to take tourism to the next level.”

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

The IFTM trade show took place from 20 to 22 September 2022, in Paris, and gathered thousands of travel professionals from all over the world. In an interview, Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia discussed the importance of sustainable tourism in our fast-changing world.

Also known as the Land of the Beautiful Islands, Malaysia’s landscape and cultural diversity is almost unmatched on the planet. Those qualities were all put on display at the Malaysian stand during the IFTM trade show.

Libra Hanif, director of Tourism Malaysia, explained the appeal of the country as well as the importance of promoting sustainable tourism today: “Sustainable travel is a major trend now, with the changes that are happening post-covid. People want to get close to nature, to get close to people. So Malaysia being a multicultural and diverse [country] with a lot of natural environments, we felt that it’s a good thing for us to promote Malaysia.”

Malaysia has also gained fame in recent years, through its numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which include Kinabalu Park and the Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley.

Green mobility has also become an integral part of tourism in Malaysia, with an increasing number of people using bikes to discover the country: “If you are a little more adventurous, we have the mountain back trails where you can cut across gazetted trails to see the natural attractions and the wildlife that we have in Malaysia,” says Hanif. “If you are not that adventurous, you’ll be looking for relaxing cycling. We also have countryside spots, where you can see all the scenery in a relaxing session.”

With more than 25,000 visitors at this IFTM trade show this year, Malaysia’s tourism board got to showcase the best the country and its people have to offer.

In partnership with Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board. For more information about Malaysia, click here.