rfi 2024-03-17 16:05:21



Europe – Egypt relations

EU and Egypt agree 7.4 bn euro deal focussed on energy, migration

The EU chief and five European leaders visited cash-strapped Egypt on Sunday to announce a 7.4-billion-euro financial package focussed on boosting energy trade and stemming irregular migrant flows to the 27-member bloc.

The deal will include billions in credit over coming years for highly indebted Egypt, and stepping up energy sales that could help Europe “move further away from Russian gas”, said a senior European Commission official.

  • EU president and EU leaders to travel to Egypt for Tunisia-style migration deal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen — who was joined by the leaders of Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Italy — met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ahead of the scheduled signing ceremony.

The Strategic and Comprehensive Partnership agreement includes five billion euros in loans over four years, 1.8 billion euros in investment and hundreds of millions for bilateral projects including on migration, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Egypt is mired in a painful economic crisis, borders war-battered Libya and the centre of two ongoing conflicts — the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip and Sudan’s war between the regular armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

“Egypt is a critical country for Europe today and for the days to come,” said the commission official, who pointed to Egypt’s “important position in a very difficult neighbourhood, bordering Libya, Sudan and the Gaza Strip”.

Egypt already hosts around nine million migrants and refugees, including four million Sudanese and 1.5 million Syrians, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

The EU official said the deal includes steps to cooperate on “security, counter-terrorism cooperation and protection of borders, in particular the southern one” with Sudan.

The Gaza Strip, where Israel is at war with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas since the October 7 attack, “will not be the main focus but will be part of the discussion” in Cairo, the official added.

The delegation included three Mediterranean leaders — Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, her Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulides.

They were joined by Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo.

‘Cash-for-migration-control’

The agreement follows several controversial deals the EU has sealed in northern Africa — with Libya, Tunisia and Mauritania — to stem the flow of irregular migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.

The EU’s border agency Frontex last year recorded nearly 158,000 migrant arrivals in Europe via the dangerous sea route, up by 50 percent on the previous year.

The trend has sparked rising anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe and gains for right-wing populist parties in several EU nations.

Human rights groups have strongly condemned the deals with authoritarian governments.

US-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented “arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees by Egyptian authorities”.

HRW criticised what it labelled “the EU’s cash-for-migration-control approach” which it said “strengthens authoritarian rulers while betraying human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and activists whose work involves great personal risk”.

Egypt stresses that migrant boats have not sailed from its coast in recent years. But Egyptians still arrive in Europe by sea, mostly via Libya or Tunisia to Italy.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, is in dire need of financial help as it weathers a severe economic crisis marked by rapid inflation.

The International Monetary Fund this month agreed an $8 billion loan package after Cairo implemented reforms including a flexible exchange rate and raised interest rates.

Egypt’s economy, dominated by military-linked enterprises and recently focused on infrastructure mega-projects, has been hit hard by a series of recent economic shocks.

Among them have been the Covid pandemic’s impact on the tourism sector, higher prices for food imports amid the Ukraine war and attacks by Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Red Sea shipping that have slashed Suez Canal revenues.

Egypt’s external debt has ballooned to nearly $165 billion, and the cost of servicing it is expected to reach $42 billion this year.

 (AFP) 


Senegal

Senegal’s Sonko takes election campaign to the south

Senegal’s charismatic opposition leader Ousmane Sonko and his coalition’s presidential candidate flew to the south of the country Saturday, pressing on with their election campaign less than two weeks before the vote.

Sonko and his ally Bassirou Diomaye Faye were greeted by hundreds of supporters after they flew into the coastal resort of Cap Skiring in the Casamance region.

Sonko has endorsed Faye as his coalition’s candidate for the 24 March election after he was barred from running himself.

The two political allies travelled from the airport in a black 4×4 vehicle with tinted windows, as the crowd shouted: “Diomaye, president!”

Faye wearing a traditional white boubou, or flowing wide-sleeved robe, was the first to appeared, followed by Sonko in a pale green shirt and cap.

Both raised their hands to salute the crowd of mainly young people.

Sonko will ‘bring change’

“We are going to win in the first round, I’m sure of it,” one supporter, 26-year-old Malang Sane told AFP, echoing the prediction made by Sonko the previous night in Dakar.

“We have come to welcome our leader (Sonko) who has just got out of prison and is going to bring change,” 29-year-old teacher Ibou Diatta told AFP.

“Senegal is like a new car that hasn’t been used, and Ousmane Sonko is going to get it running,” he added.

Faye sat up front and Sonko behind him as their convoy headed to the Casamance regional capital of Ziguinchor, some 80 kilometres away.

Sonko served as mayor there and this region is his political stronghold.

The two men were only released late on Thursday evening, to the acclaim of hundreds of their supporters in Dakar.

Sonko was jailed at the end of last July on a string of charges, including provoking insurrection, conspiracy with terrorist groups and endangering state security.

  • Senegal prosecutor demands 10-year jail term for opposition leader Sonko

Faye was imprisoned in April 2023, charged with contempt of court, defamation and acts likely to compromise public peace after posting a message critical of the justice system.

Sonko had been vocal in denouncing what he says is government corruption and maintains there was a conspiracy to keep him out of the 2024 election.

But he says he is fully behind the less charismatic and less popular Diomaye Faye.

Ba denounces opposition

Former prime minister Amadou Ba meanwhile, the presidential camp’s candidate in the election, denounced Sonko’s “slanderous” attack on him the previous evening.

Ba stepped down from his post to campaign for the presidency under the banner of Macky Sall’s party. 

“If he is elected, he will be the president of foreign countries,” Sonko had said of Ba, accusing him of having covered up corruption.

A statement from Sonko’s team said Ba had “devoted an entire press conference to tasteless defamation and slander”.

Ba is currently campaigning in the north of the country.

President Sall himself has already served two terms and is not running again. His mandate as president runs out on 2 April.

It was he who proposed the amnesty law that allowed for the release of Sonko and Diomaye Faye, in a bid to ease political tensions.

But it was his last-minute decision in February to defer the presidential vote due later that month and try and push it back to December that sparked the latest crisis.

His decision sparked clashes that left four dead.

The Constitutional Council stepped in, forcing him to reset the date to 24 March.

For some analysts, opposition figures such as Sonko and Faye have emerged stronger from their long political struggle with Sall’s administration.

 (AFP) 

Read also:

  • Senegal: Civil society, opposition step up protests to break political deadlock


Senegal elections

Senegal’s opposition hopes promise of new national currency will win votes

The economy is expected to prove a key issue in Senegal’s upcoming presidential election. With campaigning for the 24 March polls in full swing, the opposition coalition says replacing the colonial-era CFA franc with a national currency would be the best way to tackle inequality and boost employment.

The opposition coalition launched its campaign platform on 10 March with a promise to create a new national currency.

Leading opponent Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a key figure in the protests that followed the postponement of the February polls by President Macky Sall, is seen as a strong contender among the 19 candidates for the presidency. 

In his 84-page election platform, Faye says Senegal needs to take back control of its economy.

“Convinced that full independence cannot be achieved without controlling the economy, livestock management, fisheries, and agriculture, we are fully committed to achieving food, digital, fiscal, energy and scientific sovereignty,” he writes.

Colonial tools

The idea of a new currency is popular among some people in Senegal, who think that the CFA franc, the shared currency inherited from French colonial rule, isn’t helping an underdeveloped economy.

The CFA franc was created as an alternative to the dollar and is used in 14 countries in Central and Western Africa.

Development economist Ndongo Samba Sylla told RFI that Senegal would be “better off if it had its own currency system, not one that was designed to serve colonial and external interests”.

“All the countries using the CFA franc are still poor,” he says.

Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo in particular “should be very rich, like Dubai”, because of their vast resources, he claims.

Asymmetrical system

The CFA franc was created in 1945 to counter US dollar hegemony, Samba Sylla explains.

“The French economy at the time was in very bad shape and needed to have access to raw materials – but not priced in US dollars, because France did not have enough dollars.”

The CFA franc allowed France to bypass the dollar and buy imports needed by French industry such as uranium, manganese and oil, he says.

Samba Sylla wonders if the international monetary system created for industrial countries after World War II is fit for purpose for an economy such as Senegal’s.

“We live in a global economic and financial system that is asymmetrical,” he says.

The Bretton Woods economic and financial system, brought about in 1944 when much of the Global South was colonised, “does not work for us”, he insists. 

If the world is to address global challenges like climate change, he says, “we need to change the system that has been created by and for the victors of World War II”.

  • End of CFA franc in West Africa only a ‘symbolic change’: economist
  • 50 years later, Françafrique is alive and well

Knock-on effects

If Faye is elected, the coalition’s plans for a new currency could have significant implications not only for Senegal, but for the eight-nation West African Economic and Monetary Union.

The juntas in power in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have already announced that they envisage leaving the CFA system.

A new currency would also impact Senegal’s plans to become an oil producer, already slated for this year.

Faye’s proposals also include tax and customs reforms and the renegotiation of contracts related to mining, hydrocarbons, public procurement and infrastructure, all of which could rile both allies and investors.

Democracy hasn’t paid

Most other parties, however, dismissed the need for a local currency.

“In Senegal, the lack of leadership has been a very crucial element explaining why the country is still poor,” according to Samba Sylla.

He blames the absence of consensus between the political class, civil society, and the private sector.

“There have been countries that went through devastating civil wars that managed to develop,” he says.

“There has been no economic dividends from our so-called democracy and political stability, and that’s unfortunate.”


India

India to hold marathon national election from April

India announced Saturday that national polls would begin in April, with Hindu-nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi strongly favoured to win a third term in the world’s largest democracy.

Nearly a billion people are eligible to cast ballots in what will be the largest exercise of the democratic franchise in human history, conducted over six weeks.

Many consider Modi’s re-election a foregone conclusion, owing to both the premier’s robust popularity a decade after taking office and a glaringly uneven playing field.

His opponents have been hamstrung by infighting and what critics say are politically motivated legal investigations aimed at hobbling any challengers to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We will take democracy to every corner of the country,” chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar said at a press conference in New Delhi announcing the voting dates.

“It is our promise to deliver a national election in a manner that we remain a beacon for democracy around the world.”

Voting will be staggered over seven stages, with the first date of polling on 19 April and the final phase on 1 June.

Results around the country will be counted all at once on June 4 and are usually announced on the same day.

Modi, 73, has already begun unofficial campaigning as he seeks a repeat of his landslide wins of 2014 and 2019, forged in part by his muscular appeals to India’s majority faith.

In January, Modi presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram in the once-sleepy town of Ayodhya, built on the grounds of a centuries-old mosque razed by Hindu zealots.

Construction of the temple fulfilled a long-standing demand of Hindu activists and was widely celebrated across India with back-to-back television coverage and street parties.

Published opinion polls are rare in India but a Pew survey last year found Modi was viewed favourably by nearly 80 percent of Indians.

“Wherever I go, I can clearly see that Modi will become PM for the third time,” Amit Shah, India’s home minister and Modi’s closest political ally, said in a speech this week.

A total of 970 million people are eligible to vote in the election — more than the entire population of the United States, European Union and Russia combined.

There will be more than a million polling stations in operation staffed by 15 million poll workers, according to the election commission.

 (AFP)


Coup in Niger

Niger revokes military accord with US

Niger’s ruling junta has revoked with immediate effect a military accord that allows military personnel and civilian staff from the U.S. Department of Defense on its soil, junta spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane said on Saturday.

The decision follows a visit by U.S. officials this week which was led by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee and included General Michael Langley, commander of the U.S. Africa Command.

Abdramane, speaking on television in the West African nation, said the U.S. delegation did not follow diplomatic protocol, and that Niger was not informed about the composition of the delegation, the date of its arrival or the agenda.

He added that the discussions were around the current military transition in Niger, military cooperation between the two countries and Niger’s choice of partners in the fight against militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

A U.S. official, speaking on the condition anonymity, said senior U.S. officials had “frank discussions” in Niamey earlier this week about the trajectory of Niger’s ruling military council – known as the CNSP.

“We are in touch with the CNSP and will provide further updates as warranted,” the official added.

Since seizing power in July last year, the Niger junta, like the military rulers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, have kicked out French and other European forces, and turned to Russia for support.

  • France ends decade of missions in Sahel as last troops leave Niger

  • Diplomatic dip for France as African nations seek out stronger partners

“Niger regrets the intention of the American delegation to deny the sovereign Nigerien people the right to choose their partners and types of partnerships capable of truly helping them fight against terrorism,” Abdramane said.

“Also, the government of Niger forcefully denounces the condescending attitude accompanied by the threat of retaliation from the head of the American delegation towards the Nigerien government and people,” he added.

There were about 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger as of last year, where the U.S. military operates out of two bases, including a drone base known as Air Base 201, built near Agadez in central Niger at a cost of more than $100 million.

Since 2018 the base has been used to target Islamic State militants and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, an al Qaeda affiliate, in the Sahel region.

Abdramane said the status and presence of U.S. troops in Niger was illegal and violated constitutional and democratic rules because, according to the spokesperson, it was unilaterally imposed on the African nation in 2012.

He said Niger was not aware of the number of U.S. civilian and military personnel on its soil or the amount of equipment deployed and, according to the agreement, the U.S. military had no obligation to respond to any request for help against militants.

“In light of all the above, the government of Niger, revokes with immediate effect the agreement concerning the status of United States military personnel and civilian employees of the American Department of Defense on the territory of the Republic of Niger,” Abdramane said.

  (Reuters)


Russia

Russia election to tighten Putin’s grip, opponents stage noon protest

President Vladimir Putin is poised to tighten his grip on power on Sunday in a Russian election that is certain to deliver him a landslide victory, though some opponents staged a symbolic noon protest at polling stations against his rule.

Vladimir Putin, who rose to power in 1999, is poised to win a new six-year term that, if he completes it, would enable him to overtake Josef Stalin and become Russia’s longest-serving leader for more than 200 years.

The election comes just over two years since Putin triggered the deadliest European conflict since World War Two by ordering the invasion of Ukraine. He casts it as a “special military operation”.

War has hung over the three day election: Ukraine has repeatedly attacked oil refineries in Russia, shelled Russian regions and sought to pierce Russian borders with proxy forces – a move Putin said would not be left unpunished.

While Putin’s re-election is not in doubt given his control over Russia and the absence of any real challengers, the former KGB spy wants to show that he has the overwhelming support of Russians.

The Kremlin has sought a high turnout. Several hours before polls closed at 1800 GMT, the nationwide turnout surpassed 2018 levels of 67.5%.

Supporters of Alexei Navalny, who died in an Arctic prison last month, had called on Russians to come out at a “Noon against Putin” protest to show their dissent against a leader they cast as a corrupt autocrat.

“Alexei was fighting for very simple things: for freedom of speech, for fair elections, for democracy and our right to live without corruption and war,” Navalny’s widow, Yulia, said in a message to a rally in Budapest on March 15.

“Putin is not Russia. Russia is not Putin.”

There was no independent tally of how many of Russia‘s 114 million voters turned out at noon to show opposition to Putin, amid extremely tight security involving tens of thousands of police and security officials.

‘Noon against Putin’

Reuters journalists saw a slight increase in the flow of voters, especially younger people, at noon at some polling stations in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, with queues of several hundred people. Some said they were protesting though there were few outward signs to distinguish them from ordinary voters.

Leonid Volkov, an exiled Navalny aide who was attacked with a hammer last week in Vilnius, estimated hundreds of thousands of people had come out to polling stations in Moscow, St Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and other cities.

At polling stations at Russian diplomatic missions from Australia, France and Japan to Armenia, Kazakhstan and Georgia, hundreds of Russians stood in line at noon.

Over the previous two days, there were scattered incidents of protest as some Russians set fire to voting booths and poured dye into ballot boxes, drawing a rebuke from Russian officials who called them scumbags and traitors. Opponents posted some pictures of ballots spoiled with slogans insulting Putin.

But Navalny’s death has left the scattered opposition deprived of its most formidable leader, and other major opposition figures are abroad, in jail or dead.

The West casts Putin as an autocrat and a killer. U.S. President Joe Biden last month dubbed him a “crazy SOB”. The International Criminal Court in the Hague has indicted him for the alleged war crime of abducting Ukrainian children, which the Kremlin denies.

Putin casts the war as part of a centuries-old battle with a declining and decadent West that he says humiliated Russia after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 by encroaching on what Putin considers to be Russia’s sphere of influence such as Ukraine.

War

Russia’s election comes at what Western spy chiefs say is a crossroads for the Ukraine war and the wider West in what Biden casts as a broader 21st Century struggle between democracies and autocracies.

Support for Ukraine is tangled in U.S. domestic politics ahead of the November presidential election contest between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, whose Republican party in Congress has blocked military aid for Kyiv.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers have been killed or seriously injured, though neither side gives proper casualty figures. Swathes of Ukraine have been devastated.

  • Putin tells Russia ‘victory will be ours’ as Ukraine takes centre stage at EU summit

Though Kyiv recaptured territory after the invasion in 2022, Russian forces have lately made gains after a failed Ukrainian counter-offensive last year.

The Biden administration fears Putin could grab a bigger slice of Ukraine unless Kyiv gets more support soon. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns has said that could embolden Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Putin says the West is engaged in a hybrid war against Russia and that Western intelligence and Ukraine are trying to disrupt the elections.

Angela Stent, senior non-resident Fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the election outcome was not in question but that there were serious reasons to take note of the event.

“The Russian presidential election matters to the United States and its allies for two reasons: what happens during the voting period and what follows after it is over,” Stent, told the Russia Matters project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center.

Voting is also taking place in Crimea, which Moscow took from Ukraine in 2014, and what Moscow calls its “new territories”, four other regions it partly controls and has claimed since 2022.

Kyiv regards the election taking place in parts of its territory controlled by Russia as illegal and void.

 (Reuters) 

France’s Macron says ground operations in Ukraine possible ‘at some point’

French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview published Saturday evening that Western ground operations in Ukraine might be necessary “at some point,” days after meeting with German and Polish leaders.

Last month Macron refused to rule out putting troops on the ground in Ukraine, which prompted a stern response from Berlin and other European partners.

The French president has not recanted from his position, but stressed that Western allies would not take the initiative.

“Maybe at some point — I don’t want it, I won’t take the initiative — we will have to have operations on the ground, whatever they may be, to counter the Russian forces,” Macron told newspaper Le Parisien in an interview conducted on Friday.

“France’s strength is that we can do it.”

Disagreements over the possibility of ground operations and the delivery of long-range missiles to Kyiv had threatened to undermine cooperation between the allies.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz reacted angrily to Macron’s earlier refusal to rule out sending troops to Ukraine and his pointed comments urging allies not to be “cowards.”

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

  • France’s Macron urges allies not be ‘cowardly’ on Ukraine

Macron met his German and Polish counterparts in Berlin on Friday, in a show of solidarity behind Kyiv.

After the meeting, Macron said the three countries of the so-called Weimar Triangle were “united” in their aim to “never let Russia win and to support the Ukrainian people until the end.”

Demand for ceasefire 

Macron also said in the interview from Paris shown on Ukrainian television and posted by a Ukrainian journalist on her YouTube channel on Saturday that Russia will be asked to observe a ceasefire in Ukraine during the Paris Olympics.



“The demand for a ceasefire during the Olympics. They (the Russians) must do this. That is what has always happened,” the interviewer said, speaking through an interpreter.

“It will be requested,” Macron says in French before a voiceover interpretation gives his response in Ukrainian as “Yes, we will ask for it.”

“The rule of the host country is to move in step with the Olympic movement,” the interpreter quoted Macron as saying. “This is a message of peace. We will also follow the decision of the Olympic Committee.”

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) condemned Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, saying the Russian government had breached the Olympic Truce, which aims to harness the power of sport to promote peace and dialogue.

On Thursday, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee said it would not boycott this year’s Paris Olympics, despite restrictions on athletes imposed by the IOC as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine. 

 (with AFP and Reuters)


Restitution

Madagascar asks for restitution of Sakalava king’s skull from France

Madagascar – Two of the great granddaughters of a Sakalava king in Madagascar, who was beheaded in 1897 by colonial troops, publicly addressed the French ambassador, asking him to speed up the restitution of their ancestor’s skull.

In all, they are claiming three skulls belonging to the Sakalaves, an ethnic group living on the west and northwest regions of the island.

Plundered at the end of the 19th century during the French colonial conquest, the skulls are now kept at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris, along with several hundred human remains from Madagascar

Among the three skulls is the skull of King Toera, who was beheaded in 1897 in Ambiky, the former royal capital of the Menabe region, to quell a rebellion during an attack by French colonial troops.

DNA tests have not been able to fully confirm that the skull belongs to King Toera.

King Toera’s great granddaughters

On 11 March, during celebrations for Taombaovao – the Malagasy New Year – in Antananarivo, the French ambassador, Arnaud Guillois, received a letter from two of King Toera’s great granddaughters. 

While the very first request for restitution made by the current Sakalava king, Magloire, for Princess Julia Georgine Kamamy dates back to 2003, this request is special. 

This is the first time, under the presidency of Andry Rajoelina, that it has been done so directly, according to Princess Marie Francia Kamamy, eldest daughter of Queen Georgette Kamamy and descendent of King Toera.

“The reason why this restitution is so important to us is that according to Malagasy traditions, if our grandfather’s body is not in its entirety in the tomb, his soul wanders endlessly,” she told RFI.

“He can’t fulfil his role as protective ancestor for his people and his descendants.

“That’s why we, the family, are asking for his skull to be returned to us. It would be a sign of forgiveness between the Malagasy and the French.

Restitution of human remains

France’s representative publicly stated that he was “aware of the importance” of this request, before reaffirming that the future of relations between the two countries “can only be founded if we are aware of our shared past”. 

The French embassy in Madagascar confirmed that the letter, hand-delivered and signed by the Madagascan Culture Minister, Augustin Andriamananoro, was forwarded on the same day to his French counterpart, Rachida Dati.

A joint Franco-Malagasy commission is expected to rule soon on the return of the skull of King Toera along with the two other skulls.

The French law on the restitution of human remains belonging to public collections was enacted on 26 December. 

It is part of a wide-ranging ethical review of the contents of French museum collections.

Read also:

  • New legislation opens door for French museums to return ancestral human remains

Culture

Moto Hagio, the pioneering graphic artist who opened doors for women in manga

Moto Hagio is a unique figure in the male-dominated world of Japanese manga, breaking down barriers and revolutionising the comic book genre since the 1970s. France honoured her with an award and exhibition at the Angoulême International Comics Festival in January.

At 74, Moto Hagio is still at the top of her game. Much to the delight of French fans, the Angoulême International Comics Festival invited her to give a masterclass alongside fellow Japanese authors Hiroaki Samura and Shinichi Sakamoto.

Not only was she handed the Fauve d’honneur – a lifetime award acknowledging her contribution to the comics industry over the last 50 years – but a large selection of her work was also chosen for the exhibition “Beyond Genres” at the Angoulême Museum. It is on display until 17 March.

Exhibition co-curator Xavier Guilbert is thrilled that French audiences have had a chance to encounter a pioneer of the industry and get to know her extensive work better.

“We are lucky enough to have a lot of her work being translated into French, but they only represent a little part of her entire production,” Guilbert told RFI during the festival.

Manga offers audiences a way of “travelling”, he said.

Manga integral part of culture

Guilbert, who lived in Japan, calls manga “integral” to Japanese culture. It also allows space for “criticism directed at society or exploring its fantasies or aspirations”.

“We thought it was a good opportunity to cast a light on part of the history of manga that is usually put aside,” he told RFI, suggesting that male artists tend to pull more focus than their female counterparts.

He points to the variety of Hagio’s framed drawings around the exhibition space. Hagio’s finely sketched, expressive faces peer out from the crowded panels. They are mostly in black and white with translated captions appearing alongside the original in Japanese. 

  • Britain’s Posy Simmonds wins top prize at Angoulême Comics Festival

“The objective was to bear witness, to showcase all the different directions and different themes that she has tackled over 50 years of her career,” Guilbert explains.

Having grown up as an avid manga reader, and fan of famous mangaka Osamu Tezuka, Hagio launched her career in 1969 with contributions to the girls’ magazine Nakayoshi.

Her breakthrough came in 1971 when, after joining Shôjo Comic magazine, she was able to publish unconventional works that other publishers had rejected.

Creative wave

Hagio belonged to a women’s collective, known as the Year 24 Group, who strived to bring about different creative styles.

With members like Keiko Takemiya, they are credited with making shojo (“girls”) manga central to production in the 1980s and attracting a male readership to the category for the first time.

Hagio distinguished herself with The November Gymnasium in 1971, a short tale inspired by German writer Hermann Hesse. In 1974, she turned it into a longer series known as The Heart of Thomas.

The long saga recounts the lives of adolescents at a German boarding school, the death by suicide of a fellow student, sexual awakenings, friendships, identity and family secrets.

These works, known as yaoi, featuring love stories between male characters, propelled Hagio into the international limelight.

In 1972, her vampire series The Poe Clan brought commercial success that led to greater creative control over her future publications.

Then, in 1975, she published They Were Eleven, an impressive work of science fiction, then a genre little explored by female writers.

Overflowing imagination

Hagio is one of few authors of her generation to blur the lines between fantasy and personal life, turning her strained family relationships, particularly with her mother, into inspiration.

Although she has an overflowing imagination, she never hesitated to adapt works by other Japanese writers, and was inspired by American authors Ray Bradbury and Ursula Le Guin, as well as European literature.

  • Comics are serious literature in France: Penelope Bagieu on adapting The Witches

Hagio’s stories have been adapted into movies, TV shows, and plays. She has received many awards including Japan’s Person of Cultural Meritin 2019.

“I always try to take on board the reaction of the readers and the editors but in the end I just do things my way – I don’t care about what they say,” Hagio once said.

Guilbert and fellow curator Leopold Dahan featured the quote in the exhibition catalogue. Guilbert says it gets to the heart of why he admires Hagio’s work so much.

“That’s really what defines her work,” he says.

“She was set on doing things her way and she never faltered from doing that. And when you look at her entire work, there’s a consistency. It’s very coherent in the themes that she approaches and the kind of message she has.”


Paris Olympics 2024

Paris Olympic tapestry weaves together heritage of art and sport

Olympic organisers this week unveiled the official Olympic Games tapestry based on a design by Franco-Iranian artist Marjane Satrapi. The brightly-coloured triptych gives pride of place to the Eiffel tower and two new urban sports incorporated into the competition.

The central panel features the easily recognisable metal latticework of the Eiffel Tower and a city skyline. The silhouette of a male athlete in blue and a female athlete in red sprint across a globe towards the Olympic flame.

The left panel represents a javelin thrower in yellow, under a moon beside one of the bases of the Eiffel tower, an allusion to the poster for the Paris Olympic Games in 1924.

The right-hand panel has silhouettes in black and green of a skateboarder and a breakdancer (known as ‘breaking’ in France), two of the four sports newly integrated into the Olympic program.

The tapestry was inaugurated at France’s official furniture supplier Le Mobilier national in Paris in the presence of the artist on Tuesday.

A group of breakdancers was invited to perform on the slick parquet floors.

A group of primary school children were also invited to trim the threads at the bottom of the tapestry.

Three years of work

Measuring more than three metres high and nine metres wide, the tapestry took three years to make.

It was handwoven by eight artisans from the workshops at Manufactures Nationales des Gobelins and Beauvais using 60 kilogrammes of wool dyed in France but originally from New Zealand.

“The list of specifications was quite long,” Marjane Satrapi told French news agency AFP. “I had to integrate references to the past, the future, gender equality and new sports… so I came up with a triptych.”

“The weavers with whom I collaborated asked me not to overload the design, not to go too far into detail,”she added.

Comic book author, painter and filmmaker, Satrapi, 54, has lived in France for many years. She became famous thanks to the graphic novel and film Persepolis, a portrait of life in Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

“I grew up with sports,” says Satrapi, adding she was a fan of skateboarding and football.

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

“In a football stadium, you find a billionaire and a worker watching the same match, with the same passion. I like this unifying spirit that you can find in sporting competition.”

“In 1976, I remember that the gymnast Nadia Comaneci won ten out of ten everywhere at the Montreal Games. My father told me: ‘To be excellent like that, you have to work hours every day.’ And it was this teenager who put in my head the idea that you have to work hard to achieve what you want.”

Meeting of body and spirit

The choice of athletes of both sexes evokes the goal of the Olympic committee to be the first gender-balanced games in history with as many sportswomen as men.

The unveiling of the tapestry fits into what the organisers call the Cultural Olympiad – a programme of events and exhibitions bringing volunteers and community groups together in parallel to the competition.

Dominique Hervieu, Culture Director of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, says this concept already existed during ancient times in the Greek cities of Olympia and Delphi.

“We are, in a way, reconnecting with an Olympic ideal, a meeting between the body and the spirit, sensitivity,” he told AFP.

The Olympic tapestry will be on display to the public from 21 June at the Hôtel de la Marine museum, overlooking the Place de la Concorde where the Olympic skateboarding and breaking events will take place.

The work will join the collection of the Nice Sports Museum at the end of the Games.

The Paris 2024 Olympic Games will be 26 July – 11 August, followed by the Paralympics from 28 August – 8 September.

UN says 5 million at risk of starvation in Sudan

The United Nations appealed Friday for Sudan’s battling factions to allow delivery of humanitarian relief to fend off looming “catastrophic” hunger.

Some five million Sudanese could face calamitous food insecurity in coming months as a nearly yearlong war between rival generals continues to tear the country apart, according to a UN document seen Friday by AFP.

The war between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, has since April last year killed tens of thousands, destroyed infrastructure and crippled the economy.

It has also triggered a dire humanitarian crisis and acute food shortages, with the country teetering on the brink of famine.

Noting that some 18 million Sudanese are already facing acute food insecurity — a record during harvest season — UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned in a letter to the Security Council that “almost 5 million people could slip into catastrophic food insecurity in some parts of the country in the coming months.”

He noted that nearly 730,000 Sudanese children — including more than 240,000 in Darfur — are thought to suffer from “severe” malnutrition.

“Aid organisations require safe, rapid, sustained and unimpeded access — including across conflict lines within Sudan,” said UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“A massive mobilisation of resources from the international community is also critical,” he added.

The UN’s World Food Programme has warned that the war risks “triggering the world’s largest hunger crisis.”

Jill Lawler, the emergency chief in Sudan for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, said there were enough aid stocks in Port Sudan, but the problem was getting the aid from there to the people in need.

Lawler said she last week had led the first UN mission to reach Khartoum state since war erupted 11 months ago.

They had seen first-hand that “the scale and magnitude of needs for children across the country are simply staggering,” she told reporters in Geneva via video link from New York.

The war “is pushing the country towards a famine” with hunger “the number one concern people expressed.”

‘Moment of truth’

Mandeep O’Brien, Unicef representative in Sudan, said 14 million children needed humanitarian aid and four million were displaced.

There was only a “small window left to prevent mass loss of children’s lives and future,” she warned on X, formerly Twitter.



World Health Organization regional director Hanan Balkhy, who recently returned from a trip to Sudan, underlined the acute needs in Darfur, saying most health facilities were looted, damaged or destroyed.

Griffiths, the UN aid chief, lamented that fighting continued to rage during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan despite a Security Council resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities.

“This is a moment of truth,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “The parties must silence the guns, protect civilians and ensure humanitarian access.”

  • France to host humanitarian conference for Sudan as war enters 11th month

The UN on Friday called for more financial support for aid operations in Sudan.

UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci told reporters in Geneva that the world body had appealed for $2.7 billion to provide aid this year, but had received just five percent of that amount so far.

 (AFP)


Israel-Hamas war

All cargo offloaded from first aid ship to reach Gaza: NGO

A US charity said Saturday its team in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip had finished unloading the first maritime aid shipment to reach the besieged territory.

“All cargo was offloaded and is being readied for distribution in Gaza,” World Central Kitchen said in a statement, noting that the aid was “almost 200 tonnes of food”.

The group is preparing a second boat of 240 tonnes of food to set sail from Cyprus, the starting point of a new maritime aid route across the eastern Mediterranean.

The humanitarian effort is intended to mitigate food shortages that have prompted UN famine warnings in Gaza from the United Nations and aid workers.

“That shipment includes pallets of canned goods and bulk product including beans, carrots, canned tuna, chickpeas, canned corn, parboiled rice, flour, oil and salt,” World Central Kitchen said.

The second shipment would also include a forklift and a crane to assist with deliveries, it added.

The humanitarian group said it had “no information to release on when our second boat and the crew ship will be able to embark.”

The Israeli military on Friday confirmed the first vessel, operated by the Spanish charity Open Arms, had arrived and said soldiers had been deployed to secure the area and conduct a security inspection.

The military also said the delivery of humanitarian aid by sea did not constitute a breach of its years-long maritime blockade of Gaza, which has been ruled since 2007 by Hamas.

World Central Kitchen had to build a jetty southwest of Gaza City to deliver the aid.

The war in Gaza was triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

  • Israel vows ‘mighty vengeance’ after Hamas surprise attack

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign to destroy Hamas has killed at least 31,490 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

As cumbersome Israeli security checks and logistical hurdles slow overland aid delivery to Gaza, countries have pursued alternatives including airdrops and the new maritime corridor.

Jose Andres, founder of World Central Kitchen, said on social media platform X on Friday that the first shipment was “a test” and that “we could bring thousands of tonnes each week.”

 (AFP)

International report

Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading a battle to regain control of Istanbul in hotly contested local elections this month. However, opposition media is warning about deepfake videos in campaign ads, while international rights groups are voicing alarm over social media companies’ willingness to comply with Turkish censorship ahead of the critical polls.

Polls show the elections are going to be a tight contest. But as Erdogan’s AK Party steps up efforts to regain control of Istanbul, an artificial intelligence-generated video of incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu praising Erdogan for his achievements in Istanbul has been circulating on social media. 

Independent media warn of the threat of fake news, as mainstream media, which is mostly under government control, are not verifying the authenticity of the videos.

Deepfake videos

“Deepfake videos are usually not posted on news sites, but they reach millions of people as advertisements. These stick to the candidate.” explains Hikmet Adal , social media editor at Bianet, an independent news portal.

“The voting segment in Turkey is 40 million. When you ask people if Ekrem Imamoglu actually said this, they will say ‘he did’ because they only follow the mainstream media,” added Adal.

During last year’s presidential elections, Erdogan used a video falsely showing his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu with leaders of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish government.

Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey’s Freedom of Expression Association fears more fake news videos will appear as election day draws closer.

“We will witness more of these leading into the local elections, which is of course a major concern,” warns Akdeniz,

“And there were some examples of that prior to the May 2023 general elections. A photo of the opposition leader came out with PKK leaders. Even the president of Turkey commented , saying that he knows that it is fake, but they still used it.”

Turkey’s small independent media sector, which is crucial to the exposing of fake news is facing increasing pressure from Turkish authorities. Much of their news is blocked on social media.

“What we’ve seen is that very, very often material, mainly news on social media, is removed and blocked online,” explains Emma Sinclair-Webb senior Turkey researcher of Human Rights Watch

Call for action

Human Rights Watch was among 22 international rights groups calling on social media companies to stand up to Turkish authorities’ demands for removal of postings.

“It’s very concerning to see that authorities are willing to clamp down on free speech, but social media companies themselves are not robust enough to stand up to this pressure,” added Sinclair-Webb,

“We want them to be more transparent and to work together in raising concerns about requests by Turkey to block content that is clearly within the boundaries of freedom of expression and also to contest others in court in Turkey. “

  • Turkey’s presidential challenger faces uphill battle to unite opposition
  • Volunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey’s vote

A growing number of prosecutions of independent media under a new disinformation law adds to the pressures they face. Many Turks are now turning to international news platforms.

But Turkish authorities are blocking internet access to foreign news sources which broadcast in Turkish like Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.

These portals are only accessible by a virtual private network, or VPN, which circumvents the ban. But now, some of the most widely used VPNs also face restrictions. 

  • Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey

 “Restricting access to the internet has become a sort of playbook for regimes and authoritarian governments. And so we see across the world an increase in VPN usage, especially in countries like this, like Turkey,” said Antonio Cesarano of Proton, a VPN provider.

 “It’s a cat-and-mouse game. We will try our best to keep fighting and to keep investing in technology that can bring people back online.”

Turkish based independent news providers  warn they are facing a losing battle in verifying fake news.

“As  alternative media, it is not possible for us to fight against this,” said Bianet, social media editor Adal.

“Our teams are very limited to 20 people, maybe 15 people, at maximum. But there is an army behind this.

With opinion polls indicating the Istanbul election too close to call, analysts warn the danger of fake news is likely to grow along with pressure on independent news.

The Sound Kitchen

Senegal’s presidential poll moves forward

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the delayed presidential election in Senegal. There’s a history lesson about Lithuanian’s love of books (and their language), there are your answers to the bonus question on “The Listener’s Corner”, and of course, a delicious dessert from Erwan Rome on “Music from Erwan”. All that and the new quiz question too, 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: There’s a “new and improved” Facebook page for you, the RFI English Listeners Forum. 

It’s for everyone who reads and listens to us and wants to connect with others, so ask to join, and I’ll sign you up!

The RFI Listeners Club page and the RFI English Clubs page no longer exist; if you belonged to the RFI English Clubs page and not the RFI Listeners Club page, you’ll need to ask to join. I promise I won’t click “Decline” 😊 

Here’s your job: send me your photos for the banner! Send them to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

More tech news: Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Just go to YouTube and write RFI English in the search bar, and there we are! Be sure and subscribe to see all our videos, and Erwan has even made a weekly Sound Kitchen promo for you to hear. Don’t miss out!

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 counselled 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: Orlando Teamah from Monrovia, Liberia.

Welcome Orlando! So glad you have joined us!

This week’s quiz: On 10 February, I asked you a question about the presidential poll in Senegal. On 3 February, just hours before official campaigning was to start, the polls were called off by the incumbent president, Macky Sall. Sall cited as the reason an investigation into two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.

You were to re-read Melissa Chemam’s article “Senegalese lawmakers postpone presidential election to 15 December”, and answer this question: How many candidates are running for president of Senegal?

The answer is, at the time I asked the question: 20

Here’s an update: Senegal’s Constitutional Council ruled that the vote must be held before Sall’s mandate expires on 2 April. The new date for the poll is 24 March, which leaves the 19 candidates very little time to campaign. And yes, there are now 19 candidates instead of the original 20; on 19 February, Rose Wardini renounced her candidacy following controversy over her dual Franco-Senegalese nationality.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “How do you get to sleep?”, which was suggested by Nasyr Muhammad from Katsina State, Nigeria. 

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Dipita Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India. Dipita is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations Dipita!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Sharifun Islam Nitu, who’s a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, and Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India.

There’s also RFI Listeners Club member Anju Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal, and last but not least, RFI English listener Dilruba Yeasmin Lovely, who’s the general secretary of the Sonali Badhon Female Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Dance With Waves” by Anouar Brahem, performed by the Anouar Brahem Quartet; “Oriental Dance ” by Juozas Gruodis, performed by Martynas Švėgžda von Bekker and Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdottir; the traditional “Jarabi”, performed by Toumani Diabaté and Sidiki Diabaté; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and the Piano Trio in a Minor by Maurice Ravel, performed by Louis Kentner, piano, Yehudi Menuhin, violin, and Gaspar Cassadó, cello.   

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Pratap Chakravarty’s article “India picks pilots for space flight that will blast it into cosmic history”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 15 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 20 April 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


Migration

Man whose family drowned in Channel boat disaster sues French state for damages

Campaign groups for migrants’ rights have revealed that an Ethiopian man whose wife and two children were among 27 people who drowned in 2021 when their boat capsized in the English Channel had filed a complaint for damages.

Fikeru Shiferaw’s family was on board the inflatable vessel during the early hours of 24 November when it started to take in water and eventually capsized. Two people survived and four remain missing.

Failing to respond

French authorities have been accused of failing to respond to around 15 calls for help. Prosecutors last year charged seven military personnel for failing to assist persons in danger.

Utopia 56 and the French Human Rights League (LDH) said Shiferaw had filed the request for damages with a court in the northern city of Lille.

Nikolai Posner, of Utopia 56, said his group hoped the families of other victims would join the lawsuit which is believed to be the first of its kind since the English Channel became a key route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia attempting to reach England from France.

Legal case

Patrick Baudouin, the LDH president, said his organisation was backing Shiferaw’s case with assistance from the legal and social justice group Interet à Agir.

“We’re taking part to remind people that these tragedies have a universal scope that we could remedy by ending deadly policies of non-assistance at sea and by working for migration and asylum based on fundamental rights,” said Baudouin.

Le Monde newspaper on Friday said a French inquiry showed that a French military boat patrolling the waters was not monitoring Channel 16, the international distress frequency, on which the British rescue centre had issued “Mayday” calls to help the boat.

Its crew also ignored three distress signals that did make it through via their radio, with one officer saying after the coordinates of the sinking boat were shared that it was on the English side, it said.

Passengers, many of whom were Iraqi Kurds, contacted France’s Channel rescue centre at 1.48am on 24 November to say their vessel was deflating and its engine had stopped, Le Monde reported last year.

They sent their locations via WhatsApp around 15 minutes later.

According to one transcript of a telephone conversation seen by the French news agency AFP, a migrant told the French coastguard on the phone: “Please help … I’m in the water!”

“Yes – but you are in English waters,” the coastguard replied.


Birth control

What’s stopping more men in France from getting vasectomies?

The number of men in France getting a vasectomy – a minor operation to cut the tubes that carry sperm – has rocketed in the past decade, but the procedure remains far less common here than in many other countries. Vasectomies were illegal in France until 2001 and, despite growing interest, lingering reservations continue to put patients and doctors off.

The first time Justin asked a French doctor about getting a vasectomy, he got an answer he wasn’t expecting. 

“He said, ‘we don’t really do that in France’. And I said, ‘what do you mean you don’t do that in France’, and he’s like, ‘well, you need to be ready and fertile for your second wife’. And I just was floored. Like, are you kidding me?” 

Justin, an American teacher who lives in Paris, already had two children at the time and his wife was pregnant with their third.  

“So I went home to my wife that night and said: ‘I guess I can’t get a vasectomy here because I need to be prepared for my next wife who wants to have children’.” 

Listen to this story on the Spotlight on France podcast:

‘Form of mutilation’

Vincent Hupertan, a urologist in Paris who’s been performing vasectomies since 2011, sighs when he hears the story. 

“The description is cartoonish – and it’s entirely accurate, unfortunately,” he tells RFI. 

“I get the feeling that doctors place the blame for refusing vasectomies on men themselves – ‘you’re not sure about it, you haven’t thought it through’, as if they weren’t capable of making their own decisions about their life.  

“It’s a very humiliating attitude, paternalistic to the extreme. Unfortunately, I hear it a lot.” 

Much of the mistrust goes back to the French law’s position on vasectomies.  

As surgeons were developing the modern procedure in the 1930s, prosecutors in Bordeaux put a doctor on trial for performing vasectomies on some 15 men. Although his patients were willing, he was convicted of castration – removal of the testicles, even though vasectomy leaves them intact – and served a year in prison. 

“That frightened doctors, because there was now a legal precedent classing vasectomies as a form of mutilation. So generations of doctors hammered that home,” says Hupertan. 

“Us urologists, we all came out of medical schools where our superiors told us: ‘Don’t touch men’.” 

Generational shift 

The law was revised in 2001 to make voluntary sterilisation legal for both men and women. 

By the end of that decade, fewer than 2,000 men a year were getting vasectomies in France. It’s only in recent years that numbers have shown a significant rise – increasing more than fifteenfold from 1,940 vasectomies in 2010 to 30,288 in 2022, according to a recent study by France’s public health service. 

“It’s not just me – all urologists are noticing that demand is increasing everywhere,” says Hupertan. 

He puts the change down to generational shifts. “People in their 40s now who were 20 [when the law changed] have grown up with this idea of equality between men and women,” he says.  

“So these are men invested in their relationships and their children… Men are invested in equality at the heart of the family. That’s why they’re taking responsibility.” 

‘No-brainer’ 

Justin describes his own decision to get a vasectomy as “a no-brainer”. 

“For us, with three kids – three boys – at this point, we just knew that we’re happy with where we are,” he says. 

His wife wasn’t keen to go back to taking the contraceptive pill, which had given her side effects.  

“And so this idea that the onus is placed on the woman to have to go back on birth control as opposed to the men doing something, taking action and having a vasectomy, to me was just like… There was no question in my mind that that’s what I was going to do.” 

In the United States, where Justin grew up, an estimated 500,000 men get vasectomies every year. 

“Of my close friend group in high school, those who have had children and are done having children, all of them have had vasectomies,” he says. 

He was expecting as routine a process as they’d gone through in the US. But from start to finish, getting a vasectomy in France will have taken him eight months.  

Mandatory wait 

Justin first spoke to RFI in February, two weeks before he was booked to have the procedure. Even after finding a specialist to do it, it had been a long wait.

“I saw this doctor back in October, whatever it was. I legitimately had to sign a document to say… I was required to take a four-month waiting period so that I had an opportunity to be able to change my mind and I needed to really think about it,” he recounted.  

This “reflection period” – four months minimum – is written into French law as a condition for sterilisation, male or female. 

“Meanwhile for plastic surgery, for example, the mandatory period is 15 days,” points out Hupertan. “It’s outdated.”  

Together with other members of the French Urology Association, he’s pushing lawmakers to shorten the wait time.  

He and his colleagues believe France’s rules are due an overhaul in other respects too, starting with getting vasectomies better covered by health insurance.  

Given that the procedure is both elective and low risk, France’s national insurance pays for only a small fraction of the cost. The rest is left to private insurers – most of which won’t cover the full cost, according to Hupertan – and patients themselves. 

Finally, urologists want to make it possible to get a vasectomy in doctors’ offices, not just hospitals. 

Surgical procedure 

“They treat this like an operation, for sure,” says Justin when RFI next catches up with him, about a week after his vasectomy. 

“I was taken back and laid down on the operating table. And more people start to come in… When there were six people in the room, I remember being like, ‘this is just a vasectomy, right, this is all we’re here to do?’” 

He was given a general anaesthetic for the procedure, which typically lasts less than half an hour.  

“Which again is not something that my friends went through when they got this done in the United States,” he points out. “They all just do local anaesthesia, and they’re completely awake during the process.” 

Hupertan, who practices a less invasive technique that doesn’t involving cutting the skin, says he only ever uses local anaesthesia and recommends other doctors do the same. 

He believes performing vasectomies as a simple outpatient procedure would help normalise them in France.

“What surprises me is that in 2024 we’re still talking about vasectomy like a revolution,” he says, with a trace of exasperation.  

“When in fact – just look at the rest of the world, it’s been done for ages and we know it’s safe, it doesn’t harm your sex life, it doesn’t give you cancer, you’re no less virile – on the contrary.” 

‘Behind the times’ 

Justin shares his frustration.

“I want doctors to be more comfortable and proactive in discussing it with patients,” he tells RFI, noting that none of the professionals he spoke to even told him there was a less invasive option.

Eight days after his procedure, he was still recovering.

“Some soreness, a little bit uncomfortable,” he reported. “I haven’t gone for any runs or anything and I don’t plan to for a little while, but otherwise it’s been pretty good.” 

He won’t find out whether the procedure was effective for another three months, when a doctor will check a semen sample to be sure it no longer contains sperm.   

“And then at that point I should be hopefully good,” he says. 

“Unless of course I need to impregnate a younger wife in the future – then I would have to return to have it reversed.” 


This story appeared on the Spotlight in France podcast, episode 108.


Migration

EU president and EU leaders to travel to Egypt for Tunisia-style migration deal

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will visit Cairo on Sunday, 17 March, accompanied by Greek, Belgian and Italian heads of government. The aim of the visit is to a multi-faced deal that includes attempts to curb migration flows into Europe. But critics have their doubts.

Ursula von der Leyen travels with the Prime Ministers of Italy, Belgium and Greece, Giorgia Meloni, Alexander De Croo and Kyriakos Mītsotakīs, to “to advance negotiations” with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi regarding the signing of an EU-Egypt Strategic Partnership.

The groundwork for visit was laid out in Brussels during the 10th Association Council meeting between the two sides in January. Then, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Oliver Várhelyi, expressed optimism that the agreement would be finalised by the end of February.

The collaborative approach mirrors the Team Europe strategy employed last summer, when Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte joined von der Leyen and Meloni in persuading Tunisian President Kais Saied to sign the EU-Tunisia Memorandum of Understanding [MoU.]

  • EU offers Tunisia massive aid deal to reduce migration and boost economy

 

However, that deal was blasted by international human rights organisations and some MEPs who criticised Brussels for forming an anti-migration partnership with Tunisian President Kais Saied‘s increasingly authoritarian regime.

At the time, European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly remarked that “where fundamental rights are not respected, there cannot be good administration,” saying that “von der Leyen’s European Commission has some explaining to do. 

“Did the Commission carry out a human rights impact assessment of the MoU before its conclusion and consider possible measures to mitigate risks of human rights violations?,” the ombudsman asked, in a letter to von der Leyen.

In an intial reply, the Commission answered that it will “continue to monitor the respect for human rights through its financing cooperation in Tunisia through the applicable rules and procedures under the NDICI-Global instrument and other EU rules.”

According to the website of the EU ombudsman, the inquiriy into EU practices regarding the respect of human rights in the deal with Tunisia is still “ongoing.” 

9 million migrants

Meanwhile, the EU-Egypt partnership will be structured around six key areas of “mutual interest,” as outlined by Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, on January 23. They include political relations, economic stability, investment and trade, migration and mobility, security and demography, and notably, energy cooperation.

And while the memorandum with Tunisia focuses on border management and migration cooperation, the dealwith Egypt will be broader.

The country currently hosts a staggering 9 million migrants, causing immediate pressure on the economic environment of the country.

The EU acknowledges Egypt’s “significant potential” in green electricity, which Brussels is particularly interested in alongside the country’s vast energy resources, including gas and renewable energy.

According to Victoria Rietig, Head of the Migration Program of the German Council of Foreign Relations, writing on X, the EU is “set to give 7.4bn euros to invest in Egypt’s economy, energy sector, and migration and border management.

As in the agreement with Tunisia of  23 July, migration is one element among others.

“While 7.4 billion euros is a lot,” she says, “it’s peanuts compared to another investment Egypt received recently: 35 billion from the UAE for a huge infrastructure project along the Mediterranean coastline. An 8 billion loan from the IMF, also agreed this month, comes on top of all that.

Authoritarian system

But some argue, she says, that since “Egypt is an authoritarian system, abuses human rights, oppresses its people, and treats migrants poorly, Europe should not partner with el-Sisi for migrant control deals.

“Why make us dependent on such a regime?

“Egypt is an authoritarian system, abuses human rights, oppresses its people, and treats migrants poorly. Europe should not partner with El-Sisi for migrant control deals, some argue. Still cooperation may be interesting because Cairo is effective.



“Few boats leave the Egyptian coast irregularly. The EU and Egypt have expanded their migration cooperation successively in recent years.”

On top of that the EU “wants a stable Egypt in an unstable region. The alternative to engaging financially risks leaving even bigger geopolitical openings for Gulf countries, Russia, and China.” 

Moreover, Egypt has become a “regional refugee host in its own right. There are half a million refugees and asylum seekers currently registered in the country, according to UNHCR data, most of them from Sudan (280k) and Syria (155k),” she says.

Riesing argues that the quality of the agreement all “depends on the implementation. It should include human rights safeguards in Egypt’s border management.

Funds are, a least in part,  go to civil society and international organisations that provide refugee and migrant services in Egypt (instead of directly to the regime),” she says. 

(with newswires)


Defence

French Naval Group awarded billion-dollar Dutch submarine deal

The Netherlands announced Friday it has chosen France’s Naval Group for a contract to build four attack submarines for its navy. worth billions of euros. The deal is controversial in the Netherlands as local politicians wanted a Dutch manufacturer.  

“With the choice of Naval Group, two naval yards didn’t win and I understand that the disappointment is large,” state secretary for defence Christophe van der Maat said after Naval Group was chosen over Germany’s Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and Sweden’s Saab AB, which works in tandem with the Dutch Damen Shipyards. 

The Dutch chief of Defence, General Onno Eichelsheim, confirmed on social media that the four new submarines would be built by Naval Group.

“The ships offer increased striking power and improved operational capacity, and will be deployable for different types of missions globally,” he posted.

‘Large capacity’

According to a factsheet from the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the new submarines will have a “large capacity thanks to modern battery technology”.

The torpedoes and cruise missiles have a longer range than those of the older ships, conditions for special forces operations are improved while there’s a “reduced chance at detection” of the ship, the document says.

According to the Ministry of Defence, two ships will be delivered within ten years “after the contract has been negotiated”.

It points to the complexity of the systems: one submarine contains a million parts, while a fighter jet has only 35,000 parts and a “family car just about 3,000”. 

Core tasks for the vessels are “strategic influencing” (influencing behaviour of potential enemies with limited military means) and “special forces operations” (eliminating strategic targets or infrastructure, collecting intelligence and preparing follow-up operations).

The subs will carry an unspecified number of torpedoes and cruise missiles. The principle task will be to “collect, analyse and disseminate intelligence”. 

Finally, says the factsheet, it is the “best boat for the best price” – estimates range from 4 to 6 billion euros, or 1 to 1.5 billion euros per ship. 

Fierce debate

The government decision was preceded, last Wednesday, by a debate in the Dutch parliament. The debate was initiated after news that the order was to go to a French company was leaked in the press, triggering anger that the deal didn’t go to Dutch companies.

MP Chris Stoffer, whose SGP party is strong in Zeeland province where Naval Group’s competitor Damen is based, called the debate. He said: “We do not let this government decide, but a new government that will decide in the interests of the Netherlands.”

  • Dutch government to decide on the purchase of four French submarines

But the debate was premature, as the government will officially provide parliament with a “technical briefing” on 27 March, which will be limited to information that does not fall under the military secrets act.

This will be followed by a new debate, where parliament can still veto the decision. According to Defence Secretary van der Maat, the final contract must be signed in July as the offers proposed by the different competitors “will expire”. 

The submarines will perform tasks in that conform to the Dutch 2019 National Defence Doctrine, which warns that “the increased assertiveness of state actors such as China and Russia” brought about a strategic shift from NATO.

“One consequence of this for the Dutch armed forces is a renewed focus on the first main task, for instance through participation by the Dutch armed forces in an enhanced Forward Presence within NATO territory,” according to the doctrine. 


UKRAINE – SOLIDARITY

France, Germany, Poland meet in Berlin for tripartite talks on Ukraine

The leaders of France, Germany and Poland are set to hold urgent talks on Ukraine in Berlin, as they seek to garner additional support for Kyiv.

Friday’s tripartite summit in Berlin comes on the heels of a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Polish leaders in Washington, shortly after Biden announced an emergency stopgap package for Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was of great importance that the three countries of the so-called Weimar Triangle meet to discuss the war in Ukraine.

Speaking at a press conference earlier this week, Scholz said: “We must do everything we can to organise as much support as possible for Ukraine.”

Scholz stressed that the “Weimar Triangle” – a diplomatic format for French, German and Polish cooperation established in 1991 – was an important format for political exchange.

Poland, one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies, has repeatedly urged its Western partners to increase their spending on military aid as Kyiv fends off Russia’s invasion.

  • Ukraine’s allies must ‘jump-start’ their support, Macron tells Paris summit

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told state broadcaster TVP late Tuesday from Washington: “In my opinion, these three capitals have the task and the power to mobilise all of Europe” to provide Ukraine with fresh aid.

Relations between the allies have been strained by Germany’s refusal to send long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine, despite urgent calls from Kyiv.

The issue has been a particular source of tension between Scholz and the France’s president Emmanuel Macron, who has pointedly urged allies not to be “cowards” in supporting Ukraine. 



Taurus missiles

The German and French leaders are scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting in Berlin before the three-way summit with Tusk.

Scholz and Macron have reportedly “talked to each other at length on the phone” in recent days and Scholz himself is keen to dispel any notion of a rift with Macron.

“Emmanuel Macron and I have a very good personal relationship,” Scholz told reporters, adding that he placed great value on the “German-Franco friendship“.

  • French defence minister plays down Macron’s remarks on Ukraine deployment

The chancellor has not, however, changed his position on the delivery of Taurus missiles, arguing that the deployment of long-range missiles would involve German soldiers directly in the conflict and therefore risk an escalation.

The issue centres on “where will be targeted … where will be hit”, Scholz said in the German parliament earlier on Wednesday.

“That should not happen with German soldiers,” Scholz added. “I have the responsibility to prevent Germany from becoming involved in this war.”


France – Ukraine

Macron warns Europe that Putin won’t stop with Ukraine and urges strong response

French President Emmanuel Macron called President Vladimir Putin’s Russia an adversary that would not stop in Ukraine if it defeated Kyiv’s troops in the two-year-old conflict, urging Europeans to not be “weak” and to get ready to respond.

Macron caused controversy last month after he said he could not rule out the deployment of ground troops in Ukraine in the future, with many leaders distancing themselves from that while others, especially in eastern Europe, expressed support.

“If Russia wins this war, Europe’s credibility will be reduced to zero,” Macron said in a television interview mostly directed at a domestic audience, after French opposition leaders criticised his comments as bellicose.

‘Deeply’ disagrees

Macron said he “deeply” disagrees with the opposition leaders. “Today, deciding to abstain or vote against support to Ukraine, it’s not choosing peace, it’s choosing defeat. It’s different,” he said.

He said it was important for Europe not to draw red lines, which would signal weakness to the Kremlin and encourage it to push on with its invasion of Ukraine. He refused to give details on what a deployment to Ukraine might look like.

“I don’t want to do so. I want Russia to stop this war and retreat from its positions and allow peace,” he said. “I’m not going to give visibility to someone who is not giving me any. This is a question for President Putin.”

“I have reasons not to be precise,” he said.

Paris not at war

Macron said France would never initiate an offensive against Russia, and that Paris was not at war with Moscow, despite the fact that Russia had launched aggressive attacks against French interests in and outside France.

“The Kremlin regime is an adversary,” he said, declining to call Russia an enemy. He also said Putin making threats about nuclear strikes was “not appropriate”.

Macron said Ukraine was in a “difficult” situation on the ground and that stronger support from allies was necessary.

“Peace does not mean the capitulation of Ukraine,” he said. “Wanting peace does not mean defeat. Wanting peace does not mean dropping Ukraine,” he said.

He also said he hoped that the time would come one day to negotiate peace with a Russian president “whoever it might be”, for the first time envisaging the possibility of Putin no longer being in charge in Russia.

Macron also said he had not cancelled a planned visit to Ukraine for security reasons. “That’s what Russia said. You shouldn’t believe them,” he said.

(with Reuters)


Cannes Film Festival 2024

Cannes Film Festival to be hosted by French actress Camille Cottin

French actress Camille Cottin, star of Netflix hit Call My Agent, is to be the host of the 77th Cannes Film Festival in May. 

Cottin will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the festival, which takes place on the French Riviera from 14 – 25 May.

The 45-year-old comedian first came to the attention of French audiences with her provocative stand-up character Connasse (Bitch).

Her role as a high-energy, cynical artistic agent in the French series Dix pour cent adapted in English by Netflix (Call my Agent) opened the doors to Hollywood, where she has made several films.

She went on to star in Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci, alongside Matt Damon in Stillwater and was in a biopic about former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Golda).

She also recently appeared alongside Jean Dujardin and George Clooney in an ad for Nespresso coffee capsules.

In France, her latest film Toni en famille sees her play the role of a mother raising her five children alone, juggling a full-time job and singing in bars in the evening.

Big names expected in line-up

France Télévisions and Brut, official partners of the Cannes Film Festival, will once again broadcast the opening and closing ceremonies this year.

This year’s festival has already appointed the head of its jury: Barbie director Greta Gerwig.

Quebec director Xavier Dolan will chair the jury for the Un Certain Regard prize.

  • American director Greta Gerwig chosen as jury president for 2024 Cannes Festival
  • From Cannes to the Oscars, French director Justine Triet’s road to glory

The main competition jury will pick a successor to Anatomy of a Fall, which won last year’s Palme d’Or and went on to win the Oscar for best original screenplay last week for writer-director Justine Triet.

Several big names in cinema are rumoured to be among this year’s entries.

There is the highly anticipated new project from directing legend Francis Ford Coppola, Megalopolis, starring Adam Driver and Forest Whitaker.

There’s also the adaptation of Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère by the Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, a musical comedy by Jacques Audiard in the world of drug trafficking in Mexico and possibly Emmanuelle, signed Audrey Diwan.

The festival line-up is due to be announced on 11 April.

(with AFP)

International report

Deepfake videos used in local elections in Turkey as Erdogan battles for Istanbul

Issued on:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is leading a battle to regain control of Istanbul in hotly contested local elections this month. However, opposition media is warning about deepfake videos in campaign ads, while international rights groups are voicing alarm over social media companies’ willingness to comply with Turkish censorship ahead of the critical polls.

Polls show the elections are going to be a tight contest. But as Erdogan’s AK Party steps up efforts to regain control of Istanbul, an artificial intelligence-generated video of incumbent mayor Ekrem Imamoglu praising Erdogan for his achievements in Istanbul has been circulating on social media. 

Independent media warn of the threat of fake news, as mainstream media, which is mostly under government control, are not verifying the authenticity of the videos.

Deepfake videos

“Deepfake videos are usually not posted on news sites, but they reach millions of people as advertisements. These stick to the candidate.” explains Hikmet Adal , social media editor at Bianet, an independent news portal.

“The voting segment in Turkey is 40 million. When you ask people if Ekrem Imamoglu actually said this, they will say ‘he did’ because they only follow the mainstream media,” added Adal.

During last year’s presidential elections, Erdogan used a video falsely showing his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu with leaders of the Kurdish separatist group the PKK, which is fighting the Turkish government.

Yaman Akdeniz of Turkey’s Freedom of Expression Association fears more fake news videos will appear as election day draws closer.

“We will witness more of these leading into the local elections, which is of course a major concern,” warns Akdeniz,

“And there were some examples of that prior to the May 2023 general elections. A photo of the opposition leader came out with PKK leaders. Even the president of Turkey commented , saying that he knows that it is fake, but they still used it.”

Turkey’s small independent media sector, which is crucial to the exposing of fake news is facing increasing pressure from Turkish authorities. Much of their news is blocked on social media.

“What we’ve seen is that very, very often material, mainly news on social media, is removed and blocked online,” explains Emma Sinclair-Webb senior Turkey researcher of Human Rights Watch

Call for action

Human Rights Watch was among 22 international rights groups calling on social media companies to stand up to Turkish authorities’ demands for removal of postings.

“It’s very concerning to see that authorities are willing to clamp down on free speech, but social media companies themselves are not robust enough to stand up to this pressure,” added Sinclair-Webb,

“We want them to be more transparent and to work together in raising concerns about requests by Turkey to block content that is clearly within the boundaries of freedom of expression and also to contest others in court in Turkey. “

  • Turkey’s presidential challenger faces uphill battle to unite opposition
  • Volunteer army of election monitors prepare to protect Turkey’s vote

A growing number of prosecutions of independent media under a new disinformation law adds to the pressures they face. Many Turks are now turning to international news platforms.

But Turkish authorities are blocking internet access to foreign news sources which broadcast in Turkish like Deutsche Welle and Voice of America.

These portals are only accessible by a virtual private network, or VPN, which circumvents the ban. But now, some of the most widely used VPNs also face restrictions. 

  • Attack on football referee exposes anti-elite resentment in divided Turkey

 “Restricting access to the internet has become a sort of playbook for regimes and authoritarian governments. And so we see across the world an increase in VPN usage, especially in countries like this, like Turkey,” said Antonio Cesarano of Proton, a VPN provider.

 “It’s a cat-and-mouse game. We will try our best to keep fighting and to keep investing in technology that can bring people back online.”

Turkish based independent news providers  warn they are facing a losing battle in verifying fake news.

“As  alternative media, it is not possible for us to fight against this,” said Bianet, social media editor Adal.

“Our teams are very limited to 20 people, maybe 15 people, at maximum. But there is an army behind this.

With opinion polls indicating the Istanbul election too close to call, analysts warn the danger of fake news is likely to grow along with pressure on independent news.

The Sound Kitchen

Senegal’s presidential poll moves forward

Issued on:

This week on The Sound Kitchen you’ll hear the answer to the question about the delayed presidential election in Senegal. There’s a history lesson about Lithuanian’s love of books (and their language), there are your answers to the bonus question on “The Listener’s Corner”, and of course, a delicious dessert from Erwan Rome on “Music from Erwan”. All that and the new quiz question too, 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: There’s a “new and improved” Facebook page for you, the RFI English Listeners Forum. 

It’s for everyone who reads and listens to us and wants to connect with others, so ask to join, and I’ll sign you up!

The RFI Listeners Club page and the RFI English Clubs page no longer exist; if you belonged to the RFI English Clubs page and not the RFI Listeners Club page, you’ll need to ask to join. I promise I won’t click “Decline” 😊 

Here’s your job: send me your photos for the banner! Send them to thesoundkitchen@rfi.fr

More tech news: Did you know we have a YouTube channel? Just go to YouTube and write RFI English in the search bar, and there we are! Be sure and subscribe to see all our videos, and Erwan has even made a weekly Sound Kitchen promo for you to hear. Don’t miss out!

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 counselled 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: Orlando Teamah from Monrovia, Liberia.

Welcome Orlando! So glad you have joined us!

This week’s quiz: On 10 February, I asked you a question about the presidential poll in Senegal. On 3 February, just hours before official campaigning was to start, the polls were called off by the incumbent president, Macky Sall. Sall cited as the reason an investigation into two Constitutional Council judges whose integrity in the election process has been questioned.

You were to re-read Melissa Chemam’s article “Senegalese lawmakers postpone presidential election to 15 December”, and answer this question: How many candidates are running for president of Senegal?

The answer is, at the time I asked the question: 20

Here’s an update: Senegal’s Constitutional Council ruled that the vote must be held before Sall’s mandate expires on 2 April. The new date for the poll is 24 March, which leaves the 19 candidates very little time to campaign. And yes, there are now 19 candidates instead of the original 20; on 19 February, Rose Wardini renounced her candidacy following controversy over her dual Franco-Senegalese nationality.

In addition to the quiz question, there was the bonus question: “How do you get to sleep?”, which was suggested by Nasyr Muhammad from Katsina State, Nigeria. 

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

The winners are: RFI Listeners Club member Dipita Chakrabarty from New Delhi, India. Dipita is also this week’s bonus question winner. Congratulations Dipita!

Also on the list of lucky winners this week are Sharifun Islam Nitu, who’s a member of the RFI Amour Fan Club in Rajshahi, Bangladesh, and Nafisa Khatun, the president of the RFI Mahila Shrota Sangha Club in West Bengal, India.

There’s also RFI Listeners Club member Anju Regmi from Biratnagar, Nepal, and last but not least, RFI English listener Dilruba Yeasmin Lovely, who’s the general secretary of the Sonali Badhon Female Listeners Club in Naogaon, Bangladesh.

Congratulations winners!

Here’s the music you heard on this week’s programme: “Dance With Waves” by Anouar Brahem, performed by the Anouar Brahem Quartet; “Oriental Dance ” by Juozas Gruodis, performed by Martynas Švėgžda von Bekker and Steinunn Birna Ragnarsdottir; the traditional “Jarabi”, performed by Toumani Diabaté and Sidiki Diabaté; “The Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov; “The Cakewalk” from Children’s Corner by Claude Debussy, performed by the composer, and the Piano Trio in a Minor by Maurice Ravel, performed by Louis Kentner, piano, Yehudi Menuhin, violin, and Gaspar Cassadó, cello.   

This week’s question … you must listen to the show to participate. After you’ve listened to the show, re-read Pratap Chakravarty’s article “India picks pilots for space flight that will blast it into cosmic history”, which will help you with the answer.

You have until 15 April to enter this week’s quiz; the winners will be announced on the 20 April 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

Spotlight on France

Podcast: Covid obedience, vasectomies in France, was Rosa Bonheur a lesbian?

Issued on:

Four years after the start of the first Covid lockdown in France, what has been the impact? What’s stopping more men getting vasectomies in France. And why not everyone wants to accept that Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, was a lesbian.

For 55 days, starting 17 March 2022, French citizens were confined to their homes as part of the government’s approach to controlling the then little-understood virus sweeping the planet, which we now know as Covid-19. Historian Nicolas Mariot, co-author of a book about the lockdown, looks into the reasons behind why a majority of people in France accepted the harsh curbs on personal freedom, and asks why there has not been a broader reckoning about the impacts. (Listen @ 2’40) 

Vasectomies are rare in France. The procedure that cuts the tubes in men’s testicles that carry sperm, serving as a permanent form of birth control, was only legalised in 2001. Urologist Vincent Hupertan describes the reservations patients and doctors have about the vasectomies, which have to do with both French culture and how the health system works. And we hear from one man before and after his vasectomy, who was told by his doctor to rethink it in case he ever planned to remarry a younger woman. (Listen @ 17’00)

Rosa Bonheur, born 16 March 1822, was probably the best-known female painter of the 19th century. Writer Anna Polonyi talks about how Bonheur’s paintings of animals are attracting fresh interest from people curious about her personal life, notably her decades-long relationship with a woman. Yet some of the people in charge of guarding her legacy refuse to say that she was lesbian. Polonyi’s web documentary series, The Rosa Bonheur Case, explores Bonheur’s life and how queer artists are represented. (Listen @ 10’15)

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

Turkey and Italy consider teaming up to seek new influence in Africa

Issued on:

Turkey and Italy are finding common ground as they seek to expand their economic and diplomatic influence in Africa. The two nations are eyeing opportunities to cooperate on security, energy and migration as France’s traditional influence on the continent wanes.

This month, Somalia’s parliament ratified an agreement with Turkey to provide naval protection and assistance in building a Somali navy, another step in Turkey’s efforts to expand its African presence.

“With this pact, Turkey will protect the Somali coast from pirates, terrorists – anyone that violates our maritime borders, like Ethiopia,” declared Abdifatah Kasim, Somalia’s deputy defence minister. 

The defence deal was followed by a bilateral agreement on energy exploration in Somalia.

Ankara’s growing influence in the region was underscored by a strong African presence at Turkey’s annual Antalya Diplomacy Forum, with seven African heads of state, seven prime ministers and 25 foreign ministers in attendance.

In January, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosted African leaders at a summit in Rome, where she unveiled plans to expand Italy’s influence on the continent.

“Our future inevitably depends on the future of the African continent. We are aware of this, and we want to do our part,” Meloni declared.

“That’s why we have decided to launch an ambitious programme of interventions that can help the continent grow and prosper, starting from its immense resources.”

  • Italy targets energy, migration with ‘non-predatory’ plan for Africa

Common ground in Libya

Analysts say both countries are considering cooperating as a means of achieving their Africa goals.

“Italy is trying to fulfil a position that Western countries in some way left over the last decades, while Turkey has already been in Africa and in sub-Saharan Africa,” observes Alessia Chiriatti of the Institute of International Affairs, an Italian think tank.

“The main issues for confrontation or cooperation – we will see – will be migration, energy issues, and, of course, the economic development of these countries,” she says.

Also in January, Meloni met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul. The meeting included talks on Africa, with a focus on cooperation in Libya – a country where experts say Ankara has considerable influence, including a military base.

The North African nation is a main transit route for migrants seeking to enter Europe, mainly through Italy.

  • Tunisia brush-off augurs badly for EU push for African migration deals

Italy, France and other European countries see that as a “huge threat”, according to Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu of the African Studies Department at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

“So there is room to cooperate in this area and to prevent the illegal flow of migrants, and cooperate in the security area as well.”

    On Tuesday, the Italian and Turkish defence ministers held talks in Ankara. Exploiting Libya’s vast energy reserves is also potential common ground.

    France on the outs

    Meanwhile the recent ousting of regimes sympathetic to France in Niger, Mali and Gabon – and with it, the withdrawal of French forces – has severely weakened France’s historical political and economic influence in West Africa.

    That offers an opportunity to Italy and Turkey.

    “Italy could have an important cooperation with Turkey in order to take advantage of the position left aside by some countries like France, like Germany, like the other Western countries in Africa,” says analyst Chiriatti.

    “But it will also depend on the bilateral agenda and bilateral interests expressed by Turkey and Italy,” she adds. “That’s not always the same. So in this sense, we need to see what will happen in the future step by step.”

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

    Business opportunities

    Chiriatti warns that cooperation can easily turn into rivalry in business. But Africa’s vast economic potential is seen as offering plenty of room for partnership.

    “There are several areas where Turkey can cooperate with other countries, including European countries, because Turkish companies are trying to increase their investments,” says Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu.

    “They would like to gain new contracts for large projects, et cetra. Africa is in desperate need of infrastructure. There’s a huge energy deficit and infrastructure gap in the whole continent,” she notes.

    With Italy and Turkey lacking the financial muscle of other influential players on the continent – notably China – both countries have powerful incentives to focus on potential partnership in their bid to expand their influence in Africa.

    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! 


    Sponsored content

    Presented by

    The editorial team did not contribute to this article in any way.

    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.


    Sponsored content

    Presented by

    The editorial team did not contribute to this article in any way.

    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.