rfi 2024-03-25 01:05:46



Haiti – France

France to evacuate vulnerable citizens from Haiti as unrest rages

France will provide special flights for its “most vulnerable” citizens to leave Haiti, the French foreign ministry said Sunday, after air links with Port-au-Prince were cut during political chaos.

“France’s embassy in Port-au-Prince remains open and is still working despite the degraded conditions,” the ministry told French news agency AFP in a statement.

It added that staff are “completely mobilised to support the French community on the ground”.

Haiti’s international airport has been closed since armed gangs attacked it earlier this month.

Around 1,100 French citizens live in Haiti – once a slave colony of France – many of them with dual nationality.

Paris said that its defence ministry would be responsible for organising the flights, which are set to begin on Sunday.

People who want to leave should contact the embassy in Port-au-Prince, the foreign ministry said, adding that it was not yet clear how many people would take up the offer.

Thousands flee gang violence

More than 33,000 people have fled Haiti’s capital in around two weeks as armed gangs continue to pillage homes and attack institutions, according to a report this week from the UN’s International Organisation for Migration.

The majority of those displaced have traveled to the south of Haiti.

United States authorities said they evacuated more than 130 US citizens out of Port-au-Prince between Wednesday and Friday, and nearly 100 others out of the coastal city of Cap-Haitien in northern Haiti since last Sunday.

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

Port-au-Prince remains gripped by the street battles that erupted late February, prompting the resignation earlier this month of prime minister Ariel Henry.

His departure, demanded by an alliance of gangs that now control most of the capital, has not lessened the violence.

The main port remains closed, and supplies of food and water are dwindling. 

Kenya, which had been due to lead an international peacekeeping mission to Haiti, says the deployment is on hold until a new administration is in place. 

Caribbean leaders are helping form a transitional council that will be responsible for choosing an interim prime minister and cabinet.

(with newswires)


Senegal election

Count begins in Senegal’s landmark vote to decide next president

Voters in Senegal cast their ballots for a new president on Sunday, with early reports suggesting high turnout. Seventeen candidates were vying to replace incumbent Macky Sall, who has led the country since 2012 and is not eligible to run again.

Some 7.3 million voters are registered in the West African country, which has often been hailed as one of the most stable democracies in a region that experienced several coups in recent years.

The election will choose the nation’s fifth president since Senegal gained independence from France in 1960. It is the first time in the country’s history that the incumbent is not on the ballot. 

Voting began at 8am local time and ended at 6pm, with counting starting immediately afterwards. Provisional results are expected within five days.

Polling stations opened on time and voting proceeded calmly throughout the day, reported RFI’s correspondents in Dakar, Saint-Louis and Ziguinchor.

Record number of contenders

With a record 17 candidates in the running, a second round looks likely.  

Two favourites have emerged: former prime minister Amadou Ba, the ruling party candidate, and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, representing a popular anti-establishment coalition.

Ba is President Sall’s preferred successor, while Faye is running in place of opposition figurehead Ousmane Sonko, who was barred from running over a conviction that he disputes. 

Veteran politicians Idrissa Seck, a former prime minister under Sall’s predecessor, and Khalifa Sall – a longtime opposition leader and no relation to the president – are also among the frontrunners.

  • Former PMs and a lone woman among contenders in Senegal’s crisis-hit vote

‘Orderly’ voting

Hundreds of observers drawn from civil society, the African Union, the Ecowas regional group and the European Union monitored the vote across Senegal.

By Sunday afternoon, the head of the EU mission, Malin Bjork, said that voting was taking place “calmly, efficiently and (in a) very orderly manner”.

More than 16,000 polling stations were set up, including around 800 overseas. 

In France, home to a large Senegalese community, nearly 80,000 people were registered to take part.

At a polling station in a gym in Asnières-sur Seine, a suburb north-west of Paris, several thousand overseas voters were expected. The line to cast ballots stretched round the block, RFI’s correspondent Marie Casadebaig observed.

Vote delayed

The election was held weeks after Sall unsuccessfully tried to call it off until the end of the year. 

After two consecutive terms in office, Senegal’s constitution does not allow him to run a third time. His opponents saw his attempt to postpone the vote as a bid to defy democratic process and stay in power.

  • Podcast: The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

After weeks of unrest that left four people dead, the country’s top constitutional body stepped in and forced him to schedule the election on 24 March, almost exactly a month after it was originally due to take place.

If the election goes to a run-off, a second round of voting will be organised around two weeks later.

The eventual winner will face the difficult task of steering Senegal out of its political crisis and managing revenues from oil and gas reserves that are shortly to start production – while alleviating the economic hardship and widespread youth unemployment that drives thousands to risk their lives in search of jobs in Europe.

(with newswires)


ENVIRONMENT

Obsolete electronics pile up as e-waste outstrips recycling efforts, UN warns

UN agencies have warned that waste from electronics is piling up worldwide while global recycling rates remain low and are likely to fall even further.

In a report released this week, the United Nations International Telecommunications Union and research arm UNITAR said some 56 million tonnes of “e-waste” was generated in 2022 – enough to fill tractor-trailers that could be lined up bumper to bumper around the globe.

That amount is on track to reach more than 70 million tonnes by 2030.

E-waste is defined as discarded devices with a plug or battery such as mobile phones, electronic toys, TVs, microwave ovens, e-cigarettes, laptop computers and solar panels.

It does not include waste from electronic vehicles, which fall into a separate category.

According to the report, metals – including copper, gold and iron – make up half of the 60 million tonnes, worth a total of over €80 billion.

Plastics accounted for over 15 million tonnes and the remaining 12 million tonnes included substances such as composite materials and glass.



Chasing ‘hazardous elements’

The United Nations says 22 percent of e-waste mass was properly collected and recycled in 2022.

However, that figure is expected to fall to 20 percent by the end of the decade because of “staggering growth” of such waste due to higher consumption, limited repair options, shorter product lifecycles, the growing “electronification” of society, and inadequate e-waste management infrastructure.

It says some of the discarded electronic devices contained hazardous elements such as mercury, as well as rare metals coveted by tech industry manufacturers.

  • Negotiating an end to plastic pollution, with global treaty

Only 1 percent of the demand for the 17 minerals that make up the rare metals is met through recycling.

To date, about half of all e-waste is generated in Asia, where few countries have laws on recycling or collection targets.

Recycling and collection rates top 40 percent in Europe, where per-capita waste generation is highest at nearly 18 kilos. 

Scavenging for a living

In Africa, which generates the least of any of the five big global regions, recycling and collection rates hover at about 1 percent.

“The latest research shows that the global challenge posed by e-waste is only going to grow,” said Cosmas Luckyson Zavazava, head of the ITU telecommunication development bureau.

“With less than half of the world implementing and enforcing approaches to manage the problem, this raises the alarm for sound regulations to boost collection and recycling.”

For some, e-waste represents a way to earn cash by rummaging through trash in the developing world to find coveted commodities, despite the health risks.

  • A day in the life of a worker at Dandora, Nairobi’s main dumping ground

At the Dandora dumpsite where garbage collected from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi ends up – even though a court declared it full over a generation ago – scavengers try to earn a living by picking through rubbish for e-waste that can be sold to businesses as recycled material.

Steve Okoth hopes the flow continues so he can eke out an income, but he knows the risks.

“When the e-waste comes here, it contains some powder which affects my health,” he said, adding that when electronic devices heat up, they release gases and he “can’t come to work because of chest problems.”

However Okoth said they don’t have any other options. “We are now used to the smoke because if you don’t go to work you will not eat.”

The authors of the UN report have acknowledged that many people in the developing world pay their bills through harvesting such e-waste, and called for them to be trained and equipped to make such work safer.

“We must try to support these people trying to find their niche,” said Ruediger Kuehr, senior manager of the sustainable cycles programme at UNITAR.


CHAD

Chad excludes military rulers’ main opponents from presidential vote

Authorities in Chad said on Sunday they had barred 10 candidates, including three leading opponents of the ruling junta, from standing in the presidential election on 6 May. The vote is supposed to mark a return to democratic rule three years after military leaders seized power, but the opposition says it’s a sham.

The constitutional court said the applications of outspoken opponents Nassour Ibrahim Neguy Koursami, Rakhis Ahmat Saleh and Ahmat Hassaballah Soubiane, as well as seven others, had been rejected because of “irregularities”.

The court attributed the decision to missing or inconsistent documents, declaring that Koursami’s file listed several different places of birth.

Ten other candidates remain in the running, most prominently the current leader Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno and his prime minister Succes Masra. Former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke also saw his candidacy approved.  

Deby Itno was proclaimed interim president by military generals in 2021 following the death of his father Idriss Deby Itno, who had ruled the country for more than three decades.

Masra, a former opposition leader, signed a reconciliation deal with the junta leader earlier this year.

Call for boycott

The opposition says Masra’s candidacy is a ploy to make the race appear open – when in fact Deby Itno is almost certain to win, since his main rivals are dead or in exile.

Even before the court announced its decision, opposition and civil society coalition Wakit Tama (“It’s time”) urged voters to boycott the election, which they called a “charade”.

“If you boycott, [Deby Itno] will be elected. If you don’t boycott, he’ll still be elected. So does a boycott matter?” spokesperson Soumaine Adoum said at a press conference on Sunday morning.

“Yes, because refusing to vote makes a stand. Because it will call the vote’s legitimacy into question.”

  • Chad’s opposition fears France will maintain status quo after elections
  • Concerns ahead of Chad elections after death of main opposition figure

Opposition leader shot

The election has already been marred by the violent death of a prominent opposition leader, Yaya Dillo.

Dillo, who was widely expected to challenge Deby Itno for the presidency, was killed last month when soldiers stormed his party’s headquarters in the capital, N’Djamena.

The authorities claim they were attempting to arrest a member of Dillo’s party for an alleged attack on the security agency when his supporters open fire, leading to Dillo’s death in a shoot-out.

But his supporters say that he was executed at point-blank range. They claim that photographs of his corpse show a single shot to the head.

Human Rights Watch said Dillo’s death raised serious concerns.

“The circumstances of Yaya Dillo’s killing are unclear, but his violent death highlights the dangers facing opposition politicians in Chad, particularly as elections approach,” said Lewis Mudge, the watchdog’s Central Africa director, in a statement

(with newswires)


France

Waiters race for glory as Paris revives century-old tradition

Some 200 aproned competitors took their places on the starting blocks Sunday for a tradition that goes back more than a hundred years: the Paris waiters’ race. 

Intended to showcase waiters’ talent with a tray, the 2km race saw contestants make their way from Paris city hall through the narrow streets of the Marais and back again – all while singlehandedly carrying a glass of water, a cup of coffee and a croissant. 

Samy Lamrous was the fastest male entrant, completing the course in 13 minutes and 30 seconds, while Pauline Van Wymeersch was the speediest woman with a time of 14 minutes and 12 seconds.

Time penalties were imposed for spills, with judges waiting at the finish line to assess the state of each participant’s tray.

Running was not permitted. Instead waiters were expected to cover the course at a brisk walk – the maximum speed at which you’d expect to see one arrive at your table.

Carrying the tray with two hands resulted in automatic disqualification.

Paris revival

It’s the first time since 2011 that the race has returned to Paris, the city where it was invented.

Historians have traced the first edition back to 1914, when it was conceived as a way to promote Parisian cafes and the skills of those who worked in them.

Previous participants had to cover as much as 10km past some of the city’s most famous monuments, including a stretch down the Champs-Élysées.

The contents of the tray have also varied over the years, ranging from a full bottle of wine or spirits to a carafe of water and three glasses.



Originally known as the course des garçons de café (cafe waiters’ race), the event gradually opened to waitresses in the 1960s.

It also took off across France and around the world, with waiters’ races held as far away as Cameroon, Hong Kong, Australia, Guatemala and the United States.

In Paris, though, the race died out 13 years ago for lack of sponsorship. 

It’s been revived this year by the city of Paris, hospitality industry groups and a handful of private partners, who rebranded it as the course des cafés (cafes race).

Sunday’s races were mixed events, one for professional waiters and another for apprentices.

Competitors had to wear a white shirt, black trousers or skirt and an apron. While trainers were allowed, traditionalists were invited stick to dress shoes. 

The winners received medals, tickets for the Olympics opening ceremony and a night in a swanky hotel.

Read also:

  • France’s butter sector churned up after watchdog exposes flaws
  • France bans use of ‘meat’ labelling for vegetarian products

Jewish art

Missing for 80 years, Holocaust victim’s artwork is finally returning to Paris

Works by the early 20th-century Jewish artist Ary Arcadie Lochakov are being sent from San Francisco back to Paris, where they’ll be housed at the Museum of Jewish Art and History. There are few clues as to how the artworks mysteriously appeared in the US, eight decades after Lochakov’s death in Nazi-occupied Paris.

A Port of San Francisco employee, Jermaine Joseph, came across the artworks during his maintenance rounds along the city’s waterfront in May 2022. The 48 drawings, prints and paintings were arranged on a bench, some fixed with stones to prevent them from blowing away. 

Together with colleagues, he gathered the art and took it back to headquarters. They wanted to know where it had come from but had no leads. Local police said they had no reports of stolen or missing art, and there was no surveillance footage of the park.

They decided to look more closely at details that most of the artworks shared: dates between 1920 and 1941, and the signature “Lochakov”. 

A lost artist

Ary Arcadie Lochakov – sometimes written Lochakow – was born in 1892 to an artistic Jewish family in what is now Moldova, then part of the Russian Empire. He served as an officer in World War I before moving to Paris to pursue art in 1920. 

He exhibited at some of Paris’s most prestigious art shows, working part-time in a photography studio to get by.

As World War II broke out and Nazi forces occupied Paris, Lochakov went into hiding. He died from malnutrition in October 1941. 

Since then, his career has been lost to the historical record – with a few exceptions. 

Paris-based author Hersh Fenster wrote about Lochakov in his 1951 book Our Martyred Artists. Published in Yiddish with a preface by Marc Chagall, it told the stories of Jewish members of the School of Paris (a loose term for artists, including the likes of Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Joan Miro, who came to Paris in the early 20th century). 

  • Jewish artist’s work tells of life fleeing persecution

Nadine Nieszawer, an art dealer focused on the Paris School’s “lost Jewish artists”, inherited Fenster’s archives. She was already connected to Lochakov through her grandparents, who bought a 1923 work directly from the artist.

Until the San Francisco discovery, it was one of only a handful of paintings attributed to the artist. It depicts his friend David Knut, a Jewish poet and Resistance figure, and was acquired by the Museum of Jewish Art and History in 2020 for €23,400. 

Despite his value to art history, information on Lochakov, described as a “loner” during his life and a “little known artist” today, remains sparse. 

“He didn’t have a wife, any children, a family,” Pascale Samuel, the Paris museum’s curator, told The San Francisco Standard, which first reported the story.

“We don’t know what happened to Lochakov’s studio after his death.” 

Unknown provenance

Port staff in San Francisco contacted experts, including Samuel and Nieszawer, to find out more about Lochakov’s artistic footprint.

Prints of his work held by the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in northern Israel helped authenticate the newly discovered pieces.

Neither Nieszawer nor Samuel can guess how Lochakov’s artworks appeared in pristine condition in California eight decades after his death.

The ownership history of the collection found in the park remains, for now, mostly unknown. 

  • France passes law to help return art looted by Nazis to Jewish owners

The San Francisco Standard speculated that a friend of Lochakov could have brought the works to the United States or that an American descendent of Nazi occupiers of Paris inherited a stockpile of Jewish art. Some frames, however, have been traced to a maker in Alabama. 

Samuel said it was one of the greatest mysteries of her career.

San Francisco’s city council passed a resolution in January for the finds to be transferred to the Museum of Jewish Art and History, France’s largest museum of Jewish culture.

Before returning them to Paris, the port plans to display the artwork but has yet to announce when or where. 

(with newswires) 


Senegal election

Hundreds of observers muster to make sure Senegal’s presidential vote is fair

Senegal votes on Sunday in a presidential election that is expected to be the most tightly contested in years. Before polls opened, a team of a thousand observers drawn from civil society was preparing to monitor the long-awaited vote.

In Dakar, Senegal’s capital, a team of volunteers were stationed behind laptops, phones to their ears. 

On the other end of the line were observers on the ground across Senegal, calling in in a rehearsal for Sunday’s vote. 

“We’re looking at areas that don’t have network coverage so that we can flag them up in the database, and see which observers are having trouble sending messages correctly,” explained Khadija Mohamed, supervisor of the simulation exercise.

On the day of the vote itself, 500 observers will be stationed at polling offices around the country and another 500 will travel between sites to monitor the vote.

They’ll be looking to see that voting opens on time and whether candidates are present at the count, as well as watching for any interference or irregularities that could threaten the credibility of one of Africa’s most anticipated elections. 

Tense political climate

First set for late February, the vote is taking place a month behind schedule in a tense political landscape. 

President Macky Sall, who has reached the end of his two-term limit, unexpectedly postponed the election that will choose his successor in what the opposition claimed was a bid to cling onto power.

  • Podcast: The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

While Sall initially sought to push the vote back to the end of 2024, pressure from at home and abroad forced election authorities to set an earlier date. 

The 17 candidates – the most to stand in any presidential election in Senegal yet – had just two weeks to campaign.

Credibility crucial

With results likely to be close, observers say it’s crucial that ballots are verified.

“It’s very important, given the extremely tense political climate that we’re in at the moment,” said Anta Faye Niang, project officer for the election support programme in Senegal funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

A coalition of Senegalese civil society groups, known collectively as Cosce, is also involved in the observation mission.

“Civil society has a role to play in strengthening the credibility of the electoral process,” Niang told RFI.

“By checking today that voting procedures are being carried out correctly, we’ll be able to strengthen the public’s confidence in the results that come out of the ballot boxes on 24 March.”

Wide field

The race is widely expected to go to a second round at the end of March.

The frontrunners include Prime Minister Amadou Ba, the ruling party candidate and Sall’s preferred successor, and Bassirou Diomaye Faye, a stand-in for popular opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who was barred from running over legal charges that he disputes. 

  • Former PMs and a lone woman among contenders in Senegal’s crisis-hit vote

Veteran politicians Idrissa Seck, a former prime minister under Sall’s predecessor, and Khalifa Sall – a longtime opposition leader and no relation to the president – are also expected to do well.

Only one woman is running: Anta Babacar Ngom, an entrepreneur and first-time candidate.

In France, home to a large Senegalese community, nearly 80,000 people are registered to vote from overseas.


Reporting for this story was provided by RFI correspondent Léa-Lisa Westerhoff.


Terrorism

France condemns ‘heinous’ gun attack on Moscow concert hall

France joined other Western countries in condemning a gun attack on a concert hall in the Russian capital on Friday night, which killed more than 130 people and injured many more. The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility.

French President Emmanuel Macron “strongly condemns the terrorist attack” on Moscow’s Crocus City Hall, said a statement from the presidential palace. 

“France expresses its solidarity with the victims, their loved ones and all the Russian people.”

At least 133 people were killed in the attack, according to Russian authorities’ latest count on Saturday.

Hundreds of fans were at the hall in a northern suburb of Moscow for a rock concert when, minutes before the music was due to start, armed attackers opened fire.

They also set the hall alight, starting a blaze that spread throughout the building. 

Panicked spectators rushed for the exits, with some escaping into the basement or onto the roof. 

“The images from Moscow tonight are horrifying,” France’s foreign ministry wrote in a social media post as the attack unfolded.

“All effort has to be made to determine the causes of these heinous acts.”

Eleven arrested

A statement released by the Islamic State group claimed responsibility, but Russia did not immediately identify who it believes is to blame.

The Kremlin said on Saturday that it had arrested 11 people over the attack, including four suspected gunmen.

It did not name them. In a televised address, President Vladimir Putin claimed that the suspects were captured while trying to escape to Ukraine.

The European Union and United Nations condemned the attack, along with the United States and other Western countries that – like France – have sided with Ukraine since Russia’s 2022 invasion.

The White House deplored the “horrible” events, but said there was no sign of Ukrainian involvement.

  • France’s Macron says ground operations in Ukraine possible ‘at some point’
  • Paris rejects Russian accusations of French mercenaries in Ukraine

Rising death toll

The US embassy had said two weeks before the attack that there was a risk of “extremists” targeting mass gatherings in Moscow, including concerts.

Earlier this month, Russian authorities announced that six suspected Islamic State fighters had been killed in an operation in Ingushetia, a small Muslim-majority republic in the Caucasus region.

Russia has been the target of past attacks by Islamic militants, but also mass killings with no clear political link.

Russian authorities on Saturday raised the death toll from the Moscow shooting several times. First estimated around 40, it climbed to over 130 – making the attack the deadliest in Russia in two decades.

Authorities said over 100 others were in hospital, more than half of them in serious condition. At least five children are reported to be among the wounded.

(with AFP)


DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Freed DRC journalist says he was imprisoned as warning to others

Prominent Congolese journalist Stanis Bujakera, released from prison this week after spending six months behind bars, has accused the government of fabricating the charges against him as part of a campaign to intimidate reporters looking into the death of an opposition politician.

Bujakera, who is deputy director of the Actualite.cd news site and a regular contributor to RFI and international outlets, said that he had been targeted by the state for reporting on the death of Cherubin Okende

A former minister and spokesman for the opposition party Ensemble pour la République (“Together for the Republic”), Okende disappeared on 12 July last year.

His bullet-riddled body was found in his car in Kinshasa the following day.

Bujakera was arrested in September over a report that appeared in French magazine Jeune Afrique about the possible involvement of the country’s intelligence bureau, based on a leaked confidential memo.

Though the magazine said Bujakera was not the author of the story, he was charged with spreading falsehoods and forging documents and jailed awaiting trial. 

He was found guilty earlier this month, and sentenced to time served and a fine of 1 million Congolese francs (around 330 euros). He was finally released on 19 March.

‘Totally fabricated’

Speaking to RFI in his first interview as a free man, Bujakera described the pressure on him to reveal his sources, and the pressure on the judges to convict him.

“They wanted to convict me to scare other journalists,” he told RFI’s Christophe Boisbouvier.

“There was nothing right in the case against me, so it’s a totally fabricated affair. Totally fabricated to try to intimidate us.”

Bujakera’s arrest came three months before presidential elections in the DRC and “the authorities wanted to control information”, he maintains.



Dangerous information

Bujakera told RFI that he had no plans to appeal the conviction until he had faith that DRC’s justice system was truly independent.

Meanwhile former minister of tourism Modero Nsimba appeared in court in Kinshasa this week, to face charges of propagating rumours against the family of President Felix Tshisekedi in the wake of Okende’s death.

His arrest came after the sharing of controversial audio recordings regarding the alleged murder on social networks.

Okende was buried this week in Kinshasa. The Congolese judiciary still insists he died by suicide.

Read also:

  • Call for investigation after head of DRC broadcasting body attacked in Paris
  • France congratulates DRC’s Tshisekedi on disputed re-election

(with newswires)

Spotlight on Africa

The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

Issued on:

This is a big election year for Africa, with 16 countries heading to the polls. Close attention is being paid to the delayed presidential vote in Senegal – a West African beacon of democracy that’s been facing increasing instability. RFI spoke to author and economist Ndongo Samba Sylla in the capital Dakar. 

RFI is renewing its Spotlight on Africa podcast, and the first episode zeroes in on one of the continent’s biggest news stories.

Senegal was plunged into political crisis when President Macky Sall unexpectedly postponed elections that had been due to take place by the end of February.

Protests erupted from those supporting opposition candidates, as well as from all corners of civil society. The polls were finally rescheduled for 24 March.

Voters say they’re worried about unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young people – many of whom are quitting the country in search of a better life elsewhere.

Ndongo Samba Sylla helps us to better understand where the unrest has taken the heaviest toll – and what’s really at stake in Sunday’s election.

Also read:

  • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
  • Senegal president calls off February 25 election

     


 

Episode mixed by Guillaume Buffet. 

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

International report

With Somalia naval deal, Turkey steers into strategic but volatile region

Issued on:

A naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia positions the Turkish navy in a strategically vital region, underlining Ankara’s growing ambitions at sea. But analysts warn that the deal threatens to escalate tensions with Somalia’s neighbour, Ethiopia.

Under a ten-year defence agreement ratified earlier this month, the Turkish navy will help protect Somalia’s territorial waters and facilitate training and equipment for the Somali navy.

The deal is just the latest step in Ankara’s deepening relationship with Mogadishu.

“Not only is this the location of Turkey’s largest international military base, it’s also the location of Turkey’s largest embassy in the world,” explains Norman Ricklefs, chair of multinational consultancy group Namea.

“This shows the importance Turkey has placed on Somalia, and rebuilding Somalia as a major state in the Horn of Africa, and making Somalia’s future success part of Turkey’s broader strategic goals in eastern Africa in the Red Sea region,” he says.

Turkey also signed an energy exploration deal with Somalia this month. The East African country is believed to have major oil and gas reserves both on land and within its territorial waters.

Blue-water navy 

Experts see the deepening of ties with Somalia as part of growing international competition for influence in this strategically vital region.

“This will provide Turkey an opportunity to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa,” says Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu, an associate professor of African studies at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

“Because all those external countries – Gulf countries, Western countries… even Japan – have bases in Djibouti, they are all vying to increase their development in the region, especially for economic purposes. So this is also an opportunity for Turkey,” she says.

The Somali deal comes as Ankara rapidly expands its navy’s so-called “blue-water” capabilities – the ability to operate on the open oceans, far from the country’s home ports.

Turkey has built up a fleet of energy research ships and a growing navy.

“[Naval expansion] focuses on the projection of Turkish military capacity in the maritime domain – both in protecting its own exclusive economic zones and waters, while also helping its allies and partners to do the same,” explains Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent defence analyst.

“And Somalia has been facing an increased threat of piracy.”

Tensions with Ethiopia

Turkey’s deepening military ties with Somalia come as the Horn of Africa nation faces tension with its neighbour, Ethiopia.

In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia by signing an agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving Addis Ababa long-desired sea access.

But Mehmet Ozkan of the Turkish National Defence University says Ankara is well placed to contain any fallout, given its ties with Ethiopia. 

“Military cooperation, personal cooperation, the personal relationship between the leaders – I think relations are pretty good,” he says.

“Because in the region everybody is looking for security cooperation, and it’s same for Ethiopia… Turkey is a security provider for Ethiopia as well.”

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

‘Drone diplomacy’

With Turkish-made military drones widely used by both the Ethiopian and Somali militaries in their wars against insurgencies, Ankara’s so-called “drone diplomacy” has been instrumental in balancing its relations with rivals.

“Turkey has also probably supplied some drones to Somalia – which are operated by Turkish operators, not Somalis – but they’ve been useful in the conflict against Al-Shabaab,” explains analyst Ricklefs.

“I know Turkey has a good relationship with Ethiopia. It has a good relationship with Somalia. So its presence in Somalia is more likely than not – given Turkey’s broader strategic aims in the region – to have a stabilising effect rather than a destabilising effect,” he argues.

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

However, Africa expert Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu warns that, given the region’s volatility, Ankara will still need to tread carefully.

“In the long run, this might lead to Turkey’s involvement in regional conflicts. This is what Turkey was trying to avoid in its Africa policy: it does not want to be a part of African conflicts, but it might be dragged into [them],” she says.

As Turkey extends its influence in one of the most volatile parts of the world, analysts suggest Ankara will need to perfect its diplomatic balancing skills.


CLIMATE CHANGE

UN weather agency marks anniversary with dire warning about heating planet

Stark climate warnings come ahead of this year’s World Meteorological Day, observed on Saturday, with the UN’s weather agency confirming that global temperatures had “smashed” heat records in 2023 – raising ocean temperatures and melting glaciers faster than before. Even hotter conditions are expected for the year ahead.

An annual event, World Meteorological Day seeks to raise awareness about the importance of weather and climate-related issues. It commemorates the establishment of the UN’s World Meteorological Organisation in 1950.

This year the WMO’s State of the Climate report confirmed preliminary data showing that 2023 was by far the hottest year ever recorded. It also caps off the warmest 10-year period on record.

WMO climate monitoring chief Omar Baddour said there was a high probability that 2024 would in turn break the record set in 2023.

The report showed “a planet on the brink”, said UN chief Antonio Guterres.

“Earth is issuing a distress call,” he said in a video message, warning that “fossil fuel pollution is sending climate chaos off the charts” and “changes are speeding up”.

The WMO said that last year the average near-surface temperature was 1.45C above pre-industrial levels – dangerously close to the critical 1.5C threshold that countries agreed to avoid crossing in the 2015 Paris climate accords.



‘Red alert’

“I am now sounding the red alert about the state of the climate,” stressed Celeste Saulo, WMO secretary-general. “2023 set new records for every single climate indicator.”

The organisation said many of the records were “smashed” and that the numbers “gave ominous new significance to the phrase ‘off the charts'”.

“What we witnessed in 2023, especially with the unprecedented ocean warmth, glacier retreat and Antarctic sea ice loss, is cause for particular concern,” Saulo said.

One especially worrying finding was that marine heatwaves gripped nearly a third of the global ocean on an average day last year.

By the end of 2023, more than 90 percent of the ocean had experienced heatwave conditions at some point during the year.

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Impacts on oceans

More frequent and intense marine heatwaves will have “profound negative repercussions for marine ecosystems and coral reefs”, it warned. 

Meanwhile key glaciers worldwide suffered the largest loss of ice since records began in 1950, “driven by extreme melt in both western North America and Europe”.

In Switzerland, where the WMO is based, Alpine glaciers lost 10 percent of their remaining volume in the past two years alone, it said.

Antarctic sea was also “by far the lowest on record”.

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Rising sea levels

Ocean warming and the rapidly melting glaciers and ice sheets have raised sea levels to their highest point since satellite records began in 1993.

The global mean sea level rise over the past decade is more than double the rate in the first decade of satellite records. 

The dramatic climate shifts are taking a heavy toll worldwide, fuelling extreme weather events, flooding and drought, which trigger displacement and drive up biodiversity loss and food insecurity.

“The climate crisis is the defining challenge that humanity faces and is closely intertwined with the inequality crisis,” Saulo said.

  • Hottest January on record as 1.5C limit breached for 12 months straight

‘Glimmer of hope’

The WMO did highlight one “glimmer of hope”: surging renewable energy generation.

Last year renewable energy generation capacity, mainly from solar, wind and hydropower, increased by nearly 50 percent over 2022.

The report sparked a flood of reactions and calls for urgent action.

And while the cost of climate action might seem high, Saulo said the cost of climate inaction was much higher.

“The worst thing would be to do nothing,” she said.

Guterres also emphasised that there was still time to avoid the worst of climate chaos. But he warned: “Leaders must step up and act – now.”

(with newswires)


COVID PANDEMIC

Four years on, what has France learned from its first Covid lockdown?

In spring 2020, France shut down schools and businesses as the world faced a mysterious new illness – Covid-19. The first of three lockdowns was imposed – but why did people accept strict limits on movement in a country that is so used to protests and debates?

Starting 17 March 2020, people in France were not allowed to circulate freely for 55 days. 

After shuttering schools, restaurants and other businesses, the French government imposed its first strict lockdown to contain the spread of Covid.

The population was required to present certificates whenever they left home. They were permitted a maximum of one hour outside for shopping or exercising, and only those working “essential” jobs could travel further than a kilometre.

And for the most part, people followed the rules.

Nicolas Moriot, a historian who has co-written a book about the lockdown, describes it as an “act of mass obedience”.

Listen to this story on the Spotlight on France podcast

Based on a survey of 16,000 people, he found that 80 percent of people stuck to lockdown rules – not necessarily to avoid Covid, but because they were put off by the potential for run-ins with the police and a €135 fine for off-limits outings.

A quarter of those surveyed said they followed restrictions on movement but not health recommendations, like staying a metre apart and washing hands.

“So you cannot say their fear of the virus was very high,” Moriot concludes.

Lack of public debate

He compares France with northern European countries, which closed businesses but did not impose full lockdowns. France’s reaction, he says, comes from its history of reacting to societal issues with security measures.

“You can say that it’s a question of habit for the government to put in place things like certificates and restrictions on public freedom,” he said.

While debate in France emerged over health passes, vaccines and later lockdown measures, very few people protested initial restrictions in the spring of 2020 – which Mariot attributes to the fact that there was little opportunity to organise, or even exchange.

“Associations, unions and political parties were shut down, as well as social and athletic gatherings. All that was completely cancelled. And this is the way French people shape their political opposition,” he explains.

“As a result, individual citizens found themselves alone. We were in a direct relationship with the state, and I think that played a fundamental role in the fact that there was not much opposition.”

Worrying precedent? 

Four years later, it is clear that lockdowns impacted mental health, notably for young people and students. Studies showed an increase in depression and anxiety during the first lockdown, growing with subsequent lockdowns and restrictions.

But there has been little reflection about lockdowns and their longer-term impacts on society, with relatively few questions about the measures themselves and the powers they gave to the state.

Police carried out 21 million checks during the first lockdown and issued 1.1 million fines.

Moriot is surprised that no one has questioned these penalties.

“What happened to them? Did people pay them? We know nothing,” he said.

In May 2023, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that their Covid lockdown was unconstitutional and annulled the 1.2 million fines handed out.

Though France’s constitutional court ruled on the vaccine passes used to access public venues later in the pandemic – judging that they were constitutional so long as it was temporary – they were never asked to pronounce on the lockdown and the fines.

French lawmakers questioned ministers in parliamentary committees, but focused more on mask availability than the lockdown itself.

“There was no public discussion or debate or questioning,” said Moriot. “It’s surprising and quite worrying for the future.”


More on this story on the Spotlight on France podcast, episode 108.


French food

Massive meltdown as French town breaks world raclette record

What do you get if you combine 620kg of cheese, 350kg of charcuterie and a tonne of potatoes? The answer is the world’s largest ever raclette feast – a certified triumph achieved in the south-eastern French city of Saint-Etienne. 

Although its origins are Swiss, raclette is very popular in France – particularly in mountainous regions – where people gather around a special grill that slowly melts the creamy cheese, which they then scrape off onto boiled potatoes, pickles, onions and cured meats. 

Like its cousin, the fondue, it’s a dish best enjoyed in a social setting; there’s no such thing as a raclette for one. 

Organisers of the event in Saint-Etienne, not too far from Lyon, took the concept to new heights last Sunday when 2,236 people sat down for a gargantuan raclette which a court bailiff officially recognised as a new world record. 



Record shredded

Some 10,000 potatoes were needed to shred the previous record held by students from Chambéry, a picturesque city with views of the Alps, who gathered 1,067 people around a raclette in 2022. 

And the ambition doesn’t stop here. French comedian Jason Chicandier and sidekick Mathou Cann, who were behind Sunday’s raclette rumpus, say they aim to double the number of guests next year. 

“This is fantastic. I expected it to be a success but not such an explosive one,” said Chicandier, who’s known for his videos promoting French regional cuisine. 

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He told local broadcaster RadioScoop the feast en masse was intended to offer unpretentious, casual fun among families and friends – true to the rustic roots of the dish itself, which was traditionally enjoyed by mountain farmers around an open fire. 

“The goal is to get the regions to communicate with each other. That’s why I’m also thinking about organising a sauerkraut [event] in Saint-Tropez, a bouillabaisse in Dunkirk or even a giant paella in Biarritz,” Chicandier added. 

Saint-Etienne’s raclette rendezvous is expected to be validated by the Guinness Book of Records


Senegal elections

Senegal’s economy ‘in hands of women’, says female presidential hopeful

With promises of boosting the economy and gender equality, business leader Anta Babacar Ngom is the only woman vying for the Senegalese presidency in this Sunday’s polls. She told RFI that while hard-working women play a vital role in all sectors of the workforce, they’re given little opportunity to thrive – something she wants to change.

Six women were originally among the 93 presidential hopefuls in the West African nation’s 2024 presidential election.

But only two made the final list approved by the Constitutional Council: Ngom and Rose Wardini, whose candidacy was later dropped because she has French citizenship.

A successful businesswoman in her own right, Ngom is the daughter of Senegalese businessman Babacar Ngom. From 2016, she’s been the CEO of Sedima, a major poultry company in Senegal.

But since she decided to run for office, the 40-year-old has also become a voice for women and young people – two demographics hit hard by the country’s economic crisis, high unemployment and inflation.

Ngom’s main promises are to create five million jobs in a multitude of sectors including agriculture, farming, tourism, healthcare and the arts.

She also wants to establish a bank to support women’s financial independence.

As a mother, healthcare – and especially birthcare – is a top priority for Ngom.

The health sector “definitely needs reforms” she says, adding: “I dream of a form of ‘Obamacare‘ for Senegalese people and I think it’s doable.”

Her experience throughout the campaign has been far from easy, having been arrested during protests. But activists reckon her presence is already helping to advance the fight for gender equality.

Empowering women

“As the only female presidential candidate, I represent Senegalese women,” she has said on numerous occasions.

Senegal has a higher level of women MPs than most African and even some Western countries: 46 percent according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. That compares with 36 percent in France

Yet, for Ngom, the representation of women in politics is below that of their real role in society. They are accepted “as long as they limit themselves to the position of prime minister”.

In 1963 Caroline Faye Diop became the first woman MP, before going on to become the first woman minister in 1978. 

Aminata Touré was the second woman to serve as prime minister – from September 2013 to July 2014.

Although in Senegal, prime ministers have a significantly smaller role than presidents.

In the 2019 presidential election, there were no female candidates, Ngom recalls.

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  • Changing the mentality of abuse towards pregnant women in health car

“And that didn’t bother anybody,” she says – adding that the two women who contested the 2012 polls took “zero-something” percent of the vote.

“In Senegal, this is the first time a woman is actually being taken seriously. It’s a shock to me.”

Senegalese women work hard in every sector, Ngom says, adding: “The economy is in the hands of women. They work hard and are very courageous. Their only problem is that they are very limited.”  

She hopes that her candidacy will mark a change, and that more women will be encouraged to get into politics.

“No matter the result, I want to give hope to them and to show the way.” The main question, she adds, is: “Can a woman be president in Senegal?”

Ngom is confident she’ll reach the second round, set for 31 March.


Paris 2024 Olympics

Football shares limelight with social projects in France’s Olympic wonderland

This week’s draw for the Olympic football tournament came amid a flurry of events aimed at highlighting the much-vaunted “legacy” component of the Paris 2024 Games.

Trust Arsène Wenger to inject an ethereal element into a live TV draw ceremony for a football tournament.

Urged to expand into the exuberance before the teams discovered their adversaries at the Paris Olympics, the former Arsenal boss maintained the detached demeanour that earned him the nickname The Professor during his time in north London.

Fabien Lévêque, the master of ceremonies, asked the 74-year-old if he had any words of wisdom for Thierry Henry and Hervé Renard as they awaited the names for the French men’s and women’s teams respectively.

Surveying the throng of administrators, former players and rent-a-glitterati, Wenger said: “Thierry and Hervé will have lots of support from me … but also my compassion.”

Ha, ha, Harsene. Honestly, who asked this one along?

Openers against US, Colombia

But the boy Lévêque was doing well. He quickly brought in Tony Estanguet, the boss of the Paris 2024 Olympics organising committee, to refire the vibrancy.

And the three-time gold medallist in canoeing duly stoked the audience with the requisite rousing rhetoric.

“I’m happy to see everyone,” Estanguet enthused. “Football is an important Olympic event. There are going to be 58 matches at seven stadiums around France.” 

The Vélodrome in Marseille will host the launch of the French men’s bid for Olympic glory on 24 July. After the opener against the United States, they will also play New Zealand and a team from the intercontinental play-offs.

The French women will start their campaign against Colombia in Lyon on 25 July. They will also face Canada in Saint-Etienne and New Zealand in Lyon.

  • French football teams discover their adversaries at Paris Olympics

More than sport

The draw for the Olympic football tournament, held at the swish headquarters of the organising committee in Aubervilliers on the northern outskirts of Paris, came amid a flurry of events aimed at highlighting the multitude of strands required for nearly three weeks of competitive events and the years beyond – the fabled “legacy” component of contemporary Olympic bidding processes.

On Monday, three government ministers will wander around wastelands 20-odd kilometres to the north of central Paris to coo at the slick transformation into lavish sports facilities and landscaped apartment blocks.

Back in the city centre on Thursday afternoon at Paris town hall, the 2006 Nobel Peace laureate Muhammad Yunus stopped off to say a few morale-boosting words to the bosses of several companies from the social and solidarity economy (SSE) who had won contracts at Olympic venues.

“I raised an issue and expressed my dissatisfaction about the sports world because it has a tremendous power but it hadn’t been using it for social purposes,” said Yunus of his decades-long campaigning to add another layer to the industrial sports complex.

“I told the administrators: ‘you have an Aladdin’s lamp but you don’t touch it and the genie doesn’t come out’. I said, ‘let’s touch it … let the genie come out and see what we want to tell the genie to do’.”

A shining example?

It was a clever coup a couple of years ago to appoint Yunus as SSE ambassador for the Paris Games. The 83-year-old Bangladeshi, who made his name pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance, has lent gravitas to the organising committee’s drive to promote inclusivity.

“Even now there are people lining up in other countries to follow Paris,” said Yunus. “And that’s because Paris opened up a door that had never been opened before. Paris has touched the lamp and the genie is coming out.”

He said even though the Winter Olympics passed through Pyeongchang five years ago, officials in the South Korean city had been in contact with their Parisian counterparts to discuss how social projects that had been promoted in and around Paris might work there.

“We’ve also been invited to talk to people in Milan for their 2026 Winter Olympics,” Yunus beamed.

“They too have been inspired by Paris. I have told them there is no magic in it, just simple ideas.

“So even before Paris has even had the Olympics, the world is already excited and looking at the leadership that you have given.”

Medal pressure

It was a sparkling vignette from an alpha motivator.

But for all such glittering worthiness, the vast majority of French spectators in the stadiums and watching on TV will gauge Olympic success in cold numbers.

In Tokyo, French athletes brought home 33 prizes – 10 gold, 12 silver and 11 bronze. Rio‘s haul of 10 gold 18 silver and 14 bronze was an improvement on the 11 gold, 11 silver and 13 bronze from London in 2012.

Henry, 46, desperately needs the men’s football team to prosper not only for that medal tally but also to add heft to his managerial credentials.

Despite a lamentable five-month spell as manager of Monaco during which he oversaw 11 defeats, five draws and four wins, Henry beat off competition from more experienced operators such as Julien Stéphan, Jocelyn Gourvennec and Sabri Lamouchi to land the job to steer the French men’s under-23 side in the Olympics and the under-21 squad through a 2025 European championships qualifying campaign.

  • Coach Henry dreams of Mbappe and gold for Olympic hosts

Great expectations

Women’s coach Renard, who has led teams in Europe, Africa and the Middle East during a 24-year career, at least possesses the nous for success at a major tournament. 

The 55-year-old led Zambia to the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 and Cote d’Ivoire to the same crown in 2015.

“France is my country,” said Renard just after the draw. “I have this country in my heart. I’m born in this country and even if I’ve travelled a lot all around the world, I’m still French.

“So for me, it’s a big honour to participate in this Olympic Games, especially with the French women’s national team.”

And Renard immediately showed his guile by slapping down one interviewer who was asking him about possible quarter-final opponents.

“I had to do that,” Renard added. “Because all the competitions are very tough, especially when there are only 12 teams. That means the level is very high and you have to respect all the opponents.

“We hope we will be at the level of the expectations because you can imagine the expectations are going to be very high. We have to live with the pressure. We have to be strong.”

The top two sides from the three pools of four advance automatically into the last eight along with the two best third-placed sides.

While the women’s team has never claimed gold, the French men were victorious in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Members of that title-winning squad were invited to the draw ceremony.

After the images of their surge to the crown were replayed to the audience, there was no wryness à la Wenger, simply sustained applause for their feats and a golden air of collective pride. 


SENEGAL

Former PMs and a lone woman among contenders in Senegal’s crisis-hit vote

Following a hurried two weeks of campaigning, Senegal’s delayed presidential election is set for this Sunday – with more than 7 million people registered to vote for a record 20 then 17 candidates.

Voters will head out to more than 16,000 polling stations across the West African country and its diaspora. Ballots will be counted after voting ends at 6pm. 

Vote tallies will be sent to the Constitutional Council, and then the National Election Commission will announce provisional results by the evening or early Monday morning.

Majority and opposition

Election coverage has highlighted polarisation between two main camps – the first led by the former prime minister Amadou Ba.

Born in Dakar in 1961, Ba studied in Paris and the US and returned to Senegal to work in higher administration. Named economy minister by President Macky Sall in 2013, the wealthy individual was prime minister until the campaign was launched earlier this month.

The second dominant camp is a coalition brought together by Ousmane Sonko – former mayor of Ziguinchor in Casamance – and his official candidate, Bassirou Diomaye Faye.

 

Seventeen other candidates have also been running, two leaving the race in recent weeks.

Habib Sy and Cheikh Tidiane Dieye have been defending Bassirou’s programme, with the latter even abandoning the race on Wednesday to support Faye fully. Sy did the same on Thursday.

  • Senegal’s Sonko takes election campaign to the south

Fifteen other are now left in the race.

Among these other candidates, more than three were previously in charge of a government, many close to the former prime minister. Only one candidate is a woman.

Observers believe that Senegal is heading towards a second round, as it will be hard for any contenders to achieve 51 percent on 24 March.

Three former prime ministers 

Veteran politician Idrissa Seck, 64, served as prime minister from 2002 to 2004 in the Senegalese Democratic Party under former President Abdoulaye Wade.

He was sacked over embezzlement allegations in 2005 and spent some months in jail before his case was dismissed.

In 2006, he founded his own party and challenged Wade in 2007, finishing second. He ran again in 2012 but did not make it to the second round.

He placed second in the 2019 presidential race with 21 percent of the vote, after which his Rewmi party joined the ruling United in Hope (BBY) coalition with Sall. He served as head of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council from November 2020 until April 2023.

Aly Ngouille Ndiaye, 59, is a former close ally of Sall and was a top BBY member.

He left the coalition, resigned as minister and launched his own bid after Ba was selected as the BBY candidate.

Ndiaye is the mayor of Linguere, a town in north Senegal. A civil engineer and former bank executive, he served as energy and interior minister before taking over the agriculture portfolio.

Mahammed Boun Abdallah Dionne, 64, was Sall’s third prime minister from 2014 to 2019. He was seen as one of the frontrunners in the race to succeed Sall within the BBY coalition.

An early supporter and ally of Sall before he became president, Dionne held several positions during Sall’s two terms in office, including chief of staff at the president’s office.

He announced his candidacy in September 2023 and launched his own coalition days after Sall selected Ba as the candidate for the ruling coalition.

Former Dakar mayor 

Sall, 68, served as mayor of Dakar from 2009 to 2018.

Unrelated to President Sall, he is, on the contrary, one of his chief political rivals.

Arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of stealing about $3 million in public funds, he was sentenced to five years in 2018, preventing him from contesting the February 2019 presidential election.

Sall pardoned him in September that year, opening the way for him to run again in an election.

According to analysts, he stands a high chance among voters who want to get rid of the current majority but have no faith in Sonko’s opposition coalition. 

One woman only

Entrepreneur and political newcomer Anta Babacar Ngom, 39, launched the Alternative for the Next Generation of Citizens political movement in August 2023.

Daughter of the founding president of Sedima, a leading poultry production group in the West and Central Africa region which operates Senegal’s Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises, Ngom was, until recently, executive director of the company.

At least one outsider

Papa Djibril Fall is also running in the presidential election for the first time as an independent candidate.

Originally from Thiadiaye, a journalist and communications consultant, he graduated from the leading journalism school of Dakar, the Center for the Study of Information Sciences and Techniques, in 2014.

He has worked as a former columnist on 2sTV and Radio TFM, then was elected member of The National Assembly during the parliamentary elections of July 2022 in Senegal.

(with newswires)


Obituary

Flamboyant former culture minister and bad boy Frédéric Mitterrand dies age 76

Former culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand, a high-profile and sometimes controversial figure on France’s arts scene, died on Thursday in Paris at the age of 76 after several months battling cancer. 

Mitterrand was the nephew of former Socialist president François Mitterrand, but his own foray into politics was short and not so sweet.

He served as culture minister from 2019 to 2012 under Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government, having come to Sarkozy’s attention while head of the Villa Medici – the French Academy in Rome – in 2008.

During his time in office Mitterrand defended a contested law on controlling the downloading of cultural works on the internet, and he laid the first stones of the Mucem museum of civilisation in Marseille as well as the Philharmonie in Paris.

Fragments of a wall painting from the tomb of an Egyptian prince kept in Le Louvre museum were returned to Egypt under his watch, while he also supported the return of Maori skulls to New Zealand.

  • France gives Maori heads back to New Zealand

Sarkozy was among the first to pay tribute to a “profoundly cultivated and sensitive man, singular, endearing, unclassifiable”.

Sarkozy wrote on X: “He was an enthusiastic and passionate minister for culture, carrying out his functions with panache and talent.”

Mitterrand’s films, books and programmes would remain “as testimonies for his love of art and culture”, Sarkozy added.

Mitterrand wrote about his three years in office in the diary-based La Récreation (The Recreation), published 2013, in which his sexual impulses were every bit as important as cultural events.

Stars and Screens

Born in Paris on 21 August, 1947 into a well-to-do family, Mitterrand studied political science at university. But his passion for the arts and cinema in particular took him on another path.

In 1971, aged just 22, he managed to find the funding to take over the L’Olympic movie theatre in Paris. Devoted largely to arthouse cinema, the venue became renowned for showing the works of major filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.

For more than a decade it became a go-to place for cinephiles, drag queens and the occasional film star or director. But financial mismanagement put an end to the adventure in 1986.

As a director, Mitterrand made his debut film From Somalia With Love in 1981, and in 1995 he won acclaim adapting the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly into a musical.

He later moved over to television and developed an inimitable style as host and producer of a number of cinema-themed shows such as Etoiles et Toiles (Stars and Screens) and the cult Du Côté de Chez Fred (Fred’s Way).

A Bad Life

Mitterrand was one of France’s first openly gay public figures and ministers, referring to himself as the “faggot nephew”.

He made a very public coming out in his 2005 loosely autobiographical novel La Mauvaise Vie (A Bad Life) in which the narrator referred to paying for sex with boys in the brothels of Bangkok.

The book sold more than 200,000 copies and caused little debate at the time, but a few months after joining the government in 2009 the far right seized on it.

Despite calls for his resignation, Mitterrand hung on to his post. He made a public statement admitting to paying for sex with men, but denied they were underage. He also dismissed claims that the book justified sex tourism.

Mitterrand had also come under criticism for his unwavering support for filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was found guilty by the US courts of raping a minor in 1977.

A number of social media posts on Friday were critical of tributes to Mitterrand, citing the passage in his book where he refers to feeling excited over “the ready availability of so many attractive young boys”. 

“Paying tribute to a man of culture who has marked our era should not make us blind, or make us forget, what he admitted to in his book A Bad Life: his abuse of children,” wrote #MeTooMedia on X. 




FRANCE – HEALTH

Tiger mosquitoes now everywhere in France after spreading to Normandy

Health authorities in the northern region of Normandy have recorded the presence of tiger mosquitoes – an invasive species that is now ubiquitous in mainland France. The biting insects, native to Asia, can carry viruses including dengue, Zika and chikungunya.

The discovery comes from the results of fieldwork conducted in the Seine-Maritime department in September 2023, which shows the northward progression of the mosquito in France.

“Normandy had until now been the last mainland French region in which the mosquito had not settled,” Normandy’s regional health agency said on Tuesday.

The presence of Aedes albopictus was first recorded in France in 2004, and has since spread throughout the country. The mosquitoes were present in 71 of the country’s 101 departments as of 1 January 2023, according to the French health ministry.

Originally from tropical rainforests in south-east Asia, tiger mosquitoes have been able to survive in France and northern Europe as temperatures have warmed, with winters no longer cold enough to kill them off.

The Normandy health agency advised taking practical steps to stop the mosquitoes breeding, notably removing anything that could contain stagnant water, where the insects lay eggs, and clearing out gutters and pipes.

While there have been no recorded cases of anyone getting ill from a tiger mosquito bite in Normandy, authorities urge people to see a doctor if they have symptoms such as muscle or joint pain, headaches or a rash after visiting the region.


War in Ukraine

French military chief backs Macron over possibility of sending troops to Ukraine

Russia should not expect the West to limit its support for Ukraine to supplying arms, says the chief of staff of France’s armed forces, General Thierry Burkhard. His words echo President Emmanuel Macron’s recent controversial suggestion that a military intervention could not be ruled out.

“The war will end when Russia stops attacking,” Burkhard told reporters on Thursday following talks in Paris with General Micael Byden – the armed forces chief of new NATO member Sweden.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had built his operation, he added, on the idea that the West would never go into Ukraine but simply supply arms.

“We have to show him that he will not be able to use this logic to go all the way, because this idea is not right,” Burkhard said as he urged Europe to be prepared to take risks.

“The war in Ukraine affects us because we are impacted by its consequences. Europeans must therefore be capable of taking risks to ensure the security of Europe in the decade to come.”

Smashing taboos

Burkhard’s comments come after Macron recently smashed a major taboo by floating the possibility of sending Western troops to Ukraine.

While a number of EU states flatly rejected the idea, Macron has refused to back down, insisting his words were well thought through, and stressing that France would not follow the “logic of escalation” with Moscow.

“The president’s intention is to make Vladimir Putin understand that we are aware of what is at stake in Ukraine,” Burkhard said.

  • EU leaders reject Macron’s suggestion that sending troops to Ukraine is possible
  • EU must defend Ukraine, Macron says during state visit to Sweden

‘Prepare for war’

While Germany and central European countries say they will not send forces to Ukraine, France has found an ally in Sweden.

Faced with an increasingly belligerent Russia, Sweden’s army chief Byden in January urged his country to “mentally prepare for war”.

Sweden’s military has been boosting its preparedness since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The country reintroduced limited conscription in 2017, and dropped two centuries of military non-alignment to join NATO in March.

“We have a war raging in Europe; we cannot let this become a normality,” Byden said. “Sweden is ready to shoulder its responsibilities, deterrence and defence.”

France and Sweden regularly conduct joint military exercises, while the Nordic nation also took part in the French-led Takuba task force of EU special forces in Mali.

Following Macron’s visit to Sweden in January, the two countries reportedly plan to ramp up military cooperation, including in the Arctic region.

(with newswires)


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.”

International report

With Somalia naval deal, Turkey steers into strategic but volatile region

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A naval agreement between Turkey and Somalia positions the Turkish navy in a strategically vital region, underlining Ankara’s growing ambitions at sea. But analysts warn that the deal threatens to escalate tensions with Somalia’s neighbour, Ethiopia.

Under a ten-year defence agreement ratified earlier this month, the Turkish navy will help protect Somalia’s territorial waters and facilitate training and equipment for the Somali navy.

The deal is just the latest step in Ankara’s deepening relationship with Mogadishu.

“Not only is this the location of Turkey’s largest international military base, it’s also the location of Turkey’s largest embassy in the world,” explains Norman Ricklefs, chair of multinational consultancy group Namea.

“This shows the importance Turkey has placed on Somalia, and rebuilding Somalia as a major state in the Horn of Africa, and making Somalia’s future success part of Turkey’s broader strategic goals in eastern Africa in the Red Sea region,” he says.

Turkey also signed an energy exploration deal with Somalia this month. The East African country is believed to have major oil and gas reserves both on land and within its territorial waters.

Blue-water navy 

Experts see the deepening of ties with Somalia as part of growing international competition for influence in this strategically vital region.

“This will provide Turkey an opportunity to increase its influence in the Horn of Africa,” says Elem Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu, an associate professor of African studies at Ankara’s Social Sciences University.

“Because all those external countries – Gulf countries, Western countries… even Japan – have bases in Djibouti, they are all vying to increase their development in the region, especially for economic purposes. So this is also an opportunity for Turkey,” she says.

The Somali deal comes as Ankara rapidly expands its navy’s so-called “blue-water” capabilities – the ability to operate on the open oceans, far from the country’s home ports.

Turkey has built up a fleet of energy research ships and a growing navy.

“[Naval expansion] focuses on the projection of Turkish military capacity in the maritime domain – both in protecting its own exclusive economic zones and waters, while also helping its allies and partners to do the same,” explains Sine Ozkarasahin, an independent defence analyst.

“And Somalia has been facing an increased threat of piracy.”

Tensions with Ethiopia

Turkey’s deepening military ties with Somalia come as the Horn of Africa nation faces tension with its neighbour, Ethiopia.

In January, Ethiopia infuriated Somalia by signing an agreement with the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving Addis Ababa long-desired sea access.

But Mehmet Ozkan of the Turkish National Defence University says Ankara is well placed to contain any fallout, given its ties with Ethiopia. 

“Military cooperation, personal cooperation, the personal relationship between the leaders – I think relations are pretty good,” he says.

“Because in the region everybody is looking for security cooperation, and it’s same for Ethiopia… Turkey is a security provider for Ethiopia as well.”

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

‘Drone diplomacy’

With Turkish-made military drones widely used by both the Ethiopian and Somali militaries in their wars against insurgencies, Ankara’s so-called “drone diplomacy” has been instrumental in balancing its relations with rivals.

“Turkey has also probably supplied some drones to Somalia – which are operated by Turkish operators, not Somalis – but they’ve been useful in the conflict against Al-Shabaab,” explains analyst Ricklefs.

“I know Turkey has a good relationship with Ethiopia. It has a good relationship with Somalia. So its presence in Somalia is more likely than not – given Turkey’s broader strategic aims in the region – to have a stabilising effect rather than a destabilising effect,” he argues.

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

However, Africa expert Eyrice-Tepeciklioglu warns that, given the region’s volatility, Ankara will still need to tread carefully.

“In the long run, this might lead to Turkey’s involvement in regional conflicts. This is what Turkey was trying to avoid in its Africa policy: it does not want to be a part of African conflicts, but it might be dragged into [them],” she says.

As Turkey extends its influence in one of the most volatile parts of the world, analysts suggest Ankara will need to perfect its diplomatic balancing skills.

The Sound Kitchen

There’s Music in the Kitchen, No 34

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 Bidhan Chandra Sanyal from West Bengal, India, Helmut Matt from Herbolzheim, Germany, 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 program: “Aaj Na Chhodenge” by Rahul Dev Burman, sung by Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar; Simple Symphony by Benjamin Britten, performed by the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by the composer, and “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley, performed by Bob Marley and the Wailers.

The quiz will be back next Saturday, 30 March. Be sure and tune in! 

Spotlight on Africa

The long path to Senegal’s troubled presidential elections

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This is a big election year for Africa, with 16 countries heading to the polls. Close attention is being paid to the delayed presidential vote in Senegal – a West African beacon of democracy that’s been facing increasing instability. RFI spoke to author and economist Ndongo Samba Sylla in the capital Dakar. 

RFI is renewing its Spotlight on Africa podcast, and the first episode zeroes in on one of the continent’s biggest news stories.

Senegal was plunged into political crisis when President Macky Sall unexpectedly postponed elections that had been due to take place by the end of February.

Protests erupted from those supporting opposition candidates, as well as from all corners of civil society. The polls were finally rescheduled for 24 March.

Voters say they’re worried about unemployment and a lack of opportunities for young people – many of whom are quitting the country in search of a better life elsewhere.

Ndongo Samba Sylla helps us to better understand where the unrest has taken the heaviest toll – and what’s really at stake in Sunday’s election.

Also read:

  • Senegal sets March date for delayed presidential election
  • Senegal president calls off February 25 election

     


 

Episode mixed by Guillaume Buffet. 

Spotlight on Africa is a podcast from Radio France Internationale. 

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 2020, 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).


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Madhya Pradesh: the Heart of beautiful India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In partnership with Madhya Pradesh’s tourism board.


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Exploring Malaysia’s natural and cultural diversity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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