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Simmering Tension Between Islamic School, Government Led to Protests in Eritrea



Unusual acts of defiance against government demands led to protests last week in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, according to experts who study the region.

The rare protests were the culmination of nearly two years of back-and-forth between the Ministry of Education and leaders of the Diaa Islamic School of Asmara, who defied government orders aimed at removing religion from their curricula. An elderly school board member, Hajji Muasa Mohamed Nur, voiced the school’s resistance in a widely shared video posted on YouTube. “We are not going to change anything,” Nur said as the crowd applauded.

Nur was arrested, and the government threatened to take over the school, sending officials to collect the keys, several opposition groups said. That’s when a crowd descended on the school grounds and marched toward the Ministry of Education to protest the closing, according to state-owned media

Vacuum of information

Videos of frightened crowds dispersing as gunshots ring out have circulated on social media since last week. But the time and place of the videos have not been verified, and no injuries or deaths are depicted.

The government says reports of deaths and violence are part of a pattern of sensationalized stories that dominate news coverage of Eritrea.

“Scoop-oriented media outlets keep churning out false ‘casualty figures’ peddled by Eritrea’s detractors without minimum verification,” Yemane Gebremeskel, the minister of information, posted on Twitter. He said a small demonstration by one school in Asmara dispersed without any casualties.

But press freedom in Eritrea ranks among the lowest in the world, and non-governmental organizations can’t operate independently in the country.

Felix Horne, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch who focuses on the Horn of Africa, said those restrictions prevent verification and block credible information. In this case, that information could support the government’s side of the story.

Instead, opposition groups have seized the moment to give their version of events, Horne said. “It’s a very self-defeating strategy in our view, if the government has nothing to hide.”

Social media has added to the confusion, but it’s also enabled some information to leak out, including the clip of Nur. “That the government can suppress, but not completely black out news, I think, emboldens people and encourages people to know that they’re not alone,” said Saleh Younis, the editor of, an Eritrean news website that is opposed to the government and its policies.

Details of last week’s protests and the government reaction also remain murky because people are scared of reprisals, Younis said. “Even if you know information, you’re hesitant to disclose it because we have a police state in Eritrea,” he said.

Much of the government’s response happens out of the spotlight. According to Younis, police have rounded up hundreds of people at night, and entire areas have been cordoned off.

Years of pressure

The Diaa Islamic School of Asmara was founded in 1968. The school has taught students from kindergarten to high school, and according to Younis has been well regarded. Nearly 3,000 students attend Diaa.

But for nearly two years, the government has had a litany of requests: Girls in high school should not wear headscarves, the school should remain open on Fridays, secondary classes should no longer be segregated by gender and no classes should focus on Islamic teachings, according to an alum.

School leaders were willing to compromise on some points, for example, staying open on Fridays. The government pressed to implement all of the changes, but school leaders refused. “The whole core of the school is being undermined,” Younis said.

Other schools have changed their practices and curricula in the government drive to secularize education, and some have closed, but Diaa appears unique in its resistance.

The key difference, said Semhar Habtezion, a member of the Eritrean Diaspora, was Nur. “He was fearless, and he was, in effect, saying we cannot continue fearing this government. This is our school, and we will do whatever it takes to fight back.”

When the government attempted to take over the school it crossed a red line that caused people to rise up and say “No,” Younis said.

From the government’s perspective, intervening in the school’s affairs was necessary to protect its secular national curriculum. Writing on the Ministry of Information’s website, Mella Ghebremedhin said, “Similar… actions have recently been taken with both Catholic and Orthodox schools.”

Despite last week’s unrest, the Diaa school remains open. VOA’s stringer in Asmara visited the day after the protests and confirmed to VOA Tigrigna that classes had resumed and students were outside playing sports. He also said by phone on Friday that ninth and 11th-grade students at the Catholic Cathedral school had been ordered to begin attending public schools near their neighborhoods.


Crate-digging millennials are seeking out classic East African music



Tucked between butchers and hair braiders in Nairobi’s Kenyatta Market is the Real Vinyl Guru, a shabby stall that has become a mecca for vinyl lovers.

James ‘Jimmy’ Rugami has sold second-hand records from stall 570 since 1989. In the cramped space, hundreds of seven and 12-inch vinyls are tightly packed. Among hit Motown albums is a veritable trove of East African music.

Among them is the Kenyan-based Tanzanian duo Simba Wanyika and the recently re-discovered “Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa.” They’re all mementos of a bygone era, when Nairobi’s record presses created a hub for the regions musicians in the 70s and 80s. Many flocked to Nairobi to lay down their tracks and stayed to become part of a vibrant local scene.

Rugami entered that scene in 1986 when he left his life selling clothes in the town of Meru at the foot of Mount Kenya, and became a DJ in Nairobi. When the fast life became too much, he opted to sell music instead of spinning it, obsessively collecting records and tapes, wherever he could find them.

“I used to drive all the way to Dar es Salaam, then take a boat to Zanzibar and buy tapes there,” he recalls. “That’s where people were supplying the best stuff, especially jazz, which in Nairobi was either unavailable or very expensive.”

When the stall became almost exclusively vinyl, people thought he was mad for holding on to an outdated technology, he told the Associated Press. Still, they nicknamed him Mr. Records.

“It is not once or twice I have been labelled insane, very many times,” he said. “Well, I couldn’t stop.”

Rugami’s devotion to vinyl outlasted the cassette, CDs and streaming to welcome crate-digging millennials craving the rich tone of a record. In the few years, his stall has attracted tourists from around the world, and young Nairobians rediscovering their country’s pop roots.

Now the Real Vinyl Guru makes enough money to employ five people and Rugami’s loyalty to the distinctive crackle of a record is paying off.

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DP World says Djibouti incident could hurt Africa investment



DUBAI (Reuters) – Port operator DP World said on Thursday that Djibouti’s decision to seize control of a terminal project could hurt African efforts to attract investment.

The Dubai state-owned port operator is facing twin political challenges in Africa.

Djibouti abruptly ended its contract to run the Doraleh Container Terminal last month and Somalia’s parliament voted this week to ban the company.

DP World has called the Djibouti move illegal and said it had begun proceedings before the London Court of International Arbitration, which last year cleared the company of all charges of misconduct over the concession.

“Africa needs infrastructure investments and if countries can change their law [to take assets then this] is going to basically make it more difficult to attract investment,” Chairman Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem told a news conference in Dubai.
DP World reported 14.9 percent rise in 2017 profit to $1.18 billion profit and said that it would invest $1.4 billion across its global portfolio including in Berbera in Somaliland. [L8N1QX0F2]

It is developing a port in Berbera in partnership with the governments of Somaliland and Ethiopia. It is also developing a greenfield free trade zone in the breakaway region.

Bin Sulayem said he was not concerned by the vote in Somalia’s parliament to ban DP World from the country, which the parliament said nullified their Somaliland contract.

It is unclear how Somalia’s federal government could enforce the ban given Somaliland’s semi-autonomous status.

Europe, the Middle East and Africa accounted for about 42 percent of the cargo DP World handled in 2017.

Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Jason Neely

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African arms imports down



DEFENCE WEB — Over the last decade, African arms imports dropped by 22 per cent, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), but Algeria, Morocco and Nigeria continued to order large quantities of weapons and equipment.

In its Trends in International Arms Transfers 2017 fact sheet released this week, SIPRI said that African arms sales dropped 22% between 2008-12 and 2013-17. Much of the hardware that was supplied went to Algeria (52% of African arms imports), Morocco (12%) and Nigeria (5.1%).

“Major arms play an important role in the military operations by sub-Saharan African states, although, due to lack of resources, procurement typically involves small numbers of mainly relatively low-end weapons,” SIPRI said.

States in sub-Saharan Africa received 32% of total African imports in 2013–17. The top five arms importers in sub-Saharan Africa were Nigeria, Sudan, Angola, Cameroon and Ethiopia. Together, they accounted for 56% of arms imports to the subregion. Nigeria’s arms imports grew by 42 % between 2008–12 and 2013–17, SIPRI noted.

Russian arms exports to Africa fell by 32% compared with 2008–12, but despite the decrease, Russia accounted for 39% of total imports to the region. Algeria received 78% of Russia’s arms transfers to Africa in 2013–17.

China’s arms exports to Africa rose by 55% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and its share of total African arms imports increased from 8.4% to 17%. “A total of 22 sub-Saharan African countries procured major arms from China in 2013–17, and China accounted for 27% of sub-Saharan African arms imports in that period (compared with 16% in 2008–12). In North Africa, China became an important supplier to Algeria in 2013–17, with deliveries including three frigates and artillery,” SIPRI reported.

The United States accounted for 11% of arms exports to Africa in 2013–17 – the transfers were mainly small batches of weapons and included eight helicopters for Kenya and five for Uganda, which were supplied as US military aid. In 2013–17 Kenya—which is fighting al-Shabab on its own territory and in Somalia— acquired 13 transport helicopters, 2 second-hand combat helicopters, 65 light armoured vehicles and a small number of self-propelled howitzers.

SIPRI lists Egypt’s acquisitions as falling under the Middle East – if these are included in the continent’s statistics they push up Africa’s imports significantly as arms imports by Egypt grew by 215% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.

SIPRI noted that the US has been Egypt’s main arms supplier since the late 1970s, and accounted for 45% of Egypt’s arms imports in 2008–12. “However, between 2013 and 2015 the US halted deliveries of certain arms, in particular combat aircraft, to Egypt. In 2014 Egypt signed major arms deals with France, and deliveries started in 2015. As a result, France accounted for 37 % of Egypt’s arms imports in 2013–17 and overtook the USA to become the main arms supplier to Egypt for that period. This was despite the fact that the USA ended its restrictions in 2015 and increased its overall arms supplies to Egypt by 84% between 2008–12 and 2013–17.”

Globally, SIPRI in its latest report said that the volume of international transfers of major weapons in 2013–17 was 10% higher than in 2008–12, a continuation of the upward trend that began in the early 2000s.

The five largest exporters in 2013–17 were the United States, Russia, France, Germany and China. The United States in 2013-17 had a 34% share of the global market, followed by Russia (22%), France (6.7%), Germany (5.8%) and China (5.7%).

The USA supplied major arms to 98 states in 2013–17. Exports to states in the Middle East accounted for 49 per cent of total US arms exports in that period. “Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, Director of the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.”

The five largest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and China. Most states in the Middle East were directly involved in violent conflict in 2013–17 and consequently arms imports by states in the region increased by 103% between 2008–12 and 2013–17, and accounted for 32% of global arms imports in 2013–17.

“Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in Western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Arms and Military Expenditure Programme. “Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

SIPRI said the flow of arms to the Middle East and Asia and Oceania increased between 2008–12 and 2013–17, while there was a decrease in the flow to the Americas, Africa and Europe.

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