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Igbo Women Seek Biafra, Voice Nigeria’s Bleak Future

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Nigeria is one of the largest by territory with population (estimated currently at 206 million) and huge economy in Africa. Situated on the southern coast on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean, this country most often referred to as the “Giant of Africa” has never-ending multiple and complicated internal problems ranging from politics (system of federal governance) to widening economic disparity to cultural differences. The country has 36 states and it is officially called the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Early July, Kester Kenn Klomegah had the chance and interviewed Chief (Mrs) Marie Okwo, President of the Igbo Women Assembly (IWA), about the impact of the civil war, the current politics and the role of the church in Nigeria. She is one of the remaining few Nigerians who have seen Nigeria from the struggle for independence through the development of its democracy. Mrs Okwor, who is an associate of the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, is now the leader of the Igbo Women Assembly and one-time member of Advisory Council of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Established as an NGO in 2006, the Igbo Women Assembly focuses on women empowerment and the youth, it consistently encourages moral values particularly among young graduates. Headquarters in Enugu, Enugu State of Nigeria.

Here are the interview excerpts:

The Nigerian civil war (1967-70) was a bitter experience, and has also affected expected development in the Biafra State. What are your views about this, especially from women’s perspectives?

The war of 1967-1070 war was a pogrom; a war of attrition meant to wipe out a whole race for no just cause. It reminded me of the Holocaust against the Jews. Those who died of hunger starvation, bombings were numerous in number. Malnutrition killed many children who developed a disease called “kwashiokor” – medical experts explain as lack of protein in the body and the belly fills up with fluid. I feel very emotional as I speak about this.

Suffice it to say, that the war could have been avoided, had Nigeria kept her end of the agreement at Aburi, in the Republic of Ghana, which came to be called “the Aburi Accord” that was reached in 1967. This venue offered the delegates security guarantee and that meeting was billed to be the last chance of preventing all-out war. The accord finally broke down because of differences of interpretation on both sides. This led to the outbreak of the war. Markets and places of worship were not spared from bombings and strafing. As a matter of facts, one of my domestic staffs lost her mother in one of the market bombings had been hurt by a shrapnel; she bled to death since medical facilities were scarce.

The effect of the war on the State of Biafra was deplorable: So much destabilization as the seat of government had to move from place to place and so could not settle down to the business of governing the people effectively. There were so many things to worry about, such how to get arms and ammunition. There was also the issues food insufficiency. Lack of concentration on the part of the Administrators and the Biafran military officers and soldiers had adverse effects on the Biafrans. As each area fell to the Nigerian military and their superior military weapons, civilians also had to relocate to safer areas. It was really rough and tough especially for nursing mothers most of who lost their babies. So so sad an experience.

Assessing the effects of the civil war today, especially from gender perspectives, what else can you say in this regard, will women play a more critical role in the administration of a Biafran state?

Before I comment on the role women can play in the administration of a Biafran state, let me mention the important roles they played during the war. It will be recalled that most men were in war fronts fighting to defend Biafraland. Others had lost their jobs and were forced to stay idle at home. The duties of catering for the needs of the rest of the families, therefore, fell on the women/ wives.  In short, they became the bread winners.

On the roles women can play in a Biafran state, let me say, without fear of equivocation that without the contributions of women in governance, success will be difficult to achieve.  Women have great potentials that should be harnessed in order to move the state forward.

How do you look at the political governance in the country in relation to Biafra State?

The government of Nigeria is vehemently aversed to the name Biafra. Mere mention of that name makes them chilly.This government would rather have Biafrans remain under servitude of the Caliphate North. The slogan after the was “No victor, no vanquished.” That was the greatest deceit of the century. Biafrans have never been re-integrated.

The basis for unity no longer exists. Biafrans struggle for their survival without depending on any one. Since Nigerian government has refused absolutely to accept Biafrans as a component part of Nigeria, it stands to reason that they should be allowed to go and develop on their own at their own pace. It is pertinent to mention that the North contributes little or nothing to the development of the country. Rather resources from Southern Nigeria are controlled and squandered by Northern Elements.

On security in Nigeria, I wish to make it categorically clear that in Nigeria, security is at its lowest ebb. The Fulani Herdsmen are the cause of the unprecedented insecurity in  Biafraland. They move about freely with their cattle carrying sophisticated AK 47. They  destroy farmlands and crops, kill farmers, gang-rape and kill female farmers in their farmlands. The resultant effect of the destruction of farms and crops will be devastating as there will be monumental scarcity of food soon, this will spell doom for the masses.

Government and the security operatives are fully aware of the perilous situations but prefer to look the other way. Sometimes the police offer to pay competitions. A few days ago, a middle-aged woman was gang-raped by Fulani Herdsmen in a farm till she went into a coma she was taken to a hospital and later pronounced dead. The insult by these Fulani Herdsmen is a great insult to Biafrans. Why will these Fulanis not allow us peace in our space? Enough is enough! When people are pushed to the wall, they have no alternative than to fight back.

Igbo Women Assembly call for a Referendum to settle the issue, once and for all. Our children have no future in Nigeria. We feel like the Israelites while in bondage under the Pharaohs of Egypt. We desire freedom to follow our own designs and practice our Christian Religion without let or hindrance.

Are people really satisfied with the current government? What, in your objective view, are some of their political mistakes?

Nigeria has never been so polarized or rancorous as it is now. There’s so much unrest which stems from oppression, corruption wrong choices of appointees to important governing bodies. Square pegs are placed in round holes indeed. The bitterness existing in Nigeria, at the present time, is unequalled. Security is non- existent. The reality is that there is unchecked anarchy. As things stand now, Nigeria may just disintegrate without gunshots.

Almost all of Nigeria’s intractable problems emanate from imposition of candidates during elections; no free, fair or credible elections are conducted. The situation gets worse with every election.

In the first place, the Constitution under which elections are held is a fraud. Far from being the “People’s Constitution.” We have faced these mistakes since the inception of presidential system of governance in Nigeria. The system under reference is wasteful, encourages corruption and dictatorial tendencies.

In spite of the flaws in the Constitution, the ruling party has ignored most of the clauses which might enhance the peaceful co- existence of the citizens. Impunity is rife with this current Administration. There is therefore an urgent need for intervention by concerned people of the entire world. Any adversity that befalls a Nation will have adverse effects on other Nations if not nipped in the bud.

This is a clarion call by the Igbo Women Assembly for assistance by all who abhor oppression and bad governance. No justice, no peace! No peace, no progress!

As a highly devout Catholic, how would you argue that the church could be a tool to fight against all injustices and state maladministration, most probably corruption in the Federal Republic of Nigeria?

The church in Nigeria, irrespective of denominations, has a vital role to play in addressing the ills of Nigeria. It is the duty of the church to do all in her power to restore the dignity and moral values of our societies.

All of a sudden, acquisition of wealth has taken precedence over ìntegrity, justice and fair play. The church has a duty to inculcate the congregations with a sense of responsibility moral values and discipline. Most criminals and corrupt members of the society are not pagans but Christians driven into such negative behavioral tendencies by the system. It is interesting to say that wrong leaderships beget wrong followers.

Unfortunately, some pastors preach the gospel of prosperity instead of salvation, thereby driving people into acquiring filthy lucre through any means whatsoever. People quickly forget that greed and avarice lead to destruction. They do not remember that whatever one has on earth cannot accompany him/her to the great beyond. Others will enjoy the ill- gotten goods. Corruption has eaten deep into the fabrics of the nation and the church must make concerted efforts to bring the menace to the barest minimum.

And the Biafra diaspora outside Nigeria, especially in the United States and Europe…are they optimistic about break away of the Biafran State?

Biafrans in the Diaspora are even more enthusiastic about an independent nation than some Biafrans at home. Any sign that a Referendum is on hand will see a deluge of Diaspora Biafrans flying back home. They will contribute in no small measure to bring rapid development to the new nation-state. Surely, this new nation will overtake Nigeria, which regards herself as the so- called largest country, in Africa. Yes! Largest in all types of vices like kidnappings, rape, sleeze oppression, abuse of human rights and so forth.

What are your recommendations here, what should or must be done under the current circumstances in Nigeria?

My perspective on the future or the way forward for Nigeria, the country has expired and cannot be revived, neither can it be reactivated.It is my well-considered opinion that any group or ethnic nationality, which wants to leave this contraption, should be granted their peace and freedom. Nigeria is too large to be one country since there are too many differences in religion, cultures and traditions, food and languages and other factors. Nigeria has never and can never be one. Unity has eluded the country.

If, however, Biafra becomes unattainable then we should go back to the parliamentary system of governance. A weak center with regional autonomy. As things are now, the country is rudderless and groping in the dark. If no positive action is taken soonest, Nigeria will take a nosedive into a deep precipice, in this case, the name will become irreversibly extinct.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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West Africa: Extreme poverty rises nearly 3 per cent due to COVID-19

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Food insecurity is affecting millions of people in Burkina Faso. © UNICEF/Vincent Treameau

Extreme poverty in West Africa rose by nearly three per cent in 2020, another fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, a UN-backed report launched on Thursday that looks at the socio-impact of the crisis has revealed. 

The proportion of people living on less than $1.90 a day jumped from 2.3 per cent last year to 2.9 per cent in 2021, while the debt burden of countries increased amid slow economic recovery, shrinking fiscal space and weak resource mobilization. 

More than 25 million across the region are struggling to meet their basic food needs. 

Gains annihilated 

The study was published by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in partnership with the West Africa Sub-Regional Office for the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). 

Sekou Sangare, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water resources, said the pandemic has, in particular, annihilated benefits gained in fighting food insecurity and malnutrition. 

“Even if we are happy with the governments’ response through the mitigation actions they have taken, we have to worry about the residual effects of the health and economic crisis as they are likely to continue disturbing our food systems for a long time while compromising populations access to food, due to multiple factors,” he said

The report highlights the effects of measures aimed at preventing coronavirus spread, such as border closures, movement restrictions and disruption of supply chains. 

Forced to sell 

These measures had an impact on income-generating activities, and on food prices in markets, with small traders, street vendors and casual workers most affected. 

The deteriorating economic situation has adversely affected food security and nutrition in West Africa.  

More than 25 million people are unable to meet their basic food needs, a nearly 35 per cent increase compared to 2020. People have been forced to sell their assets and livelihoods in order to get enough to eat. 

The situation is most severe in those areas affected by conflict, such as the Lake Chad Basin region, the Sahel, and the Liptako-Gourma region, which borders Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. 

Strengthen social protection 

The partners hope the report will encourage public and private response to address the pandemic’s negative impacts on the people of West Africa. 

Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa, underscored the need for immediate and concerted action. 

“This report clearly shows the urgent need for Governments and partners to deliberately increase investments to strengthen and increase social protection programs, social safety-nets such as school meals, and other livelihoods-enhancing programs with particular emphasis on women and youth,” he said. 

The Director of the ECA’s Sub-Regional Office, Ngone Diop, pointed to one of the strengths of the partnership, namely the ability to carry out an online survey which mobilized nearly 8,000 respondents. 

Moreover, she said “basing our analyses on primary, first-hand data from households directly impacted by the health crisis makes it possible to offer decision-makers at the regional and national levels with relevant and better-targeted policy options.” 

Responding to needs 

Since the outbreak of the pandemic nearly three years ago, ECOWAS and its partners have implemented several economic and financial measures to respond to the increasing needs in the region.  

ECOWAS Member States, with support from WFP and other technical partners, have also expanded social protection programmes, as well as food distributions, for the most vulnerable communities.  

For example, In Mali and Niger, they are supporting some 1.4 million people and helping to strengthen national social protection systems. 

“WFP is committed to engage more with ECOWAS in enhancing coordination and facilitating experience sharing among countries, with the aim to ensure social protection systems in the region support food security and nutrition and provide resilience to shocks,” said Mr. Nikoi. 

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Pragmatic Proposals to Optimize Russia’s Pledged Rehabilitation of Ethiopia

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A girl stands outside her home in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

Russian Ambassador to Ethiopia Evgeny Terekhin pledged that his homeland will help rehabilitate his hosts after getting a clearer understanding of the full extent of the damage that the terrorist-designated Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) inflicted on the northern part of the country throughout the course of its approximately half-year-long occupation of the Afar and Amhara Regions. China’s Xinhua recently cited official Ethiopian government statistics about this which claim that the Amhara Region suffered damages upwards of approximately $5.7 billion.

According to their data, the TPLF partially or fully damaged 1,466 health facilities and vandalized water, electricity, and transport infrastructure. 1.9 million children are out of school in that region after more than 4,000 schools were damaged by the group. Over 1.8 million people were displaced from the Afar and Amhara Regions while 8.3 million there are suffering from food insecurity. The scale of this humanitarian crisis is massive and the direct result of the US-led West’s Hybrid War on Ethiopia that was waged to punish the country for its balanced foreign policy between the US and China.

It’s here where Russia can rely on its recent experiences in helping to rehabilitate Syria and the Central African Republic (CAR) in order to optimize its pledged rehabilitation of Ethiopian. Those two countries are much more war-torn than Ethiopia is, the latter of which only saw fighting in its northern regions instead of the entirety of its territory like the prior two did. The most urgent task is to ensure security in the liberated areas, which can be advanced by summer 2021’s military cooperation agreement between Russia and Ethiopia.

This pact could potentially see Russia sharing more details of its earlier mentioned experiences in order to enhance the Ethiopian National Defense Force’s (ENDF) security and stabilization operations in the northern part of the country. Syria and the CAR survived very intense Hybrid Wars that utilized cutting-edge military tactics and strategies against them similar to those that were subsequently directed against Ethiopia by the TPLF. It would help the ENDF to learn more about the challenges connected to ensuring security in areas that have been liberated from such contemporary Hybrid War forces.

The next order of business is to help the many victims of that country’s humanitarian crisis. Russia’s experience with assisting Syria in this respect, which suffered one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises in decades, can be of use to Ethiopia. This is especially the case when it comes to aiding its internally displaced people. Their immediate needs must be met and maintained, which might require urgent support from that country’s trusted partners such as Russia. Provisioning such in an effective and timely manner can also improve Russia’s international reputation too, especially among Africans.

Northern Ethiopia’s post-war rehabilitation must be comprehensive and sustainable. The country’s Medemer philosophy — which has been translated as “coming together” – will form the basis of these efforts. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed touched upon this in his 2019 Nobel Peace Prize speech and his book of the same name that was released earlier that year. Its English translation hasn’t yet been published but Medemer was explained at length by high-level Ethiopian officials during an early 2020 US Institute of Peace panel talk and in Ethiopian writer Linda Yohannes’ insightful book review.

An oversimplification of it in the economic context is that Medemer preaches the need for comprehensive, inclusive, and sustainable growth through public-private and other partnerships that bring prosperity to all of its people, which in turn strengthens socio-political relations between them. It seeks to apply positive aspects of foreign models while avoiding the bad ones. The Medemer mentality aspires to balance cooperation with competition, constantly improving itself as needed, in order to synchronize and synergize Ethiopia’s natural economic advantages in people, location, and resources.

In practice, this could see Russian public and private companies partnering with Ethiopia’s primarily public ones to rehabilitate the northern regions’ damaged infrastructure. Since sustainable growth is one of Medemer’s key concepts, the country’s Russian partners could also train more laborers, social workers, teachers, and doctors throughout the course of these projects while offering scholarships to some internally displaced youth for example. In that way, Russia and Ethiopia could truly embody the Medemer spirit by literally bringing their people closer together as a result of these noble efforts.

All the while, Russia’s international media flagships of RT and Sputnik should be active on the ground documenting the entire experience. The immense influence that Moscow has in shaping global perceptions can be put to positive use in exposing the foreign-backed TPLF’s countless crimes against humanity in northern Ethiopia. This can powerfully counteract the US-led West’s information warfare campaign against its government, which misportrays the TPLF as innocent victims of the “genocidal” ENDF, exactly as similar Russian media efforts have done in debunking Western lies against Syria.

The world wouldn’t only benefit by learning more about the US-led West’s lies against Ethiopia, but also in seeing how effectively Russia is working to reverse the damage that their TPLF proxies inflicted in the northern part of that country. Russia is also a victim of their information warfare campaign, which misportrays the Kremlin as a dangerous and irresponsible international actor. The truth, however, is that Russia is a peaceful and responsible international actor that has a documented track record of cleaning up the West’s Hybrid War messes in Syria, the CAR, and prospectively soon even Ethiopia too.

Upon taking the lead in rehabilitating northern Ethiopia, Russia should diversify the stakeholders in that country’s prosperity in coordination with its hosts. It’s in Ethiopia’s interests as well to receive assistance from as many responsible and trusted partners as possible. Russia can help by requesting that relevant aid and multilateral rehabilitation efforts be placed on the agenda of the proposed heads of state meeting between the Russian, Indian, and Chinese (RIC) leaders that presidential aide Yury Ushakov said was discussed for early 2022 during President Putin’s latest video call with President Xi in December.

The RIC countries stood with in solidarity with Ethiopia at the United Nations in the face of the US-led West’s subversive attempts to weaponize international law against it. They’re strong economies in their own right, not to mention through their cooperation via BRICS and the SCO, the latter organization of which also has anti-terrorist and other security dimensions. These two multipolar platforms could potentially be used to extend economic, financial, humanitarian, and security cooperation to their Ethiopian partner to complement bilateral and trilateral efforts in this respect.

Russia’s increasingly strategic ties with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could also lead to Moscow working more closely with Abu Dhabi on related rehabilitation matters with their shared partners in Addis Ababa. Observers shouldn’t forget that Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed (MBZ) played a crucial role in brokering peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 2018. He even awarded their leaders his country’s highest civil honor when they both visited the UAE that summer. Furthermore, Al Jazeera alleges that the UAE has maintained a humanitarian (and possibly even military) air bridge to Ethiopia.

Regardless of whether or not the military aspect of this reported bridge is true or not, there’s no denying that the UAE has emerged as a major stakeholder in Ethiopia’s success. It deposited $1 billion in Ethiopia’s central bank in summer 2018 as part of its $3 billion aid and investment pledge at the time. The UAE also plans to build an Eritrean-Ethiopian oil pipeline in order to help the latter export its newly tapped reserves in the southeast. Additionally, DP World signed a memorandum with Ethiopia in May 2021 to build a $1 billion trade and logistics corridor to separatist Somaliland’s Berbera port.

Considering the closeness of Emirati-Ethiopian relations, it would therefore be fitting for RIC to incorporate the UAE as an equal partner into any potential multilateral plan that those countries might come up with during their proposed heads of state summit sometime in early 2022. It enjoys excellent relations with all three of them so it’s a perfect fit for complementing their shared efforts. Plus, the UAE has the available capital needed to invest in high-quality, long-term, but sometimes very expensive infrastructure projects, which can ensure northern Ethiopia’s sustainable rehabilitation.

It’s pivotal for Russia to prioritize its pledged rehabilitation of Ethiopia ahead of the second triennial Russia-Africa Summit that’s expected to take place in October or November after fall 2019’s first-ever summit saw Russia return to Africa following a nearly three-decade-long hiatus. Coincidentally, Ethiopia requested last April to hold the next event in Addis Ababa. That would be a sensible choice since its capital city hosts the African Union headquarters, has sufficient infrastructure, and can serve most of the continent through its Ethiopian Airlines, which regularly wins awards as Africa’s best airline.

The interest that Ethiopian Ambassador to Russia Alemayehu Tegunu recently expressed in courting more Russian investment ahead of the next summit goes perfectly well with Russian Ambassador to Ethiopia Terekhin’s vow to heighten cooperation between those countries’ ruling parties. This in turn raises the chances that the present piece’s proposals could hopefully serve as the blueprint for beginning relevant discussions as soon as possible on Russia’s pledged rehabilitation of Ethiopia with a view towards achieving tangible successes ahead of the next Russia-Africa Summit.

That timing is so important since Russia mustn’t miss the opportunity to showcase its bespoke “Democratic Security” model in Ethiopia. This emerging concept refers to the comprehensive thwarting of Hybrid War threats through economic, informational, military, and other tactics and strategies such as the action plan that was proposed in the present piece. “Democratic Security” approaches vary by country as evidenced from the differing ones that Russia’s practicing in Syria and the CAR, but the concept could attract many more African partners if it’s successful in Ethiopia by next fall’s summit.

Russia must therefore do everything in its power to bring this best-case scenario about. Rehabilitating Ethiopia won’t just improve millions of lives, expose the war crimes committed by the US-led West’s TPLF proxies, and enable Russia to showcase its “Democratic Security” model to other African countries, but ensure that the continent’s historical fountainhead of anti-imperialism and pan-Africanism survives its existential struggle. Upon that happening, Ethiopia can then serve to inspire a revival of these ideas all across Africa through its complementary Medemer concept and thus strengthen multipolarity.

From our partner RIAC

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Decade of Sahel conflict leaves 2.5 million people displaced

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Two displaced women sit at a camp in Awaradi, Niger. © UNOCHA/Eve Sabbagh

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called on Friday for concerted international action to end armed conflict in Africa’s central Sahel region, which has forced more than 2.5 million people to flee their homes in the last decade.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the agency’s spokesperson, Boris Cheshirkov, informed that internal displacement has increased tenfold since 2013, going from 217,000 to a staggering 2.1 million by late last year.

The number of refugees in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger now stands at 410,000, and the majority comes from Mali, where major civil conflict erupted in 2012, leading to a failed coup and an on-going extremist insurgency.

Increase in one year

Just last year, a surge in violent attacks across the region displaced nearly 500,000 people (figures for December still pending).

According to estimates from UN partners, armed groups carried out more than 800 deadly attacks in 2021. 

This violence uprooted some 450,000 people within their countries and forced a further 36,000 to flee into a neighbouring country.

In Burkina Faso alone, the total number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) rose to more than 1.5 million by the end of the year. Six in ten of the Sahel’s displaced are now from this country.

In Niger, the number of IDPs in the regions of Tillabéri and Tahoua has increased by 53 per cent in the last 12 months. In Mali, more than 400,000 people are displaced internally, representing a 30 per cent increase from the previous year.

Climate, humanitarian crisis

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating with crises on multiple fronts.

Insecurity is the main driver, made worse by extreme poverty, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the climate crisis are also felt more strongly in the region, with temperatures rising 1.5 times faster than the global average.

Women and children are often the worst affected and disproportionately exposed to extreme vulnerability and the threat of gender-based violence.

According to the UNHCR spokesperson, “host communities have continued to show resilience and solidarity in welcoming displaced families, despite their own scant resources.”

He also said that Government authorities have demonstrated “unwavering commitment” to assisting the displaced, but they are now “buckling under increasing pressure.”

Bold response

UNHCR and humanitarian partners face mounting challenges to deliver assistance, and continue to be the target of road attacks, ambushes, and carjacking.

In this context, the agency is calling on the international community to take “bold action and spare no effort” in supporting these countries.

UNHCR is also leading the joint efforts of UN agencies and NGOs to provide emergency shelter, manage displacement sites and deliver vital protection services, including combating gender-based violence and improving access to civil documentation.

In 2021, more than a third of the agency’s Central Sahel funding needs were unmet.

This year, to mount an effective response in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, the agency needs $307 million.

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