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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that his country will return 26 African artworks — royal thrones, ceremonial altars, revered statues — to Benin later this month, part of France's long-promised plans to give back artwork taken from Africa during the colonial era.
Discussions have been under way for years on returning the artworks from the 19th century Dahomey Kingdom. Called the "Abomey Treasures," they currently are held in the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. The museum, near the Eiffel Tower, holds thousands of works from former French colonies.
Macron said the 26 pieces will be given back at the end of October, "because to restitute these works to Africa is to give African young people access to their culture." It remains unclear when exactly they will arrive in Benin.
"We need to be honest with ourselves. There was colonial pillage, it's absolutely true," Macron told a group of African cultural figures at an Africa-France gathering in the southern city of Montpellier. He noted other works already were returned to Senegal and Benin, and the restitution of art to Ivory Coast is planned.
Cameroon-born art curator Koyo Kouoh pressed Macron for more efforts to right past wrongs.
"Our imagination was violated," she said.
"Africa has been married to France in a forced marriage for at least 500 years," Kouoh said. "The work (on mending relations) that should have been done for decades wasn't done...It's not possible that we find ourselves here in 2021.
A visitor looks at wooden statues of the 19th century Dahomey Kingdom era, at the Quai Branly museum in Paris, France, Nov. 23, 2018. France is to return later this month artworks to Benin it took during the colonial era. Image source: voa
"A sweeping 2018 report commissioned by Macron recommended that French museums give back works that were taken without consent, estimating that up to 90% of African art is located outside the continent. Some other European countries are making similar efforts.
Three years later, few artworks have been returned. To facilitate the repatriation of the Abomey Treasures, France's parliament passed a law in December 2020 allowing the state to hand the works over and giving it up to one year to do so.
The Africa-France meeting Friday was frank and occasionally heated. Macron, who is trying to craft a new French strategy for Africa. met with hundreds of African entrepreneurs, cultural leaders and young people.
Speakers from Nigeria, Chad, Guinea and beyond had a long list of demands for France: reparations for colonial crimes, withdrawal of French troops, investment that bypasses corrupt governments and a tougher stance toward African dictatorships.
Macron defended France's military presence in Mali and other countries in the Sahel region as necessary to keep terrorists at bay, and he refused to apologize for the past.
But he acknowledged that France has a "responsibility and duty" to Africa because of its role in the slave trade and other colonial-era wrongs. Noting that more than 7 million French people have a family link to Africa, Macron said France cannot build its future unless it "assumes its Africanness." (VOA/RN)
Keywords: African Art, France, Macron, Colonialism
GOMA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO —A case of Ebola has been confirmed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the health minister said Friday, five months after the end of the most recent outbreak there.
It was not immediately known if the case was related to the 2018-20 outbreak that killed more than 2,200 people in eastern Congo, the second deadliest on record, or the flare-up that killed six this year.
A 3-year-old boy tested positive near the eastern city of Beni, one of the epicenters of the 2018-20 outbreak, and died from the disease Wednesday, Health Minister Jean Jacques Mbungani said in a statement.
About 100 people who may have been exposed to the virus have been identified and will be monitored to see if they develop symptoms, he added.
An internal report from Congo's biomedical laboratory said that three of the toddler's neighbors in Beni's densely populated Butsili neighborhood also presented symptoms consistent with Ebola last month and died, but none were tested.
Congo has recorded 12 outbreaks since the disease, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, and is spread through contact with bodily fluids, was discovered in the equatorial forest near the Ebola River in 1976.
"Thanks to the experience acquired in managing the Ebola virus disease during previous epidemics, we are confident that the response teams ... will manage to control this outbreak as soon as possible," Mbungani said.
It is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak, health experts say. Particles of the virus can remain present in semen for months after recovery from an infection.
The disease typically kills about half of those it infects, although treatments developed since the record 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa have significantly reduced death rates when cases are detected early.
Two highly effective vaccines manufactured by Merck and Johnson & Johnson have also been used to contain outbreaks since then.
The 2018-20 outbreak, however, became as deadly as it did because the response was hampered by mistrust of medical workers by the local population as well as violence by some of the armed militia groups active in eastern Congo. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Ebola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Health, Epidemic, Vaccines
At sunset, a buffalo calf's distressed grunts reverberate through the bush.
But it's a trick.
The grunts are blaring from a loudspeaker, designed to lure lions to a tree and let a South African wildlife reserve carry out a census of its apex predator.
As an added enticement, the carcasses of two impalas are affixed to a tree. The scent promises a fresh meal.
In the headlights of a 4x4, armed rangers with night binoculars and torches watch over the scene.
"We know our lions, but with this process, we verify them," says Ian Nowak, head warden at the Balule Nature Reserve.
A wildlife researcher next to him listens intently, her ears tuned to clues from the nocturnal sounds.
That's how she knows a rumbling is from elephants grazing in the tall grass. And that's how she knows when to raise her camera to photograph lions, looking for distinctive scars or peculiar ears -- anything that identifies them for the count.
This job requires patience. The team once spotted 23 lions ripping into the bait.
"They growl and they fight. Then they lie down and eat," Nowak whispers. "It can be quite a frenzy on the bait. They smack each other and then settle down."
A lion approaches an impala used to attract predators during a census at the Balule Nature Reserve in northern Limpopo, Aug. 30, 2021 Image source: voavoa
Don't fence them in
At 55,000 hectares (136,000 acres), Balule is huge -- yet it connects with an even bigger ecosystem that, all told, is almost the size of Belgium.
Balule and other nearby game farms have transitioned into nature reserves, joining up with the Kruger National Park to create a vast territory without internal fences, covering 2.5 million hectares, that extends to Mozambique.
To create such enormous space for wildlife is a rare success story these days.
Conservationists meeting in Marseille, southern France, are deeply worried for Africa's "big cats", facing loss of habitat and human encroachment as well as poaching.
Balule is so big that its census-takers have to criss-cross the terrain to make the count as thorough as possible.
"Sometimes they've eaten. If they're full, they don't come," Nowak said. "Especially the males, they're lazy as hell."
Twenty years ago, Balule was mostly farmland and lions were few.
Last year, the census found 156 of the lordly beasts.
"Lions are doing incredibly well, mainly because there's a large enough space to operate," Nowak says.
Overall, the news is good for lions in South Africa, thanks to government conservation efforts -- helped by the inducement of tourists who are willing pay to see the animals. Private investors have also stepped in.
A years-long drought has also been a boost. Antelopes and buffalo did not have enough to eat, making them easier prey for large carnivores.
A ranger stands next to a vehicle during the annual census at the Balule Reserve, in northern Limpopo. Aug. 31, 2021 Image source: voavoa
'Lions don't share'
The loudspeaker rumbles again with the recording of the injured buffalo calf. This time, a small jackal appears, hoping for a nibble. At the slightest sound, it dashes away.
The wildlife researcher detects another movement in her thermal binoculars. The headlights flash back on, illuminating the majestic mane of a lion approaching stealthily, careful but calm.
"He's initially cautious," says Nick Leuenberger, one of the regional wardens. "He doesn't know if he'll be walking in on another pride."
"Lions defend their food, they don't share," he adds.
"Here the lion tolerates the jackal. He knows he's not a major threat to his food source."
Suddenly, the lion leaps up to one of the suspended impalas, biting into its belly. After his meal, he lies at the foot of the tree.
Now the team can move on. No other animals will dare approach.
The next night, seven hyenas take turns snipping at the fresh impala, without a lion in sight.
But on the way back, the 4x4 slams the brakes. To the left, a hippo roars furiously, its mouth wide open.
To the right, seven lionesses raise their heads above the grassline. A magical sight, but no danger to the hippo. Nowak says it would take at least twice as many lions to threaten the hippo.
The tension eases. A lion emerges from the brush and walks along the trail. A lioness joins him, and the 4x4 follows them slowly until they disappear into the night. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Lions, South Africa, Fenceless Parks
ABUJA - Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei says it wants to train up to 3 million African youths to work with cutting-edge digital technology such as artificial intelligence. Already, Nigerian students who took part in a Huawei-sponsored information and communications technology (ICT) competition say the benefits, including possible job placements with the company, are enormous. But experts warn there could be potential negative impacts of China's growing tech influence in Africa.
Computer engineering finalist Muhammad Maihaja is set to graduate from the Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria's Kaduna state in November.
In 2019, he was part of a team of six from the school who represented Nigeria at the global Huawei ICT competition in Shenzhen, China, where they finished in third place.
Huawei introduced the competition to Africa in 2014 to identify and nurture highly skilled ICT professionals — what the company says is part of its expanding talent search in Africa's tech sector that has benefited some 2,000 African students like Maihaja.
"We have been exposed to devices and technologies we've never experienced before. As normal university students, we would not have experienced what we did experience in the competition. So, I'll say ... this has made me much more ICT inclined, so to say," Maihaja said.
The competition evaluates students' competence in network and cloud technology. Maihaja and his team's success in 2019 was a rare achievement for an African team, let alone a first-time participant.
The feat inspired many other students like Hamza Atabor who tried out for the next edition in 2020. He and the other Nigerian students this time won the competition.
"I was inspired by, you know, when they talked about their stories, how they won the competition, and also when they were given their prizes and everything. I just felt, OK, this is something to actually make a sacrifice for," Atabor said.
Huawei office in Voorburg Image source: wikimediawikimedia
Students like Maihaja and Atabor are meeting Huawei's set objective, but critics say the company is only a fragment of China's fast-paced dominance in Africa's technology landscape.
Huawei reportedly accounts for more than 70% of the continent's telecommunications network.
Mohammed Bashir Muazu, a professor of computer engineering at Ahmadu Bello University, says it's no surprise China is gaining traction in Africa.
"Seeing the level of technological developments in China, I think what is actually happening is inevitable," Muazu said.
Concerns about China's presence in Africa grew in 2019 after U.S. newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, reported that Huawei had helped Ugandan and Zambian authorities spy on political opponents.
Huawei denied the accusations and declined an interview on the matter.
But ICT expert Samuel Adekola says China could use its competitive advantage for selfish gains.
"It's really dangerous. I cannot quantify how much they could do, but whoever has data, you can do a lot of things. You have a lot of information about a group of people, the nation," Adekola said.
As long as China continues to invest in Africa, students like Maihaja and Atabor will learn valuable skills, even though experts say Africa may have to pay a price for relying too heavily on foreign companies. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Huawei, China, Technology, Africa