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August 6th, 2010
11:42 AM ET
August 5th, 2010
07:08 PM ET

Naomi Campbell takes the stand at war crimes trial

Program note: Watch AC360° tonight at 10pm ET to see more of Naomi Campbell's testimony and to hear how a supermodel got involved in an African war crimes trial.


Filed under: 360° Radar • Africa • Global 360°
July 26th, 2010
03:52 PM ET

In Africa, everyone is looking to the sky

Ann Birch
World Vision

June 1, 2010 - The last time I visited Koma Bangou, Niger, was two years ago. Back then, I thought it was one of the poorest and most desperate places I had ever seen.

Koma Bangou is a mining area — very hot, dry, and with poor access to drinking water. The community is made up of people who migrate from all over Niger and neighboring countries.


A large river bed on the road to Koma Bangou, Niger is almost completely dried up. People and animals try to make use of the little water that's left before it disappears. Niger's rainy season normally starts in late April or early May, but this year, by June 1, it had only rained three times. The lack of rain means most people have not been able to begin sowing this year's harvest. The lack of rain plus the country's annual "hunger season" (the time from when cereal stocks run out until the next harvest in October) means that more than 7 million people in Niger are at risk of moderate to severe food insecurity.

They are desperately poor, trying to make a living from what is, in effect, a non-productive mine. I am glad for the opportunity to go back to Koma Bangou, but very nervous at the same time. I am worried about what we will find, given the current drought and food crisis.

‘In Africa, everyone is looking to the sky’

Zeinaba Abdoulaye feeds her 8-month-old daughter, Tinoumoude Guissa, with Plumpy'Nut, a read-to-use therapeutic food, at a World Vision health center in Niger. Zeinaba left her village at 6 a.m. and walked seven kilometers to bring Tinoumoude to the health center because the baby had had a fever for the past several days.  Zeinaba and her husband have two other children at home, but she says there is no millet left in the house to feed her family.

Zeinaba Abdoulaye feeds her 8-month-old daughter, Tinoumoude Guissa, with Plumpy'Nut, a read-to-use therapeutic food, at a World Vision health center in Niger. Zeinaba left her village at 6 a.m. and walked seven kilometers to bring Tinoumoude to the health center because the baby had had a fever for the past several days. Zeinaba and her husband have two other children at home, but she says there is no millet left in the house to feed her family.

On the road to Koma Bangou, all the earth is orange — a really deep terracotta orange. The trees are very sparse, and as we get closer to Koma Bangou, the orange, sandy earth gives way to very rocky soil.

I remember a conversation I had with a colleague, Moussa, the day before.
He told me that it has only rained two or three times so far this rainy season. Normally, it should start to rain in late April and continue through September. On hearing this, my heart sinks.

This isn’t just about communities trying to make it through the annual “lean season,” which are typically the months running up to the October harvest. It could mean that even this year’s planting and upcoming harvests are at risk. It’s not what I wanted to hear.

We drive by another river bed; this time, there is a small amount of water in it. Others are completely dry. We pass two Fulani herders, and the angular bones of their skinny cattle stick out.

Again, I think of a conversation from the day before. “In Africa, everyone is looking to the sky,” someone had said to me. “Communities do not understand the rain patterns anymore.”

How can they, I wonder, given the changes in seasonal rainfall?

Help for the hungry


Two-year-old Jamila's baggy skin is a symptom of severe acute malnutrition. The little girl was brought to one of World Vision's health centers in Koma Bangou, Niger. In Koma Bangou, health workers have already identified 53 cases of severe acute malnutrition, up from 22 cases recorded for all of 2009.

We arrive at the health care center in Koma Bangou; it’s time to start working. The community volunteers and health workers trained by World Vision were in full swing when we arrived, already weighing and assessing the children and babies for malnutrition.

I start to photograph the babies, and I feel my stomach turn over every time I hold the camera up and see another skinny body in front of me. It seems like baby after baby is suffering from severe malnutrition.

A community health volunteer weighs 12-month-old Mariam at a health center in Koma Bangou, Niger.  Mariam lives with her 19-year-old mother, Baraka, nearby.  Baraka said she cried when she found out her daughter was severely malnourished. She said she would like to feed her child but often has no food to give her.

A community health volunteer weighs 12-month-old Mariam at a health center in Koma Bangou, Niger. Mariam lives with her 19-year-old mother, Baraka, nearby. Baraka said she cried when she found out her daughter was severely malnourished. She said she would like to feed her child but often has no food to give her.

The day we spent in Koma Bangou, 13 new cases of acute severe malnutrition were identified — bringing the current total of severe cases in this one health care center to 53 in just three weeks. I am told by health staff at the center that last year, there were just 22 severe malnutrition cases for the entire year. The comparison is startling.

World Vision has received a $1 million grant from the United States' Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to implement an emergency nutrition intervention in Niger. The grant will provide food for nearly 28,000 malnourished children over the course of one year. To help support World Vision's response in Niger, please visit www.worldvision.org/nigercrisis or call your members of Congress and ask them to support the Global Food Security Act, legislation that would make a significant contribution toward reducing hunger by investing in sustainable agriculture and nutrition programs.


Filed under: Africa • Hunger
December 24th, 2009
12:11 PM ET

Gift #1: Holiday gifts from the land of a thousand hills

Janet Nkubana, a former refugee from Rwanda, sells baskets for a company she founded that now employs more than three thousand Rwandans.

Janet Nkubana, a former refugee from Rwanda, sells baskets for a company she founded that now employs more than three thousand Rwandans.

HOLIDAY GIFTS FROM THE LAND OF A THOUSAND HILLS

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I love receiving holiday gifts.

Especially when they’re gifts of knowledge.

I feel like I received at least five gifts of knowledge when I met Janet Nkubana on a recent night.

I hope you’ll let me share them with you one at a time.

Gift #1: A Basket of Security

Janet Nkubana had travelled from her home in the country they call The Land of a Thousand Hills to The Land of a Thousand Malls.

She was here, at Macy’s, to sell her company’s traditional Rwandan baskets.

It’s unusual to have a conversation at a department store that begins with the phrase "When I was growing up in the camp..."

Janet's camp was a refugee camp in Uganda, across a border from her homeland.

In that camp where she grew up "the population was very concentrated. It was easy for a child to get lost."

And so, as Janet describes it, the mothers would do their best to keep their children close to them. One way they did that was to have the children gather nearby grasses that their mothers could use to weave baskets. Not just baskets. Woven mats too. There were no mattresses. So everyone slept on mats.

The mothers were always weaving mats so "the children didn't have a wet sleep."

FULL POST


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:48 AM ET

Gift #2: Quality takes time

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

When Rwanda's master basket weaver Janet Nkubana walked me through the symbolism of her basket's designs, the image you see here left a big impression.

I asked her how long it took a weaver to get from the center knot at the bottom of that basket to the spot she's pointing to. A couple of inches of weaving.

"It may take a whole day to get from here to here," she said.

Janet is the master in charge of the masters. Her company employs 32-hundred women to weave baskets. Women who would otherwise have no way to support themselves and whatever family members might have survived the genocide in 1994.

How many of those women are master weavers?"

About 300.

300 masters out of more than 3-thousand weavers. Only one out of ten. Judging from the selection of baskets, the other nine weavers are just really good.

FULL POST


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:46 AM ET

Gift #3: Don't spill the words

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I've been to Rwanda before. But I was never invited into a backyard. Now I know why.

Janet Nkubana, Rwanda's master basket weaver, tells me the backyard is where the women of Rwanda gather. It's where they talk. It's where they share their secrets.

No men allowed.

As a journalist, it was my responsibility to convince Janet that it would be a good thing to reveal just a few secrets from the backyard.

I don't have a very large audience, I told Janet. Your secrets will be safe with me and these readers.

Janet ignored my plea, picked up a basket, and walked me through the symbolism of the design.

"In Rwandan culture," Janet explains, "women are not allowed to sit with the men and talk. They are normally in the backyard cooking. But inside the backyard, should other women come to visit, you sit there and talk a lot of secrets.”

FULL POST


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:44 AM ET

Gift #4: Weaving man

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I picked out a basket at Macy's and read the name of the artist to Rwanda's master weaver, Janet Nkubana.

The weaver's name was sewn to the inside of the basket.

Who is the woman who wove this, I asked?

Janet looked at the name and laughed.

The weaver of this basket was not a woman. It's a man.

"We had men who had no jobs,” she tells me. “A few men said can we join the women?" This weaver, this man, said: "I don't mind. I'm a very poor person. I want to be a part of your group."

I liked the man’s basket. The weaver was not a master weaver. BUT …

“We do have one man who's a master weaver," said Janet. One out of 300.

FULL POST


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:15 AM ET

Gift #5: Weaving unity

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

To repair a country after a genocide, in a nation like Rwanda, where the killers and the survivors still live in the same neighborhoods, takes a lot of time, to say the least.

It takes longer than the hundred days that it took the men with machetes to kill at least 800-thousand people in the spring of 1994.

Remember what Janet told us about master basket weaving. It takes time too.

"Through weaving,” says Janet, “we've brought back our culture. We've restored talking. Families are forgiving each other."

I was skeptical that weaving could foster such reconciliation.

“It was difficult at the beginning, to have both aisles of the genocide under one roof. At first," says Janet, "some were not talking to each other."

Janet recalls moving to Rwanda after the genocide and visiting the town her parents came from. One of her former neighbors remembered how Janet's mother used to invite her in for milk. That woman's brothers are now in prison for their role in the genocide.

FULL POST


Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
November 5th, 2009
04:01 PM ET

A 'literary miracle' crowned by Oprah

Editor's note: Eileen Pollack is director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan and taught Uwem Akpan, author of "Say You Are One of Them." Akpan's book is the choice of the Oprah Book Club, which will be discussed November 9 at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.com Live or Oprah.com.

Uwem Akpan and Eileen Pollack at a holiday dinner.

Uwem Akpan and Eileen Pollack at a holiday dinner.

Eileen Pollack
Special to CNN

Even among the hundreds of applications, this one stood out. Most applicants to creative writing programs submit stories about the angst of their suburban childhoods. This writer's stories concerned the daily ordeals of a boy living with his family on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, and the horrific plight of a Rwandan girl whose mother is Tutsi and father Hutu.

Not only did the applicant have what writers call "material," he was blessed with an uncanny ear for human speech and the poetry to describe his characters' very unpoetic lives.

I can still remember the young Kenyan boy watching his mother decant the glue she intends to sniff. The glue, the boy tells us, "glowed warm and yellow in the dull light," and when his mother had poured enough, "she cut the flow of the glue by tilting the tin up. The last stream of gum entering the bottle weakened and braided itself before tapering in midair like an icicle."

Still, this applicant gave us pause. The writer had so much to say, he seemed to be trying to channel a raging waterfall through the tiny funnels of two short stories. His use of punctuation was idiosyncratic, to say the least. And the applicant was a priest!

Keep Reading...


Filed under: Africa • Oprah Winfrey
October 26th, 2009
12:18 PM ET

Rights group urges Kenya to stop military recruitment of refugees

Somali military recruiters are enlisting men from Kenya's Dadaab camps say Human Rights Watch.  The Dadaab refugee complex is the largest of its kind in the world.

Somali military recruiters are enlisting men from Kenya's Dadaab camps say Human Rights Watch. The Dadaab refugee complex is the largest of its kind in the world.

Moni Basu
CNN

A global human rights group is urging Kenya to stop Somali military recruiters from enlisting displaced men and boys in Kenya's sprawling Dadaab refugee camps to fight in their war against Islamic militants.

"Recruitment of fighters in refugee camps undermines their very purpose, which is to be a place of refuge from conflict," said Letta Tayler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who spent a week interviewing refugees for the group's Thursday report about the practice. "The boys and men who are in these camps risked their lives to flee. Now they're being asked to return to that."

She said allowing recruiters to enlist young refugees in a new force intended to fight on behalf of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government is a violation of U.N. regulations that govern refugee camps.

Keep Reading...


Filed under: Africa
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