Fifteen years or so ago, local fishermen who ventured off the coast of Liberia could expect to come back with 200, maybe 300, of the fish in their boats, 45-year-old George Toe recalls.
Those were the good old days, when catching a couple of sharks helped fill a fisherman’s pocket and fed a hungry family.
“Now it is difficult to get even 10,” he says. “Now you have to go 45 miles (72 kilometres) in the water before you meet up with any.”
Toe’s worry encapsulates the dilemma facing Liberia, an ex-colony of former Caribbean slaves and their free descendants, as it seeks to protect these beautiful, endangered but often under-estimated species.
Each year, tens of millions of sharks and rays are hauled from the sea, typically to meet a particularly high demand in East and Southeast Asia for shark fin soup or products used in traditional medicine.
Experts say the plunder is having a devastating effect on the health of the sea — but protecting the species often meets resistance from fishermen, who see the catch as a vital source of income.
Fishing provides a livelihood to more than 30,000 people in Liberia and accounts for two-thirds of all animal proteins consumed nationally.
What’s at stake in shark and ray conservation is not just the survival of these ancient species but supporting commercial fish stocks.
“Loss of sharks can lead to dramatic imbalances in the ecosystem,” says campaign group Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF).
Catching sharks ricochets down the food chain as big fish decimate small fish in the absence of the apex predator.
Under a three-year initiative, the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority will collect data on shark and ray populations, monitoring their numbers and location, and track fishing, both legal and illegal.
The action follows a pledge on training and data collection that Liberia made with 12 other West African countries in 2014 to help shark and ray conservation.
A trial programme has recorded 19 species in Liberian waters, from great hammerhead sharks to devil rays.
All feature on the Red List of threatened species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable as they grow slowly, hit sexual maturity late and have a low reproductive rate, according to the EJF.
“Accurate population monitoring and sustainable management of these species are essential for long-term solutions, both for the Liberian fishing community and for the ecosystem they depend on,” said Emma Glassco, head of the fisheries agency.
Nigerian police rescue over 300 students from abusive ‘school’ in Kaduna
We found around 100 students including children as young as nine, in chains stuffed in a small room, all in the name of reforming them.
Police in Kaduna, Nigeria, have rescued more than 300 male students being held at an Islamic school where many had been tortured and sexually abused, a police spokesman said Friday.
Officers raided a building in the Rigasa area of the city on Thursday where the victims including adults and minors were kept in “the most debasing and inhumane conditions in the name of teaching them the Koran and reforming them”, Kaduna state police spokesman Yakubu Sabo told AFP.
“We found around 100 students including children as young as nine, in chains stuffed in a small room, all in the name of reforming them and making them responsible persons,” Sabo said.
The school which has been operating for a decade, enrolled students brought by their families to learn the Koran and be rehabilitated from drug abuse and other illnesses, police said.
The proprietor of the school and six staff were arrested during the raid.
Victims at the facility were found padlocked to car hubcaps and had their hands and feet chained. Others bore scars down their backs.
“The victims were abused. Some of them said they were sodomised by their teachers,” Sabo stated.
Police had been tipped off by complaints from local residents who became suspicious of what was happening inside the school.
During the raid on the school, police said they found a “torture chamber” where students were chained, hung and beaten.
Local police chief Ali Janga said that despite its claims to be an educational institution, the conditions proved that the facility was “neither a rehab (centre) or an Islamic school”.
Those held there “were used, dehumanised, you can see it yourself”, Janga said.
Private Islamic schools are common in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria, where government services are often lacking.
One inmate quoted by Nigerian media described horrific conditions and treatment at the facility.
“I have spent three months here with chains on my legs,” 42-year-old Bello Hamza said, adding that he was meant to be in South Africa studying for his Masters degree.
“This is supposed to be an Islamic centre, but trying to run away from here attracts severe punishment; they tie people and hang them to the ceiling for that.”
Another victim Hassan Yusuf told AFP that he had been sent to the centre two years ago because he had converted to Christianity.
“They keep you incommunicado, you can’t talk to anybody,” the married father said.
Television footage showed emaciated children being loaded into minivans and driven away for processing.
Police said the victims were of varying nationalities and that some had been brought from countries in the region including Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana.
The victims were taken to a camp on the outskirts of Kaduna where their identities were being documented to determine where they came from and to contact their families.
Parents of some of the victims from within the city, contacted by police were “shocked and horrified” when they saw the condition of their children, as they had no idea what was happening inside the school.
Parents were allowed to visit their children every three months, but only in select areas of the premises.
“They were not allowed into the house to see what was happening… the children are only brought to them outside to meet them,” Sabo said.
“All they thought was their children are being taught the Koran and good manners as they looked subdued,” he added.
One of the men allegedly running the facility insisted to local television channels that the centre was simply teaching Islamic studies and that those chained up were “the stubborn ones who attempt to run away”.
Huge crowd for inauguration of West Africa’s largest mosque in Dakar
Muslim faithful arrived the new Massalikul Jinaan mosque in Dakar, capable of hosting 30,000 worshippers.
Hundreds of thousands of people from across Senegal converged on the capital Dakar on Friday for the inauguration of a huge mosque, claimed to be the largest in West Africa.
Muslim faithful arrived by bus, car or on foot in the district of Bopp, home to the new Massalikul Jinaan mosque, capable of hosting 30,000 worshippers.
The mosque has been built by the Mouride Brotherhood – part of the Sufi strand of Islam that predominates in Senegal, a country with a long tradition of religious tolerance.
Huge traffic jams several kilometres (miles) long built up on highways leading to the site, where some people had starting camping out two days before the long-awaited ceremonies.
Thousands of women in colourful robes, men dressed in festive white along with children packed the streets.
“I’m here to celebrate God, the Prophet and Serigne Touba, (one of the holy names used for the brotherhood’s founder) whose work is being rewarded here,” said Malick Mar, a mechanic who was among the worshippers.
“It is a triumph for all Muslims.”
When the mosque guards opened the mosque’s doors, there was a frenzied rush and worried police used electric batons to try to restore order. Unable to get inside, thousands of faithful unrolled their prayer mats on the mosque’s outside esplanade.
Work on the mosque began a decade ago on a swampy six-hectare (14-acre) area of land donated by the government of the 90-percent Muslim nation, and the inauguration has been preceded by an outpouring of national and religious fervour.
The mosque’s name of Massalikul Jinaan (“The Paths to Paradise”) comes from the title of a poem by Sheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke, the 19th-century founder of the Brotherhood, who is revered by followers as a saint.
With a Carrara marble exterior and boasting five minarets — the tallest 78 metres (255 feet) high — the mosque has a capacity of 15,000 worshippers inside, and another 15,000 on the esplanade.
The lavish interiors include a gold-leaf dome, giant chandeliers and decorations hand-drawn by Moroccan workmen. An Islamic institute, residence and museum are scheduled to be added in the future.
The builders say the mosque is the biggest in West Africa. It is still behind Morocco’s Hassan II mosque in Casablanca which can accommodate 105,000 worshippers and has a minaret spiralling 210 metres.
The cost of more than 30 million euros ($33 million) came from private donations, while the government contributed lighting, sanitation and roadworks worth 10.5 million euros as well as the land – a sign of the Brotherhood’s clout.
The group’s leader, Mountakha Mbacke, received a stream of religious, traditional and political leaders in the run-up to the inauguration.
The ceremonies were also attended by President Macky Sall and former leader Abdoulaye Wade, who shook hands after a long period of frosty relations.
The Mourides are one of four important Sufi brotherhoods followed by Senegal’s Muslims, who overwhelmingly practise a moderate version of Islam while following the teachings of local spiritual guides.
Fight against HIV/AIDS makes headway in Morocco
Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42%
In Morocco, the struggle against HIV has been so successful in recent years that campaigners worry about losing funding for combating the virus, but for people living with the disease it remains a heavy stigma.
In Casablanca, a group therapy workshop offers HIV patients an opportunity to speak openly about their disease. “Here I feel normal, I’m treated like a human being,” said Zineb, a 29-year-old mother.
Organised by the Association for the Fight Against AIDS (ALCS), on a recent Thursday the workshop brought 12 HIV patients together with a psychologist and a therapist. The ALCS also organises follow-up therapeutic care in hospital, and prevention and screening campaigns, with funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
These programmes were developed shortly after the first HIV case was detected in Morocco in 1986. This early start is partly why UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, calls Morocco a “model country” for its HIV response.
Read Also: Morocco’s last brocade master weavers
Thanks to improved screening, access to treatment and monitoring, new HIV infections in Morocco declined by 42 percent between 2010 and 2016, compared to an average reduction of four percent across the rest of the Middle East and North Africa.
Morocco had 350 deaths from AIDS in 2018, from a population of about 35 million. But some groups remain vulnerable, with intravenous drug users, men who have sex with other men, and sex workers accounting for two thirds of Morocco’s 21,000 identified cases.
And the stigma attached to those infected remains high, even within the family. “My mother treated me like a murderer. For a long time I felt alone in the world,” said Youssef, a 28-year-old who has twice attempted suicide.
Like other HIV patients interviewed, he asked to be identified by a pseudonym. And all of them – save for a 40-year-old considered very lucky by the group – have either hidden their illness or been rejected by loved ones.
Don’t tell them anything
In this conservative Muslim society, where sex outside marriage and homosexuality are illegal, HIV patients seldom talk publicly about the virus. “The subject is taboo, because the infection is linked to sex, itself a taboo subject in Morocco,” said Yakoub, a 25-year-old ALCS worker.
“The social rejection is such that some (HIV patients) lose everything: family, friends, work, home,” he said.
Zineb, like many HIV patients, hides her medication to conceal her illness. For 10 years, the former teen mother has told her family that she is being treated for diabetes. “My 17-year-old son knows nothing, I can’t bring myself to tell him, I’m too afraid,” she said with a sad smile.
“Once you’re sick, you’re no longer a person,” said Sakina, a mother who says she never speaks of her illness except with doctors, the ALCS staff and other HIV patients. Like 70 percent of HIV positive women in Morocco, Sakina was infected by her husband. She cannot bring herself to tell her 15-year-old son that he is also infected.
She has always lied to him but she can no longer sleep at night, she told the group through tears. “My advice: above all, don’t tell him anything,” said a young man. “For your sake, let him find out from someone else,” another group participant suggested.
Then the psychologist interjected to say that private sessions are available to “reflect on these difficult questions”. The shame of HIV is so entrenched, it even permeates the medical establishment.
“For 30 years we’ve been talking about it, the virus is well known but the discrimination is still there,” said Dr Kamal Marhoum El Filali, head of the infectious diseases department at Ibn Rochd Hospital in Casablanca, which hosts an ALCS branch.
“The stigmatisation isn’t just from society but also from medical staff within the hospital environment.” Amina, another group therapy participant, experienced this first hand.
“When I went to the hospital to give birth, no one wanted to take care of me, no one wanted to touch me, I ended up in intensive care,” she recalled indignantly. Others in the session though were grateful for the care they had received.
“We are lucky to be under the care of the infectious diseases department: we are well cared for compared to others, considering the lack of funding and disrepair in Moroccan hospitals,” said another participant.
‘Victim of own success’
The emergency room at Ibn Rochd is sometimes overwhelmed with doctors each seeing up to 40 patients a day. But the infectious diseases department is always spotlessly clean, providing personalised support as ALCS staff liaise with the medical teams.
But how much money Morocco will receive to continue its fight against HIV will be determined at a three-yearly conference for the Global Fund in October. With funding declining globally and controversy surrounding the management of UNAIDS, ALCS president Mehdi Karkouri fears financial cuts.
“We are a victim of our own success: because our results are good, we risk losing funding,” he said.
Gabon’s Ali Bongo vows to “complete mission” despite health challenges
Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia
Doctors in DR Congo to deploy second Ebola vaccine in November
Former South African President Jacob Zuma delays corruption trial with appeal
Police in South Africa march against gender-based violence on women
Fire outbreak in Quranic school kills 26 pupils and 2 teachers in Liberia
Kais Saied and Nabil Karoui to face off in Tunisia’s runoff election
Ake festival 2019: A festival of arts and books
4 killed, 3 missing from tourist boat accident in Senegal
Nigeria’s “Street Doctor”, Samson Shonowo provides free healthcare for the poor
A walk along the slave routes in Badagry
The #AfricaFirst Pledge with Adebola Afolabi (RezThaPoet)
United Nations #SDGs: A better world with Family planning
The #AfricaFirst Pledge with Efe Paul Azino
Harsh abortion sentences are putting Malagasy women at risk
Art1 week ago
Made in Africa: An African story written in leather by ZAAF
East Africa News1 week ago
Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767 jet makes emergency landing in Dakar
Politics1 week ago
Protesters stone police officer to death in Malawi
Op-Ed7 days ago
“Sex for grades” – Another sad reminder of our failed education system (Opinion)
East Africa News1 week ago
Rwanda deports controversial US evangelist, Gregg Schoof
Art1 week ago
Nigeria’s apex bank partners Lagos on ₦22 billion national theatre renovation
East Africa News1 week ago
Rwanda arrests 5 suspects from Hutu militia based in DR Congo
Politics1 week ago
Nigerian President Buhari submits 2020 budget to legislature