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24 Hours Across Africa

North Korean Sanction Worsens as Early Drought Threatens Food Supplies.

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Source: Reuters

Impoverished North Korea is suffering its worst drought in decades and food supplies are reportedly running low, but South Korea’s push to provide aid is bogged down in the growing tension marked by missile tests and sanctions crackdowns.

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South Korea is seeking to send food directly to the North while scaling up donations to international agencies including the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

If it comes off, it would mark the South’s first bilateral food aid since 2010, when it delivered 5,000 tons of rice, Unification Ministry data shows.

The WFP says more than 10 million North Koreans are in urgent need after crop output plunged to a decade low last year. On Monday, the Red Cross said this year’s early drought is threatening the summer harvest, adding to the crisis.

A devastating famine in the 1990s, exacerbated by drought, killed as many as a million North Koreans, with many resorting to eating tree bark and grass.

The North’s official KCNA news agency on Wednesday said this year’s rainfall so far was the lowest since 1982, while the Rodong Sinmun newspaper called for staging “war against the nature”, mobilizing all available water pumps and irrigation equipment.

But tension again has mounted since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearization of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February.

The North has fired two missiles and multiple projectiles in recent weeks, in what South Korean President Moon Jae-in called a calibrated protest against Washington.

Moon said Trump supported his aid plan, but after promising to ease hurdles for humanitarian aid earlier this year, U.S. officials remain half-hearted, especially in light of the recent weapons tests, blaming the North Korean regime for the food shortages.

Moon’s administration, whose 2017 push for $8 million aid to U.N. agencies fell apart amid flaring tensions, is adamant about implementing its latest commitment, but it’s unclear when and how that plan will materialize, according to the sources who spoke on anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic.

“They’ll try their best to make it happen, but nothing has been decided. There is a lot more to consider than two years ago,” one of the sources said.

‘SENSE OF CRISIS’

The source said there was a “sense of crisis” brewing within the administration ahead of a key parliamentary election next year amid the stalled nuclear talks and lackluster progress in inter-Korean initiatives.

The dramatic detente between the two Koreas has propped up Moon’s approval ratings, which were hit by a stagnating economy and jobs crunch and then fell to their lowest levels after the Hanoi summit.

Moon said the aid would not only help needy North Koreans but also reduce his government’s excessive rice stockpile and break the nuclear standoff between Pyongyang and Washington.

About 45 percent of South Koreans support humanitarian aid to the North, according to a study released on Monday by the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.

But the North’s Maeri propaganda website brushed off the South’s aid plan as “empty words” and “far-fetched mockery”.

Early this year, South Korea offered to provide flu medication, but its delivery was delayed amid consultations with the United States and the North eventually refused to take it.

Rice has also historically been a sensitive item, along with cement and fertilisers, due to concerns that Pyongyang may divert any outside handouts to bankroll its weapons programs.

“The situation is extremely sensitive,” another source said. “If the two-track approach proves unfeasible, we would just have to go through the international organizations.”

Some observers, including Lee Hye-hoon, head of the parliamentary intelligence committee, said the situation may not be as tough as aid groups say.

Data compiled by Daily NK, a defector-run website, showed rice prices have dropped about 15% since November, suggesting the shortages may not be as bad as some people think.

But Seoul’s Unification Ministry said it sees data from the WFP and other U.N. agencies as more “official and objective.”

“It’s difficult to know just how bad the situation really is,” said Peter Ward, a scholar who researches North Korea’s economy, citing the lack of credible information.

“It doesn’t look like we are headed for another famine, but the food situation definitely appears to have deteriorated.”


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24 Hours Across Africa

Kenya: Popular author and gay activist dies.

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Kenyans prolific writer Binyavanga Wainaina, who was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province has died after a short illness in Kenya.

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He is popularly known for his debut book, a memoir entitled One Day I Will Write About This Place, was published in 2011.

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In January 2014, in response to a wave of anti-gay laws passed in Africa, Wainaina publicly announced that he was gay, first writing a short story that he described as a “lost chapter” of his 2011 memoir entitled “I am a Homosexual, Mum”, and then tweeting: “I am, for anybody confused or in doubt, a homosexual. Gay, and quite happy.

Prize-winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina has died in Nairobi after a short illness at the age of 48.

Wainaina was also named among Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014 for his gay rights activism.

He “demystified and humanized homosexuality” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote at the time.

Wainaina was one of the first high-profile Kenyans to openly declare he was gay and “he felt an obligation to chip away at the shame” that people felt about being gay, Adichie added.

Wainaina challenged Kenyans to rethink their negative stereotypes about homosexuality, Nyabola added.

“Inasmuch as homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, there are people who are very comfortable with their identity… but the public space for acceptance and respect has always been lacking and even characterised by violence,” Nyabola said.

“What he said is ‘look I’m here and I’m still the same person that you know and love and respect ‘… I think it’s incredibly powerful,” she added.

Homosexual relations are currently illegal in Kenya but the Supreme Court is due to rule on Friday whether to overturn the law banning them.


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24 Hours Across Africa

Algerians army Chief shun claims over political ambition.

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Algeria’s army chief of staff said on Wednesday he had no political ambitions in response to democracy activists who say that he intends to copy the authoritarian model of Egypt.

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The armed forces have been a pivotal power center in Algeria for decades and have been managing a transition after mass protests forced President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign last month after 20 years in office.

Street demonstrations have continued to press demands for a dismantling of the elite of independence veterans, security commanders and business tycoons that have run the major oil and natural gas producer since independence from France in 1962.

“Everybody should know that we have no political ambitions,” Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah told state television.

A presidential election has been scheduled for July 4 but an informed source said on Friday it might be postponed.

Algerian activists say they are concerned the army-steered transition toward democracy will prove illusory as in Egypt.

As Egypt’s army chief in 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled freely elected Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, won election himself in 2014 and then suppressed Mursi’s supporters as well as the liberal opposition in a pervasive crackdown on dissent.

In Algeria, analysts the army fears the crisis will continue at a time of worsening disorder in neighboring Libya, where there is factional fighting for control of the capital Tripoli.

Salah also said a fight against corruption and cronyism, among protesters’ main grievances, would continue and that he disagreed with some officials who said this was not a priority.

Earlier this month a military judge placed Bouteflika’s youngest brother and two ex-intelligence chiefs in custody. They joined a string of businessmen and officials under investigation over corruption ahead of the presidential election.

Said Bouteflika, who served as a top adviser to the presidency, acted as Algeria’s de facto ruler after his brother suffered a stroke in 2013 that left him in a wheelchair.

Several businessmen, including Algeria’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, have also been placed in custody pending completion of investigations into corruption allegations.


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