BBC

The Latest: Belarus Hijacking, China Storm Kills 21 Marathoners, Tinder After COVID

Welcome to Monday, where Belarus agents hijack a Ryanair flight, a freak storm in China kills 21 marathoners and Bob Dylan gets sung in 11 languages for this 80th birthday. We also feature a Le Monde reportage from Siberia on Nikita Ouvarov, the Russian teenager busted for hanging anti-government posters, who was jailed without a trial for almost a year on charges of "terrorism."

• Belarus accused of hijacking plane to detain activist: Western officials are accusing Belarus agents of forcing a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania to land in its capital of Minsk in order to arrest a prominent opposition figure who was on board.

• Stresa cable car accident: Italy is investigating the causes of an accident that left 14 dead, after a cable car fell Sunday into the side of a mountain near Stresa, in northern Italy.

• 21 runners die in China: Freezing rain, hail and extreme winds killed at least 21 ultramarathon runners participating in a high-altitude race in Gansu, northwestern China.

• COVID-19 update: India passes 300,000 coronavirus deaths, with 26 million recorded cases — second only to the U.S. In Japan, the cities of Tokyo and Osaka look to speed up the vaccination program amid a COVID surge less than two months before the Olympics are slated to begin. Singapore authorities give provisional greenlight to a breathalyzer test that shows within 60 seconds whether someone has been infected. Meanwhile, Argentina has resumed a strict lockdown as cases soar in the country.

• Black Lives Matter activist shot in UK: Sasha Johnson, 27, a leader in the UK's Black Lives Matter movement is in critical condition after being shot in the head at a party in London. Though she was subject to numerous death threats, reports indicate that Johnson was not the intended target of the shooting early Sunday.

• Suu Kyi makes first public appearance since coup: Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi made her first appearance Monday since a Feb. 1 military coup. The 75-year-old pro-democracy icon appeared to be in good health, but her lawyers say she has had no access to newspapers during detention.

• Swab right? Matchmaking apps like Tinder, OkCupid and Match are introducing a new feature that allows users to display on their profiles whether they've been vaccinated for COVID-19 yet.

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OneShot - Gorillas Strike A Pose For Selfie

Looking coooool....This selfie of two park rangers at the Virunga National Park with two female gorillas mimicking human behavior went viral after it was posted on Instagram this week. "Those gorilla gals are always acting cheeky so this was the perfect shot of their true personalities!" said the park, which is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The fact that the two gorillas, Ndakazi and Ndeze, were walking upright is apparently not so rare. The cool posing on the other hand may be linked to the fact that the pair were rescued and raised by humans.

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Of Lions And Plastic, Strongmen And Mother Nature

Throughout history, nature has had to bear the consequences of human delusions of grandeur. Among the various and extravagant ways men devised to display their power, wild animals have paid a price that goes beyond the natural hunt for food. In ancient Rome's Colosseum, lions, leopards, and elephants were used — in brutal fashion — to demonstrate the extent and the reach of the Roman Empire's domination over the then known living world.


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Want To Teach In This Congolese City? Better Get Baptized

There is a religious litmus test for teachers in schools in this eastern stretch of Democratic Republic of Congo.

BENI — During a recent morning mass at a church in this northeast Congolese city, the pastor had a sort of job announcement for his congregants: The local school was looking for a biochemistry teacher and someone who speaks English to look after middle school children. But, he added: "The first condition is to be a fervent Christian and available to fill in for pastoral duties."

Over the past few years, identifying yourself as religious has become the first selection criteria for teachers in many contract schools in this city in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Sources
Jacques Kikuni Kokonyange

Electricity And Jobs Help Save Congo’s Wildlife Reserve

MUTWANGA — At the foot of mount Rwenzori, locals erupt in joy when they see their homes lit with electric light bulbs for the first time in their lives. Meanwhile, at the nearby Pic Hotel in Mutwanga, a small village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), tourists are finally returning.

Over the past few years, the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation has helped limit poaching and agricultural exploitation of the DRC​"s Virunga National Park.

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Geopolitics
Tanguy Berthemet

Can The Catholic Church Prevent A New Congolese Civil War?

It seems only the Church has managed to curb the ambitions of recent Congolese rulers Mobutu and Joseph Kabila. Now Church leaders are trying to peacefully nudge Kabila from power to avoid the bloodshed many are predicting.

KINSHASA — The deal to ensure peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is sealed, and everybody has signed on. Yet nobody is running out to celebrate. In the DRC, people, politicians and religious leaders know that any crisis resolution is generally considered a temporary thing.

There is little to fault in the text of the recent accord: It addresses all the points of dispute that had led the country to a situation one might call the nadir of its fortunes, if the DRC had not shown time and again that it can always sink further. For the Congolese, the first peaceful handover of power after a coup and a civil war cannot be taken for granted.

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Geopolitics
Matthieu Mokolo

DRC, Environmental Costs Of Congolese Wood Industry

LIPUA LIPUA — He'd been away for some time in Mbandaka, the capital of the northwestern Équateur province along the Congo River. But when Pierrot Mawambe returns to Lipua Lipua, a fisherman camp on an islet 80 kilometers downstream, he was stunned by the void where huge waka trees used to stand. "Timber harvesters cut them down," a local informs him.

In the past, waka trees (a variety of guibourtia) as well as others like the "monsenge" and the "mokese" (pycnanthus angolensis) hadn't been commercialized. But now, traditional harvesters, like Richard Mobembo, have seen a business opportunity, after this new sort of wood was circulating on the market in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) capital. "When we see it in Kinshasa, we immediately look for it in the forest when we return to the Équateur region," Mobembo said. "We'll sometimes even cut down any tree that's more than 50 centimeters in diameter, even if we don't know their names or qualities. Only when we put it on the market do we realize what it is, and what it's actually worth."

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Sources
Emmanuel Lukeba

Congolese Teens Fall Prey To Lure Of Sports Gambling

MATADI — Elie Luemba says her youngest son fooled her and her husband for far too long. "We used to give him a little money every morning to buy himself donuts at school," she says. "But he was actually using the money to bet on sports results with his classmates."

The irony is that Luemba only just recently found out because her son was asked to come with one of his parents to the betting shop to collect his winnings.

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Sources
Thaddée Hyawe-Hinyi

How Vatican Funding Cuts Weigh On The Faithful In Africa

Since the gradual reduction of subsidies from Rome to diocese in the Democratic Republic of Congo, vicars have turned to the faithful to ensure survival of parish churches.

IDIOFA — "We're in a slump," is the polite expression from the local priest in this parish in the southwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The cleric notes that with virtually no revenue from church activities, the faithful had long relied on funding from Catholic Church headquarters to keep their parish afloat. "Many thought the help from Rome would last forever, but they think we've grown big enough," the Idiofa priest explains. "Rome still sends subsidies to the dioceses. But they are lower every year."

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LA STAMPA
Paolo Mastrolilli

Congolese Crossroads: Between Cannibalism, Jihad And Hope For Progress

GOMA — "They realized he wasn't one of them because he didn't speak Swahili. Then they pulled him off the bus he was traveling on, stoned him to death, opened his chest and ate his heart." Hearing this story from a high-ranking United Nations official, one immediately asks if this is just a legend of the jungle. "A legend? No, we saw pictures of his roasted head being eaten."

This horrific story took place last October, after one of the massacres committed by the Islamist rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in Beni, in eastern Congo. The ADF are a group who formed in Uganda, and whom the government accuses of being linked to the Somali jihadists of al-Shabaab. They invaded Congo with the aim of conquering a land full of natural resources and have spent the past months imposing terror on locals.

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Sources
Cosmas Mungazi

Save The Children Pushes Congolese Teens To Keep Their Babies

A 12-year-old from Goma, DRC, recounts how the international NGO persuaded her to keep her baby.

GOMA — The girls, all of them under 18 and all pregnant, are taking the courtyard outside the Murara Hospital by storm.

The mothers-to-be are here in the eastern Congolese city of Goma to attend a course on the importance of seeing their pregnancies through, and then keeping the children once they are born. They are also being encourage to deliver their babies at the hospital.

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Smarter Cities
Dieudonné Malekera

How One African City Is Taking Back The Streets, Literally

Local planners in Bukavu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, are clearing out homes and businesses that encroached over the years along the city's main avenues.

BUKAVU — Heavy machinery from the Office of Road Work and Drainage (OVD) rumbles, grinds and rat-a-tat-tats along Kibombo avenue in this city on the eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A bulldozer has torn down the walls of a religious convent, a hotel and a radio station. Various homes and shops are felled as well. Some property owners acted preemptively, hiring workers to start dismantling the stones and bricks even before the OVD machines showed up — but others complain that they weren't properly warned.

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blog
Pépé Mikwa

In Democratic Republic Of Congo, A Snapshot Of Broken Justice

GOMA — The situation inside Goma’s Muzenza Prison, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is highly charged and threatening to explode as severe overcrowding mixes with questions about the justice system itself.

As many as 1,087 prisoners are crammed into a building designed for 150. Four out of every five prisoners are there in pre-trial detention and often must wait months before they appear in court.

One student was held in the facility for three months awaiting charges to be filed. Accused of rape by the family of an underage neighbor, he got out thanks to the help of a pro bono lawyer who demanded a medical examination that showed the allegedly raped girl was still a virgin.

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Sources
Thaddée Hyawe-Hinyi

Rape At School, A Congolese Scourge Is Finally Confronted

GOMA — Teachers raping their students is tragically all too common in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But in the eastern region of South Kivu, it is a reality that is now finally being confronted, with the establishment of local committees in which parents, education officials and students report and track sexual assaults in schools.

The alert system relies on the use of SMS text messages, which are sent to the teachers and parents of a victim of a reported case, as well as to the top school authorities. “Education officials have also decided to introduce sanctions for teachers who assault their students as an amendment to the contract between teachers and the Congolese state,” school inspector Emmanuel Gashamba explained recently in a television program.

Campaigns to raise awareness and encourage students to speak out against rapes have also been started, both by teachers and students. In the neighboring regions of North and South Kivu, 18% of reported rapes are perpetrated in schools by teachers on underage girls, according to a United Nations Population Fund report.

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Sources
Cosmas Mungazi

How A Congolese Priest Disarms Sworn Enemies

WALIKALE They swapped their firearms for spades, machettes and hoes.

Until very recently, the young people here used to be members of armed groups in Congo's North Kivu that boasted names such as Kifua Fua (Stuck-out Chest) or Raia Mutomboki (Revolutionary People). But on this Saturday in early November, they are repairing a road that leads to the administrative center of the Walikale territory. Some are building bridges over small rivers, others are cutting down the shrubs that grew in the middle of the roads.

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Smarter Cities
Thaddée Hyawe-Hinyi

Where Mobile Phones Have Become The Banking System

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, people have come to rely on the ability to do basic financial transactions anywhere. The downside is when cellular connection crashes.

BUKAVU — All mobile network operators in the Democratic Republic of the Congo now offer financial services to their clients, allowing them to quickly send and receive money anywhere. These services have become much valued by locals, especially those who live far from big towns and bank branches.

The technology is also used by the Education Ministry to pay the wages of teachers who work in remote areas where there are no banks. The teachers receive their salaries directly on their phones and can withdraw the money at any counter of the operator Vodacom.

"We don't need to show our ID to withdraw money," explains Alfred Muhindo, a student and a customer of Airtel money. "We just need to know our account's password. The payment, however, depends on how much you want. Wherever you go, the branch needs to have enough money."

Any transfer below $50 is free, with fees running between 60 cents and $1.40 for larger transfers. Many clients also use this system as an electronic wallet. It's possible to store money on your account by adding calling credit, which can be converted in cash at any time.

"The system is available wherever you are," explains a student at the Catholic University of Bukavu, a city in the eastern part of the country. He is waiting for a transfer from his parents, so he constantly checks his cellphone. The service is great for students because it allows them to receive even small sums of $5 or less, and is cheaper than the commissions of transfer companies like Western Union or Money Gramm.

There is, however, one limit to the service: network coverage. Users would like to see the connectivity of their phone carriers improved, both for better communication, and now also so they can withdraw money at any moment.

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