Deadly times for young people in Africa; lynched in Mali, abducted in South Sudan, starving in Madagascar

UNICEF estimates there are at least 12,000 children used by both sides in South Sudan's ongoing civil war.

MALI’s Prime Minister Modibo Keita has offered his condolences to the family of two Arab teenagers who were lynched by a mob last week, and condemned their killing, a source close to the leader told AFP Wednesday.

The two teenagers were lynched and their bodies burned on Saturday in Gao by an angry mob that believed they had planted bombs in the area.

On the same day, a masked gunman in a nightclub attack in the capital Bamako killed five people—one French, one Belgian and three Malian.

The  two youths came from a family that supports Bamako against a predominantly Tuareg rebellion in the restive north.

‘Mistaken for bombers’

One official from the teenagers’ family, Mohamed Ould Takiou, told AFP they had been “mistaken for those who planted the bombs”.

A source inside the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Gao added that “no one could intervene” because the mob was so determined to kill the youths.

On Monday, the government announced it had launched an investigation into the lynching.

These are very difficult days for young people and children in several parts of the continent.

In South Sudan, in mid-February the UN children’s agency said it feared hundreds of boys had been kidnapped in the northeast of the country, raising suspicions that the abductors were from a pro-government militia.

UNICEF had estimated that 89 boys, some as young as 13, were abducted by an armed group in Wau Shilluk, a riverside town in government-held territory within oil-rich Upper Nile state.

“The organisation now believes the number of children may be in the hundreds,” UNICEF said in a statement.

It added that the suspected kidnappers were from a “militia… aligned with the government’s SPLA forces.”

Witnesses to the mass abduction on February 15-16 said that unidentified armed soldiers surrounded the community and went house to house taking away by force any boys thought to be over 12 years old.

UNICEF estimates there are at least 12,000 children used by both sides in South Sudan’s ongoing civil war.

In Nigeria, last April the Boko Haram terror group caused global outrage when it abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls from the Chibok area in the northeastern part of the country ravaged by its attacks.

Nearly a year later, most of the girls are still in captivity. Boko Haram said it was going to “sell” the girls off, and there have been reports that several of them had been forcibly married to militia members.

Facing starvation

The latest mass threat to children in Africa is in the flood-drenched Madagascar Indian Ocean island nation.

In villages across the southern part of the world’s fourth biggest island, a months-long drought ravaged last season’s crops.

People are famished, children are wasting away.

A doctor examines a 15-month-old malnourished child at the health center in the village of Imongy, in the Tsihombe district of southern Madagascar. (Photo AFP).

WFP rations currently are keeping some 120,000 people alive in the wake of the October-through-February drought that destroyed the harvest in a country where one of every two toddlers under three suffer retarded growth due to inadequate diets.

With food increasingly scarce due to the lack of rain, the UN food agency has launched an appeal to donors to help rebuild food stocks. “We need support now,” said the deputy WFP representative to the Indian Ocean island, Fatima Sow Sidibe.

However, unlike 1991, when hundreds of people died of hunger in the region, experts say the situation cannot yet be described as “famine.”

“In those days people would leave the village in search of water and die on the way there,” said Bertrand Randrianarivo, who was born in the south and has worked in the area with non-governmental organisations since 2001.

“Drought comes every five or six years,” he said, saying the largely isolated region needs to build water catchment systems and improve its links with the rest of the island. Donors were ready to invest in such projects but had been discouraged by the stance of the nation’s successive leaders.

While the WFP sees the latest drought as causing acute food insecurity rather than famine, the villagers themselves say they are wasting away.

Raharisoa, a terrifyingly thin woman of 25, sits on the ground. Her two-year-old daughter died of hunger in December.

“We couldn’t look after our child,” she sighs. “Because of the famine, the adults are weak and cannot take care of the little ones.”

“In December, four children died in our village because of the famine,” said Masy, a healthcare worker in Berano.

In the neighbouring village of Imongy, the head of the area’s Health Centre, Marc Andriakotonindrina, says a dozen children died of hunger in December, according to information collected by local health-workers.

The drought destroyed all of the crops growing in southern Madagascar and efforts by farmers to replant were to no avail, simply reducing seed stocks and food supplies.

When the rain finally came in February it was far too late.

The government says 200,000 to 350,000 people are suffering from hunger in the low-income nation of 22 million people, which is ranked 155th of 187 countries on the UNDP’s Human Development Index.

More than 70% of the population lives below the poverty line.

In the last weeks, WFP rations have enabled 120,000 people to get regular meals.

And while Agriculture Minister Roland Ravatomanga has pledged to distribute food aid to drought-struck areas, this would have to come on top of the government’s efforts to find help for flood victims.

Torrential rain late last month that caused flooding and mudslides left 22 people dead and drove more than 63,000 from their homes in the capital, Antananarivo.

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