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July 10, 2017 (GIN) – A fire of unknown origins raced through the largest outdoor market in Zambia, destroying the livelihood of its many vendors.
Goods worth millions of kwacha – the Zambian currency – have gone up in flames. 
Images on social media show how the fire which began July 4 and was barely extinguished by July 7 destroyed the Lusaka market.
The market was built a decade ago with a designated police post as well as day and night guards. It is also said to be a facility that prohibits cooking and fire inside the market. 

Reacting to the catastrophe, Zambian President Edgar Lungu blamed arsonists and economic saboteurs who will be found out, he warned, wherever they are hiding.
But the President’s words were cold comfort for many Zambians who fear the country is sliding into dictatorship. They cite a series of incidents including the jailing of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, the suspension of 48 members of parliament for boycotting a speech by Mr. Lungu, and the imposition of a state of emergency over the apparent arson attack.

A Zambian professor, writing in the online UKZambian, wondered if 53 years of peace since independence in 1964 could be coming to an end. “Creating a nation of peace and tranquility is not easy,” noted Mwizenge S. Tempo in the news website.
“When I saw the images of the massive fire in which 1,901 shops were destroyed, I was alarmed,” he wrote, adding that since August 2016 there have been over 10 such incidents with fires gutting public building and vandalism. “I am both stunned and fearful about my home and country of Zambia. Could this be the end of peace in Zambia after 53 years?”

In BusinessLive of Zambia, writer Greg Mills condemned the arrest and jailing of Mr. Hichilema on treason charges. Critics of President Lungu are "systematically being silenced", he charged. This “stop-at-nothing government” has closed the major opposition paper, The Post, shut down opposition rallies and constricted access to the state broadcaster, he declared.
Mills heads the Brenthurst Foundation, and is the co-author of ‘Making Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success’.


July 10, 2017 (GIN) – The “global gag rule” which denies women contraception and family planning counseling may have met its match in Nigeria’s northern region where women are proactively avoiding unwanted pregnancies with contraceptive pills dispensed by a major charity.
Women in the northern Nigerian state of Borno, displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency, have embraced the birth control pill campaign launched by the International Rescue Committee in the Bakassi camp.

Bakassi hosts over 21,000 people displaced from their homes by ongoing fighting between government forces and insurgents from Boko Haram.The global gag rule bans funding for any international organization that offers or advises on abortion-related services in cases other than rape, incest or life endangerment. Originally established by Ronald Reagan in 1984, it has been rescinded by every Democratic president and reinstated by every Republican president.

This year President Trump expanded the gag rule to include all global health services that receive funding from the U.S., including programs that address HIV and infectious diseases such as Zika, malaria and Ebola. Rachel Sunday Okoye, one of the midwives at the Bakassi camp, said that women “need family planning to plan their lives, organize and know what steps to take”.

More than 1,000 women have enrolled for the contraceptive program since January, according to the IRC. The beneficiaries have the choice between an oral contraceptive, an implant under the skin or a hormonal injection, the effect of which lasts up to three months. Hauwa Shekarau, the Nigerian director of the women’s health organization IPAS, warned that without family planning services, women may turn to unsafe abortions - a major contributor to the high maternal mortality rate in Nigeria. 

“The Trump administration is playing politics with the lives of women in Africa,” Shekarau said. “The global gag rule means that more women in sub-Saharan Africa may die from unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortion.” Other countries with IRC Family Planning programs include Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Myanmar and Pakistan. For more information, visit www.rescue.org


July 10, 2017 (GIN) – Year after year, reports tell of a wide gap between the wages earned by men and those earned by women. In fact, it could take 118 years for men and women to earn equal pay for the same amount of work in Kenya, according to one study.

While Kenya’s Constitution states that every worker has the right to fair pay, the Global Gender Report produced by US Aid for International Development (USAID) shows the country lags behind, ranking 63 out of 144 states. One group has decided to go to the mat to raise their miserly rates of pay. That group is the 25,000 member Kenya National Union of Nurses. They’ve been on strike for almost two months and their work at government hospitals has ground to a halt.

The group’s acting secretary-general Maurice Opetu says that the striking medical workers will only resume work after the collective bargaining agreement – negotiated and agreed to in March - is signed and deposited in court. The agreement provided for monthly allowances totaling Sh25,400 ($244) each. The sum includes Sh15,400 ($148) health risk allowance, Sh5,000 ($48) extraneous allowance, and Sh5,000 ($48) responsibility allowance. A Sh50,000 ($481) uniform allowance would be paid once annually.

But the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, which must approve the salary demands, has now rejected the agreement and local governors say they will not approve any pay increase due to the large sum of money involved. Council of Governors health committee chair Jack Ranguma says the county bosses are already feeling the pinch of the raises approved to end a 100-day-long doctors’ strike in March 2017.

Wages sought by the nurses are far too much, said the Governor of Kisumu. “We have other bills to take care of, not nurses and doctors alone.” Since the introduction of free maternity services in public hospitals in June 2013, nurses in the maternity ward who attended 350 mothers a month, now serve 470. According to the Kenya Healthcare Workforce Report, the current ratio of practicing nurses to the population is 8.3 per 10,000, compared with the World Health Organization recommendation of 25 nurses per 10,000.


July 10, 2017 (GIN) – Two women whose widely divergent paths converged in Windsor Castle when a finely embroidered quilt passed from one woman to the other are recalled in a new documentary being aired on BBC radio this week. One woman was Great Britain’s Queen Victoria. The other was Martha Ann Erskine Ricks, born in slavery in America and raised in Liberia where her quilt-making skill would grow and flourish. 

The satin quilt, 9 feet square, carried by Martha Ricks, was embroidered with a coffee tree in full bloom, complete with red and green berries. “She was a little woman but she had power,” said Evangeline B. Morris Dennis, surviving matriarch of the family. “In our family, everyone recalled Aunt Martha.” Born into slavery in 1817 in Tennessee, Martha’s father George Erskine bought the family's freedom and in 1830 when Martha was 13, the family of nine moved to Liberia, West Africa.

Tragically, within a year, all but Martha and two brothers had died from fever. Martha settled on a farm in Clay Ashland, which is today a quiet village located on the lush green banks of the St Paul River, where she became a farmer, growing her own vegetables and crops like ginger, cocoa and coffee.

She also won prizes at national fairs for her silk stockings. And she was skilled in the art of quilting - a tradition brought over from the American south by settlers. The documentary features accounts of Aunt Martha’s determination and of the letters she wrote describing life in Liberia, which are now kept in the Library of Congress.

Also featured are contemporary quilters in Liberia who are recreating the quilt and talk of Martha Ricks with great affection. Retiring President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf revived the tradition of giving quilts as diplomatic gifts. Last month, President Sirleaf presented a handmade Liberian quilt to U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson of the 30th Congressional District of Texas. The quilt was presented during a reception held in President Sirleaf’s honor by the US Congresswoman, who earlier that evening presented the Liberian President with the Seal of Congressional Records. 

"Aunt Martha really did inspire the women of Liberia to do quilting," Evangeline Morris Dennis says of her ancestor. Martha Ricks was the great-aunt of Mrs Dennis' mother. The podcast can be heard on the BBC World Service Radio. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0588yjg