Storm fells historic 400-year-old cotton tree in Sierra Leone

Torrential rains in Sierra Leone’s capital have felled the centuries-old Cotton Tree, a national treasure whose loss has left “a gap” in people’s hearts, President Julius Maada Bio says.

“There is no stronger symbol of our national story than the Cotton Tree, a physical embodiment of where we come from as a country,” Bio told reporters from The Associated Press news agency on Thursday. “Nothing in nature lasts forever, so our challenge is to rekindle, nurture and develop that powerful African spirit it for so long represented.”

The roughly 400-year-old tree, which stood 70 metres (230 feet) tall and 15 metres (50 feet) wide, has been Sierra Leone’s national symbol for decades.

The Cotton Tree was an important landmark in the West African country, which was founded by formerly enslaved Africans returning from the United States. Locals say when the returnees arrived by boat in the late 1700s, they gathered under its branches to offer prayers in their new home, which they called Freetown.

A man walks past the fallen iconic ‘Cotton Tree’ in Freetown
The fallen tree in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown [Saidu Bah/AFP]

The tree went on to appear on the country’s banknotes and be celebrated in children’s nursery rhymes. It was also visited by Queen Elizabeth II to mark Sierra Leone’s independence from British colonial rule in 1961.

“It was regarded as a symbol of liberty and freedom by early settlers,” the president wrote on Twitter.

“We have to see what we are going to do to make sure that we keep the history of this tree here,” Bio told the Reuters news agency where it once stood. “I want to have a piece of this history wherever I find myself – at the state house, the museum or city hall.”

While the tree had withstood damage throughout the years, including a lightning strike that has left it scorched, Wednesday’s storm left nothing of the tree but a stump.

Sierra Leone is among the countries most impacted by climate change. In 2017, more than 1,000 people were killed by a landslide due to heavy rains.
An iconic giant cotton tree falls after a heavy rainstorm in Freetown, Sierra Leone May 24, 2023 [Reuters]
The famed tree after the rainstorm [Reuters]
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AFRICA: Kenya to spend $37m on deployment of soldiers to DR Congo

Kenya’s Parliament has approved the deployment of nearly 1,000 soldiers for a new regional force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) amid questions about the $37m cost for the first six months of the mission.

Local newspapers reported that the approval, which was given on Wednesday, came two days after Defence Cabinet Secretary Aden Duale met the parliamentary defence committee

The committee report says the money will be spent on equipment, allowances, and operations for the more than 900 soldiers joining the East African Community Regional Force that will support Congolese forces against armed groups.

Opposition lawmakers questioned why Kenya is spending so much money on the regional mission while the country faces its own security issues.

Kenya also faces rising inflation and high public debt that President William Ruto inherited from his successor Uhuru Kenyatta.

Last week, Ruto called the mission “necessary and urgent” for regional security. Violence by armed groups in the eastern part has led to a diplomatic crisis between DRC and neighbouring Rwanda, which accuse each other of backing certain groups

The Kenyan forces will be based in Goma, the largest city in the eastern DRC. The regional force, agreed upon by heads of state in June and led by a Kenyan commander, also has two battalions from Uganda, two from Burundi, and one from South Sudan.

There is a possibility that international financing may be secured for the mission, the committee report said.

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DRC Expels Rwanda Ambassador as M23 Rebels Capture Strategic Town

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has given Rwandan ambassador Vincent Karenga 48-hours to leave the country in retaliation for Rwanda’s alleged support of the M23 rebels in the Congo’s eastern provinces.

“This is, in part, due to the persistence of (Karenga’s) country to attack the DRC and to support the terrorist movements of the M23,” government spokesman Patrick Muyaya said in a televised statement Saturday evening.

The rebel group, which Congo authorities accuse Rwanda of backing but Rwanda denies, seized the town of Kiwanja in eastern Congo Saturday, effectively cutting North Kivu’s capital Goma off from the upper half of the province.

Three Kiwanja residents told Reuters that droves of fighters entered the town without significant resistance after a short spat of gunfire Saturday morning.

A U.N. intervention brigade, which has been supporting government forces, said in a statement that four peacekeepers were wounded in the fighting. The statement did not comment on the fate of the town.

“Attacks against U.N. peacekeepers may constitute war crimes,” it said. “(The mission) calls on this rebel group to immediately cease all belligerence and warns that it stands ready to respond vigorously in the event of further aggression.”

The Congolese army contingent protecting the town had departed the previous day, residents said. The army has conducted strategic retreats from populated areas to move fighting away from towns and protect civilians.

Kivu Security Tracker, which maps unrest in eastern Congo, said the army retreated Saturday from positions at Rumangabo, their largest camp in the area, and that M23 had surrounded the local U.N. peacekeeper camp and the Virunga National Park.

Saidi Balikwisha Emil, a member of North Kivu’s provincial parliament, said in a WhatsApp message: “The fall of Kiwanja and elsewhere is a national disgrace, especially for those of us who spend entire days on social networks casting aspersions on our army.”

“Kiwanja (is) an important entity that opens the direct way to Goma,” he added.

Neither General Sylvain Ekenge, the army’s national spokesman, nor Colonel Ndjike Kaiko, the army’s spokesman for North Kivu, immediately responded to calls and messages requesting comment.

Unrest in North Kivu has broken months of relative calm in eastern Congo after the resumption of clashes between the army and the M23 militants.

Army forces have clashed with rebel fighters several times since fighting resumed Oct. 20, killing at least four civilians and forcing more than 23,000 people to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. Both groups have accused the other of initiating the violence.

When it formed in 2012, M23 was the newest in a series of ethnic Tutsi-led insurgencies to rise against Congolese forces.

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KENYA: IEBC upgrades technology to avoid voter fraud

Kenyans head to the polls Tuesday, and the country will rely heavily on technology to verify voter identity and transmit presidential vote results. The electoral body is at the center of the public’s attention as it tries to clean its image after the Supreme Court’s nullification of the 2017 presidential election due to irregularities.

Kenya’s electoral commission said it’s set for the general election, with election materials arriving at more than 46,000 polling stations across the country.

Boya Molu, one of the commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), said his team is ready to conduct the election.

“All of our people have been trained. They are properly informed from technology to identification of voters through technology to election laws. … Its systems are set. We are just ready to take off on Tuesday at 6 a.m.,” he said.

National Youth Service (NYS) personnel take an oath as they gather before escorting the electoral material at the county hall in Eldort on Aug. 8, 2022, ahead of Kenya's general election.
National Youth Service (NYS) personnel take an oath as they gather before escorting the electoral material at the county hall in Eldort on Aug. 8, 2022, ahead of Kenya’s general election.
On Sunday, the commission fired four election officers for allegedly meeting a candidate to help rig the vote in western Kenya.

The electoral body was heavily criticized for mismanaging the 2017 presidential vote. Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified that election, saying the electoral process and the constitution were not followed in conducting the poll.

Joy Mdivo, a lawyer and political commentator based in Nairobi, said the biometric technology kits the electoral agency relied on in 2017 failed from start to finish.

“The last election, there was a massive failure of many of the kits, many of them did not bring up the voters’ details on time, or when the time came to transmit results, many of them failed,” she said. “They were not able to get the network to send in the results.”

Mdivo attended two IEBC assimilation exercises in June and July and explained how the integrated election management system differs from the 2017 system.

“The voter details now don’t just take the thumbprints,” she said. “It takes all 10 fingers so your fingerprints capture all of them and it takes facial recognition pictures of you, as well. So those who do not have hands or fingers [and] are not able to pull up their biometrics can be identified by inserting their ID numbers and facial. The picture captured during the registration will be brought up, so you are able to verify that this is the voter … but over and above that, every … kit now is fitted with a satellite modem such that if our regular providers fail, they can use satellite to transmit.”

The electoral commission says the results announced at polling stations will be final.

A police officer tries to protect a presidential ballot box near the tallying center in Kilgoris, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2022.
A police officer tries to protect a presidential ballot box near the tallying center in Kilgoris, Kenya, Aug. 8, 2022.
The head of the commission will have to go through all the results before announcing the final presidential results.

Martin Andati, a political analyst, anticipates fewer problems since President Uhuru Kenyatta is not competing in the election. There’s less chance of interference since the incumbent is not running.

“If you have a president who is a candidate, that compromises the issues of security. Right now, you have a president who is not interested. He is not so non-partisan but he is not a player directly. So that makes a whole difference in terms of guaranteeing security,” Andati said.

In 2017, the Supreme Court found no evidence that the president interfered with the election.

In this election, the two main challengers are Raila Odinga, 77, who leads according to recent polls, and 55-year-old William Ruto. Ruto is running for the first time, and Odinga is making his fifth attempt.

Kenyatta supports Odinga for the presidency but told Kenyans he will hand power to whomever they elect.

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Ugandan Woman Susan Ananda behind TV for the Deaf

When Susan Mujawa Ananda heard a deaf man had been shot and wounded during the global health crisis, she decided to act.

His family says he didn’t know there was a curfew.

Ananda’s solution to bridging the information gap was to set up an online television channel for deaf people.

“The security guys called upon him to explain why he was moving beyond curfew hours and unfortunately because he did not hear, he kept on moving.”

Late last year Ananda, who is a sign language interpreter, teamed up wither her friend Simon Eroku, who is deaf.

After winning a grant, they founded Signs TV.

In a typical broadcast, the news is read by two deaf anchors and simultaneously signed by an interpreter, going slowly to match the anchor’s pace.

The screen also carries subtitles.

Professional sign Language interpreter Jonan Opori, Productions Lead at Signs TV Uganda Susan Mujaawa and Signs TV Uganda Team Leader Simon Eroku are filmed inside their studio in Kabalagala suburb of Kampala, Uganda July 18, 2022.
Professional sign Language interpreter Jonan Opori, Productions Lead at Signs TV Uganda Susan Mujaawa, and Signs TV Uganda Team Leader Simon Eroku are filmed inside their studio in the Kabalagala suburb of Kampala, Uganda July 18, 2022.
Eroku said the future of communication must be inclusive.

“This implies that we have to ensure that everyone in the community should be able to understand the message you’re passing on and we believe that if the information is inclusive for everyone even us as deaf people will be able to benefit from it.”

Signs TV made its first broadcast in April and employs eight staff including four deaf anchors. For now, it produces only one weekly news roundup on Saturdays due to financial, staffing, and technical constraints.

Up to about 800 viewers have watched individual bulletins so far and the numbers are growing. Ananda says Signs TV has ambitions to expand including offering sports and talk shows.

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AFRICA: DR Congo declares end to Ebola outbreak

The Democratic Republic of Congo has declared the end of its 14th Ebola outbreak after less than three months, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday.

There were four confirmed cases and one probable case, all of whom died, the WHO said in a statement. The outbreak was the third in Congo’s northwest Equateur province.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said: “Thanks to the robust response by the national authorities, this outbreak has been brought to an end swiftly with limited transmission of the virus.”

“Crucial lessons have been learned from past outbreaks and they have been applied to devise and deploy an ever more effective Ebola response,” she said.

Vaccination in particular has played a key role in containing recent outbreaks and was launched just four days after the latest outbreak was declared.

Ebola is endemic to Congo, where it was discovered near the Ebola river in 1976.

The virus causes hemorrhagic fever and is spread through contact with body fluids from an infected person.

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EVENT: Women CEOs Confirmed to Explore What it Takes for Women to Make it to the top of Corporate Africa

On October 13, 2021, a seismic event will take place in Africa: we will begin the journey of supporting every African woman to take on a new dream – climbing the corporate ladder to the number one spot.  Why is it that most discussions of African women in business are focused on small and medium-sized businesses?  We want to see African women dream big – why not earn the top spot in a large, complex organization?

In addition to revealing the names of the 50 women on the Definitive List of Women CEOs, we will feature two big discussions:

Beating the Odds will feature Harvard Business School’s Tony Mayo’s research on black women graduates of Harvard Business School who made it to the top spot. He will share what a study of these successful women tells us. Then, a panel of Women CEOs from the Definitive List of Women CEOs will react to Professor Mayo’s research by sharing their own journeys to the top of Corporate Africa, and commenting on what is similar to Corporate America, and what it takes for women to get to the top in Corporate Africa.  Finally, we will explore the surprising role that stock exchanges are playing worldwide in advocating for women in big business.

Confirmed speakers include:

Finally, we will explore the surprising role that stock exchanges are playing worldwide in advocating for women in big business

Presentation: Beating the Odds

  • Harvard Business School Professor – Tony Mayo


Panel Discussion: What does it take for women to make it to the Top of Corporate Africa?

  • Google West Africa Director – Juliet Ehimuan
  • Standard Bank Namibia CEO – Mercia Geises
  • East Africa Breweries Group Managing Director – Jane Karuku
  • BP Southern Africa CEO – Taelo Mojapelo
  • Old Mutual Managing Director Corporate – Prabashini Moodley
  • Moderated by: Teresa Clarke, Chair & Executive Editor,

Panel Discussion: The surprising role that stock exchanges are playing as advocates for women’s leadership – leading the charge in gender lens investing

  • Johannesburg Stock Exchange Chairman – Nonkululeko Nyembezi
  • Nigerian Stock Exchange CEO – Temi Popoola, CFA
  • McKinsey Nigeria Partner – Mayowa Kuyoro
  • Women Corporate Directors (USA) CEO – Susan Keating
  • Moderated by: Lerato Mbhele, BBC journalist and broadcast host of African Business Report

Additional information and free registration are available here (

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DRC: Over 1,200 civilians killed in two provinces this year- UN report

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in the restive DR Congo provinces of Ituri and North Kivu so far this year and millions of people now need humanitarian aid in the eastern region, the UN refugee agency said Friday.

Democratic Republic of Congo authorities declared a state of siege in May, an exceptional measure aimed at ending the reign of terror by armed groups operating in the region, most notably the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group linked to the so-called Islamic State.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners, recorded “more than 1,200 civilian deaths and 1,100 rapes this year” in the two most affected provinces of North Kivu and Ituri, UN refugee agency spokesman Boris Cheshirkov told reporters in Geneva

Last weekend rebels shot or hacked to death at least 30 people in a new massacre in Ituri, UN sources said Monday.

Members of civil society blamed the killings on the ADF, considered the deadliest of scores of armed militias that roam the mineral-rich eastern DR Congo.

The UNHCR has “recorded 25,000 human rights abuses this year. In total, more than a million Congolese have been internally displaced in the east of the country in 2021,” Cheshirkov said Friday.

The UN agency also highlighted the need for a steep increase in humanitarian funding for the area.

“Less than four months from the end of the year, we have received just 51 per cent of the US$205 million required in 2021 for the operation in DRC.”

According to the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), a respected US-based monitor of violence in the region, the ADF has killed 642 people in Ituri and North Kivu since January.

Congolese Nobel laureate Denis Mukwege on Friday called for an international criminal court for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose eastern provinces have been wracked by armed groups for a quarter of a century.

In a statement issued in the runup to the annual UN General Assembly in New York, Mukwege said impunity for brutal crimes was entrenched and local people lived “in fear and horror.”

Despite the regional state of siege imposed in May, “the security situation in these provinces does not seem to be improving,” said Mukwege, a gynecologist based in the eastern DRC.

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Nigeria flags off world breastfeeding week, calls for promotion of exclusive breastfeeding in the country

As the World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) celebration kicks off, the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire has urged Nigerians to become advocates of exclusive breastfeeding and support mothers to practice optimal breastfeeding for the good of the great Nation.

The Minister, represented by Dr Salma Anas Kolo at the flag-off ceremony in Abuja on 02 August 2021  said that this year’s  edition of WBW with the global theme Protect Breastfeeding: a Shared Responsibility, is an opportunity for, “all political leaders, policymakers, legislators, women, men, religious leaders, families, communities, workplaces, the private sector, individuals and indeed every Nigerian to take responsibility and join hands to raise awareness on the huge benefits of breastfeeding.”

The minister’s speech reiterated Nigeria’s commitment towards supporting exclusive breastfeeding in the country, noting that, “the Federal Ministry of Health remains committed to support, protect and promote breastfeeding as a veritable means towards the eradication of childhood malnutrition in all its forms.

The Ministry seizes this opportunity to recommend once again, early initiation of breastfeeding within the first one hour of birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding for up to two years of age or beyond while ensuring the implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes as globally recommended.”
Globally, the rate of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under six months of age is 40%. In Africa, nearly 70% of countries have high rates of continued breastfeeding at one year, compared to 28.7% in Nigeria.

The Federal Ministry of Health remains committed to support, protect and promote breastfeeding as a veritable means towards eradication of childhood malnutrition in all its forms

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every 01 to 07 of August to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. The history of this week-long commemoration dates to the 1990’s, when the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) created the Innocenti Declaration to promote and support breastfeeding.

Also, at the commemorative event, the WHO Country Representative Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, who was represented by Dr Joy Ufere, Technical officer Child and Adolescent age mentioned that,

“This year’s World Breastfeeding Week is a time to revisit the commitments to prioritizing breastfeeding-friendly environments for mothers and babies.

Therefore, we urge the government to increase funding to reach the 2025 World Health Assembly target of raising the rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months to at least 50 percent.”

Highlights of the event were the recognition and encouragement for more public and private organizations to promote exclusive breastfeeding. In this regard,  Niger Delta Power Holding Company, the Nigeria Communications Commission, General Hospital Asokoro, Federal Ministry of Finance, and Federal Capital Administration were duly acknowledged for establishing facilities that promote exclusive breastfeeding in their facilities.

Other partners present affirmed the right of every child to be breastfed and reiterated that fact that it. It is not just the responsibility of the mother but rather a shared responsibility. In separate speeches, partners called for extensive support of the zero-water campaign and added that while tradition may argue that a child needs water, all the quantity needed is contained in the mother’s breast milk.


The flag-off also provided the opportunity to launch the National Guidelines on baby-friendly initiatives in Nigeria developed by the Federal Government of Nigeria in collaboration with relevant Multi-stakeholders promoting child survival.

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