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Editorial Staff


VMK opens in Abidjan

VMK, a company founded by Vérone Mankou, the Congolese entrepreneur behind the first tablet made in Africa, has opened its first VMK store in...

Addis Ababa Light Rail begins test run

The Addis Ababa City Light Rail Transit began its test run early February ahead of its official launch in May. The test run is...

Louis Berger wins Mozambique road contract

The Sub-Saharan Regional Pipeline Corporation (SRPC) has selected international engineering and consulting firm, Louis Berger to provide $7.6 million in consultancy services for the...

Strong M&A activity expected in Kenya insurance sector

The insurance industry in Kenya is expected to see a round of consolidation this year, as operators in the fast-growing sector look to not...

Zimbabwe: power-play and opulence in an ailing economy

A one-time jewel of Africa, Zimbabwe is mired in a deepening socio-economic crisis, writes Earnest Mudzengi in Harare. A spate of company closures, infrastructural decay,...

Hundreds rescued as fire hits S Africa gold mine

Nearly 500 miner workers have been rescued in South Africa following a fire at a gold mine near Carletonville, about an hour from Johannesburg.

All 486 workers are confirmed to be safe, and have been brought to the surface at the site in Kusasalethu, according to a company statement posted on Twitter at 1917 GMT on Sunday.

"All miners are safe, no injuries reported," the statement said. "Our thanks go out to all involved, especially the mine rescue teams."

Earlier, the company said all operations at the mine have been suspended.

The company said the fire started at 9:40 local time, during "maintenance work" some 2,300 metres below surface.

South Africa's gold mines are the deepest in the world and were ranked as some of the most dangerous during the apartheid era.

Last year, at least eight people were killed following a fire and rock fall at another mine also near Johannesburg.

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Several killed in suicide bombing attack in Nigeria

At least five people have been killed and dozens wounded, when a female suicide bomber detonated herself outside a market in the northeast Nigerian town of Potiskum, witnesses said.

"The lady refused to be checked at the gate to the market and an argument ensued," witness Ibrahim Maishago told Reuters by telephone on Sunday.

"She let off the bomb, killing herself and five others, while many were injured."

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Saving gorillas and the DRC in one fell swoop

"The best solution, effective for everyone, is to recolonise these countries."

Such is the proposal of one Julien Lechenault, an ex-field operations supervisor for the British oil and gas company SOCO International in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The "countries" in question are former European colonial possessions in Africa, among them the DRC, which was brutally administered by Belgium until its independence in 1960.

According to Lechenault, the Africans are "not able to manage themselves" and are instead "like children".

These and other endearing comments are featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary film "Virunga", which details the plight of the eponymous Congolese park - the oldest national park in Africa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to the bulk of the world's remaining mountain gorillas.

Exploitation, Inc

In recent times, Virunga has had to contend with poachers, militias, and other threats to the flora and fauna of one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet.

More than 130 park rangers have been killed since 1996 - often for standing in the way of resource exploitation.

The trees of Virunga have helped fuel the charcoal industry, while its oil reserves have been coveted by the likes of SOCO, which was granted a concession for oil exploration within the park boundaries by the law-averse Congolese government. This move violated not only Congolese law but also the protections afforded by the park's World Heritage Site status.

Although the company announced in 2014 that it was ceasing operations in Virunga, the film stresses the less-than-convincing nature of the supposed withdrawal.

Plunder 'management'

Lechenault's prescription for "recolonisation", made while he was still employed by SOCO in the DRC, was secretly recorded by French journalist Melanie Gouby.

Of course, it's not clear how the Europeans are so much better equipped to "manage" African affairs - as Lechenault suggests - when it was the period of colonial rule that set the stage for mass bloodshed and other forms of disarray.

But perhaps "management" is simply a euphemism for full-scale plunder. The film establishes the continuity of resource pillaging over the years, starting with the effective privatisation of the Belgian Congo and its bloodsoaked rule by corporations under Belgium's King Leopold II.

It's common knowledge that vast resource wealth and conflict go together like bees and honey, with international and local actors jostling for profit. As the protagonists of "Virunga" see it, the park represents an opportunity to throw a wrench into the vicious arrangement - and to bring stability and economic development to the eastern DRC.

Tourism-based hope

At one point in the film, Gouby asserts that Virunga is "one of the only hopes this region has".

Meanwhile, park director Emmanuel de Merode surfaced at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month to market his vision of a tourism-based model of peace and prosperity.

In an interview with CNBC Africa, de Merode - who happens to be a Belgian prince, a detail that may cause reflexive discomfort in many viewers - argued that a proliferation of tourism industry jobs would help the region "move out of this chronic state of civil war".

The interviewer chimed in with a prediction regarding the deluge of tourists that would then accompany stability: "The dividends of peace must be huge."

Business, as usual

It might appear slightly incongruous to appeal to the World Economic Forum - a shrine to wealth and neoliberal exploitation - for assistance in resolving issues stemming in part from these very phenomena.

The notion of tourism-as-antidote-for-Africa's-woes is additionally problematic. For one thing, it's hard to pinpoint how the injection of tourism revenues into a system of institutionalised corruption like the DRC's would significantly enhance the wellbeing of the average Congolese person.

For another, a glance at the fees for visiting Virunga reveals that, at least at the moment, this is a tourist destination that is financially off-limits to most Congolese, not to mention most of the world's inhabitants.

A single-occupancy tent costs you $244 (breakfast included), while the Nyiragongo volcano trekking permit will set you back $255.

Granted, there's a special trekking permit rate of $52 for nationals of the country. But to put these quantities in perspective, consider that - according to the World Bank - the GNI per capita in the DRC in 2013 was $430.

Africa and the world

This is not to say, obviously, that Virunga shouldn't be preserved, that oil companies shouldn't be kept out, and so forth - but rather that a bit more thought should be put into the process than, for example, the formula advanced by one helpful journalist following the release of the documentary: "Book a ticket to Virunga. See some gorillas."

The logic here is that "money talks" and that the Congolese government simply needs to be persuaded, by foreign demand, of the lucrative potential of developing the tourism sector.

Given said administration's dedication to self-enrichment at the expense of the people, however, it's hard to see how this strategy will take us anywhere good.

It's nice to dream, of course, that we can save the gorillas and the DRC in one fell swoop. But gorilla redemption doesn't address fundamental problems of inequality and the forever-exploited divide between haves and have-nots - a divide that is reinforced by the high-class tourism industry and its commitment to the sacredness of privilege.

A better dream would be one in which the prevailing socioeconomic order is magically obliterated. In that case, there might really be some hope for saving Africa - and the rest of the world along with it.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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Nigeria claims recapture of Baga from Boko Haram

Nigeria's military has claimed to have retaken from Boko Haram the town of Baga, the scene of what is feared to have been the armed group's worst atrocity of the six-year conflict.

"Troops have this afternoon captured #BAGA after fierce battle with terrorists. Heavy Casualties. Mopping up ongoing. Details later," the military said on Saturday on its Twitter account @defenceinfoNG.

Defence spokesman Chris Olukolade claimed that "a large number of terrorists" drowned in Lake Chad as they tried to flee bombardment from air force jets.

Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege, who is reporting from the Nigerian capital Abuja, said the military has confirmed the report.

"This is a significant moment, a symbolic victory," she said. "But it is very difficult to know precisely how successuful the operation was."

Al Jazeera could not independently confirm the government's report.

Thousands of people had fled the town on the shores of Lake Chad in the far north of Borno state from January 3, when Boko Haram fighters attacked.

Hundreds of people, if not more, are feared to have been killed in the days that followed, while much of the town and 12 surrounding settlements were burnt to the ground.

The capture of Baga -- and a military base used by a multi-national force in nearby Doron Baga -- was seen as strategic for the armed group, giving them control of all three national borders of Borno State, including Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Earlier this week, Nigeria's military also announced the recapture of Monguno, a garrison town 65km from Baga, after ground and air strikes.

Troops from Nigeria have been joined by soldiers from Niger, Chad and Cameroon in recent weeks in a sign of the growing recognition of the regional threat posed by the group.

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