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.
An armed group in South Sudan has abducted 89 boys in a northern state, the UN children's agency has said.
The boys, some as young as 13, were abducted near Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state, according to a UNICEF statement on Saturday.
The children were abducted while doing their exams in the town of Wau Shilluk, said the statement, citing a UNICEF education team.
Armed men surrounded the community and searched house by house, forcibly taking boys older than 12, said witnesses, according to the UNICEF statement.
"The recruitment and use of children by armed forces destroys families and communities. Children are exposed to incomprehensible levels of violence, they lose their families and their chance to go to school," said Jonathan Veitch, the UNICEF representative in South Sudan.
It is not clear which group carried out the abductions. Watchdog groups have persistently accused South Sudan's warring factions of actively recruiting and using child soldiers.
South Sudan's government denied recent allegations by Human Rights Watch that its military is targeting children for enlistment.
This year, 2015, is a strategic make or break year for Africa's development. With the launching of the post-2015 development agenda, the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be pivotal towards ensuring socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth in Africa.
The common African position towards the post-2015 development agenda and the AU agenda 2063 represents Africa's own blueprint towards poverty eradication and human development. The alignment of these frameworks to the global developmental priorities as spelled out in the SDGs constitute a defining moment that Africa should collectively capitalise on and craft strategies to ensure socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic development.
Capturing this defining moment means Africa must mobilise adequate financing for development projects that will operationalise the development strategies. The funding needed is however colossal.
Africa development strategies
For instance, in climate adaptation, the IPCC AR5 records that Africa is expected to invest in excess of $70bn to $100bn annually until 2050 in order to deal with hazards such as rising sea levels, storms, droughts, and other climate change effects. Under a below 2 degrees celcius warming scenario, the Africa gap report notes that Africa is still confronted with considerable impacts with long term adaptation costs estimated at around $35bn annually by 2050 and $200bn annually by the 2070s.
The highest adaptation costs are projected to be needed in the water supply, coastal zone protection, infrastructure, and agriculture sectors.
On infrastructure, the Africa Competitive report observes that Africa needs $93bn annually until 2020 for infrastructure development.
Regardless of this great need, Africa can no longer rely on external public financing.
Official Development Assistance to Africa is declining and unreliable. A 2005 pledge by the G-8 to increase aid by $50bn by 2010 (half of which was destined for Africa) did not materialise. Instead, aid increased by $30bn and only $11bn went to Africa.
On climate change funding, UN's green climate fund capitalisation only reached $10bn at COP20. On actual disbursement, the gap report observes that funding for the years 2010 and 2011 amounted to $743m and $454m respectively.
It is projected that to meet the adaptation costs for Africa by the 2020s, funds disbursed annually would need to grow at an average rate of 10 percent to 20 percent annually from 2011 going into 2020, and so far this has not been achieved.
Africa losing billions
All this external financing however pales in magnitude when contrasted with annual illicit financial flows (IFFs) from Africa.
The 2015 joint AU/ECA high level panel report on IFFs in addition to the 2014 Africa progress report and the New African magazine, demonstrate how much Africa is losing in IFFs. The progress report observes that that Africa loses in excess of $50bn annually from IFFs, representing 5.7 percent of the region's GDP and exceeding the region's spending on health.
The report observes that Africa loses $50-60bn annually, and cumulatively, over the last 50 years, Africa has lost amounts estimated to exceed $1 trillion; a sum roughly equivalent to all of the official development assistance received by the continent during the same timeframe. This is an amount that could have covered Africa's external debt four times.
These losses lay the case by the joint AU/EAC high level panel, that by stemming these IFFs, Africa can recoup enough resources to leverage external sources of funds and finance its development.
Africa revenue cash cow?
The high level panel goes further to make recommendations on how IFFs can be stemmed by taking targeted actions on the main contributors - the commercial sector (the largest contributor at 60 percent through profit shifts and tax evasion by corporates), organised crime and public sector activities, with corruption playing a key role in facilitating these outflows.
Building appropriate capacity, improving accountability and strengthening the independent institutions and agencies of government responsible for preventing IFFs in order to curtail IFFs occurring specifically through trade mis-pricing, transfer pricing, base erosion and profit shifting and lack of transparency on ownership and control of companies, partnerships, trusts and other legal entities that can hold assets and open bank accounts.
The setting of specialised financial intelligence units who should share pertinent information with counterparts across the continent is further recommended to counter cross-border criminal activity.
As the world looks into implementing the post-2015 SDG agenda as well as Africa implementing its agenda 2063, the potential source of financing these grandeur agendas could come from curbing IFFs.
These resources as articulated in the 2015 high level panel report on IFFs, can help leapfrog Africa's development.
Implementing the recommendations that comes with the report provides a good starting point for internal revenue generation for inclusive growth and development for all.
Dr Richard Munang is the United Nations Environment Programme Africa Regional Climate Change programme coordinator.
Mr Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.
Boko Haram fighters have killed 21 people in attacks near the northern village of Chibok, a military source said, as the armed group suffers major setbacks from a growing regional offensive.
The rebels were fleeing a land and air offensive to clear them out of the Sambisa forest when they raided the villages of Gatamarwa, Makalama and Layhawul and opened fire on residents on Friday, the source said.
Boko Haram fighters in many parts of Nigeria and the region are on the run, after being subjected to a major military offensive on all sides by Nigeria and its neighbours Chad, Cameroon and Niger.
Nigerian warplanes bombarded Boko Haram's training camps and caches of their weapons and vehicles in Sambisa on Thursday.
But when the armed group feels threatened, the civilian population often becomes a target. The security source said the fighters fleeing the Sambisa operation had taken revenge on the civilian population.
"They surrounded the market and started shooting," said Chibok resident and farmer Maina Chibok, who visited the Gatamarwa area afterwards. "There was pandemonium everywhere and more than 10 people were killed."
For most of the past year, Boko Haram has been gaining strength, seizing territory the size of Belgium and kidnapping hundreds of people, mostly women and children.
But victories against them have gathered pace in the past three weeks.
Nigeria's neighbours, where Boko Haram used to flee, are pursuing a strategy of pushing them back into Nigeria.
Colonel Moussa Barmou of Niger, the coordinator of the joint Niger-Chad mission, told the state-owned Le Sahel newspaper that operations had "dismantled all the supply and recruitment networks of the terrorist group" in Niger, the most obvious path of retreat for Boko Haram into the Sahara if Cameroon and Chad keep up the pressure.
"There remains much to do ... but slowly, we are getting there," he said. "There are still some pockets to flush out.".
The attacks triggered global outrage and President Goodluck Jonathan, who faces an election on March 28, was pilloried for his perceived slow response to the crisis.
The crisis has also spawned more than a million internal and external refugees, who have trekked through deserts, crossed rivers and hidden in forests to escape to the relative safety of ever swelling refugee camps.
The head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response has hailed Liberia's success in the fight against the deadly virus, but warned against complacency now that the number of cases had dropped.
Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, speaking during a visit to Liberia, described the level of awareness as "high", but said he was concerned about the risk of "fatigue".
"We call it the bumpy road to zero,'' he said, warning "the biggest enemy is complacency".
Ebola has killed more than 3,800 people in Liberia and nearly 9,200 across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone since the first Ebola deaths in rural Guinea in December 2013.
All three countries have weak health systems that were ill-prepared for such an epidemic.
Significant gains have been made against Ebola, and now only a small number of cases remain in Liberia.
Meanwhile, students returned to schools on Monday after a six-month closure, though health officials warned that a single case could trigger a whole new cluster of infections.
Last week, the United States said it was also preparing to withdraw by the end of April nearly all of its 2,800 troops fighting the outbreak in West Africa.
In Sierra Leone, the Anti-Corruption Commission has released a list of people who must report to its offices as it investigates the spending of money meant to help fight Ebola.
A report by Sierra Leone's Auditor General that emerged two weeks ago found that nearly one-third of the money received to fight Ebola, about $5.75m, was spent without saving the necessary receipts and invoices.
The list released on Tuesday included district medical doctors, the coordinator of the National Ebola Response Centre, a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, other government officials, private contractors and business people.
More than 3,300 people have died from Ebola with nearly 11,000 cases over the past year in Sierra Leone, where transmission remains the highest.
The post UN hails progress on Ebola but warns against fatigue appeared first on African Media Agency.
Nigeria's air force has bombed Boko Haram strongholds in northeast Borno state, killing "a large number of terrorists", as a four-nation offensive against the group presses on, a military statement said.
The targets of the bombardment on Thursday included the town of Gwoza, where Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau first proclaimed the existence of a caliphate inside in Nigeria in August, and the notorious Sambisa Forest area, where the rebels have had camps for years.
"The air strikes which today targeted... Sambisa forests and parts of Gwoza have been highly successful," defence spokesman Chris Olukolade said in a statement.
"The death of a large number of terrorists has been recorded." Nigerian military claims of successes against Boko Haram have in the past not been consistent with witness accounts and it was not immediately possible
to verify the details of the latest operation.
The Sambisa Forest is believed to be the area where more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April were taken before being divided into groups and moved.
Nigeria and its neighbours Cameroon, Chad and Niger this month launched an unprecedented joint campaign to crush the uprising, claiming major successes. But the regional militaries have offered different accounts of operations so far.
Separately on Wednesday, Nigerian military sources claimed to have killed more than 300 Boko Haram fighters during an operation to recapture 11 towns and villages since the beginning of the week, the Reuters news agency reported.
While some of Africa's finest football teams were battling it out at the Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, Zimbabwe were not only watching from a distance, they were in a turmoil.
Fifa issued warning to ban the country from international football if Zimbabwe's government sacked the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) President Cuthbert Dube along with his entire board for gross incompetence among other charges of maladministration.
Zimbabwe has failed to qualify for the last five editions of the Africa Cup of Nations.
The sport in the country is in a deplorable state, the federation's debts have ballooned to over $6m, and the national team – ranked 119th in the world – has become a punching bag of the continent.
Blame has particularly been laid squarely on Dube and the federation's chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze. At the height of frustration, Deputy Sports Minister Tabeth Kanengoni-Malinga revealed in Parliament earlier this year that the government was ‘fed up' with Dube and Mashingaidze and was ready to wield the axe.
Zimbabwe were booted out of the qualification campaign for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in the preliminary round by Tanzania, the result viewed as an all-time low for the game in the country.
Zifa reacted by disbanding the entire national team, replacing it with an under-23 side, a move that was widely seen in the country as a smokescreen to hide the association's failures.
Paul Gundani is one of Zimbabwe's most experienced former players, earning over 70 caps for the national side - the Warriors - in the 90s. He is now an outspoken secretary-general of the Footballers Union of Zimbabwe (FUZ), which continues to lobby for better salary and welfare packages for the country's impoverished players.
“When things are not well as they are, the leadership has to take a hard look at itself and accept that it has shortcomings,” Gundani told Al Jazeera.
“Even though they've been elected, there comes a time when resigning is the right thing to do. We don't need this standoff with Fifa. It will have a lasting damage on the game. We don't need the government to push people out. People must do the honourable thing.”
Under-fire Zifa Chief Executive Jonathan Mashingaidze has often been forced to shift blame for the national team's fall and the state of the game in the country.
In the face of crippling economic hardships in the country, Zimbabwean football does not enjoy government funding as in the case with most countries on the continent, and Mashingaidze points that out to Al Jazeera as ‘the missing link'.
“As long as the issue of funding is not addressed, it will be difficult for football glory to come to this nation,” Mashingaidze said. “Failure or success of an administration can only be measured in the context of a stable economic environment.
“The environment is severe. But despite the problems, we should desist from blame games. Stakeholders have to be united and avoid finger-pointing and name calling.”
Zimbabwean football made international headlines four years ago when the current board unearthed a match-fixing scam. In there, the national side was paid by an illegal Asian betting syndicate to lose several invitational matches between 2007 and 2009 in Southeast Asia by predetermined scores.
Dube reacted by sacking then-CEO Henrietta Rushwaya, who was said to be the mastermind behind the scam, commonly known in the country as ‘Asiagate'. Rushwaya, several other officials and players were handed life and lengthy bans.
“The game of football is deeply veiled in emotions and expectations,” Mashingaidze added. “The public should understand that the game is emerging from a dark era of turf wars, general corruption and ghastly match-fixing scandals.”
The impact of Asiagate will be felt for a number of years, according to Mashingaidze who is being persecuted for exposing the Asiagate mafia.
“They have ganged up to destroy me because we have destroyed the loot on which they had feasted for many years.”
The Deputy Sherriff has just been to the FA president's house in a leafy Harare suburb in an attempt to seize property over a payment dispute with a local hotel Zifa owes $280 000. Following a lengthy discussion, a payment plan was agreed upon.
Former employees who have won their legal disputes with Zifa invaded the FA's headquarters in Harare in the past and attached office equipment for auction to recover their dues. The latest is ex-media officer Nicky Dhamini-Moyo who was awarded $80,000 back pay by the court for unlawful dismissal.
“The rise in debts is a result of national team commitments,” Mashingaidze explained.
“National teams are expensive to manage. When we took over in 2010, debts started trickling in and some of the debts were inflated. There was no handover-takeover. However, we are glad to say that the debt is going down, we are now sitting on $4-5m.”
Football is Zimbabwe's national sport but cricket has quite a huge following as well.
And with the cricket World Cup taking place right now, the nation will turn to the cricketers for solace.