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How a BBC show helped shape Africa



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Elizabeth Ohene (C) and Robin White (R) grilled UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1989 about her opposition to sanctions in South Africa

As BBC Focus on Africa marks its 60th anniversary, one of its former deputy editors, Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene, looks back at her time with the radio programme, how its journalism changed and how it helped shape the continent.

I joined Focus on Africa in September 1986. I left the programme in July 2000.

The team I joined was a small group, dominated totally by Robin White, the editor, and the voice of the programme, Chris Bickerton.

My introduction on air was a shock to the system; an obviously Ghanaian-accented English was not exactly what people were used to on Focus on Africa – not the BBC hierarchy and certainly not the listeners.

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Media captionFocus of Africa: A tale of Africa’s 60-year history

Until then, the BBC voices sounded like the BBC, clipped, upper Middle-Class, posh, public-school educated English and the only African voices were of those involved in the stories who happened to be interviewed.

There were protests about my voice and accent, but everybody kept their nerve and after a while, people with even stronger African accents were allowed on the programme.

Only four countries could receive calls

Our famous reporters around the continent, on whom Focus built such a strong reputation, were not broadcasting “in voice” in those days.

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Reports from Sola Odunfa (L) in Lagos were often read by presenters like Julian Marshall (R)

Their reports came in written form by telex and were edited and read in the studio by Focus staff.

Until the mid-1990s when the telephone systems became much improved, any listener of Focus on Africa must have thought Sola Odunfa, our legendary Nigerian reporter in Lagos, sounded like presenters Julian Marshall or Rick Wells, or Robin White, who would read his reports in the studio.

When I started work with Focus in Bush House, where the BBC World Service was based for many years, there were only four countries in Africa that you could make telephone calls to directly from London.

The first satellite phone call that came to the office came from a rebel group at the time waging a war against the Ethiopian government.

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Rebels captured Addis Ababa in 1991, ousting Mengistu Haile Mariam from power in Ethiopia – allowing Eritrea to gain its independence two years later

I took the call and it was a crystal-clear line and of course, I was incredulous when the man on the line claimed to be calling from some place in northern Ethiopia, an area which in now Eritrea, and said there had been a major battle that they had won.

It was a bright late morning in London and I suspected the man must have been in one of the red telephone booths outside Bush House at the junction of Kingsway and the Strand.

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Focus on Africa would receive letters from listeners delivered to Bush House with only the programme’s name on the envelope

I looked out of the window onto the street, fully expecting to see the man that I was sure was trying to stage a gigantic hoax on us.

Rebels with phones

Satellite phones were to come to play a big role in our lives later on with the most notorious being the calls from Charles Taylor, who launched a rebellion in Liberia in 1989.

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Charles Taylor called up Focus on Africa after he launched his rebellion in Liberia in 1989

There were many anguished arguments in the Focus office about what to do with people who call up offering to tell us stories – and they were not all rebels fighting to overthrow governments.

When Laurent-Désiré Kabila rang to say he had invaded Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and about to chase out its leader Mobutu Sese Seko, we almost didn’t use the story, for fear of being accused of instigating rebellions.

Focus on Africa at 60

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Focus on Africa had by this time got a reputation as the programme that gave space for opposition voices to be heard.

I don’t think there was much hesitation in playing that role.

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There were intense discussions in the Focus office in 2009 about whether to interview LRA rebel leader Joseph Kony

At the time, there were very few private radio stations on the African continent and the state broadcasters were usually not minded to allow any dissenting voices to be heard.

The irony was not lost on us about the number of rebels or opposition leaders, who, once they became the government were no longer keen on speaking to Focus.

Love affair with South Africa

The first reporting trip I went on, took me to Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

Elizabeth Ohene

Elizabeth Ohene

I was physically carried and thrown out of the Zambian parliament, not for doing something heroic, but because I was not properly attired”

I was physically carried and thrown out of the Zambian parliament, not for doing something heroic, but because I was not properly dressed. I have never lived that one down.

I met Dennis Liwewe in the flesh and a more dramatic sports reporter has never graced our programmes.

I interviewed then-President Kenneth Kaunda, got back to my hotel and discovered my tape recorder had malfunctioned! I got a recording of the interview from the Zambian presidency and President Kaunda became my friend.

On that same trip, I met and interviewed a certain Frederick Chiluba in his office in Kitwe. He was so grateful I interviewed him, I was embarrassed.

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Sharp dresser Frederick Chiluba did not grant Elizabeth Ohene an interview once he became Zambia’s president

A few years later, he became President Chiluba and I never got an interview from him.

I finally got to South Africa in October 1989 and started a love affair with that country.

Milton Nkosi, later to become BBC Johannesburg bureau chief, was fresh out of school and had started work in the BBC office with Mike Woolridge.

There were many times Nkosi and I were not sure we would survive the madness that had taken over South Africa in the period leading to the first democratic elections, but we did.

The day of Nelson Mandela’s inauguration as president, as I was reporting on the events for our programmes, I felt a big part of the Focus story was coming to an end.

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Focus on Africa won a Sony Award for its coverage of Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in jail

The liberation struggles on the continent were coming to an end. The next struggles were bound to be different.

We got a Sony award for our coverage of the day Mandela was released from jail; but somehow, in spite of our best efforts, we never thrived in the coverage of post-apartheid South Africa.

Maybe Focus is wired for crisis and not for everyday drab events.

‘Abacha dead, may he rot in hell’

So, what sticks in my mind?

UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher scrambling on all fours trying to find my umbrella after Robin White and I had gone to interview her in Downing Street in 1989 prior to her visit to Africa.

The newspaper headline I saw as I got out of the airport in Lagos soon after the death of Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha. The banner headline said: “Abacha dead, may he rot in hell”.

A hospital room in Makeni, Sierra Leone, full of people, young, old, male, female, all of whose arms had been butchered.

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Thousands of people had their limbs hacked off by rebels during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war

There was a lot of blood around, there was one doctor in the midst of it all and there was a man with a fresh, deep, cutlass wound across his head, I could see his brain; miraculously he was not dead and he wanted to talk to me.

And a jug of iced Pimms as the tensions eased in the Focus office at the end of a broadcast at the height of summer.

My recollections of Focus on Africa are from a different era, but then I am an old woman.

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Charles Mbire gains $1.2 million as stake in MTN Uganda rises above $51 million



Ugandan businessman and MTN Uganda Chairman Charles Mbire has seen the market value of his stake in MTN Uganda surge above $51 million in just two days, as the share price in the leading teleco company increased by a single digit.

The single-digit bump in the share price caused the market value of Mbire’s stake to gain UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million) in less than two days.

The million-dollar increase in the value of his stake came after Uganda’s largest telecom company delivered the country’s largest-ever IPO through the listing of 22.4 billion ordinary shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE).

Upon completing the largest IPO in Uganda’s history, MTN Uganda raised a record UGX535 billion ($150.4 million) from the applications that it received for a total of 2.9 billion shares, including incentive shares.

As of press time, Dec. 7, shares in the company were trading at UGX204.95 ($0.0574), down six basis points from their opening price this morning.

Data gathered by Billionaires.Africa revealed that since the telecom company registered its shares on the Ugandan bourse on Mon., Dec. 6, its share price has increased by 2.5 percent from UGX200 ($0.056) to UGX204.95 ($0.0574) as of the time of writing, as retail investors sustained buying interest long after the public offering.

The increase in the company’s share price caused the market value of Mbire’s 3.98-percent stake to rise from UGX178.45 billion ($49.96 million) to UGX182.86 billion ($51.2 million).

In less than two days, his stake gained more than UGX4.42 billion ($1.24 million).

In a statement after the successful listing of MTN Uganda’s shares, Mbire said the IPO shows the confidence that Ugandans and other investors have in the company, its brand and strategic intent.

“We commend all the regulators for their support in our work to become a USE-listed company and to comply in a timely manner with the listing provisions of the national telecommunications operators’ license,” he said.

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350 million (debt free).

Steady but sure-MBIRE who is the biggest investor on Ugandas Stock exchange with stocks valued at more than $55 million is laughing all the way to the bank after MTN declared the latest dividend payout.He has steadily grown his business empire which is believed to be more that $350. ( debt free).

He is into communications-revenue assurance-cement-distribution-oil services-real estate-oil exploration and logistics.

Source: Billionaires Africa

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2-year-old dies at Arua hospital as nurse demands Shs 210,000 bribe




A two-year-old child died at Arua Regional Referral hospital after a nurse, Paul Wamala demanded a bribe amounting to Shs 210,000 before carrying out an operation. 

The incident happened on Saturday, after Aron Nabil, a two-year-old child was referred to the hospital for an operation after he was diagnosed with intestinal obstruction, a medical emergency caused by a blockage that keeps food or liquid from passing through the small intestine or large intestine.

According to the relatives of the child, Wamala allegedly asked them to initially give him Shs 30,000 to buy medicines to commence the procedure. He however returned shortly asking for an additional Shs 180,000 from the relatives.

Emily Adiru, a resident of Osu cell, in Bazar Ward, Central Division, and a relative of the child says although they paid money to Wamala, he abandoned the child without carrying out the operation. According to Adiru, Wamala later refunded Shs 200,000 through mobile money, after she threatened to report him to the police.

“They told us this boy needs an operation which was supposed to be done in the morning on Sunday at around 7 am. They took him inside there, some doctor came from the theatre, he called one of us and said, we should pay Shs 70,000 for buying medicine to start the operation. We paid the Shs 30,000 [but] after paying the Shs 30,000, after some minutes, the same man came and opened the door and called us again, and told us we should pay another Shs 100,000. We also paid the Shs 100,000 and we thought it is finished. We were outside there waiting for our patient to come out [but] then this man came back again and said we should pay another Shs 80,000,” said Adiru.

Although the operation was later carried out after a 7-hour delay, the child didn’t make it, and relatives attribute the death to negligence. Miria Ahmed, a concerned resident wonders why such incidents have persisted at the facility which is supposed to service the citizens.

“Is the problem the hospital, is it the management or it is the human resource that is the problem in the hospital? A small child like this you demand Shs 210,000 for the operation? Well, if the money was taken and the operation is done, I would say anything bad but this money was taken and the small boy was abandoned in the theatre,” she said. 

When contacted Wamala refused to comment on the allegations. Dr Gilbert Aniku, the acting hospital director says that the hospital will issue an official statement later since consultations about the matter are ongoing.

Arua City resident district commissioner, Alice Akello has condemned the actions of the nurse saying she has ordered his arrest so as to set an example to the rest. The case has been reported to Arua regional referral hospital police post under SD reference No:05/30/05/2022.

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Mexican president’s Mayan Train dealt new legal setback | Tourism News




Activists say the planned tourist train will harm the wildlife and natural features of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been dealt the latest setback to an ambitious plan to create a tourist train to connect the country’s southern Yucatan Peninsula.

On Monday, a judge indefinitely suspended construction on a portion of the project, known as the Mayan Train, saying the plans currently do not comply “with the proceedings of the environmental impact evaluation”.

The ruling follows a legal challenge by activists who said they were concerned the 60km (37 mile) portion of the train that would connect the resorts of Playa del Carmen and Tulum would adversely affect the area’s wildlife, as well as its caves and water-filled sinkholes known as cenotes.

The original plan for the disputed section was for an overpass over a highway, but the route was modified early this year to go through jungle at ground level.

The federal judge cited the “imminent danger” of causing “irreversible damage” to ecosystems, according to one of the plaintiffs, the non-governmental group Defending the Right to a Healthy Environment. In a statement, the group said that authorities had failed to carry out the necessary environmental impact studies before starting construction of the section.

Lopez Obrador had announced the ambitious project in 2018, with construction beginning in 2020. The roughly 1,500km (930 mile) cargo and passenger rail loop was presented as a cornerstone of a wider plan to develop the poorer states and remote towns throughout the about 181,000sq km (70,000sq mile) Yucatan Peninsula.

The railway is set to connect Caribbean beach resorts with Mayan archaeological ruins, with authorities aiming to complete the project by the end of 2023. The plan is estimated to cost about $16bn.

The project has split communities across the region, with some welcoming the economic development and connectivity it would bring. Others, including some local Indigenous communities, have challenged the project, saying it could not only disrupt the migratory routes of endangered species, including jaguars, tapirs and ocelots, but could also potentially damage centuries-old Mayan archaeological sites.

The National Fund for the Promotion of Tourism, the government agency overseeing the project, has said that it expects to “overcome” the latest challenge and that work should continue after an environmental impact statement is finalised. It said the Environment Ministry was currently reviewing its environmental application for the project.

For his part, Lopez Obrador has insisted the railway will not have a significant environmental effect and has accused activists of being infiltrated by “impostors”.

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