- Created on 07 November 2013
In this Oct. 31, 2013 photo, vocational students learn domino strategies in a classroom in Kingston, Jamaica. A government program is teaching domino strategies to inner-city young adults from gang-steeped areas. (AP Photo / David McFadden)
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) -- Students from some of the toughest neighborhoods in Jamaica's capital hunched over school desks, clacking wooden dominoes, pausing to ponder their next move and razzing opponents with good-natured taunts.
"Look out, here comes the end of the game! Nobody can stop it," said 20-year-old Chevon Brown as he boisterously slammed down a dotted tile, or "bone," and grinned.
These young men and women aren't just killing time. A government program is teaching domino strategies to inner-city teens and 20-somethings from gang-steeped areas in the hopes it will keep them from becoming crime statistics or give in to despair at a time when youth unemployment stands at 38 percent and good opportunities are scarce.
Call it Jamaica's domino effect: At-risk youngsters are learning to view life through the lens of the deceptively simple game. Under the guidance of a Justice Ministry officer who devised the "Dominoes for Life" program, participants say the game is helping them work through possible outcomes and develop thinking skills as they learn how to better connect the dots in the real world.
"Life is a game, just like the domino game. It's teaching us to have patience and strategize in our own lives to get past all the blocks and barriers facing us," said student Carlington Pryce of Denham Town, a West Kingston slum where police curfews are frequent and many young men get shot, locked up or overlooked.
The centuries-old game is deeply woven into the cultural fabric of the Caribbean, from the beaches of Barbados to the plazas of Puerto Rico. In Jamaica, it's almost an obsession for many players, who can be seen each evening slamming domino tiles on card tables on street corners or outside rum bars in cities and rural towns. The style of play is loud and dominated by men. The government officially recognizes competitive dominoes as a sport.
The National Association of Domino Bodies, which regulates the game on the tropical island of 2.7 million people, is also teaching it in schools to improve youngsters' self-esteem. On the group's website, the domino diehards assert the brain game can even awaken social awareness, improve morals and boost community pride.
Association Vice President Humbert Davis, who learned dominoes from his father decades ago, said struggling youngsters are riding their game tutorials to academic success. Hundreds of players between the ages of 6 and 18 attend the association's three-week long camps.
One of the association's young acolytes is Shavoine Lewis, a slender 16-year-old from the Kingston community of Halfway Tree. "Dominoes is giving me the focus to do better in all my subjects," he said as he watched a group of adult players get ready for a recent league competition in the rural community of Constitution Hill, some stretching like athletes, raising their arms above their heads or jumping in place.
In straight dominoes or the "double-six" game played competitively in Jamaica, two-player teams take turns trying to match the number of dots, or "pips," on their pieces with those on the table. The first team to get rid of all its tiles wins. Top players memorize every tile that hits the table and analyze probabilities to figure out who is holding which piece.
Marcia Flynn, the architect of the government's domino program, believes it's the perfect tool to teach life lessons. She ticks off nuggets of domino wisdom to her students: The choices people make in life will largely decide whether they win or lose, just like in dominoes. Partners must be chosen carefully, in the real world and in the game. Starting out with an apparently weak hand can result in success.
To Jamaicans from struggling inner-city neighborhoods, where many residents feel the odds are stacked against them, these are resonant messages.
"Some of you used to be on the corners doing nothing, right?" Flynn asked a classroom of vocational students on a recent day. "The opportunity came to study and you made a move forward, just like with the domino game. You are moving ahead with your life and you have to keep your eyes looking forward to see how it will play out. You have to play smart to the end."
Still, some say benefits of the game go only so far when work is in such short supply.
"Teaching the domino game is good 'cause there's too much negativity. But jobs is what we really need in Jamaica," said struggling laborer Chris Shay outside a market in gritty West Kingston.
- Created on 07 November 2013
TINGOLO, Kenya (AP) — A wave of outrage has grown in Kenya since word has spread that a 16-year-old girl was gang raped and thrown into a pit latrine in this western Kenyan town, with the alleged attackers told to cut grass at a police post, and then let go.
Nearly 1.4 million people have signed an online petition put up by the activist group Avaaz calling for prosecution of the young men and an investigation of the police who freed the suspects.
Kenya's political heavyweights are also speaking up. Supreme Court Chief Justice Willy Mutunga last weekend said he had forwarded the matter to the National Council for Administration of Justice for "immediate action." Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said that "as a woman and a mother I am outraged and angered by this inhumane, traumatizing and inexcusable violation."
The teen is currently confined to a wheelchair because of the physical trauma from the attack. She has undergone two surgeries — one for a fistula and another for spinal surgery, said Lydia Muthiani, the deputy executive director of the Coalition on Violence Against Women, a group that has taken up the case.
"She is doing very well. They are hopeful she will walk again," said Muthiani, who noted that the victim is still dealing with the psychological trauma of the rape and from time to time will shut down emotionally.
The attack happened in June but didn't get wider attention until Nairobi's Daily Nation newspaper wrote about it in early October.
Her mother spoke through tears at her home in Busia County. She told The Associated Press that the police at first said only that her daughter should be taken to a pharmacy and be prescribed pain killers.
Even if her physical and psychological trauma continues to heal, her life will forever be upended. Cultural traditions in this area mandate that a rape victim leave her home and move to another town where, in theory, people will not know that she has been raped.
Muthiani labeled rape an "invisible crime" in Kenya because it is underreported and rarely acted on judicially.
"We wouldn't know how big a problem rape is in essence just because we do not have all the numbers of reported cases, but from the number of cases that we do receive, it is a very, very high number," said Muthiani, who said studies have shown that one in six Kenyan women will experience some sort of sexual assault in their lifetime.
Muthiani said that one aid group that studied sexual violence during Kenya's 2007-08 election violence found that at least 3,000 women were raped during the months of violence. Muthiani said there have been only 11 convictions related to those 3,000 cases.
"When you have a statistic that low, what are you inspiring the public to do? The institutions that are supposed to protect and serve us, for instance police and prosecutors, have to start doing a better job. We have to put it out there that there is going to be punishment for people who sexually violate other people," she said.
- Created on 07 November 2013
AP Photo/Joseph Kay
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) -- The top commander of Congo's M23 rebel movement and about 1,700 of his fighters surrendered to Ugandan authorities following defeat by Congolese troops, a Ugandan military official said Thursday.
The move raised hopes the rebels might sign a peace settlement after 19 months of a brutal insurgency that displaced thousands of people in eastern Congo's North Kivu province.
M23 commander Gen. Sultani Makenga and his fighters were being held by the Ugandan military in Mgahinga, a forested area near the Congolese border. The rebels had been disarmed and were being registered by Ugandan officials, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give this information.
Makenga, 39, is the subject of U.S. sanctions. The United Nations has also imposed a travel ban and assets freeze on him for "serious violations of international law involving the targeting of women and children" in armed conflict in eastern Congo. Makenga emerged as the rebel group's commander earlier this year following a violent split within M23 that saw the ouster of Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda, who then fled to Rwanda before handing himself over to United States authorities.
"Makenga should be arrested and immediately brought before the courts," North Kivu Gov. Julien Paluku told The Associated Press. "He should be made to answer for his actions in eastern Congo."
Paluku disputed the tally of 1,700 M23 combatants, saying it seems too high in light of all the defections in recent weeks.
It is unlikely that Uganda, which has been hosting peace talks between the rebels and Congo's government, will immediately extradite Makenga to Congo -likely a reason the rebel leader and his fighters fled to Uganda.
The senior Ugandan official who spoke to The Associated Press about Makenga's surrender said the rebel leader and his fighters would be under Ugandan protection until regional governments, including those of Rwanda and Congo, agree on how to deal with "negative forces" in the region. Regional leaders have in the past urged Congo's government to solve the "legitimate grievances" of M23.
Angelo Izama, a Ugandan analyst who runs a regional security think tank called Fanaka Kwawote, said Makenga's surrender to Ugandan authorities "may have to do with his sensitivity for the pressure Rwanda finds itself under" for its alleged links to M23.
A report by U.N. experts has said Rwanda's government provided weapons, recruits and training to M23 rebels. That report also said some in Uganda's military aided M23, charges denied by both Rwanda and Uganda.
Izama noted that Uganda and Rwanda are "faithful" allies whose interests in eastern Congo are similar. Their militaries have in the past invaded Congo to fight militias opposed to their governments that operate in Congo's largely lawless east, he said.
M23 launched its rebellion in April 2012, becoming the latest reincarnation of a Tutsi rebel group dissatisfied with the Congolese government. The rebels accused Congo's government of failing to honor all the terms of a peace deal signed in March 2009 with M23's precursor group, the CNDP.
At their peak the M23 rebels overtook Goma, the eastern provincial capital, and threatened to march toward the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. But in the past year they had been substantially weakened by internal divisions and alleged waning Rwandan support. The Congolese military capitalized on these rebel setbacks by pushing ahead with new offensives beginning in August that were supported by a brigade of United Nations forces with a mandate to attack the rebels.
This week the rebels lost control of all the territory they once held following an intensified offensive by Congolese troops backed by U.N. forces. After their last major stronghold fell last week, the rebels appeared to flee from the border town of Bunagana to the surrounding hills and forests. Earlier this week the rebels' civilian leader, Bertrand Bisimwa, announced the rebellion was over, saying he wanted to work with Congo's government toward finding a political solution to violence in eastern Congo.
A group of international envoys to Africa's Great Lakes region, including U.S. envoy Russ Feingold, has been urging a political solution to eastern Congo's latest rebel crisis. Peace talks in Uganda aimed at getting both sides to sign an accord have repeatedly stalled since December, but a final accord may now be signed after Congolese troops militarily defeated the rebels.
Feingold said Wednesday that an agreement between M23 and Congo's government "has been worked out in great detail" and could be signed by both parties within days. But the deal offers no amnesty for rebels who face serious criminal charges, he said.
"That is not happening in this case if this agreement goes through the way I believe it will go through, and certainly, the international community and the United States would not support such an agreement," Feingold said, talking about blanket amnesty for M23 rebels.
Congo's U.N. Ambassador Ignace Gata told reporters after a Security Council meeting Wednesday that "the government wants to complete the Kampala talks and in coming days we will sign a document with the M23."
"It is not excluded that elements from the M23 be integrated into the army. But the conditions for integration have to be defined," Gata said.
- Created on 06 November 2013
AP Photo/Thibault Camus
DAKAR, Senegal (AP) -- Al-Qaida's branch in North Africa claimed responsibility Wednesday for the slaying of two French radio journalists, who were kidnapped and killed over the weekend in the northern Malian town of Kidal, according to a statement posted on a portal frequently used by jihadists.
Sahara Media said on its website that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb murdered the Radio France Internationale journalists on Nov. 2 in retaliation for the "daily crimes" committed by French and Malian forces in northern Mali, where France launched a military operation in January to flush out the al-Qaida cell.
"The organization considers that this is the least of the price which President Francois Hollande and his people will pay for their new crusade," says the statement.
The website identifies the al-Qaida leader who carried out the killings as Abdelkarim al-Targui, one of the few Malian nationals who has risen to prominence inside the al-Qaida branch, led almost exclusively by Algerian jihadists. Targui is a native of the Kidal region and is believed to be responsible for the previous kidnappings of two French nationals, Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic, who were grabbed from the town of Hombori in northern Mali in 2011. Lazarevic remains in captivity. Verdon was executed earlier this year.
The assassination of veteran RFI journalists Ghislaine Dupont, a senior correspondent, and Claude Verlon, a production technician, has shocked and angered France, as well as the world. The two were on assignment in Kidal where they had just finished interviewing a Tuareg rebel leader, when they were grabbed by four armed men in a four-wheel-drive vehicle at around 1 p.m. on Saturday. Their bullet-riddled bodies were found 12 kilometers (7 miles) outside the city, a few yards from the kidnappers' vehicle, whose steering wheel appeared to be broken, according to a senior Malian intelligence official who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
Investigators remain puzzled by why the attackers chose to kill the two journalists, rather than hold them for ransom. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has raised at least $89 million in ransom payments since 2003, after successfully carrying out at least 18 kidnappings of foreigners, many of them French nationals, according to global intelligence unit Stratfor. Just last week, four Frenchmen kidnapped three years ago were released, allegedly after a 20 million euro ($27 million) ransom was paid, according to the respected French daily Le Monde.
Among the theories that investigators are floating is that the kidnapping was led by junior al-Qaida members, perhaps without the approval of Targui, and hence without his brigade's backup. When their car broke down, the kidnappers felt exposed and knew that French forces stationed in Kidal would soon catch up with them. "They panicked and decided to get rid of the hostages," said the Malian military intelligence official. "That is the theory we are exploring right now."