TIME Cameroon

Cameroon Says It Has Killed 143 Boko Haram Militants

Screengrab taken on Oct. 2, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, shows group's leader Abubakar Shekau.
AFP/Getty Images Screengrab taken on Oct. 2, 2014 from a video released by the Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram, shows group's leader Abubakar Shekau.

Islamist extremists currently on the rampage in northeast Nigeria

The government of Cameroon says its military killed 143 Boko Haram extremists in a standoff near the country’s border with Nigeria. The Islamic extremist group has been terrorizing Nigeria for the past five years and has gained new momentum leading up to the country’s scheduled presidential election.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Cameroonian government said military engaged in a five-hour fight with extremists that left at least one corporal dead and four soldiers wounded, along with the dozens of Boko Haram militants who were killed, according to the Associated Press.

Boko Haram, the group responsible for kidnapping hundreds of school girls last year, has carried out a slew of violent attacks in recent weeks. Last week, the group massacred the town of Baga in Nigeria—officials estimate the death toll is 150, but it has been reported to be as high as 2,000.

Read next: Boko Haram Militants Are Back on the Attack in Nigeria as a Presidential Election Looms

[AP]

TIME Nigeria

Nigerian Government Puts Death Toll in Boko Haram Massacre at 150

According to local reports, however, the death toll is more than 10 times that number

The Nigerian government on Monday put the death toll from last week’s massacre at Baga by Boko Haram at 150, less than 10% of the number of deaths originally reported in the horrific attack.

The West African country’s defense ministry said this figure included “many of the terrorists” from the militant group, the BBC says.

However, the Nigerian authorities have regularly been accused in the past of lessening the threat of Boko Haram by giving out low estimates of casualties.

The government figure greatly conflicts with initial reports of Friday’s attack on the town of Baga near the Nigeria-Chad border, with Amnesty International, and several news outlets, reporting that around 2,000 people were slaughtered by the militant group.

“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abu Gava, a spokesman for a civilian anti-terror defense group, told the Associated Press, adding that his fighters gave up trying to count the bodies.

AFP meanwhile reported that Boko Haram insurgents attacked a military base in neighboring Cameroon on Monday.

TIME Boko Haram

Boko Haram Militants Are Back on the Attack in Nigeria as a Presidential Election Looms

A second bloody attack in the northeastern town of Baga coincides with the launch of Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidential campaign. What that means for the election season.

As thousands of supporters clad in the red, white and green of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party thronged the formal launch rally of his reelection campaign in Lagos on Thursday, thousands more were fleeing for their lives in the country’s northeast, where an ongoing militant offensive, launched on Jan. 3, has killed scores. Such twinned scenes of jubilation and carnage are likely to be a regular feature in Nigeria over the coming weeks, as the country gears up for Presidential and general elections on Feb. 14,—even as the Boko Haram militant group gains ground in a campaign that took more than 10,000 lives last year, and has driven more than 1.5 million people from their homes.

Residents of Baga, a small town on the shores of Lake Chad, and some sixteen surrounding villages fled on foot or by boat as members of Boko Haram razed buildings and stalked the streets in search of government supporters, according to local officials. “These towns are just gone, burned down,” Borno State Senator Ahmed Zanna told NBC News via telephone. “The whole area is covered in bodies.”

The offensive started on Jan. 3 with a daring raid on a multinational military base near Baga that had been established to combat crime in the lawless border region where Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon meet. It has since been repurposed to address the growing regional threat of Boko Haram, a militant Islamist group that got its start in northeastern Nigeria in 2002 and has used kidnapping—most notably of more than 200 schoolgirls last year—as an effective tactic. The base fell to the militants early Sunday morning, Jan 4, after several hours of intense fighting.

The second assault, which started in Baga itself on Jan. 6, appears to be an attempt by the rebels to assert their authority in an area of divided loyalties, according to Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy based in London. “Boko Haram has frequently attacked communities perceived to support the government,” he says. “The use of violence is designed to drive community fear and compliance in order to further Boko Haram’s agenda.”

While that agenda has little to do with the elections on the surface—as staunch Islamist militants, Boko Haram, like other radical Salafist groups, does not believe in elections or democratic rule—attacks like this one will contribute to a general climate of fear that could result in a low turnout in the election, or a closing of the polls in the northeast all together. Despite the increasing violence, Nigeria’s national election commission has said it will not postpone the elections. This could lead to post-campaign turmoil, if the opposition All Progressives Congress party, which has stronger support among the Muslim-dominated north, feels that the outcome has been skewed against them. Violence could erupt, as it did in the wake of the contested 2011 elections that brought Jonathan to power.

The Baga attacks aren’t necessarily tied to the elections, says Barclay, but they will play into the general conditions that could make the election season more volatile. More attacks should be expected, he adds. “Boko Haram will be a key player in the 2015 elections. It will seek to disrupt the elections by staging targeted attacks and by seeking to incite broader religious violence.” The group played a similar role during the 2011 elections, but “in 2015 Boko Haram has far greater military capability than it did back then,” he says. “It will use those capabilities to stage attacks which impact both on local-level politics, but also potentially on the national scene.”

One of the principal reasons that Boko Haram has managed to grow in strength and reach over the past few years is because political disputes have sapped the will of the Nigerian government to fight back, according to Jacob Zenn, an analyst of African and Eurasian Affairs for The Jamestown Foundation, a DC- based research and analysis institute with a focus on terrorism. “There is a real lack of unified political will, making it difficult to develop a comprehensive and coordinated strategy to combat Boko Haram,” he says by telephone from Abuja, the Nigerian capital. “Until taking care of Boko Haram becomes a priority over concerns about the elections, there will be no way to contain the threat.”

Of course, many people in Nigeria’s government, military and civil society believe that if the elections go smoothly, “the new government will be able to prioritize the fight,” says Zenn. “However, if there is a period of post-election tension and infighting, it could make countering Boko Haram even more difficult.” That may be just what Boko Haram has in mind as it makes every effort to undermine security in the northeast, ensuring that elections don’t happen at all.

TIME poverty

The World’s Poorest Regions Are not Always Where You’d Expect

Salamat, Chad is the poorest region in the world, according to a new study.

Most people living in the world’s poorest regions don’t actually live in the poorest countries, according to a new study released Tuesday, which sheds new light on how country-wide poverty statistics can tell an incomplete story.

Researchers with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at the University of Oxford parsed through regional data for 71 developing countries to determine more specifically where the poorest people live. They found that roughly 60 percent of people in the poorest regions are in countries that are not among the UN-determined Least Developed Countries, including in India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Instead of looking at income levels, the study uses a relatively new measure of poverty known as the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI). The MPI, developed by OPHD and the United Nations, tracks basic needs across different areas of life, such as education, health and access to safe water; people who are deprived of at least one-third of the ten indicators are considered multi-dimensionally poor.

“Unlike poverty measures that are reported only at a national level, the headline MPI is just the first layer,” says the study’s briefing note, released Tuesday in conjunction with an updated global MPI. “Looking closer, we can zoom in and see exactly how and where people are poor – which pockets of the world they live in and which deprivations they experience together. It gives a clearer view.”

While Niger, the landlocked West African country, is the poorest country overall, the world’s five poorest regions are in fact in Chad or Burkina Faso. In the poorest among them, Chad’s southern Salamat region, 98 percent of the inhabitants, or 354,000 people, are considered multi-dimensionally poor.

By delving into regional data, the study also identified major differences within countries. In Nigeria, for example, 8.5 percent of people in the port city of Lagos are multi-dimensionally poor, while 91.9% of people the Zamfara, in the country’s north, are poor. In Cameroon, 6.7 percent of people in the largest city, Doula, are poor, while 87 percent of people in the Far North region are poor.

“The MPI enables us to examine poverty within regions of a country as well as nationally, and compare the interlocking deprivations people experience,” Dr. Sabina Alkire, director of the OPHI, said in a statement. “Our findings highlight the value of having good quality, up-to-date and detailed survey data to reveal what life is really like for the poorest section of populations.”

TIME Nigeria

Everything to Know About Boko Haram’s Advance in Nigeria

Image taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, Oct. 31, 2014.
AP Image taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network, Oct. 31, 2014.

The fall of the Baga military base in north eastern Nigeria caps a slew of successes for the Islamist group

The Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has roared back into the headlines in recent days, with a series of bold attacks on remote villages in the country’s northeast, culminating with an assault on a multinational military base near a town called Baga on the shores of Lake Chad over the weekend.

Refugees fled on boats, while the last bastion of government control in the northern part of Borno State erupted into flames. As the uptick in attacks seems poised to disrupt the upcoming Presidential elections slated for Feb. 14, here’s everything you need to know about Boko Haram’s advance, and why its ambitions extend way beyond kidnapping schoolgirls:

Why are we seeing so many attacks in Nigeria’s northeast?

Borno State has long been a hotbed for Boko Haram supporters. Since the Islamist group started gaining strength in 2011, the militants and the military have traded control of many of the area’s small towns and military bases in a chess-like series of feints and retreats that have left the region perpetually on edge. “The militants build their capabilities by raiding police bases and armories for vehicles and weapons, then the military beats them back,” says Roddy Barclay, senior Africa analyst at Control Risks, a political risk consultancy.

But the military’s heavy-handed tactics, from arbitrary arrests and detention to extrajudicial executions, have alienated the local population. When a military operation is over, the militants move back in to remind local communities that they are the real source of authority. Even though Boko Haram also traffics in fear and intimidation, says Barclay, they have the local advantage. “[The most recent attack in] Baga is part of the cycle of violence that draws on local grievances to accelerate recruitment to the militant cause,” he says. The more the military responds, the more fresh recruits flock to Boko Haram.

Where will Boko Haram go next?

Boko Haram’s leaders have set their sites on the state capital Maiduguri, which they lost to government forces in 2011. Such a defeat would be a devastating blow for the Nigerian government, which suffered a major setback last year when militants launched a daring raid on the main military barracks. It is not clear that Boko Haram has the capacity, manpower and weapons to retake the town – at least for now. But they do have the capability to launch devastating suicide attacks, a method that they have used to great effect several times over the past 6 months.

Could the threat spread beyond Nigeria’s borders?

Boko Haram shares many characteristics of transnational terror groups; it adheres to the strict Salafist ideology of governance by Islamic law, and controls an estimated 30-35,000 square kilometers, roughly the same amount of terrain as Syria and Iraq’s Islamic State. It has also launched small scale operations in Cameroon and Chad in what some analysts have described as an attempt to establish Islamic rule across a region once contained within the borders of the historic Kanem-Borno Empire.

For the moment, though, it seems largely focused on its immediate region, in the country’s impoverished north-east. But even if the group’s activities have minimal impact outside that region, the symbolic weight is immense, says Peter Pham, Africa Director for the Washington D.C.-based Atlantic Center policy institute. “Nigeria is the regional power, and if its government is proven impotent in the face of the insurgency, that could have a spillover effect on other countries in the region,” which are equally threatened by Islamist uprisings.

And its domestic threat shouldn’t be understated, says Pham. “You have Africa’s most populous nation and its largest economy. And now it’s coping with a hollowing out of the state – the government can’t control its territory, resources are being diverted to combat the insurgency, and there is the reputational harm as well. Lagos may be a world away, but if terror attacks are the main news item coming out of the country, it won’t help the investment climate. “

What role will Boko Haram play in the upcoming Presidential elections?

Boko Haram has already denounced the elections as “un-Islamic.” Barclay, of Control Risks, predicts a surge in violent attacks in the weeks leading up to February’s vote. The result will be two-fold: along with the spread of terror, elections will not be be held in some areas due to the security risks, undermining the legitimacy of the candidate that secures the presidency — likely to be the incumbent Goodluck Jonathan. “Even if the election meets the legal requirements, it would still be a hollow victory,” says Pham. Jonathan’s campaign doesn’t need the three northern states most impacted by the insurgency to win, but if residents don’t turn out to vote for fears of an attack, it would shrink his mandate, says Pham. “That would not only weaken his hand in terms of dealing with the Boko Haram crisis, but also with the looming threat of declining oil prices” — Nigeria’s largest export.

And what happened to the kidnapped girls of Chibok?

Despite an ongoing government search, with U.S. assistance, none of the girls kidnapped last spring have been recovered. Most likely they have been forcibly married off to militants, or used as camp hands. Some local media outlets speculate that they could be part of a recent surge in female suicide bombers. But Boko Haram didn’t stop with the girls; for a militant group plagued by military losses, kidnapping is part of the growth strategy. Hundreds of men, women and boys have been kidnapped over the past year; the Baga offense started with the forced conscription of some 40 young men after a sermon at the local mosque, according to CNN. Hundreds more are likely to be abducted before the Chibok girls are ever found.

TIME HIV/AIDS

African Countries Should Spend More in AIDS Response, Study Says

A mother holds the hand of her Aids stricken son in Rakai, Ugand
Getty Images

To meet AIDS eradication goals, study says funding should be re-allocated

Twelve African countries with the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS are currently the largest recipients of international AIDS funding. But it’s now possible for many of them to make domestic spending on the disease a priority, a new study says.

As countries in sub-Saharan Africa gain better financial footing, funds from donor countries are tightening. Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and the Results for Development Institute decided to test a couple of scenarios to see whether funding for the AIDS response could be re-allocated so African countries would finance a greater share.

Their results, published in the journal The Lancet Global Health, show that overall, the 12 countries—Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia—could provide a greater share of the costs of AIDS programs in their countries over the next five years. However, several countries will still need support from donors, even if they were to provide their maximum funds.

MORE: The End of AIDS

By looking at factors like expected growth and total government spending, and then comparing them to the countries’ AIDS needs, the researchers found that in most scenarios, AIDS expenditures for three of the upper-middle-income countries (Botswana, Namibia and South Africa) exceed their needs. In many cases, they found, these three countries could actually fund their needs solely from domestic resources. Other low-income countries like Mozambique and Ethiopia would still need to largely rely on donors.

Currently, the dozen countries are home to more than 50% of AIDS cases worldwide, as well as 56% of financial aid for the disease. They also account for 83% of funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which makes up one of the largest shares of international donations. In 2014, the United Nations program UNAIDS estimated that a “fast-tracked” response to ending the AIDS epidemic would mean we’d need $35 billion each year by 202o, but in 2012, only $19 billion was available and almost half came from international sources. To meet such goals, the researchers suggest their new funding strategy.

Almost none of the 12 countries meet possible financing benchmarks that the study authors believe to be reasonable. If the countries spent more domestically, researchers say that self-funding could increase 2.5 times and could cover 64% of future needs. That would still leave a gap of about $7.9 billion.

“Coupled with improved resource tracking, such metrics could enhance transparency and accountability for efficient use of money and maximize the effect of available funding to prevent HIV infections and save lives,” the study authors conclude. Sharing the financial burden of AIDS more equitably may be one strategy for eradicating the disease faster.

TIME Nigeria

40 Boys and Men Reportedly Abducted in Nigerian Village

Boko Haram
AP The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014.

Boko Haram is suspected to be responsible

Militants abducted as many as 40 boys and men from a village in northwest Nigeria this week in a raid that authorities have reportedly blamed on Boko Haram, the Islamist group that kidnapped over 250 school girls last year.

The victims, taken from the northeastern Nigerian village of Malari this week, are believed to be in their teens and early 20s, according to a witness, Reuters reports.

Boko Haram, which hasn’t yet claimed the latest abduction, has kidnapped hundreds of women and girls from northern Nigeria during its five-year insurgency. Fifty-seven of the 276 school girls kidnapped in April have escaped, while parents of the remaining victims recently appealed to the United Nations for help in the rescue efforts.

According to Reuters, “Boys are recruited as fighters and the girls as sex slaves, security officials say.”

TIME Money

Here’s Who Just Unseated Oprah as the World’s Richest Black Woman

Diamond Collection By Folake Majin Fashion Show
Bennett Raglin—Getty Images Folorunsho Alakija attends a fashion show in Lagos, Nigeria, on Dec. 27, 2012

Oprah's about $300 million short

Oprah Winfrey is no longer the world’s richest black woman. That distinction now belongs to Nigerian oil baroness and fashionista Folorunsho Alakija.

Alakija is worth at least $3.3 billion — about $300 million more than American television personality Oprah — Ventures Africa reports.

The 62-year-old started her career as a secretary at the erstwhile Merchant Bank of Nigeria, but moved to England in the early 1980s to study fashion design. She then returned to her native country and set up a high-end label called Supreme Stitches.

Although she amassed some wealth from the label, a significant proportion of Alakija’s fortune comes from an oil-exploration license granted to her company Famfa Ltd. in 1993. The 617,000-acre oil block would go on to become the highly lucrative OML 127, in which Alakija’s family retains a 60% stake.

According to Ventures Africa, her assets include a real estate portfolio worth over $100 million and a $46 million private jet.

Read next: Jack Ma Is the Richest Person in Asia

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Suspected in Mass Kidnap in Northeast Nigeria

The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014.
AP The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014.

The latest in a string of abductions

Islamist militants of the group Boko Haram are suspected of abducting at least 100 women and children, and killing nearly three dozen others, from a remote village in northeastern Nigeria.

Gunmen in trucks raided Gumsuri last Friday and staged an attack that ended on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing members of a local vigilante group. Gumsuri is located near Chibok, where 276 schoolgirls were abducted in April. The number of abductions in the new attack varies between news outlets, hovering between more than 100 and above 200.

Mike Omeri, a government spokesman, told TIME that the government is “outraged and deeply saddened by this deplorable act” and said the real number of those abducted isn’t known yet.

“It is impossible to verify the number of those missing at this early stage because it is presumed that many civilians fled during the attack,” he said in a statement. “As soon as government agencies and our local partners have together determined the credible number of missing civilians, we will provide that information to the public.”

The recent raid, the latest in a string of similar abductions in the restive region, comes about two months after the Nigerian government claimed it had reached a cease-fire with Boko Haram and that the group planned to release the schoolgirls. The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau later denied that a deal had been reached and said the girls had already been married off.

Read next: Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Tell of Horrors in Captivity

TIME Photojournalism Links

Photojournalism Daily: Dec. 17, 2014

A compilation of the most interesting photojournalism found on the web, curated by Mikko Takkunen

Today’s daily Photojournalism Links collection highlights Tyler Hicks‘ work aboard the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, one of the launch pads of the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). More than a dozen warplanes take off from the carrier every day for missions over Iraq and Syria. The five-acre ship, with a crew of more than 5,000, has long played a role in the U.S.’s fight against terrorism. Some of the first air strikes of the Afghan war in 2001 were made by jets that took off from the Vinson, and it was on that same ship that, in 2011, Navy SEALs brought Osama bin Laden’s body after a raid in Pakistan, and buried it at sea. Hicks’ photographs offer an intriguing look at this massive symbol of American military power in the Middle East.

Tyler Hicks: A Desert War on ISIS, Fought From a Floating City (The New York Times)

Kirsten Luce: Documenting Immigration From Both Sides of the Border (TIME LightBox) Powerful photographs of migrants trying to enter the U.S. and the border patrols trying to catch them.

Robin Hammond: Lagos Portraits (National Geographic) Compelling portraits of Lagosians presented alongside their take on the city.

The Year in Pictures: 2014 (NBC News)

John Stanmeyer (Vogue Italy) Insightful interview with the World Press Photo of the Year 2013 winner.

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