- - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

JOHANNESBURG — Nearly 12 million school children across South Africa have kicked off celebrations marking the 94th birthday of Nelson Mandela, the country’s deeply loved anti-apartheid icon, with resounding choruses of “Happy Birthday.”

School assemblies began Wednesday with birthday wishes for Mr. Mandela, who was expected to spend the day privately at his homestead in the southeastern province with his family.

Tributes to Mr. Mandela were pouring in. In Washington, President Obama said Mr. Mandela “has changed the arc of history, transforming his country, the continent and the world.”

Communities in South Africa and around the world will dedicate 67 minutes of the day to charity work and projects for the needy to mark Mandela’s 67 years in activism.

South African churchmen and politicians urged people across the country “to make every day a Mandela Day.”

African Union elects first female leader

JOHANNESBURG — The continentwide African Union this week elected a female politician from South Africa for the first time as head of its commission.

South African Minister of Home Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was voted in late Sunday to lead the African Union’s permanent commission of leaders, administrators and technical experts.

Ms. Dlamini-Zuma successfully challenged the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon, who held the post since 2008.

Mr. Ping had the backing of French-speaking African nations, while Ms. Dlamini-Zuma, 63, had the backing of English-speaking nations.  

Mr. Dlamini-Zuma, who is also the former wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, secured the votes of 37 of the 54 African Union member nations to narrowly win the two-thirds majority required at a summit of leaders in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

Her election was seen as a major coup for South Africa as it tries to emerge as a political and economic powerhouse on the continent.


U.N. finds massive graft in Somalia government

NAIROBI — A scathing report written for the U.N. Security Council says that systematic misappropriation, embezzlement and outright theft of taxpayer funds have become a system of governance in Somalia.

The nearly 200-page report lists numerous examples of money intended for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government going missing, saying that for every $10 received, $7 never made it into state coffers.

The report, written by the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea and obtained by the Associated Press this week, says government revenues are not even clear. The Ministry of Finance reported revenues of $72 million in fiscal year 2011, while the accountant-general reported revenues of $55 million.

A report commissioned by the World Bank published in May could not account for 68 percent of transitional government revenues in 2009-10.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali condemned the allegations linking his office to corruption, calling the allegations “absolutely and demonstrably false.”

Corruption has flourished inside the Somali government for years.

Somalia has not had a fully functioning government since 1991. Armed militias claimed power in Mogadishu until last August, when African Union and Somali government troops pushed the radical Islamist al-Shabab terrorists out of the capital.

The weak, U.N.-backed government barely operates outside of Mogadishu. The international community is working with Somali leaders to appoint a new parliament and elect a new president before the U.N. mandate expires Aug. 20.


Terrorists free two held since October

BAMAKO, Mali — Islamist rebels in north Mali on Wednesday released an Italian and two Spanish hostages who had been held since October, a spokesman with an allied group said.

The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa released the hostages near the town of Gao, according to Sanda Abou Mohamed, a spokesman for an al Qaeda-linked rebel group Ansar Dine.

Spaniards Enric Gonyalons and Ainhoa Fernandez de Rincon and Italian Urru Scarlett are aid workers who were kidnapped from a refugee camp in southern Algeria in October, Mr. Mohamed said. He said the Algeria-based movement was responsible for their kidnapping, and in May requested money for their release. It is unclear if a ransom was paid.

Millions of dollars reportedly have been paid in ransoms for other hostages held by Islamic groups in the Sahara Desert.

At least six Western hostages were killed between 2009 and 2011. All were held by al Qaeda’s African franchise, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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