Madagascar’s three-way fight for top job

People in Madagascar are voting in a presidential election that sees the incumbent president battling against two of his predecessors.

There are 36 candidates in all to lead the Indian Ocean island, which in recent years has been hit by periods of political instability.

In May, the army threatened to take over amid huge street protests.

The main candidates promised to boost the economy in a country where 80% of the population live in poverty.

The front-runners have criss-crossed the nation to hold huge rallies.

President Hery Rajaonarimampianina and his two main rivals, former Presidents Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina, are all wealthy men, fuelling claims by civil society groups that they used their time in office to enrich themselves.

Something which they all deny.

But they are believed to have spent large amounts of money on their campaigns, as the electoral law sets a very high spending limit, reports BBC Monitoring.

There are more than nine million registered voters out of a population of nearly 25 million people.

In order to win in the first round of voting a candidate needs more than 50% of the votes cast. Otherwise the top two candidates go through to a second round on 19 December.

There have been reports of long queues of voters and the European Union observer team says that no anomalies have been detected so far, Reuters news agency says.

A history of instability

At the end of 2001, self-made millionaire Mr Ravalomanana won a disputed poll, which led to a seven-month crisis, with the defeated candidate Didier Ratsiraka refusing to step down.

In 2009, after weeks of protests, media mogul Mr Rajoelina, ousted Mr Ravalomanana in a power grab that was backed by the army.

This year, President Rajaonarimampianina faced protests over an electoral law that was said to favour him.

The issue sparked protests that quickly escalated to political paralysis which ended in a compromise after the military threatened a takeover.

A unity government took over to pave way for the elections.

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Cameroon child hostages released by kidnappers

All 78 children, abducted in the country’s Anglophone region, released but principal and a teacher are still being held.

    All 78 children and a driver kidnapped in west Cameroon were released on Wednesday, but the school principal and one teacher are still being held by the armed men, a priest conducting negotiations said.

    The group was abducted in Bamenda, a commercial hub of Cameroon’s restive English-speaking region, on Monday.

    “Praise God 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said. 

    He had earlier put the number of children taken at 79 but later said one of their numbers was, in fact, a teacher, who remained with the kidnappers.

    A video purportedly of the kidnapped children was released on social media by “Amba boys”, a reference to the state of Ambazonia that armed separatists are trying to establish in Cameroon’s northwest and southwest regions, The Associated Press news agency reported.

    In the video, the kidnappers force several students to give their names and the names of their parents. The children say they were kidnapped by the Amba boys, and they do not know where they are being held.

    Fonki and the Cameroonian military have accused anglophone separatists of carrying out the kidnappings, but a separatist spokesman denied involvement.

    In an inauguration speech following last month’s election to extend his 36-year rule, President Paul Biya told the separatists to lay down their arms or face the full force of the law, offering no concessions to them.

    Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools as part of their protest against Biya’s French-speaking government and its perceived marginalisation of the English-speaking minority, although they had never kidnapped children before.

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    Madagascar votes in presidential elections in bid to end poverty

    President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term and faces strong challenge from two former presidents.

      Millions of voters in Madagascar queued in long lines early on Wednesday to cast their ballots in a presidential election, as the Indian Ocean island struggles to create jobs, fight poverty and end corruption.

      President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term in office and his two main challengers are former heads of state Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina.

      All three have crisscrossed the island in a hunt for votes and each has pledged to accelerate recovery for an economy the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts will grow at more than five percent this year, its highest rate in a decade.

      Civil society groups accuse the three wealthy frontrunners of enriching themselves in office, something each denies.

      The groups said a fisheries deal the incumbent signed with Chinese firms in September is opaque and will impoverish local fishermen.

      They also said Ravalomanana failed to tackle corruption during his time in office that ended in 2009, when he was forced out by protests led by Rajoelina in what international organisations like the African Union said was a coup.

      Conservation groups then accused Rajoelina, the man who overthrew him, of profiting from the plunder of natural resources.

      Praying for change

      As queues started forming on Wednesday morning in the capital, Antananarivo, voter Sahondramalala Nirisoa told Reuters news agency she had arrived early because she needed to get to work. 

      “I hope and I pray for a change,” she said. “That is why I came to vote.”

      According to a World Bank report, more than 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. 

      There are nearly 10 million registered voters in the country of 25 million people, data from the electoral commission showed.

      Few analysts expect an outright winner from the 36 total who are contesting.

      If the poll needs to go to a second round, it will involve only the two top candidates and take place on December 19.

      Since a peaceful election in 2013, investors and donor governments re-engaged following a four-year freeze that began after Rajoelina came to power.

      The events of 2009 prompted an exodus of foreign investors from a country that is one of the world’s poorest despite reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals.

      The island was hit by a fresh political crisis in April sparked by a legal amendment by Rajaonarimampianina’s government that would have prevented Ravalomanana from standing for office.

      Rajaonarimampianina approved a new law removing that provision the following month, allowing Ravalomanana to register as a candidate.

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      All 78 child hostages released in Cameroon, two teachers held

      BAMENDA, CAMEROON (REUTERS) – All 78 children and a driver kidnapped in south-west Cameroon were released on Wednesday (Nov 7), but a principal and one teacher are still being held by the armed men that took them, a priest conducting negotiations said.

      “Praise God, 78 children and the driver have been released. The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” Mr Samuel Fonki, a minister of the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, said, two days after they were taken into the bush by armed men.

      He had earlier put the number of children taken at 79, but one of their number was in fact a teacher, who remains with the kidnappers.

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      A royal visit to a land of princes

      In our series of letters from African writers, Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene reflects on the Prince of Wales’ two visits to the West African state.

      When the heir to the British throne first came to Ghana, I was a reporter on the Daily Graphic newspaper and the conversation in the newsroom was whether Prince Charles could be described as handsome.

      This was in 1977 and the prince was a 29-year old unmarried man. All young unmarried rich men used to be described as dashing.

      I think those who said he was handsome were in the majority in the newsroom and for a long time a big poster of him came to adorn a wall behind the desk of one of the young women in the office.

      Forty-one years later, Prince Charles has visited Ghana again, with his second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, and, according to a blurb from the British High Commission in Accra, some of the events on his itinerary form part of the celebrations of his 70th birthday.

      The couple have been busy doing what royals do, visiting sites, looking earnest and joining in with dancing groups.

      On Sunday, they were guests of the Asantehene, the monarch of the Ashanti, one of Ghana’s main ethnic groups, who laid on a special ceremony with so much gold on display that it led to some questioning why we would be asking for any kind of aid from anyone.

      There was a state banquet on Monday, where the couple danced to highlife music, the country’s well-known musical style.

      Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo had made an elaborate toast and decorated Prince Charles with the highest state honour. I wondered if there was a room somewhere in Buckingham Palace where these sashes and gongs are kept.

      It was on Monday, the fourth day of the visit, that we finally had a chance to hear the prince speak publicly, by which time some of us were beginning to think he had come to our country to be seen but not heard.

      He, however, made up for his three days of silence. He gave a public lecture to a packed conference centre. It was on a subject that is close to his heart – the environment, and saving our planet.

      He spoke about climate change, the disappearing Lake Chad, plastic waste and the pollution of the world’s oceans.

      Steering clear of local politics

      He urged us in Ghana to play a leading role in the fight to save the environment. I kept waiting for him to mention “galamsey”, the Ghanaian word for illegal mining, which epitomizes our destruction of the environment.

      But he never did, and those who know about these things told me he would not want to say anything that would sound vaguely like getting involved in Ghanaian politics.

      Prince Charles then had a meeting at a very fancy night club, Sandbox, at the beach in Accra, discussing the world’s plastic crisis with environmental campaigners. The beach there is breathtakingly beautiful.

      Elizabeth Ohene:

      “Ghana is so full of royalty – every village has a full complement, every other person claims to be a prince or princess”

      I was one of the many hundreds invited to a special reception on Friday at the High Commissioner’s residence to celebrate the visit and mark the prince’s birthday.

      The crowd, according to the High Commission, consisted mostly of members of the British-Ghanaian Diaspora, members of the UK community in Ghana, and Ghanaians from all walks of life “who share a close connection with the UK”.

      I doubt I had ever seen so many uniformed, braided and medalled men under one roof. I wondered just how many uniformed men travelled with the prince.

      It set me thinking that when I lived in the UK, I always had great difficulty understanding the attitude the British people had towards their royal family. It was not always clear to me if the bowing, scraping and newspaper adoration were a true reflection of public sentiments.

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      I decided the difference was that Ghana is so full of royalty – every village has a full complement, every other person claims to be a prince or princess and new chiefs emerge all the time – that Ghanaians could hardly feel intimidated by the concept of royalty or a British prince, no matter how many rows of medals he had on his chest.

      The reception deserved to be described as special; the décor was beautiful, the music excellent, the finger foods were devoured enthusiastically, there was enough booze to keep the gathering in good humour, and there were fascinators to keep your eyes darting around.

      Prince Charles came, stayed in a cordoned area and a few people were allowed in to shake his hands. He did not utter a single public word throughout the entire evening.

      The state banquet on Monday night felt a little more relaxed, even though there were enough haute couture gowns to make any fashion editor feel at home.

      There was a fashion show that ended up with a display of some items by the renowned Ghanaian-British designer, Oswald Boateng, who, we discovered, had been one of the beneficiaries of the Prince’s Trust charity. He was given help setting up his first tailoring shop.

      Prince Charles: Key facts

      When he replied to the toast by our president, Prince Charles demonstrated he was an old hand at such matters, or maybe he was simply displaying that he has a thoroughly well-equipped and knowledgeable staff.

      Reference had been made to the fact that members of the prince’s family had been visiting these parts for a long time, starting with his grand-uncle Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, back in 1925.

      Prince Charles got a big laugh from the audience when he recounted a story about his grand-uncle visiting the then Okyehene, the paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa, in the east of Ghana.

      The story goes that the heavens opened and the Okyehene gave an umbrella to his visitor to be able to get back and, apparently, this umbrella was never returned.

      So, this Prince of Wales brought an umbrella for the current Okyehene to replace the one his grand-uncle took away 93 years ago. I suspect it was not just a funny story but there was some honour meant to be served.

      ‘The party ends when it ends’

      But who is to ever understand the arcane ways of how British royalty behaves and expects to be treated? The High Commission certainly kept up the protocols.

      The invitation to Friday’s reception stated it would start at 6pm and Carriages would be at 10.30pm. The invitation from our president’s office only said guests were to be seated by 8pm.

      Nothing about Carriages, which was probably just as well, because our First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo, Second Lady (as the wife of the vice-president is known) Samira Bawumia, former President Jerry Rawlings, his wife Nana Konadu and Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall danced late into the night.

      Proof, if any were needed that we don’t do carriages here. The party ends when it ends.

      The British royals had a taste of Ghana and have promised to be back sooner than the 41 years it has taken between the last visit and this one.

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      Facts About Hippos

      Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamus amphibius) are large, round, water-loving animals that are native to Africa. The word “hippopotamus” comes from the Greek word for “water horse” or “river horse,” although hippos and horses aren’t closely related. The closest living relatives to hippos are pigs, whales and dolphins, according to the San Diego Zoo.

      Size

      Hippos are very rotund animals and are the third largest living land mammals, after elephants and white rhinos, according to Animal Planet. They grow to between 10.8 and 16.5 feet (3.3 to 5 meters) long and up to 5.2 feet (1.6 m) tall at the shoulder. The average female weighs around 3,000 lbs. (1,400 kilograms), while males weigh 3,500 to 9,920 lbs. (1,600 to 4,500 kg), according to the San Diego Zoo.

      Habitat

      Hippos live in sub-Saharan Africa. They live in areas with abundant water, as they spend most of their time submerged to keep their skin cool and moist. Considered amphibious animals, hippos spend up to 16 hours per day in the water, according to National Geographic.

      Hippos are social beasts, hanging out in groups called schools, bloats, pods or sieges. Schools of hippos usually consist of 10 to 30 members, including both females and males, although some groups have as many as 200 individuals. No matter the size, the school is usually led by a dominant male.

      Hippos are very loud animals. Their snorts, grumbles and wheezes have been measured at 115 decibels, according to the San Diego Zoo — about the same volume as you’d get when 15 feet (4.6 m) from the speakers at a rock concert. These booming creatures also use subsonic vocalizations to communicate.

      Hippos are aggressive and are considered very dangerous. They have large teeth and tusks that they use for fighting off threats, including humans. Sometimes, their young fall victim to adult hippos’ tempers. During a fight between two adults, a young hippo caught in the middle can be seriously hurt or even crushed.

      Though hippos move easily through the water, they can’t actually swim. According to the San Diego Zoo, these animals glide through the water by pushing themselves off other objects. And they can stay under water for up to 5 minutes without coming up for air, according to National Geographic.

      Hungry, hungry hippos

      Hippos have a healthy and mostly herbivorous appetite. Adults eat about 80 lbs. (35 kg) of grass each night,traveling up to 6 miles (10 kilometers) in a night to get their fill. They also eat fruit that they find during their nightly scavenging, according to National Geographic. If food is scarce, hippos can store food in their stomachs and go up to three weeks without eating.

      Although hippos were long believed to be exclusively herbivorous, 2015 study published in the journal Mammal Review found that hippos occasionally feed on the carcasses of animals, including other hippos.

      Baby hippos

      Female hippos have a gestation period of eight months and have only one baby at a time, according to the San Diego Zoo. At birth, the calf weighs between 50 and 110 lbs. (23 to 50 kg). For its first eight months, the calf nurses while its mother is on land, or it swims underwater to suckle. When it dives, the calf closes its nose and ears to block out water. All hippos have this ability. Hippos also have membranes that cover and protect their eyes while they are underwater.

      At 5 to 7 years old, the hippo calf is fully mature, according to the San Diego Zoo. The median life expectancy of a hippo is 36 years.

      Attacks on humans

      The hippopotamus is considered the world’s deadliest large land mammal. These semiaquatic giants kill an estimated 500 people per year in Africa, according to the BBC. Hippos are highly aggressive and are well-equipped to deliver considerable damage to anything that wanders into their territory.

      For example, in 2014, a hippo attacked a small, unsuspecting boat filled with Nigerian school children, killing twelve students and one teacher on board, an Australian news outlet reported. Conflicts between humans and hippos also occur when hippos wander onto land in search of food.

      Conservation status

      According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the common hippo isn’t endangered, but it is vulnerable to extinction. The IUCN estimates that between 125,000 and 148,000 hippos remain in the wild. Poaching and habitat loss reduced the hippo’s global numbers during the late 1990s and early 2000s, but the population has since plateaued thanks to stricter law enforcement, according to the IUCN.

      Invasive hippos

      Notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar famously kept hippos, giraffes, elephants and other exotic animals on his estate in northwestern Colombia. When Escobar was killed in 1993, the Colombian government seized all of his assets, including his menagerie. Most of his animals were transferred to zoos and aquariums, but his four hippos were left to fend for themselves.

      Those four animals made their way into Colombia’s waterways, where they multiplied. Today, between 40 and 60 of their descendants roam the landscape, according to an investigation by biologists at the University of California, San Diego.

      This invasive population poses a threat to the community, because the hippos occasionally trample crops and charge at humans. However, many Colombians have grown fond of the uninvited ungulates and vehemently oppose their removal. Some scientists, though, fear that the animals’ continued presence could have unintended consequences.

      “The risk to native species — such as manatees, turtles and fish — is high, and the environmental effect is unpredictable,” Nelson Aranguren-Riaño, biologist at Pedagogical and Technological University of Colombia, said in a statement.

      Colombian wildlife officials have sterilized a handful of male hippos in an attempt to slow the growth of the population, but there are currently no plans to relocate or sterilize the entire population.

      This article was updated on Nov. 1, 2018, by Live Science Contributor Annie Roth.

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      Why Ghana should use Melania Trump as a fashion ambassador

      In our series of letters from African writers, Ghanaian journalist Elizabeth Ohene reflects on US First Lady Melania Trump’s first visit to the continent.

      It’s good that it’s the female half of the current inhabitants of the White House who is making the first foray into Africa. I am not quite sure what kind of welcome US President Donald Trump would get if he were making the announced trip to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt this week.

      In Ghana, the first stop of First Lady Melania Trump’s four-nation trip, there isn’t exactly an atmosphere of Trump-mania.

      My tentative and unscientific survey showed that there were not many people who even knew the name of the US first lady.

      What is Melania Trump doing in Africa?

      Melania Trump is travelling to Ghana, Malawi, Kenya and Egypt in what is her first visit to Africa and her first major solo trip abroad since becoming first lady.

      “I am excited to educate myself on the issues facing children throughout the continent, while also learning about its rich culture and history,” Mrs Trump said in a statement announcing her trip.

      Her focus will be on maternal and newborn care in hospitals, and children’s education, according to the White House.

      The response to Mrs Trump’s visit has so far been lukewarm. Our reporters in Accra, Nairobi and Cairo have been gauging opinion on the streets:

      I can’t work out how the State Department and the White House came to decide on the four countries chosen for Mrs Trump’s trip.

      It used to be possible to tell these things, but these days it is difficult to tell who the Americans count as their friends. One moment, they are calling someone names and the next, that same person is being embraced as a good man and a friend.

      The State Department used to cite freedom of speech and the holding of free and fair elections among the factors determining whether a country made it into their list of “friendly countries”. These days you can’t be sure.

      What a difference from July 2009, when Barack Obama was making his first trip to Africa as president, accompanied by Michelle. We in Ghana could not resist preening ourselves for being the choice.

      I remember I wrote teasing our Nigerian and Kenyan cousins in particular that they had been ignored by the Obamas.

      Today, I am not sure there is a constituency here in Ghana that is beating its chest for making it to the list of Mrs Trump’s first visit to Africa.

      But there is no danger of her not getting a warm Ghanaian welcome. Ghanaians love all things American and you can tell that not just by the queues at the visa section of the US embassy, but by the number of people here who purport to speak with American accents without ever having entered the United States.

      We take it that Ghana is still considered a friend of the US even if we don’t know what the current ingredients are for American friendship.

      And then of course, we are presuming that even in the era of Trump, American first ladies would be travelling with “goodies” – and “goodies” are always welcome even in the era of Ghana Beyond Aid.

      A first lady’s trip that ended in disaster

      The last time an American first lady came to Ghana by herself was in January 2006, and she chose Ghana to launch her Textbooks and Learning Materials Programme, which aimed to support African tertiary education with required resources.

      I was education minister at the time, and I know that we managed to convince her and her team that taking American textbooks for our tertiary institutions was not the best option.

      Instead, we received help to develop, write and print our own books for early childhood reading, from Kindergarten to Primary 4. As a librarian herself, First Lady Laura Bush was enthusiastic about our programme and the effects of her visit lasted for years.

      Elizabeth Ohene:

      “All the people in the photos were either in jail, or in hiding”

      Whilst on the subject, my mind goes back to the first time a US first lady visited Ghana by herself. It ended in disaster.

      Nothing to do with First Lady Pat Nixon who came in early 1972 and captured many hearts with her business-like approach to matters.

      She toured parliament hosted by Naa Morkor, the wife of Prime Minister Kofi Busia, she congratulated Ghana on her democratic practices, there were many photo opportunities and the US first lady was seen off with a lot of pomp and pageantry. Two days later, a certain Col Ignatius Acheampong staged a coup and overthrew the constitutionally elected government.

      The US Information Services (Usis), a now defunct agency charged with public diplomacy, was heartbroken. There they were with all these beautiful photos from the visit that could not be used.

      All the people in the photos with First Lady Pat Nixon were either in jail, or in hiding or certainly not in good standing with the new authorities – and none of the things she had come to praise Ghana for were still in operation.

      I don’t know what they ever did with those photos, but I know there were a lot of unhappy Usis officials with photos on their hands that could not be used.

      But that was then, Ghana has moved on, and now has a well-grounded democracy, meaning visitors and citizens alike need not worry about coups d’etat.

      Fashion ambassador?

      Given her chosen headline programme on maternal and child healthcare for the visit to Ghana, First Lady Melania Trump will find a kindred spirit in our own First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo.

      The Ghanaian first lady spent six months last year shaming everybody into giving her money to build a modern and well-equipped mother and child care unit in the second city, Kumasi, to deal with a long-standing problem.

      It’s not unlikely that our Rebecca will find a way to convince Melania that there is a children’s ward in some hospital in Accra or somewhere in the country that can be named Be Best, the Melania Trump slogan, if she would agree to refurbish it.

      On my part, I wish I had had an input in drawing up the programme for this visit. I would have put Mrs Trump in touch with my dressmaker to make her a kente jacket to rival her famous “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket.

      We are not known here only for mother and child problems, we do a wicked turn in kente fashion which should make a lasting impression on Mrs Trump.

      I wonder if protocol allows it, but I think we really should make her into a fashion ambassador for Ghana.

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      ‘How I became friends with an octopus’

      Imagine befriending an octopus, swimming alongside the much-feared great white shark, having your face stroked by a rarely seen clawless otter and cradling a wild rock fish in your hands.

      These fascinating, life changing experiences have been documented by South Africans Craig Foster and Ross Frylinck in a newly released book entitled Sea Change – Primal Joy and the Art of Underwater Tracking following eight years of diving without wetsuits and scuba gear in the icy waters of Cape Town.

      Mr Foster said he developed an amazing relationship with an octopus during the course of his daily dives into what he described as the “golden” underwater kelp forest outside Simon’s Town, which lies on the Atlantic side of the Cape peninsula.

      “I had the privilege of visiting this incredible animal for almost a year. It totally trusted me, lost all fear, it would take me on hunting expeditions and let me into its secret world.

      “Octopuses have different personalities, some are quite bold, others very shy, she was in between,” Mr Foster told the BBC, describing how she would come over and greet him when she became accustomed to his visits.

      “It is a great privilege to step into that world to learn – not like a mammal – but like a fellow spineless creature in her invertebrate world,” he said.

      Her den was mainly a hole she had dug in the ocean floor, which the diver described as a “proper home”.

      “She hunts over 50 species but you can only find that out when you’re allowed into her den and can pick up the bones of the animals she has eaten,” he said, referring to the lobster and crab shells he saw.

      “You realise, my goodness, her life is so detailed and crazily connected to everything around her.”

      ‘Human are not on a shark’s menu’

      The diver has also had amazing encounters with great white sharks, possibly some of the ones that have been responsible for attacks on surfers and bathers on surfers and bathers in nearby False Bay over the years.

      Unlike the aggressive hunters of human flesh they are often portrayed to be, he paints a totally different picture of a magnificent serene animal.

      “When the great white sees a human it scans us, its search image is picking up something that’s not prey. They are not sure what we are, they may be curious but it’s not something that’s good for them to eat and they know that.

      “They aren’t animals that are after us, if they were, there would be attacks every day. If they see a seal, a fish or some of the other prey that’s a different story but humans are not on their menu.

      “The one attack a year is an aberration. There’s something in that person they attack that’s triggering a response in that shark, it’s incredibly rare. Maybe it’s the muscle tension that’s high, maybe the shark is in a bad mood.

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      “I have made eye contact with them. I once had five great whites circling me in open water and I could see no aggression towards me whatsoever,” Mr Foster said.

      “I’ve had a couple of close meetings with Tiger Sharks but they’re also very gentle if you’re relaxed. These animals are not the killers they’re made out to be.”

      Mr Frylinck, despite a scary maiden encounter with a big shark, has also become more comfortable with the much-feared animal.

      “White sharks very rarely enter the kelp forest, they patrol the fringes. They swim around this bay which has one of the highest concentrations of white sharks in the world.

      “One day we were swimming around the edge of the forest and Craig’s friend Danny, who was with us, told me a white shark had just swum three to four metres away from my shoulder and had watched me quite intently. He described it as an absolute monster – between four and five metres,” Mr Frylinck said.

      Underwater tracks

      Mr Foster, an award-winning film-maker of natural history, managed to adapt to the underwater world the tracking techniques he learnt in the Kalahari desert from the San people, widely regarded as being the best trackers in the world.

      “It involves a number of things like looking at subtle changes in sand and sand texture to see what animals have been around, looking to see if, for example, there’s been a kill, if a worm has been digging, slime trails, egg casings – there are a multitude of signs underwater.

      “Initially I thought it would be impossible to try and track underwater but I was desperate to try and break into this very cryptic world,” he said.

      “This crazy idea was in my mind for a long time and then eventually I started seeing the first underwater tracks, that’s when I first thought it could work but I had no idea that I could develop it into such a detailed way understanding of animals underwater.”

      Diving 365 days a year

      It was this understanding that led to Mr Foster uncovering eight new species of shrimp, one of which – Heteromysis Fosteri – has been named after him.

      The three new species, mostly bright red to orange in colour with series of either spots or stripes, belong to the genus Heteromysis and differ from previously known species by colour pattern, eye shape and the patterns of spines on their legs and tails.

      Having managed to meet his commitment to do 365 dives a year, he said his interaction with sea life has made him realise the importance of changing the way he lives.

      “The whole way I’ve been taught by other humans to live on this planet is completely unsustainable and I’ve also realised that these animals, particularly the phytoplankton, provide the oxygen for every breath I take. They provide the basis for every meal I have.

      “They have taught me that all the financial, political and other issues we hear about in the news are inconsequential compared to that natural foundation that holds everything up and we’re chipping away at it,” Mr Foster said.

      “We need to nurture it rather than doing the opposite.”

      All pictures from Sea Change Project.

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      Bare Knuckle Bouts in Madagascar? ‘It Is About More Than the Fighting’

      SAMBAVA, Madagascar — The devoted fans make their way to dusty outdoor rings surrounded by grass huts and palm trees. They take their seats on makeshift wooden benches and through song and lots of cheering, glorify the gladiators of moraingy, Madagascar’s brutal bare-knuckle fighting tradition.

      Bouts are a blur of fists, elbows, knees and feet punctuated by the thud of vicious slugs and the smack of bodies hitting the ground. Whirling blows are exchanged for longer than seems possible to withstand.

      Haymakers, kicks and punches are landed, absorbed and countered with equal ferocity. The fighters, known as fagnorolahy, perform a violent dance until someone gives up or is knocked down, or the referee identifies a winner.

      “I don’t feel fear before a fight,” said Rocky Ambanza, a local star of the game. “If you feel fear, you have already lost. But you must not underestimate your adversary.”

      Few opponents would underestimate Mr. Ambanza, 28, whose compact body is marked by scars and scratches. His power, speed and technique, combined with his confident swagger and aggression, made him a crowd favorite during a recent moraingy (pronounced more-AIN-gee) match in Sambava.

      The city, in the northeastern Sava region of Madagascar, is the world capital for vanilla production. The soaring global price for the flavor has boosted the local economy in recent years, and the infusion of money has added a commercial component to the centuries-old form of hand-to-hand combat.

      Winners of moraingy bouts earn cash as well as prizes that can include stereos, televisions, bikes and even cars.

      The traditional sport has changed in another way, too. Typically it was pursued by unmarried men between the ages of 10 to 35. Now, women are increasingly taking part, both as combatants and managers.

      “My husband loves moraingy, so with the money we’re making from the vanilla trade, we put fighters on a monthly contract and host the events,” said Maria Hadjee, whose family business sponsors a moraingy team in Sambava with a half a dozen male fighters and a coach.

      The team travels the region by minivan, drumming up attendance by driving around the dirt roads of the towns they visit and announcing over loud speakers the next day’s combat against rival clubs. The fighters sometimes set up the smaller venues themselves.

      The combat that follows becomes a marker not only of strength and courage, but also of character, especially in the face of a loss.

      Rules vary from region to region, but victory is not possible without maintaining certain critical social attitudes and principles, according to Ernest Ratsimbazafy, the author of “Martial Arts of the World: An Encyclopedia of History and Innovation.”

      “Premier among these is self-control,” he wrote. “Fear of punches must be overcome, calm must be maintained, and revengeful feelings must be avoided.”

      In Madagascar, people often prefer indirect forms of confrontation — through proverbs or through spreading rumors of witchcraft, for example, said Sarah Osterhoudt, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University.

      “Harmony is very important, and there’s this idea of collective action over individual action, so anything that allows people to confront things in a ritualized way softens that confrontation,” Professor Osterhoudt said. “Fighting could be a way of doing that within a predictable format.”

      At a recent match in Sambava, ropes were suspended on posts over a patch of dirt in an empty lot, flanked by towering speakers thumping out Malagasy pop tunes, replacing the drums that provided the soundtrack to moraingy fights in former times. Female cheerleaders in short shorts and crop tops gyrated to the beat.

      Some 2,000 spectators, who paid about a dollar each, filtered through a narrow gate and filled seats or climbed walls, trees and nearby buildings to get a clear view. The crowd was well supplied with alcohol, and young men’s cheeks bulged with khat, a leafy plant chewed for the mild high it provides.

      Once the arena was packed, the fagnorolahy entered and strutted around the ring, taunting their opponents with glares, clenched fists and menacing gestures. Despite this theatrical provocation and showboating, the atmosphere among fighters is one of camaraderie, reflecting moraingy’s role as a male bonding tradition.

      Soon, Mr. Ambanza entered the ring. A teammate tied a red rope amulet around his bulging right biceps, and his coach smeared Vaseline on his bruised cheekbones before he slipped under the ropes to face his adversary.

      On the referee’s signal, the two fighters circled one another, feinting and jabbing. Mr. Ambanza ducked under a sweeping right hook and unleashed a devastating uppercut that lifted his opponent off his feet and dropped the dazed fighter to the ground. The crowd roared. Mr. Ambanza raised his fists to the sky, eyes closed.

      Despite the drubbing the bouts can deliver, moraingy fighters often take on three or four different opponents in an afternoon. Each contest consists of one to three rounds lasting less than a minute.

      Mr. Ambanza’s knockdown was one of the day’s highlights. On his victory lap, he bumped fists with his coach and ventured into the crowd, where fans dropped bank notes into a plastic shopping bag he held out.

      Spectators snapped photos and recorded video clips on mobile phones to share on social media.

      Such modern trappings aside, moraingy remains rooted in its past as a corporeal expression of Malagasy society.

      “It is about more than the fighting,” said Aboudou Matchimoudini, the coach of Boîte Noir de Diego, one of Madagascar’s more competitive clubs. “It’s our culture and our tradition, our history.”

      That history dates back as far as the 15th century. The fighting tradition spread across the country and to other islands off the southeast coast of Africa, including the Comoro Islands, La Reunion, the Seychelles and Mauritius.

      While the fights are ferocious, the rituals around the sport encourage mutual respect. The winner bear hugs his opponent, briefly lifting him off the ground before the gesture is reciprocated. The victor is cheered, but so is the vanquished.

      As Mrs. Hadjee’s fighters gathered for an afternoon workout at a local soccer stadium, three goats nibbled on a lone patch of dry grass near midfield. After the workout, the players stopped for rice and soup at a roadside restaurant.

      The fighters may earn a few hundred dollars a month, which is enough for Mr. Ambanza, who first saw a moraingy match at age 15, and immediately began training.

      “I’ve been fighting for 10 years and I’m earning enough to live on,” he said. “The only problem right now is that I have a broken rib.”

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      Awer Mabil: From Living In A Mud Hut To Scoring for Australia

      Awer Mabil’s journey from life as a refugee in a hut built out of mud to scoring on his international debut is the stuff dreams are made of.

      The 23-year-old grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where hunger and cramped conditions were everyday problems for his family.

      After moving to Australia as part of a humanitarian programme, he was subjected to racism as he tried to make it as a footballer.

      But he has come through it all, and scored on his debut for his adopted nation in a 4-0 win in Kuwait in October.

      Mabil was born in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kakuma after his parents fled the civil war in Sudan.

      Hunger and cramped conditions were just two of the daily challenges faced by his family.

      “We built a hut out of mud,” he tells the BBC’s World Football programme.“Probably the size of one bedroom in a normal house in the Western world, as you would call it.

      “But you know it’s not your home. There were four of us living in it – me, my mum, my brother and sister. We got food from the UN once a month.

      “Each person would get 1kg of rice, so we had 4kg in our family, and 3kg of beans. It got tricky because we had to ration it.

      “We had one meal a day, which was dinner. There was no such thing as breakfast or lunch. You just had to find your way through the day and the little dinner that you had, you really had to appreciate it.”

      Two-hour walk to watch football

      Mabil, a winger, started playing football in the refugee camp from the age of five, kicking a ball around with his friends “because there was little else to do”.

      But the Manchester United-mad youngster had a long walk if he wanted to watch a football match on televison.

      “I loved playing football. It was the only thing that kept me out of trouble,” he says. “I followed Manchester United a lot, but there was only one TV, two hours away, and you had to pay $1 to watch.

      “If you couldn’t go, you just had to make sure that one of your friends who went told you the result.”

      His life changed in 2006, when he and his family were resettled in Australia.

      “I thought, ‘yeah, my chance is now – if I work hard, everything can happen and I can chase my dreams.’ That’s when it really began.

      “Thanks to football, I began to speak English and express my feelings. That’s when it started to kick in.”

      He was signed by Adelaide United at the age of 16 and had two seasons in the A-League, which included an FFA Cup win in 2014.

      Racist comments ‘normal’

      The changes in Mabil’s life were not all good, though. For the first time, he experienced racism – but he says he does not see Australia as a “racist place”.

      “I’ve faced it a lot,” he says. “Once, when I was 16, I came home and one of my neighbours attacked me,” he says.

      “The first thing I did was shut the front door and hide my siblings. I was talking to these guys while the door was shut. I said: ‘Go away.’ They kept saying: ‘Go back to your own country.’

      “Apart from that, you experience day-to-day things like when you’re walking along the road there are people in cars beeping you and saying things. That’s normal.”

      Despite that, he says he’s proud to represent the country.

      “I represent Australia because it’s given me and my family the opportunity in life to have a second chance,” he says.

      “I don’t judge Australia as a racist place. There are certain people who are racist, but it’s a country that belongs to everybody.

      “It’s part of me because I’ve lived half of my life there. I call it home, so I’m proud to represent Australia.”

      In 2015, he moved to FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

      Three years later he is still there, and now an Australia international – his debut, on 16 October, capped by an 88th-minute goal.

      “The reaction has been amazing,” says Mabil, who even received a message of congratulations from one of his idols – former Manchester United, Juventus and West Ham defender Patrice Evra.

      “I grew up watching Evra playing for Manchester United,” he says. “To get feedback from these big, big guys means the hard work continues and that I’m on the right path.”

      Giving something back

      Mabil now has his own foundation – Barefoot to Boots – and regularly returns to Kakuma.

      “I take boots, football equipment and hospital equipment and donate them to the refugees there,” he says. “If I have two weeks’ holiday, I’ll spend one week there and a week with my family.

      “It was really tough [living there] but it’s something I’m really grateful for and will be grateful for for the rest of my life.

      “It’s built some mentality into my head to appreciate the good times and to not give up on my dreams.”

      Original article published By Mani Djazmi BBC Sport

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