10 Years Without Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival
By Ibrahim Bello, Nigeria News Agency
Stakeholders are worried that for 10 years the Argungu International Fishing and Cultural Festival has not been celebrated. The festival usually staged in March of every year held last in 2009.
It attracts fishermen from Niger Republic, Chad, Benin Republic and Cameroon.
Infrastructure at the venue of the festival are at great state of decay because of the abandonment.
The Argungu Grand Fishing Hotel by the side of the Matan Fada River, where the event normally takes place is in a bad state.
The pavilion and its environs are over grown with weeds, indicating inactivity.
Alhaji Hussaini Makwashi (Sarkin Ruwa), the `chief of fishermen,’ in the area, who also overseers the Matan Fada Fishing River, pleaded that the festival should not be allowed to die.
He recounted the history of the festival, which he says dates back to 1934.
Makwashi said that it started during the reign of Muhammadu Sama, as emir of Argungu.
He said that the emir invited Sultan Hassan Dan-Muazu as a way of cementing relationship and fostering unitybetween the Fulani people and the Kabawa people.
.Makwashi said that Dan-Muazu slept in Argungu, making him the first sultan to pass the night in the area.
“The emir sought the opinion of his people (Kabawa ) to know what to do in order to impress the sultan.
“The people came up with the idea of organising a grand fishing festival to entertain the sultan who was the first sultan to visit the area.
“That proposal resulted to more stronger ties between the Fulani and Kabawa people and even gave birth to inter-ethnic marriages between the two ethnic groups who were once sworn enemies,” he said.
Makwashi said that fishermen in the area had incurred losses as a result of the suspension or stoppage of the fishing festival.
“It is disheartening that this colourful and wealth generation event, which tourists from within and outside the country attend will just be abandoned like that.
“We were told some years back by the government that the event was put on hold because of the deteriorating security situation, especially when Boko Haram activities were devastating.
“And you know the festival attracts large number of people who come in their thousands to watch the events.
” We reasoned with them at that point in time, but now we have overcome such threat as we have no Boko Haram fear or attacks,” he said.
He lamented the economic difficulties faced by the fishermen and their families, adding that they depended on the festival to get money to feed their families and sponsor their children to schools.
He said that the festival hosts over 30,000 fishermen from different places and countries, stressing that many people depend on the festival for their livelihood.
“We call on Gov. Atiku Bagudu, to fulfill his promise of reviving the fishing festival and also renovate the dilapidated structure at the fishing village,” he pleaded.
Alhaji Musa Argungu, a fisherman, said it had not been easy for the fishermen for the past 10 years. He said that the stoppage had caused them great economic havoc.
“This has been our business and we do it to earn ourliving, no one will be happy when he wakes up and discovers his means of livelihood is stopped.
“Whenever the fishing event holds, we earn reasonable amount of money that will solve many monetary challenges of our families, including money to `marry off’ our daughters.
” Put yourself in our shoes and imagine life without such an income for 10 years.
“Do you know that in a good day at the climax of the festival, we could get as much as N50,000 to N70,000 and in just one day,” he said.
Argungu pleaded with the government to revive and restore the lost glory of the event.
Alhaji Aminu Abubakar, Chairman of Kebbi Hoteliers’ Managers Association, said the managers had lost huge source of revenue due to delay in holding the festival.
“We have over 30 functional hotels in the state and we have been managing them well, should the festival be staged tomorrow, we are ready for the visitors.
” The business, if not because of non-governmental organisations that do come for workshops and trainings as well as wedding events, the hoteliers may close down their businesses.
“We contribute a lot to the employment generation in the state, as whenever the festival is to take place, we increase the number of our staff or employ ad hoc staff, ” Abubakar said.
The manager appealed to the government to quickly organise the event to enable them get more patronage.
Alhaji Shu’aibu Aliero, the Permanent Secretary, Kebbi Ministry of Information and Culture, noted that the festival had not been held for 10 years.
Aliero said that whatever the reasons people outside the government circle might give other than the following reasons could be described as figment of their imagination.
“The festival is suspended due largely to security situation in the country.
” We are living witnesses to the deteriorating security situation in the country that ranged from Boko Haram, kidnapping, cattle rustling and banditry.
“Though Kebbi has been adjudged as one of the most peaceful states in Nigeria, the fact remains that the state has borders with states like Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna and Niger, that have intermittent security challenges.
” Furthermore, there is the issue of climate change; it is observed that the low water level of Matan Fada River cannot allow the climax of the festival to take place over the years, because fishes are believed to be no longer there due to the absence of free flow of water from its tributaries,” he said.
According to him, the government waited for security situation to improve and for the water level to rise to enable her make preparations for the festival.
The permanent secretary said that the security situation had improved and the water level had risen, which prompted the state government to start preparations for the festival to take place either this year or early 2020.
Alhaji Umar Bena, Director of Tourism in the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Co-operative and Tourism, also attributed the suspension of the event to security challenges.
” You see, basically security concern in the country is the main reason why the ceremony has not been held for 10 years.
“Argungu Fishing Festival is an international event; people from different parts of the world assemble in Argungu; it will be too risky to hold such an event in an uncertain security situation,” he said.
Bena expressed optimism that the event might soon hold because of the improved security situation in the country.
Feature: Palestinian volunteers launch initiative to help Jordan Valley’s farmers market products
Palestinian volunteers have recently launched an initiative to help farmers at the Jordan Valley out of the difficulty in selling their products, especially watermelons, in a tight local market flooded with rival Israeli goods.
According to official statistics, the Palestinians consume approximately 40,000 tons of watermelons annually, 75 percent of which are from Israel.
The initiative, launched a few days ago by dozens of volunteers, is based on a strategy of purchasing watermelons and marketing them in several cities in the West Bank.
“The produce is marketed and sold through Facebook’s advertisements … mostly in Ramallah, al-Bireh, Nablus, Tulkarm and Salfit,” Farid Tamallah, a co-founder of the initiative, told Xinhua.
He said the initiative came after a visit to the Jordan Valley that saw stretches of watermelons left to rot because of the farmers’ inability to market them.
“One kg of (Jordan Valley’s) watermelon is priced at no more than one United States dollar, which is way cheaper but better than the Israeli watermelon,” Tamallah said, adding the demand is starting to get higher through the initiative.
Mohammed al-Fayez, who owns 20 hectares of farmlands in the Jordan Valley and employs some 50 farmers, said he sold 18 tons of watermelon through the initiative.
“However, it is not enough to compensate for the large losses we suffered,” al-Fayez, the only breadwinner of his seven-member family, told Xinhua.
Tamallah also admitted that his volunteers have limited capabilities to turn the tables around, calling on the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture to help promote the initiative.
Tareq Abu Laban, undersecretary for the economic sector in the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture, welcomed the initiative to market the products of the Jordan Valley’s farmers.
“The ministry supports the farmers and protects their produce in the Palestinian markets by preventing the import of similar products from any other region,” Laban told Xinhua.
The Israeli watermelons are introduced into the West Bank markets by smugglers, according to the official.
The ongoing coronavirus crisis and the Palestinian leadership’s decision to abolish all agreements with Israel limited the ministry’s ability to trace smugglers, he explained.
The Jordan Valley, home to some 65,000 Palestinians and 9,000 Israeli settlers, constitutes a strategic treasure for its vast fertile farmlands and mild climate.
Israel is planning to annex the Jordan Valley, which accounts for 28 percent of the territory on which the Palestinians want to establish an independent state under the vision of the two-state solution.
Feature: Ugandan volunteer traverses remote villages to deliver HIV drugs amid COVID-19 lockdown
Uganda has been under a COVID-19 lockdown for the last three months to limit the spread of the pandemic, but a Ugandan volunteer defies the hardship to serve fellow villagers.
Godfrey Ssekaluvu, 43, in the central Ugandan district of Sembabule, offered to deliver HIV drugs to 63 villages in three sub-counties, where 1,500 people are on the Antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), after the lockdown has prevented patients living with HIV/AIDS from accessing their life-saving medicine.
“I started in April after the country was put under lockdown. Personally, I have survived on ARVs after I tested positive for HIV in 2007,” Ssekaluvu told Xinhua by telephone in a recent interview.
Passion, perseverance and love inspired Ssekaluvu to walk on foot across the villages to deliver the monthly dosage to his fellow villagers in dire need of medication, when they have to travel several kilometers to get necessary services at health facilities.
“I was taught that once someone starts taking ARVs, there is no turning back until the time comes for one to die,” he said.
He added that “I knew Sembabule had a number of positive-tested people who had no way to obtain their drugs while under lockdown. So I stepped in.”
Ssekaluvu, who once worked as a field assistant during a sensitization campaign, had interacted with many patients.
“It was easy to trace them, but the biggest hurdle was transport. The first two days were smooth because I was using my bicycle. On the third day, it broke down and the only option to use my feet,” he said.
Ssekaluvu worked together with the village leaders to deliver packages at different doorsteps.
“Of course there were a few individuals who did not want me to reach their homes for fear of stigmatization. Somehow we found a way of reaching them,” he said.
By the time Ssekaluvu started the delivery, some elderly people and children had gone days without taking drugs.
“I kept my mobile phone fully charged all day and night because the number of calls I would receive was high,” he said.
Ssekaluvu’s family has been supportive. His elder children attended to the gardens as he went on to deliver the medicines from the health facilities to his recipients.
“Since the lockdown started, I have never gone to the plantation to do any form of farming. It is the older children who have been doing the cultivation. I explained my mission and they had no choice,” he said.
His work has not gone without appreciation.
About a week ago, Ssekaluvu received a new bicycle from a well-wisher.
“Many people appreciate my work. There are some who gave me food while others helped quench my thirst on a sunny day,” he said.
Nayebare Musherure is another well-wisher who has donated a motorcycle to Ssekaluvu. While appearing on a local television, Musherure said such kind-hearted people as Ssekaluvu are hard to come by.
“His work deserves appreciation. I call upon the beneficiaries not to let him down by not swallowing the medicine as it will now be delivered in time,” Musherure said.
Esther Mbayo, minister in charge of the presidency, warned last month that gains made in the fight against HIV/AIDS may be reversed if efforts to combat the disease that has left over 2 million Ugandans dead since the 1980s are relaxed.
Mbayo said ongoing efforts to combat HIV/AIDS are on course with successes registered to achieve the global target of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
She said efforts must be persistent to remain on course. Ministry of Health figures showed 23,000 people die of HIV and the country registers 50,000 new infections annually.
Data also showed that as of 2018, about 1.4 million people were living with HIV/AIDS, among whom 84 percent knew their status, while 87 percent of those who have tested positive have started taking ARVs.
Ssekaluvu urged able-bodied people in other districts in the country to join him and came forward to help those who are unable to travel and access ARVs.
“We are tired of burying people who have died of AIDS while there is medicine. We can reverse the trend and have breathing space,” Ssekaluvu said.
Feature: Greece’s tourist attractions put out welcome mat after months of shutdown
Beaches packed with sunbeds and tourists cramming narrow streets and terraces overlooking the caldera to enjoy a stunning sunset has been the norm for the iconic island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea for many years, even in Junes. But not for this year.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Greece’s attractions reopened their gates to tourists on Monday, with protecting the health of visitors and locals being its top priority, as Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has announced.
The islanders in one of the most popular destinations in the country are eager to welcome their first foreign visitors under the new standards. They retain optimism that eventually all will turn out well, for the world, Greece and its tourism industry, a vital pillar of the local economy for decades, they told Xinhua.
Mitsotakis chose Santorini to officially launch the tourism season on Saturday. As of Monday, international flights for tourists to Athens and Thessaloniki airports have resumed.
Travelers from 29 countries, including China, with positive epidemiological data, will be subject to sample testing only upon arrival, while visitors from countries on the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) list of affected areas with a high risk of transmission of COVID-19, until June 30 will have to be tested upon arrival and spend at least one night at a designated hotel.
As of July 1, Greece will fully open all its airports to flights from abroad, as well as sailings from other countries and seven overland border points will reopen and tourists will be subject only to random sampling.
“I believe that about 30 percent of hotels will not open this season. We will see how the season is going and decide the next steps,” Antonis Iliopoulos, President of Santorini hoteliers’ association, said.
Owners cannot cope with the operational costs when occupancy rates on average hardly reach 15 percent for the coming weeks, he explained.
“We have more reservations in August than July, we have more reservations in September than August, so it seems that the season will be extended,” Iliopoulos said, noting that many businessmen are waiting to see whether flows will increase in order to hire more staff.
During spring, while Greece was still in lockdown (March 23-May 4) the government announced the first set of measures to support employees and employers alike, such as tax breaks, benefits and coverage of contributions to social security funds by the state budget.
“We are looking forward to more measures to be taken. They promised us that they will do the best they can in order to protect our industry,” Iliopoulos said.
“Definitely the measures our government has taken help a lot,” hotelier Andreas Patiniotis told Xinhua. “Currently, 40 percent of the hotel’s personnel is working. We hope that in the coming weeks we will add more.”
“Never before have we seen the island so empty, the images are unprecedented. It is a very difficult period for the island,” he said.
“At this moment, July is getting close to 25-30 percent. Last year the same period we had reached 80 to 90 percent,” he said, referring to reservations at his hotel so far.
NECESSARY MEASURES TAKEN
“There is certainly fear, because it is something that we don’t know how it will evolve. We hope everything will be fine,” Patiniotis said, stressing that Greek tourism professionals are strictly following guidelines given by authorities.
Hotel rooms and public areas are constantly disinfected, distances are kept between tables and the personnel have been trained to meet the new demands.
“We have taken all the necessary measures based on health safety protocols and therefore people should be feeling safe and they should come to enjoy the Greek hospitality, the sun and the sea,” he said.
“There are obviously hygiene measures to make sure everything is cleaner than previous standards and the staff now have to work with masks and gloves,” Vassilis Chryssos, owner of a cocktail bar on Santorini, told Xinhua.
There are limitations on the number of persons which can be inside the bar at any time, the number of tables has been reduced, menus are single usage or cleanable.
“A lot of these measures will make a big difference in our profit this year,” Chryssos said.
Given that Greece will see in 2020 only a fraction of the 33 million arrivals registered last year, as Mitsotakis acknowledged on Saturday, and that he had to reduce by 40 percent the tables at the bar, Chryssos is currently working with half of his employees.
“It is a good opportunity for everyone to do a nice restart and focus on the customers,” he said.” I am very positive.”
TOURISM SEASON TO EXTEND
“We are looking forward to the Chinese people to come back to Santorini, because it is very important for us as they travel all year round and we used to have so many Chinese tourists in the past years,” Iliopoulos said, extending a special welcome to Chinese tourists.
“We can’t wait for them to come back,” Chryssos echoed.
The fusion between culture and tourism is a great opportunity for Greece to extend the tourism season, the Greek PM told Xinhua during Saturday’s press conference, noting that Chinese travelers are a special target group since they appreciate archaeological sites and museums around the year rather than sunbathing on a beach.
In order to highlight Greece’s focus on this fusion between tourism and its rich cultural heritage, Mitsotakis toured the Ancient Agora of Athens and its museum, at the foot of the Acropolis hill in Athens, on Monday, after touring an archaeological site on Santorini on Saturday.
Museums all over Greece reopened on Monday after a three-month shutdown, while archaeological sites had opened in May.
Until Monday, Greece has registered a total of 3,134 COVID-19 cases, including 184 deaths, according to the latest data from the authorities.
Feature: France’s catering service back to life earlier than schedule with mix of relief, uncertainty
Vibrant streets, busy cafes and restaurants, Cergy, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, was back to life on Monday after being deserted in the past three months.
As one of the worst-hit zone by the COVID-19, the commune had seen deserted streets and closed shops and bars under the anti-coronavirus confinement imposed since mid-March.
The deconfinement started on May 11, but cafes, bars and restaurants were not allowed to reopen until June 2 with those in Great Paris region, classified as orange zone, as exceptions. The catering service in the region could only serve on outdoor terraces with their interior space remaining closed until June 21.
However, President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday hailed “a first victory” over the epidemic and announced a return to normalcy across the country, which allowed all restaurants and cafes to reopen on Monday, a week earlier than the original schedule.
It’s long-anticipated good news to people in the catering industry, such as Emir, a manager of Turkish food restaurant. “We have been looking forward to this news. We are so excited to resume activity as usual, to be able to sit inside rather than exclusively on outdoor terraces,” he said.
The 30-year-old man told Xinhua that easing the quarantine rules would further make people feel safe to leave their homes and increase their appetite to dine out after being locked down for a long period.
“I think the worst is behind us. Stoves are on, almost all the tables are occupied, people find again the pleasure to share a good meal with family, friends. And we have found the pleasure to see an agitated kitchen again during rush hours,” said Emir, beaming with joy.
The earlier-than-expected easing is beautiful music to the ears of Pervez, whose Himalaya restaurant, without terrace, reopened in early June only for home deliveries and takeaway service. But now, full-service is set to back on Tuesday noon.
“It’s so important to open sooner-than-expected. A week matters a lot in terms of revenue. The sooner we return to normal activity, the better we compensate for the loss we suffered during the shutdown, even if we are working at half-capacity due to physical distancing,” said Pervez.
“Obviously, tomorrow is a new start. But unanswered questions over the end of the epidemic, a risk of the virus resurgence makes me holding my breath,” he added.
Earlier on Monday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran told LCI television “the largest part of the epidemic is behind us, but the virus is not dead.”
He called on people to remain vigilant. “We are controlling its circulation, (but) we did not completely defeat it.”
To stem the spread of the COVID-19, France ordered the shutdown of its non-essential activities on March 14 — three days before a nationwide lockdown. The lockdown further dented the catering industry in France, which had been weakened by the terror attacks of 2015, the demonstrations of the “yellow vests” and the strikes against the pension reform at the end of 2019.
“Being able to finally get back to work across all of France does bring a sigh of relief,” Didier Chenet, head of the GNI association of independent hotel and restaurant owners, told France 24 television.
But he warned that “a recovery will be very slow, with economic conditions that are not viable for our businesses.”
According to Roland Heguy, president of the Union of Trades and Hotel Industries, “between 10 to 15 percent of restaurants in the country could close permanently” because of the epidemic.
As part of a support package to help pandemic-hit sectors, the French government announced that tourism businesses, including hotels and restaurants, would benefit from partial unemployment schemes, state loan guarantees, and tax and payroll charge deferrals.