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VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis urged countries in his Easter message on Sunday to quicken distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly to the world’s poor, and called armed conflict and military spending during a pandemic “scandalous”.

 Coronavirus has meant this has been the second year in a row that Easter papal services have been attended by small gatherings at a secondary altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, instead of by crowds in the church or in the square outside.

After saying Mass, Francis read his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message, in which he traditionally reviews world problems and appeals for peace.

“The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. Nonetheless – and this is scandalous – armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened,” he said.

Francis, who would normally have given the address to up to 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square, spoke to fewer than 200 in the church while the message was broadcast to tens of millions around the world.

The square was empty except for a few police officers enforcing a strict three-day national lockdown.

The pope asked God to comfort the sick, those who have lost a loved one, and the unemployed, urging authorities to give families in greatest need a “decent sustenance”.

He praised medical workers, sympathised with young people unable to attend school, and said everyone was called to combat the pandemic.

“I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries,” he said.

Francis, who has often called for disarmament and a total ban on the possession of nuclear weapons, said: “There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world! May the Lord, who is our peace, help us to overcome the mindset of war.”


Noting that it was International Awareness Day against anti-personnel landmines, he called such weapons “insidious and horrible devices … how much better our world would be without these instruments of death!”

In mentioning conflict areas, he singled out for praise “the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully”. More than 550 protesters have been killed since a Feb. 1 military coup in Myanmar, which the pope visited in 2017.

Francis called for peace in several conflict areas in Africa, including the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia and the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique. He said the crisis in Yemen has been “met with a deafening and scandalous silence”.

He appealed to Israelis and Palestinians to “rediscover the power of dialogue” to reach a two-state solution where both can live side by side in peace and prosperity.

Francis said he realised many Christians were still persecuted and called for all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide to be lifted. New York Post/Reuters

  •  Italy at Billionaires Beach Resort, Malindi in 2019. 
  • An increasing number of Europeans have been flocking the Kenyan coast as they escape the Covid-19 restrictions in their countries.

    The UK in January 2021, instituted a lockdown that banned all travel for its residents. At same the time, Hotel managers in Lamu and Watamu area reported an influx of travellers from December 2020 to when the year began.

    Hotels such as Peponi reported the one of the best seasons in history with 80% bed occupancy in that period.

    "It is crazy how busy we have gotten over the past months. We are full most weekends. A lot of Europeans and Brits are coming down to stay for long periods," the hotel's manager was quoted by British magazine The Independent.

    The beachfront view at the Watamu.
    The beachfront view at the Watamu. FILE

    When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a raft of lockdown measures majorly affecting five counties - Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu, and Nakuru, International flights were not affected.

    Travellers from the UK are exempt from quarantine with the only requirement being a negative Covid-19 test be taken within 96 hours of travel. 

    Another popular five-star hotel in Watamu, Hemingway’s, was almost fully booked for the first week of March. 

    In many of the Kenyan coastal towns, nightclubs targetting tourists are allowed to operate on a 24-hour basis and revellers party under the protection of compromised government officials. 

    Kenya's tourism industry took a heavy hit due to the Covid-19 pandemic but with the reopening of borders and the resumption of international travel.

    Kenya tourism ministry has also adopted influencer marketing by engaging British supermodel Naomi Campbell to market Kenya to the international market.

    Recently, Kenyan award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o has been marketing Kenya as a tourism destination. 

    On Tuesday, March 16, the Oscar-Award-winning actress publicized her visit with photos of her vacationing in the picturesque Lamu Island, breaking her routine of a quiet entry and exit into Kenya.

    Lupita Nyong'o posing for a photo in Lamu on March 16, 2021
    Lupita Nyong'o posing for a photo in Lamu on March 16, 2021

    A recent report by the Tourism Research Institute (TRI) showed Kenya's tourism recovery projections expecting recovering in three years.

    "We expect international arrival recovery in 2024 (at 2.2 million) from the 2019 figure of 2.1 million,” said the TRI in a report.

    Arrivals from the US, which is Kenya’s top source market, are predicted to rise to 263,601 from 245,439 in 2019.

    Arrivals from the United Kingdom are projected to go up by 13,430, China (6,171) and India (9,076).

    Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala during a visit to Maasai Mara on February 19, 2021
    Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala during a visit to Maasai Mara on February 19,
Tigrayan refugees fill their gallons with water at a water station at Hamdeyat Transition Center near the Sudan-Ethiopia border, eastern Sudan, March 24, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty 

G7 countries are "seriously concerned" about alleged human rights violations in Tigray, calling on all parties to provide immediate and "unhindered humanitarian access" to Ethiopia's conflict-hit region.

The foreign ministries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US as well as the European Union's top diplomat said in a joint statement on Friday that they "condemn the killing of civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, indiscriminate shelling and the forced displacement of residents of Tigray and Eritrean refugees".

They called on all parties to "exercise utmost restraint, ensure the protection of civilians and respect human rights and international law" and to "provide immediate, unhindered humanitarian access" to the region. 

"We are concerned about worsening food insecurity with emergency conditions prevailing across extensive areas of central and eastern Tigray," the wrote.

Starvation and sexual violence

Ethiopia declared war on the semi-autonomous region controlled by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020. The party had been dominant in the federal government for decades but refused to join a new coalition led by Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy following his ascent to power in 2018. 

They then complained they were being unfairly treated by the federal government with tensions escalating last year when Tigray held an election despite nationwide ballots being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government then accused TPLF of attacking a federal military — which the party has denied — and launched a military offensive. 

No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since the conflict erupted.

Food security in Tigray, which was already facing a deteriorating socio-economic situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an infestation of desert locust, was impacted by the disruption of commercial supplies and failure to pay civil servants, the UN has said.

Wafaa Said, the UN's deputy humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said last month that rapid nutrition assessment in the first week of March indicated that among screened children under the age of 5, the proportion affected by acute malnutrition “greatly exceeded the emergency threshold of 15%” in all six areas assessed.

Said cited estimates that 82% of the 229 health centres in Tigray are not functioning, or no communication has been established with them.

The UN humanitarian official also warned of targeted civilians killings and said that five medical facilities recorded 516 rape cases in mid-March.

"It is projected that the actual numbers are much higher," he said. "Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence."

A probe led jointly by the UN's High Commissioner's Office for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission was announced last week to investigate claims of violations.

'Credible elections'

The G7 member countries also welcomed the recent announcement by Abiy that Eritrean forces will withdraw from the region, calling for the process to be "swift, unconditional and verifiable."

Abiy only admitted the involvement of Eritrean troops — long an enemy of the Tigray leaders — in mid-March. It is unclear how many Eritrean soldiers took part in the conflict though witnesses have estimated well in the thousands. They have been accused of looting, killing and raping civilians.

The G7 said the violence must give way to a "clear inclusive political process" leading to "credible elections and a wider national reconciliation process".

They added that they "stand ready to support humanitarian efforts and investigations into human rights abuses."   Euronews/AP

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