An international court has delivered its verdict on Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor, finding him guilty of arming Sierra Leone's rebels who paid him in "blood diamonds". The three judges at a special United Nations court pronounced him guilty of aiding and abetting 11 counts of war crimes or crimes against humanity. But he was acquitted of criminal responsibility and "joint enterpise" on the same 11 charges. His sentence will not be delivered for several months.
The judge says a sentence hearing will be held on 16 May, with the sentence to be handed down on Wednesday 30 May 2012.
Dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and red tie, Taylor listened attentively and made notes as judge Richard Lussick started reading a summary of the verdict – the first ever against a former head of state by a world court since the Second World War Nuremberg trial.
The reading is being screened at the Special Court for Sierra Leone's main headquarters in the west African country's capital Freetown, from where his case was moved in 2006 over security fears.
In Freetown, people slowly started gathering to hear the verdict being issued at the Leidschendam court outside The Hague. Judge Richard Lussick speaking at the opening of the judgement hearing for Liberian ex-president Charles Taylor. In a wing set aside for victims to watch the verdict, Al Hadji Jusu Jarka, former chairman of the Amputees Association, is the first seated. He has followed the trial from the start.
"We as victims expect that Taylor will be given 100 years or more in prison," he said, his prosthetic arms folded in his lap as he recounted how the rebels held him down on the root of a mango tree in the capital and cut off first the left, and then the right, just above the elbow.
Taylor, 64, is accused of helping Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels wage a terror campaign during a civil war that claimed 120,000 lives between 1991 and 2001.
The trial, which saw model Naomi Campbell testify she had received diamonds from the flamboyant Taylor, wrapped up in March 2011. If found guilty, Taylor could be sentenced in four to six weeks. Prosecutors alleged that the RUF paid Taylor with illegally mined so-called blood diamonds worth millions, stuffed into mayonnaise jars.
During the trial, prosecutor Brenda Hollis told the court: "Charles Taylor created, armed, supported and controlled the RUF in a 10-year campaign of terror against the civil population of Sierra Leone."
As president of neighbouring Liberia, he acted as "chief, father and godfather to his proxy rebel forces in Sierra Leone," prosecutors added.
The former warlord has pleaded not guilty to 11 counts, dismissing the allegations as "lies" and claiming to be the victim of a plot by "powerful countries."
During Taylor's trial which began proper on June 4, 2007, some 94 witnesses took the stand for the prosecution and 21 for the defence. Taylor himself testified for 81 hours.
Campbell and actress Mia Farrow gave headline-grabbing evidence in August 2010 about a gift of "dirty" diamonds Taylor gave to Campbell at a charity dinner hosted by then South African president Nelson Mandela in 1997.
Judges also heard gruesome testimony from victims of the Sierra Leone conflict, including a witness who said he pleaded with RUF rebels to cut off his remaining hand so they would spare his toddler son.
Others said Taylor's fighters strung human intestines across roads, removed foetuses from women's wombs and practised cannibalism, while children younger than 15 were enlisted to fight.
One witness said he was present when the Liberian leader ate human liver.
During his own testimony, which began in July 2009, Taylor called the trial a "sham" and denied allegations he ever ate human flesh.
Nigerian authorities arrested Taylor in March 2006 when he tried to flee from exile in Nigeria after stepping down as Liberian president three years earlier in a negotiated end to a civil war in his own country.
He was transferred to the SCSL in Freetown, but in June 2006 a UN Security Council resolution cleared the way for him to be transferred to The Hague, saying his presence in west Africa was an "impediment to stability and a threat to the peace."
The court, set up jointly by the Sierra Leone government and the United Nations, has already convicted eight Sierra Leoneans of war crimes and jailed them for between 15 and 52 years after trials in Freetown.
Huge reserves of underground water in some of the driest parts of Africa could provide a buffer against the effects of climate change for years to come, scientists said on Friday. Researchers from the British Geological Survey and University College London have for the first time mapped the aquifers, or groundwater, across the continent and the amount they hold.
"The largest groundwater volumes are found in the large sedimentary aquifers in the North African countries Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan," the scientists said in their paper.
They estimate that reserves of groundwater across the continent are 100 times the amount found on the its surface, or 0.66 million cubic kilometers.
Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, they cautioned, though, that not all these reserves can be accessed.
Where they can, small-scale extraction using hand pumps would be better than large-scale drilling projects, which could quickly deplete the reservoirs and have other unforeseen consequences.
Groundwater is no panacea for Africa's water shortages but it could form an important part of a strategy to cope with an expected sharp increase in demand for water as the continent's population increases.
Even now, some estimates put the number of Africans without access to safe drinking water at more than 300 million and only 5 percent of arable land is irrigated.
"It is not as simple as drilling big bore holes and seeing rice fields spring up everywhere," said Dr Stephen Foster, a London-based senior adviser for aid group Global Water Partnership and an expert in groundwater issues.
"In some places it could be economically and technically feasible to use groundwater to reduce crop loss, but I would question whether that is true everywhere. It will need detailed evaluation.
Foster noted that projects have failed due to cost and logistics problems.
"In northern Nigeria there have been groundwater irrigation projects that have failed because of the rising cost of fuel - a major factor in drilling costs - and distribution difficulties."
The researchers say some of the largest deposits are in the driest areas of Africa in and around the Sahara, but they are deep - at 100 to 250 meters below ground level.
"Water levels deeper than 50 meters will not be able to be accessed easily by a hand pump," said the study, led by Dr Alan MacDonald of the British Geological Survey. "At depths greater than 100 meters the cost of borehole drilling increases significantly due to the requirement for more sophisticated drilling equipment."
The amount of water a borehole yields is another key issue. A small community hand pump needs a borehole with a flow rate of 0.1 to 0.3 liters per second. For large-scale irrigation, the rate needs to be much higher, say around 50 liters.
Phoebe White, a water, sanitation and hygiene specialist for the UK Department for International Development based in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, said hand pumps in the DRC cost up to $13,000 apiece but in some areas the aquifers are too deep and other pumps must be used.
In areas of DRC where drilling deep boreholes is required the cost can be around $130,000, although problems of accessibility and infrastructure can push that figure up, according to White.
The researchers say the maps, based on existing geological charts from governments and hundreds of aquifer studies, are aimed at promoting a "more realistic assessments of water security and water stress".
Roger Calow at UK think-tank the Overseas Development Institute, which was involved in the program that spawned the research, said the paper shows water shortages in large parts of Africa do not stem from scarcity.
"What the science is telling us is that we have more storage in these shallow, relatively unproductive (aquifers) than we thought," he said, adding that about 60 percent of Africans still live in rural areas and 80 pct of those rely on groundwater systems.
Calow said a third of hand pumps across Africa have broken down due to a lack of maintenance.
Aid agencies gave the research a cautious welcome.
"The discovery of substantial water reserves under parts of Africa may well be good news for the continent but it may prove hard to access in the near term and, if not sustainably managed, could have unforeseen impacts," Nick Nuttall, spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi.
Nuttall said over-abstraction exploitation of groundwater in Mexico City, for example, is undermining the foundations of buildings.
He said the focus of efforts to improve water supply should be on better collection and storage.
"The fact is that there is already a tremendous amount of water available for Africa but it is rarely collected".
A study by UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre found there is enough water falling as rain over Africa to supply the needs of some 9 billion people.
"Ethiopia, where just over a fifth of the population are covered by domestic water supply and an estimated 46 per cent of the population suffer hunger, has a potential rainwater harvest equivalent to the population needs of over 520 million people," Nuttall told Reuters.
The China-Africa Development Fund is shifting its investment strategy with the focus now on infrastructure, manufacturing and agriculture, after a capital injection of $2 billion, Hu Zhirong, vice-president of the fund, said. Besides energy and resources, the fund is looking at projects in "infrastructure, manufacturing, new energy and agriculture", to boost Africa's standard of living, he said in an interview.
Direct investment last year by China into Africa surged by 59 percent, from a year earlier, to $1.7 billion. During the same period, the nation's overseas direct investment grew by 1.8 percent year-on-year to $60 billion, according to the Ministry of Commerce.
"There is huge potential," as the region absorbs massive investment every year, Hu said.
The annual foreign direct investment into Africa is estimated to be $80 to $90 billion, but China only contributes about 2 percent.
The fund was set up in March 2007 with capital provided by the China Development Bank.
The fund had an initial injection of $1 billion, and earlier this year it received a further $2 billion. It has set up branches in South Africa, Ethiopia and Zambia and has invested in more than "50 projects worth $1.7 billion", Hu said. The fund announced last month an agreement with Xinjiang Goldwind Science & Technology, a leading Chinese wind turbine manufacturer, to develop the African market and transfer technology.
African nations welcome foreign companies investing in the new energy sector, Hu said. And there seems to be a perfect manufacturing dovetail. China has the technology and excessive capacity while Africa needs industrial development.
China First Automobile Works announced in February the construction of a $100-million truck and passenger car plant in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The plant, set to be the largest industrial park in Africa, will be built through the fund.
Africa is a good place for Chinese manufacturers to invest, as it allows them a platform to target European sales, experts have said. A number of European countries have signed trade agreements with African countries.
China's shift in investment strategy is in line with Africa's economic growth plan that prioritizes industrialization and urbanization.
Rob Davis, South Africa's minister of trade and industry, said that the country plans to absorb foreign investment worth $100 billion in five years.
Its focus will be on mining, manufacturing, agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, finance and high-tech industries. Davis believes that foreign direct investment is the "key engine" for economic growth.
A report by the World Bank last year suggested that Africa should open its markets wider, and look beyond mineral exports. The report also highlighted that the tourism sector could be better developed. Mining is a key target of the fund.
Together with China Guangdong Nuclear Power Corp, the fund is set to seek control of Namibia's Husab uranium project, potentially the world's second-largest uranium mine, with the takeover of two companies, Kalahari Minerals and Extract Resources, for about $2.3 billion.
Lei Mu, executive director of China Development Bank International, the overseas investment arm of China Development Bank, said that the company is interested in buying iron ore and coking coal.
China has stepped up its engagement with Africa in recent years, scouring the resource-rich continent in its bid to access natural resources and forge new trade routes. But the Asian powerhouse is also emerging as an attractive business destination for Africans.
China's booming economy has been luring an increasing number of Africans to its shores in recent years, most of them eager to export goods from the world's second-largest economy back into their continent.
"I found out there are a lot of opportunities of doing business," says Nigerian shop owner CJ Cajetan, who moved to Guangzhou two years ago as a student but decided to stay in China and try his luck as a clothes seller.
Cajetan is one of the tens of thousands of Africans who've gone to live and work in Guangzhou, a manufacturing city located on the Pearl River in southern China.
This strong new trading community builds on a growing business engagement between the two sides. Already Africa's largest trade partner, China's economic cooperation with the continent has shot up in recent times. Two-way trade between the two surged to a record $114.8 billion in 2010, according to Chinese authorities.
Linking aid, trade and investment, Beijing's business model in Africa involves building extensive infrastructure projects in the continent and granting loans in exchange for access to natural resources, trade opportunities and expansion into new markets.
But the burgeoning relationship between the two has also seen a number of African companies trying to get a foothold in the Chinese market, hoping to tap the country's growth and expanding middle class.
South African drinks giant SABMiller has been working for years with a local Chinese brewer and now produces China's biggest selling beer. Such success can be achieved by more African companies as their nations gain a firmer footing, according to consultant Kobus van der Wath.
"China is very open for business for us," says van der Wath, founder of Beijing Axis, a China-focused international advisory firm. "China's repositioning itself continuously for the new Africa that's emerging. We're very well received. We don't come with baggage," he adds.
But despite the growing opportunities, many Africans in China still feel the overall relationship is far from a two-way street.
Joyce Banda, who has made history becoming Malawi's first female president and only the second woman to lead a country in Africa, has a track record of fighting for women's rights.
She took power over the weekend following the death of 78-year-old President Bingu wa Mutharika, who died in office after heading up the southern Africa country since 2004.
Mr Mutharika's decision to appoint her as his running mate for the 2009 elections surprised many in Malawi's mainly conservative, male-dominated society - which had never before had a female vice-president.
"She will never be president, how can a mandasi [fritter] seller be president?”, Callista Mutharika Malawi's former first lady
Equally surprising was her decision to publicly stand up to her boss - by refusing to endorse his plans for his brother, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mutharika, to succeed him as president in 2014 when he was due to retire.
She was promptly thrown out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party - and subjected to daily doses of derision at public rallies and on Malawi's state airwaves.
A senior ruling party official openly said Malawi was "not ready for a female president", while First Lady Callista Mutharika said Mrs Banda was fooling herself that she was a serious politician - saying she was a mere market woman selling fritters.
"She will never be president, how can a mandasi [fritter] seller be president?" Mrs Mutharika said.
Joyce Banda campaigning with Bingu wa Mutharika Joyce Banda fell out with the late President Bingu wa Mutharika
Mrs Banda took all this in her stride, saying she was glad to be identified with market women since more than 80% of Malawian women belong to that category: "Yes, she's right, I'm indeed a mandasi seller and I'm proud of it because the majority of women in Malawi are like us, mandasi sellers."
She also resisted calls for her to resign as the country's vice-president - she was elected not appointed so she could not be fired by Mr Mutharika - and instead set up her own People's Party.
Born in 1950 in the village of Malemia near the southern town of Zomba, Joyce Hilda Ntila was the eldest in a family of five children.
Her father was the leader of Malawi's police brass band and her youngest sister, Anjimile, ran pop star Madonna's charity Raising Malawi until it closed in December.
She left her first husband in 1981, taking her three children with her, because he was abusive.
"Most African women are taught to endure abusive marriages. They say endurance means a good wife but most women endure abusive relationship because they are not empowered economically, they depend on their husbands," she told the BBC about her decision.
Eight years later, Mrs Banda founded the National Association of Business Women, a group that lends start-up cash to small-scale traders - making her popular among Malawi's many rural poor.
That work also earned her international recognition - in 1997, she was awarded, along with former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano, the US-based Hunger Project's Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger.
She also set up the Joyce Banda Foundation, a charity that assists Malawian children and orphans through education - she has a degree in early childhood education.
Joyce Banda cut her teeth in politics in 1999 when she won a parliamentary seat on the ticket of the former ruling United Democratic Front.
She held a number of cabinet positions under former President Bakili Muluzi and Mr Mutharika during his first term.
She puts her achievements down to her happy marriage to retired Chief Justice Richard Banda with whom she has two children.
"My dear husband, Richard, has been the driving force behind my success and rise to whatever level I am now. My story and legacy is incomplete without his mention," she said.
Mrs Banda's presidential challenges are huge: Aside from handling political divisions and possible opposition from Mr Mutharika's allies, she has to address Malawi's serious economic difficulties.
It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an estimated 75% of the population living on less than $1 (60p) a day.
And former President Mutharika fell out with most of Western donors - on which the country depends for financial support.
The cutting off of direct aid resulted in the country's worst shortages of foreign currency, fuel and essential drugs.
But she has immediately made her mark - sacking Malawi's police chief Peter Mukhito, accused of mishandling anti-government riots last year in which at least 19 people were shot dead, and Patricia Kaliati as information minister.
In the wake of Mr Mutharika's death, Ms Kaliati had held a press conference saying Mrs Banda had no right to take over as president - despite what the constitution said.
The head of Malawi's state broadcaster has also been replaced.