• Indian comic superhero fights Covid-19 fear

    India's first female comic superhero Priya, a gang-rape survivor who earlier campaigned against rape, acid attack and sex trafficking, is back to fight disinformation around the Covid-19 pandemic. In Priya's Mask, due to be launched on 2 December, the comic crusader joins hands with Jiya, the "Burka Avenger", a popular character from a Pakistani cartoon show, as the two go about trying to tackle the pandemic - and also the "infodemic", a major proliferation in fake news surrounding the coronavirus.

    With more than 9.4 million infections and 137,000 deaths, India has the second highest caseload globally. A strict nationwide lockdown that was imposed on 21 March delayed the spread for a while, but infections grew rapidly - and continue to do so - since restrictions were relaxed. A major challenge in India's fight against Covid-19 has been the false and misleading information around the pandemic, which is often shared at lightning speed.

    Since the first infections were reported earlier this year, millions of people with smartphones have received hundreds of messages each about supposed cures, lockdown rumours and conspiracy theories on Covid's origins. Claims that frequently sipping warm water, shunning meat and poultry, or taking homoeopathic medicine could prevent infection have regularly landed in people's inboxes.

    Fear and carelessness have seen people flouting orders to wear masks in public places or maintain social distancing. In some places, frontline workers, including doctors and nurses were attacked, even barred from their own homes by neighbours fearful of catching the virus.

    The creator of the Priya comic Ram Devineni series, said: "Through this campaign, we wanted to challenge misinformation, dispel fear, and support the health workers and others at the forefront of the fight against the virus."

    He launched the "modern-day feminist superhero" in December 2014, two years after the brutal gang rape of a young woman on a bus in Delhi, to focus attention on the problem of gender and sexual violence in India. The series has subsequently been named a "gender equality champion" by UN Women. In Priya's Mask, she arrives riding the flying tigress Sahas (Hindi for courage), to battle "an invisible monster - a deadly virus unlike any we've seen before".

    As she flies into the city, she sees masses fleeing on foot - a reminder of the early days of the lockdown in India when tens of thousands of poor migrant workers walked for days to return home while factories, offices and transport shut down. "There's a quiet sense of fear. Everyone is hiding in their homes. It seems as though time has stopped," she observes.

    Delhi-based writer and theatre actress Shubhra Prakash, who wrote the script of Priya's Mask, says she incorporated her personal experiences into the story.

    "During the early weeks of the lockdown, we were not allowed to leave home at all. So I spent a lot of time in my balcony. My access to the world was quite restricted. We were all isolated and it was difficult for everyone. So when you see Meena, a little girl who's one of the main characters in the story, standing alone in her balcony, daydreaming, that was also me.

    "And when the lockdown began to ease and we could step out, a 'new normal' emerged. We had to wear masks and maintain social distancing," she says. In Priya's mask, Meena is invited to hop on to Sahas' back for a tour of the becalmed city.

    They see deserted roads; Meena spots her favourite ice-cream parlour where no one is queuing up any more; she sees her friend who's as isolated as she is; and hears voices - at times irrational and fearful. At the hospital, she watches her mother, a nurse, heroically tending to Covid-19 patients.

    "We wanted people to understand that these are extraordinary times. And we wanted to highlight the role of Covid heroes since we felt they were not being talked about much," Ms Prakash says. "There was a lot of stigma surrounding the illness and we were trying to say that people need to be open-minded. What is keeping the world moving during the pandemic? The sacrifices made by the frontline workers, who go to work to keep us safe."

    In the comic, Priya also partners with Jiya, the Burka Avenger, who's fighting to protect her city Chutneyville against a villainous assault by Baba Kaboom, who plans to take it over by not wearing a mask and spreading the virus. But, in the process, he himself catches Covid and needs help from Priya and Jiya.

    "The most important message it conveys is we have to look at the world with compassion and not give up on humanity. We can only conquer the virus if we work together," Ms Prakash says. Indrani Ray, co-producer of a two-minute animation film based on Priya's Mask (seen at the top of this story), says the pandemic has impacted everyone's life and although "our lockdowns are different, our experiences are the same".

    Ms Ray, who lives in Mumbai, says her parents live in Kolkata and she has not been able to see them the entire year. "I'm afraid to visit, just in case I carry the infection and pass it on to them." Her colleague Tanvi Gandhi says her involvement in the project was in part due to personal loss. "I lost someone in my family to the virus, and it all happened so quickly. In a matter of four weeks, it was all over.

    "That's when you realise it's not just a statistic, not a social media forward, it's something very tangible that is impacting all of us. It is as real as it can get." The animation is voiced by feminist icons in Bollywood and Hollywood, including Rosanna Arquette, Vidya Balan and Mrunal Thakur and 12-year-old Sairah Kabir. The comic, which targets young people and has augmented reality features, can be downloaded for free anywhere in the world. Mr Devineni, who lives in the US, says Priya's Mask would have relevance not just in India, but globally since the pandemic has impacted people across the world.

    "New York, where I live, looked post-apocalyptic. And if you see images from European cities, many of them did too. Every time I stepped out, I could only see homeless people, it was surreal, the eeriest site I've ever seen." His father, a paediatrician who has practiced in South Jersey since 1975, had to stop working for the first time since he was in the vulnerable group for Covid-19.

    "He's 80 and has health complications and we knew if he got it, he would have just died. In fact, two of his very close doctor friends - I had grown up calling them uncles - died from Covid. We watched their funerals on Zoom."

    Mr Devineni says when the US embassy in Delhi got in touch with him in April, asking if he'd be interested in creating a new Priya comic to launch in December for the United Nation's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, "I wondered if we would be outdated by then".

    "I knew the virus would still be there and the campaign would have some resonance. Also, 10 years from now, this artwork, created during the pandemic would be a historical document, a documentation of how people dealt with it at the emotional and visceral level," he says, adding, "but I think it's going to be much more than that."

    For, almost a year since the pandemic began spreading, large parts of the world are still in the grip of the virus. In Delhi, and the US, numbers continue to explode as the global infections cross 62 million, with 1.5 million dead. And the World Health Organisation and governments in many parts of the words are still finding it a challenge to get people to wear masks or maintain social distancing. Last month, Delhi government raised the fine for not wearing masks in public from 500 rupees ($7.50; £5.00) to 2,000 rupees after repeated warnings fell on deaf ears.

    And that, Mr Devineni says, means that Priya's Mask has more relevance than ever.

  • Indigenous leader named in top Canadan post

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has named Mary Simon as governor general, the first indigenous person to hold the post. The former diplomat and advocate for Inuit rights will represent Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.

  • Internet cut to hunger-striking Indian protest farmers

    India has suspended mobile internet services in three areas around the capital, Delhi, where farmers are staging a hunger strike in protest at new agriculture laws. The government said the shutdown would continue until Sunday night to "maintain public safety".

    Tens of thousands of protesting farmers have been camped out on Delhi's outskirts for more than a month. Talks between unions and the government have failed to break the deadlock.

    The protest made international headlines when a tractor rally ended in violent clashes that left one protester dead and dozens of police officers injured. Some demonstrators stormed Delhi's historic Red Fort and occupied it until police pushed them back.

    The interior ministry said mobile internet services had been suspended at Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri - the districts where farmers have gathered. Farmers' leaders said the one-day hunger strike had been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the death of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. Union leader Darshan Pal said: "The farmers' movement was peaceful and will be peaceful

    Reports suggest that protesters reacted angrily to the internet shutdown with farmers accusing officials of trying to "create a panic" and "killing democracy." The government action comes amid rising tensions at the locations where farmers are based.

  • Internet service returns following Ugandan elections

    Ugandans are celebrating the resumption of internet services after a shutdown was imposed ahead of the recent election. However, social media platforms remain blocked and are only accessible using Virtual Private Networks (VPN).

    President Yoweri Museveni, who won an unprecedented sixth term in office, had accused the platforms of being biased. Bobi Wine, presidential candidate for the opposition National Unity Platform, alleged the poll was marred by fraud.

    The party's spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi accused Mr Museveni of shutting down the internet to prevent them from sharing evidence of fraud. He said that the party was in the process of collecting election results forms that have evidence of irregularities.

    Mr Ssenyonyi told the Reuters news agency that NUP's offices had been raided saying;

    "They don't want work to continue at our offices because they know that we are putting together evidence to show the world how much of a fraudster Museveni is." President Museveni said that the poll could be the "most cheating-free" in the history of the country.

    The electoral commission declared Mr Museveni the winner with 59% of the vote, with his closest challenger Bobi Wine, a pop star whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, garnering 34%. Mr Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986. His party is also on course to secure an overwhelming majority in the 500-member parliament.

  • Is Africa heading for a coronavirus second wave?

    With some of the most populous countries across Africa seeing increases in Covid-19 cases, there've been concerns that the continent is facing another spike in infections. The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has talked of a "second wave" arriving.

    And there's evidence that a new variant of coronavirus in South Africa may be driving increases there. Cases have been rising gradually since late September, according to data from both the Africa CDC and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

    Looking at new weekly cases in the month up to December 133, they have gone up by an average of 6.1% each week. But there are significant variations across the continent, with some countries seeing small or localised spikes, others witnessing more sustained increases and some not yet past an initial rise in cases. South Africa now accounts for more than 60% of daily new cases detected in sub-Saharan Africa. After a decline in reported cases for four months, the government is now talking of a second wave.

    The country's health ministry says most of the new infections have been amongst those aged between 15 and 19 years. This is believed to be due to a large number of big celebrations in recent weeks, some of them held to mark the end of exams and of the academic year. Four provinces - Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng Province - are the ones most affected by the resurgence in cases.

    Covid-related deaths in South Africa have increased by 19% in the four weeks up to December 6, leading the government to introduce new restrictions. Evidence has also emerged that the rise in infections is being driven by a new variant of coronavirus detected in South Africa earlier in December.

    It shares some of the same mutations as a variant in the UK, but appears unrelated.

    Prof Tulio de Oliveira of the University of KwaZulu-Natal said that it had been particularly noticeable in those provinces which have seen large rises in case numbers.

    South African scientists are still investigating exactly how infectious this variant might be.

    In the weeks up to early December, the biggest rates of increase were mainly in north Africa, where temperatures have been falling as winter approaches. Morocco saw the largest increase in numbers of new cases on the continent - although cases there are now on a downward trend. Over the past four weeks, there have also been sustained increases in daily cases in Nigeria, Egypt, DR Congo and Uganda.

    Cases had also been rising in Kenya and Ethiopia, although the increases have tailed off in those countries more recently. Africa CDC's John Nkengasong says that "clearly, the second wave is here." According to him, there have been three main trajectories in African countries:

    ·         Those that never flattened the curve, or had low case numbers until August when they rose significantly

    ·         Those that flattened the curve after cases peaked in July, but are now seeing another rise in numbers

    ·         Those that have had a sustained decline in cases over time (after an initial rise)

    "As we speak now, we have seen the numbers increase steadily to a point that my speculation is that by January or February, we will be where we were at the peak of this pandemic in July," he warns.

    The reported death rate per capita on the continent has been low compared with other parts of the world, despite the weak health infrastructure in many African countries.

    There could be a number of reasons for this:

    ·         The relatively young population - more than 60% are under the age of 25

    ·         Experience in epidemic control from tackling other diseases

    ·         Cross-immunity from other coronaviruses

    ·         Low rates of travel and more outdoor living might also help

    But there are also issues - as elsewhere in the world - over how countries record deaths, making comparisons between them difficult.

    Research earlier this year from the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) looking at excess deaths indicated that the number of people who had died from the virus could have been underestimated.

    The WHO says the testing level in Africa is still low compared to other regions. Ten countries account for about 70% of the total tests conducted - South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Rwanda, Uganda and Ghana.

    There are wide variations in testing rates and while some countries have reduced testing, others have maintained or even increased it. Of the bigger countries, South Africa has been doing the most and Nigeria doing relatively few tests per capita, according to Our World in Data, a UK-based project which collates Covid-19 information.

    However in some countries there are insufficient or no data available on testing to know how much is being done.

  • IT’S A BOY!

    Congratulations poured in from around the world following the birth of the son of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

    Following the birth of the newborn – which was delivered at 05:26 BST yesterday (Monday), a beaming Prince Harry said the baby boy was "absolutely to die for". The Palace said the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales were all "delighted with the news", with Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, said to be "overjoyed".

    Former US First Lady Michelle Obama said she and Barack were "thrilled".

    The baby, who has not been named yet, is seventh in line to the throne, behind the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and his children - Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis - and Prince Harry.

    He is the Queen's eighth great-grandchild.

    Speaking after the birth, Prince Harry said, after the birth, that they planned to present the baby to the media shortly, "so everyone can see" him.

    He said Meghan and the baby were doing "incredibly well", adding that they were still thinking about names for the infant.

    The baby weighed 7lbs 3oz (3.2kg). Buckingham Palace said the Duke was present for the birth.

    A statement stated that Meghan's mother was "overjoyed at the arrival of her first grandchild" and was with her daughter at Frogmore Cottage - the Sussexes' home on the Windsor Estate.

    Kensington Palace said the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were "delighted" and "looking forward" to meeting him.

    Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were among the politicians to offer their congratulations to the royal couple on Twitter.

  • Ivory Coast leader Ouattara back on duty after Covid recovery

    Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara has recovered from Covid-19 and has resumed his duties. The presidency said the head of state tested positive for the virus at the beginning of the month.

    The president was earlier said to have been self-isolating after coming into contact with a person who tested positive. The office did not at the time mention that the president had tested positive.

  • Ivory Coast looking to sell 100,000 tonnes of cocoa

    Ivory Coast's cocoa regulator is seeking to sell around 100,000 tonnes of cocoa held by domestic traders who had bought the beans from farmers but lack access to the international export market, industry sources have said.

    The Cocoa and Coffee Council (CCC) regulator is offering the beans with a discount of around 200 British pounds ($280.40) to 250 pounds per tonne, but buyers are demanding bigger discounts because of a supply glut. A bumper crop and weak global demand caused by the coronavirus crisis, coupled with the introduction of a premium for farmers this year, has left hundreds of thousands of tonnes of unsold beans in warehouses in the world's top grower.

    A director of an international cocoa export company said: "There are around 100,000 tonnes of cocoa held by small Ivorian exporters that the CCC is trying to sell, but the problem is that no-one is interested if the differential is not interesting." The director said international exporters were asking for a discount of around 350 pounds to 400 pounds per tonne because they had their own contracts to execute in a declining market.

    Constance Kouame, an executive of the domestic grinders' association said that international exporters "want to make an extra margin on the backs of Ivorian exporters after removing the Living Income Differential premium - paid by exporters to the government to support farmers."

    Two CCC sources, asking not to be named, confirmed the volumes and the discounts requested by exporters. The regulator is looking for buyers for the beans stored in the ports of San Pedro and Abidjan.

    Domestic traders have urged the regulator to reform the international cocoa export sector to end the dominance of six multinationals.

    A CCC source said: "Yes, we are thinking of finding a solution to help the locals have a bigger share in exports but for now, we are working to sell these 100,000 tonnes with the least possible discount." Three sources with the exporters' association said the regulator must find an urgent solution because most domestic operators had borrowed to fund purchases.

    The director of a European cocoa export company said: "If the CCC does not find a solution quickly, this cocoa will be worth even less than what we are currently offering. The quality of the beans will become a problem."

  • Jada tells Will of 'relationship' with singer August Alsina

    Jada Pinkett Smith has revealed on her chat show in a heart-to-heart with husband Will Smith that she did have a relationship with singer August Alsina.

    Speaking to Smith on her Facebook show Red Table Talk, the actress said that the relationship happened while the pair were separated.

    "We were over," she says. "From there, as time went on, I got into a different kind of entanglement with August."

    Mr Smith then presses her, saying "an entanglement? A relationship. I was in a lot of pain and I was very broken," she countered.

    The pair have been married since 1997, have two children together, and said they are currently back together after a split. The couple said they wanted to do the show to clear up speculation circulating in the media over an interview August Alsina recently gave to a radio morning show, The Breakfast Club.

    The rapper said he had been in a relationship with Pinkett Smith and that Smith had given the affair his "blessing", leading to speculation that the Hollywood power couple were in an open marriage.

    "The only person that can give permission in that particular circumstance is myself," Pinkett Smith said. "I could actually see how he would perceive it as permission because we were separated amicably and I think he also wanted to make it clear that he's also not a home-wrecker. Which he's not."

    She had not spoken to the rapper in years, she added.
    Smith asked her what she felt she was looking for in the "interaction" with Alsina about four-and-a-half years ago.

    "I just wanted to feel good," she replied, as her husband nodded sympathetically. "It had been so long since I had felt good." Now the couple are back together, Pinkett Smith said they had reached a place of "unconditional love".

    Towards the end of the interview, Smith told her: "I'm gonna get you back first."
    Pinkett Smith laughed and responded: "I think you got me back! I think we're good on that."
    At the end of the chat, the pair fist-bumped. We ride together, we die together. Bad marriage for life," they said in a quote derived from Smith's Bad Boys movies.

  • Jamaica Celebrates Its Independence

    One of the most celebrated of celebrations, Jamaicans around the world are continuing to mark their country’s Independence Day by taking part in huge street parades while donning a whole array of attires in the green, gold and black of its national flag.

    From Blenheim in Hanover to Birmingham in the West Midlands, Montego Bay to Milton Keynes, Clarendon to California, Spanish Town to many Spanish towns, Manchester to…well, Manchester, or wherever natives and/or the descendants of are, celebrations of the Caribbean island’s independence of ruling will go one – to the best during what still is very testing times.

  • Jamaica influence growing worldwide

    Known for its strong sense of self identity expressed through its music, food and rich cultural mix, Jamaica's influence extends far beyond its shores.

    With luminaries such as the Black nationalist Marcus Garvey and musician Bob Marley, Jamaicans are proud of their cultural and religious heritage. Jamaicans have migrated in significant numbers to the United States, Canada and Britain and their music stars are known around the globe.

    The island is the birthplace of Rastafarianism, a religious movement which has been adopted by groups around the world who venerate the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. Once regarded as a revolutionary threat, Rastafarianism became a cultural force, reflected in art and music.

    Since independence from Britain in 1962, power in Jamaica has alternated between the social-democratic People's National Party and the conservative Jamaica Labour Party.

    Political stability, however, has not turned into social and economic harmony.

    Andrew Holness, a former education minister and leader of the Jamaican Labour Party, became prime minister in March 2016.

    He governs with a slim one-seat majority after his then-opposition party beat the party of Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica's first female head of government, in elections.

    Among the challenges the government faces is a high rate of youth unemployment and dealing with the country's heavy debt.

    Jamaica has a free press. Broadcast media are mainly commercial and carry diverse comment. The country ranks highly in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

  • Jamaican Tourism Minister confirmed for another term

    Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has announced 19 members of his new cabinet after he was re-elected recently.

     

    Edmund Bartlett, who has served successful tenures as Tourism Minister, was reconfirmed for the post. 

     

    Tourism is one of the main income earners for this Caribbean island nation and Edmund Bartlett has been widely positioned as a minister with a global vision and a focus on safety and security. 

     

    Mr. Bartlett started the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center and is also involved in rebuilding travel.

     

  • JAMPRO Wins Prestigious Awards for Sales and Customer Services

    The Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) has won 4 honours in the prestigious Stevie Awards for sales and customer service. The Agency secured gold, silver, and bronze awards recognizing its sales performance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    JAMPRO won Gold in the “Sales Process of the Year” category, and Diane Edwards, the Agency’s President, also won Gold as “Business Development Executive of the Year”. Ms. Edwards also won Silver in the “Woman of the Year in Sales” category. JAMPRO’s final win was in the “Sales Distinction of the Year” category, where the Agency got Bronze.

    The Stevie® Awards for Sales & Customer Service are the world’s top honors for customer service, contact center, business development and sales professionals. More than 2,300 nominations from organizations of all sizes and in virtually every industry, across 51 nations, were considered in this year’s competition. Winners were determined by the average scores of more than 160 professionals worldwide on nine specialized judging committees.

    JAMPRO was acknowledged for its overhaul in operations to attract more investments into Jamaica and facilitate export of Jamaican products. These internal changes allowed the Agency to become more efficient, increase number of leads generated, and improve engagements with clients to better meet their needs.  

    JAMPRO President, Diane Edwards, said she was pleased with the recognition of the JAMPRO team, saying the Agency and its staff continue to be committed to Jamaica’s economic development. She said, “Dedication, professionalism, and determination are key characteristics of the JAMPRO team, and this has resulted in the Agency, and Jamaica, receiving accolades for our performance during the pandemic, as we continue to work to strengthen the economy and facilitate growth.

    “We are grateful for this recognition; now, we must push harder to reveal those much-needed economic opportunities, and propel Jamaica’s economic expansion in 2021.”

  • Joanne Harris hails ‘writing as a force to be reckoned with’ as she introduces the winners of the 2021 Society of Authors’ Awards

    The Society of Authors has revealed the names of the winning writers, poets and illustrators from around the world who will share in the UK’s biggest literary prize fund, worth over £100,000, in an online ceremony.

    "Graeme Armstrong: 'I hope this prize speaks volumes to the young men and women in my community about the distinct possibility of their impossible."

    The acclaimed author of Chocolat Joanne Harris invited an international audience to celebrate the 2021 Society of Authors’ Awards run digitally for the second year because of Covid-19 restrictions.

    Speaking from her home in Yorkshire, Harris previous award recipients to announce the 2021 winners of ten prizes for debut novels, poetry, historical biography, illustrated children’s books, and lifetime bodies of work. The trade union - which counts such household literary names as Philip Pullman, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Neil Gaiman and JK Rowling among its members, as well as 11,500 jobbing writers, translators, illustrators and journalists - shared £105,775 between 35 writers, poets and illustrators in a celebration of the ‘phenomenal depth and breadth of books and words’

    The winners included Thomas McMullan, who won the £10,000 Betty Trask Prize for his dark dystopian debut The Last Good Man; poet Paula Claire who this week celebrates 60 years of creating poetry as well as her Cholmondeley Award; Graeme Armstrong, who won both a Betty Trask Award and a Somerset Maugham Award for The Young Team; lawyer turned children’s writer Rashmi Sirdeshpande and illustrator Diane Ewen who won the Queen’s Knickers Award, now in its second year, for Never Show a T-Rex a Book; Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and British Book Awards winner Kiran Millwood Hargrave who won a Betty Trask Award for her debut adult novel The Mercies; and Pulitzer Prize winner Fredrik Logevall who won the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography for JFK Volume 1.

    Gboyega Odubanjo, Milena Williamson and Cynthia Miller were among the young poets celebrated in the Eric Gregory Awards, while other award recipients included Forward Prize winner Kei Miller, award-winning columnist Lola Okolosie, playwright and education worker Lamorna Ash, and short fiction author and literary reviewer DM O'Connor.

    Introducing the Awards, Harris reflected on the current challenges facing the author community, saying, ‘for authors, whose careers are precarious at the best of times, the challenge to sustain themselves right now is more acute than ever.’

    She continued, ‘that is why all of us are here to celebrate the phenomenal depth and breadth of books and words. Authors at the very beginning of their careers. Authors that are well established. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and everything that lies in between. Literature as a treasure at the centre of society. Writing as a force to be reckoned with.’

    In his acceptance speech, Kei Miller described his Cholmondeley Award as ‘a wonderful reminder that we belong to so many societies and so many countries’. McKitterick Prize winner Elaine Feeney spoke of the ‘lovely boost’ the prize has given her, confirming ‘signs of life off the West coast of Ireland!’

    Queen’s Knickers Award winner Rashmi Sirdeshpande thanked ‘everyone who has helped [Never Show a T-Rex a Book] find its way into the hands of a child’. And Graeme Johnson whose novel The Young Team mirrors his own experiences of addiction and Scottish gang culture said he hopes his two awards will ‘speak volumes to the young men and women in my community about the distinct possibility of their impossible.’

    As she closed the ceremony, Joanne Harris said, ‘There’s no better way to support authors than to read them, so I urge you all to pick up tonight’s winners from your local bookshop and discover their worlds.’

    The winners for each award are:

    The ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award

    Sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award is awarded for a short story by a writer who has had at least one short story accepted for publication. Judged by Claire Fuller, Sophie Haydock, Billy Kahora, Ardashir Vakil and Mary Watson. Past winners include Benjamin Myers, Lucy Wood, Grace Ingoldby and Claire Harman. Total prize fund: £1,575.

    • Winner: DM O'connor for I Told You Not to Fly So High Awarded £1,000
    • Runner-Up: Sean Lusk for The Hopelessness of Hope Awarded £575

    Betty Trask Prize & Awards

    The Betty Trask Prize and Awards are presented for a first novel by a writer under 35. Judged by Sara Collins, Elanor Dymott and Vaseem Khan. Past winners include Zadie Smith, David Szalay, Hari Kunzru and Sarah Waters. Total prize and award fund: £26,200.

    Betty Trask Prize Winner

    • Thomas Mcmullan for The Last Good Man (Bloomsbury) Awarded £10,000.

    Betty Trask Awards Winners

    Five winners, each awarded £3,240.

    • Maame Blue for Bad Love (Jacaranda Books)
    • Eley Williams for The Liar's Dictionary (William Heinemann/Cornerstone Prh)
    • Kiran Millwood Hargrave for The Mercies (Pan Macmillan/Picador)
    • Nneoma Ike-Njoku for The Water House (Unpublished)
    • Graeme Armstrong for The Young Team (Pan Macmillan Picador)

    Cholmondeley Award winners

    5 winners each awarded £1,680

    The Cholmondeley Awards are awarded for a body of work by a poet. Judged by Moniza Alvi, Grace Nichols and Deryn Rees-Jones. Past winners include Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, John Agard and Andrew Motion. Total prize fund: £8,400

    • Kei Miller
    • Paula Claire
    • Maurice Riordan
    • Susan Wicks
    • Katrina Porteous

    Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography

    The Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography is an annual award for historical biography which combines scholarship and narrative drive. Judged by Roy FosterFlora Fraser, Antonia Fraser, Richard Davenport-Hines and Rana Mitter. Past winners include D.W. Hayton, Anne Somerset and Philip Ziegler. Total prize fund: £5,000.

    • Winner: Fredrik Logevall for JFK Volume 1 (Viking)

    Eric Gregory Award winners

    7 winners each awarded £4,050

    The Eric Gregory Award is presented for a collection of poems by a poet under 30. Judged by Vahni Capildeo, Andrew McMillan, Sarah Howe, Jamie McKendrick and Roger Robinson. Past winners include Carol Ann Duffy, Helen Mort and Alan Hollinghurst. Total prize fund: £28,350.

    • Phoebe Walker for Animal Noises
    • Michael Askew for The Association Game
    • Gboyega Odubanjo for Aunty Uncle Poems
    • Kandace Siobhan Walker for Cowboy
    • Cynthia Miller for Honorifics
    • Milena Williamson for The Red Trapeze
    • Dominic Hand for Symbiont

    McKitterick Prize

    The McKitterick Prize is awarded for a first novel by a writer over 40. Judged by Sabrina Mahfouz, Nick Rennison and Christopher Tayler. Past winners include Helen Dunmore, Mark Haddon and Petina Gappah. Total prize fund: £5,250.

    • Winner: Elaine Feeney for As You Were (Harvill Secker, Vintage) Awarded £4,000
    • Runner-Up: Deepa Anappara for Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line (Chatto & Windus, Vintage) Awarded £1,250

    ​Paul Torday Memorial Prize

    Now in its third year, the Paul Torday Memorial Prize is awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60. The prize includes a set of the collected works of British writer Paul Torday, who published his first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at the age of 60. Judged by Paul Bailey, Roopa Farooki and Anne Youngson. Past winners are Anne Youngson and Donald S Murray.

    Total prize fund: £1,000.

    • Winner: Kathy O'shaughnessy for In Love with George Eliot (Scribe Uk) Awarded £1,000
    • Runner-Up: Karen Raney for All the Water in the World (John Murray/Two Roads)

    The Queen’s Knickers Award

    Now in its second year, this annual prize, founded by Nicholas Allan, author of The Queen's Knickers, is awarded for an outstanding children’s original illustrated book for ages 0-7. It recognises books that strike a quirky, new note and grab the attention of a child, whether in the form of curiosity, amusement, horror or excitement. Judged by Alexis Deacon, Patrice Lawrence and Tony Ross. ​The inaugural winner of this award in 2020 was Elena Arevalo Melville for Umbrella. Total prize fund: £6,000.

    • Winners: Writer Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Illustrator Diane Ewen for Never Show a T-Rex a Book (Puffin) Awarded £5,000
    • Runner-Up: Alex T. Smith for Mr Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise (Hachette) Awarded £1,000

    Somerset Maugham Award winners

    4 winners each awarded £4,000

    The Somerset Maugham Awards are for published works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by writers under 30, to enable them to enrich their work by gaining experience of foreign countries. Judged by Fred D'Aguiar, Nadifa Mohamed and Roseanne Watt. Past winners include Helen Oyeyemi, Julian Barnes, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Freedland. Total prize fund: £16,000.

    • Lamorna Ash for Dark, Salt, Clear (Bloomsbury Publishing)
    • Isabelle Baafi for Ripe (Ignition Press)
    • Akeem Balogun for The Storm (Okapi Books)
    • Graeme Armstrong for The Young Team (Pan Macmillan Picador)

    Travelling Scholarships

    5 winners each awarded £1,600

    The Travelling Scholarships are awarded to British writers to enable engagement with writers abroad. Judged by Tahmima Anam, Aida Edemariam, Anne McElvoy, Adam O'Riordan and Gary Younge. Previous recipients have included Dylan Thomas, Laurie Lee and Margaret Drabble. Total prize fund: £8,000.

    • Clare Pollard
    • Guy Gunaratne
    • Yara Rodrigues Fowler
    • Tom Stevenson
    • Lola Okolosie
  • Joshua Maponga: Looking To Carve Out A New Future For South Africa

    When you first meet HRH Marara Joshua Maponga III, you realise that he is an unassuming individual, who is concerned about the state of his nation.

    A social entrepreneur from South Africa who has worked with organizations such as Entrepreneurial Development Southern Africa, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and Global Management Centre (UK).

    Joshua was a Pastor for 33 years, and was conferred the title of Bishop from the Pentecostal and Evangelical community, but more recently you may have heard of him as the inspirational public speaker, through both his personal YouTube videos, as well as his many interviews and speeches, and his numerous books.

    The Phoenix caught up with Joshua to find out a bit more about the man behind the name and burning passion.

    “My target is the rural African children like myself, who grew up barefooted, driving a herd of 120 cattle, finally seeing the lights of the city in the distance,” explained Joshua, in his naturally calm and collected voice.

    The firstborn of his family, and the oldest of 5 siblings, he spoke emotionally of his childhood. “My first time getting into town at about 10 years old, I couldn’t close my eyes as the excitement was too great.

    “I grew up, went to school and completed the European education, as we were still under the British Empire. We learned the ‘civil etiquette’ and our imagery was changed greatly from the old stories that my grandmother used to tell me around the fireplace.”

    Joshua studied Dickens, Shakespeare and more, which “created this alternative world out there for me that was doing well in terms of progress compared to here.”

    By middle high school he was introduced to Miss Becky Huckinson, who taught him English. “She was a beautiful American woman,” Joshua remembered fondly, “and although I could read and write English, speaking it was another matter entirely, she took me through the diction of English.”

    “This lead to me developing a keen interest in the arts, languages, craft and music.”

    Joshua received another world view and way of life after enrolling as a theologian in an American college in Zimbabwe Andrews University, “I had wanted to do engineering or medicine, but my father steered me down a different path.”

    Joshua’s father was a pastor and minister who had been released from prison and death row in the 1979 Amnesty and until that point, he didn’t know if he would ever see his father again.

    His father moved to a religious environment following his release, staying away from politics, and warning his son that he needed to as well. This lead Joshua to continue his studies in theology and philosophy, and went on to work in the church for the last 33 years.

    Joshua’s ideas and ideals prompted his move to South Africa and Swaziland, and then flew into London at the end of 1998.

    Maponga lived in Birmingham, Norfolk and then South Essex with his ex wife, until one morning he woke up and realised he was a mobile wardrobe, living with so many layers on to stay warm, he couldn’t do it anymore.

    “My ex wife loved living in London, but I was unable to take it any longer, so moved back to South Africa and started a new job in Marketing, Consulting and Construction. Unfortunately my mind was no longer together, my marriage broke down, and my wife wasn’t prepared to come back to South Africa with me.”

    Joshua remained in South Africa with his 2 daughters, then aged 6 and 4, and raised them alone.

    “From about 2008 onwards, I noticed that maybe we are missing something very important in terms of our social justice system, and how we can ensure our communities become sustainable and viable.”

    With his views of the world enriched by his experiences, Joshua’s thoughts and beliefs had changed so significantly from those of the mainstream Church, that the council of churches warned against his teachings.

    “I’ve started writing my own Bible book, entitled ‘The Gospel According to Maponga J’ and to date I have written over 50 chapters. The day I die, consolidate those writings and leave them for the next generation.”

    Alongside this, over the years he has become the renowned best selling author with his books, including “Going Places In The Spirit”, “So You Want To Be The Master” and “Shopping Skills”, as well as being a multi-instrumentalist.

    Close to Joshua’s heart is the organisation “ZIM” or Zimbabwe Indigenous Movement, starkly in contrast to his fathers warnings of yesteryear, with the aim of taking the political power and converting it to an Indigenous Government System, where Royalty will be the highest in the land.

    “If I was to become president I wouldn’t even be inaugurated, as I don’t believe in those systems, such as state house mentality. I want a body above the Parliament so that we can have a system that we can hold accountable.”

    But Maponga’s plans are more widespread than you might think, “If we can start a movement for all European countries to return the money of these African people who have stored their money in European governments and banks back to the mainland, that would be enough money to develop Africa to the state in which we want it to be,” explains Maponga.

    Over ZIM is the body “AIM” – Africa Indigenous Movement, which looks to house all of the intellectual property of how to transform Africa, a template for every other nation.

    And finally above AIM is Joshua’s brainchild, Farmers of Thoughts – Agriculture in 3 stages.

    • The Agriculture of the Mind - the quality of crop that goes into your brain, and harvesting from it, including all the mental manipulation that happens.

    • The Agriculture between your legs – reproduction, creating an inheritance for the next generation, who ploughs between your legs and what kind of fruits are being harvested?

    • The Agriculture beneath your feet - speaks of the project of the land. But you are unable to give people land beneath their feet if they don’t have land between their legs or between their ears.

    Joshua hopes to make a difference to the people of South Africa, and improve the quality of human life through encouraging conscious experiences, and has come to realise that not all problems can be solved by simply praying for them.

    Some economic issues require an education, and to empower people to find solutions to the economic and political issues of the day.

    If you want to learn more about ZIM, please visit

    www.zimmoves.com or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Judge rules in favour of mother who insists son better off living in Africa than UK

    A High Court Judge has ruled that a 14-year-old boy is better off living in Sierra Leone than in the UK.

    The teenager was taken to the West African country’s capital, Freetown, as his mother was growing increasingly worried about his involvement in ‘county lines’ gangs in London after he was excluded from school.

    A civil case was brought at the High Court by the boy’s father who took the legal action in London in a bid to force his return from Africa after he said that his son was living in a volatile country.

    The mother said that the teenager should stay in Sierra Leone until the summer of 2022 and when he finishes his GCSEs.

    Mr Justice Mostyn ruled against the father when he also said that the boy should stay in Freetown until the end of his GCSEs in 2022.

    He said that the boy was “going off the rails” by early 2019 whilst he was living with his mother in south London.

    Last year he (the boy) was permanently excluded from school.

    Mr Justice Mostyn did say that the woman had decided to take her son to Sierra Leone, where her mother – the boy’s grandmother – is a police officer, so that he could continue his education.

  • Keep Pushing Forward - The Phoenix Newspaper Newsletter

    Your weekly roundup of Positive, Informative and Objective News from The Phoenix Newspaper
  • Khadjou representing Senegal as their first female professional surfer ever

    Khadjou Sambe, Senegal's first female professional surfer, trains near her home in the district of Ngor - the westernmost point of the African continent.

    "I would always see people surfing and I'd say to myself: 'But where are the girls who surf?'" says the 25-year-old. I thought: 'Why don't I go surfing, represent my country, represent Africa, represent Senegal, as a Black woman?'"

    "I always think to myself, when I wake up in the morning: 'Khadjou, you've got something to do, you represent something everywhere in the world, you must go straight to the point, don't give up.'"

    "Whatever people say, don't listen, go forward - so that everybody can get up and believe they can surf."

    The surfer is now inspiring the next generation to defy cultural norms and take to the waves.

    Sambe trains beginners at Black Girls Surf (BGS), a training school for girls and women who want to compete in professional surfing. She encourages her students to develop the physical and mental strength to ride waves and break the mould in a society which generally expects them to stay at home, cook, clean, and marry young.

    "I always advise them not to listen to other people, to block their ears," Sambe says.

    She is a proud Lebou - an ethnic group that traditionally lives by the sea.

    Growing up in the coastal capital of Dakar, Sambe never saw a Black woman surfing the Atlantic swells. As a teenager, her parents refused to allow her to surf for two-and-a-half years, saying it brought shame on the family.

    "My determination was strong enough to make them change their minds," she says.
    Sambe started surfing when she was 14 years old.

    She said: "The first time I tried surfing I wasn't scared at all, I was just so excited to get into the water.

    "When you catch that first wave, you are so happy that you scream so that everyone can hear you - because you are content to have stood up and stayed standing. It was a bit tough at the beginning because I was the only girl surfing here, and people were a bit like: 'What is a girl doing here? This is a sport for boys.'

    "Obviously that's not true, and other people really encouraged me and told me not to listen."

    Residents of Ngor have become accustomed to seeing Sambe carrying her board through the narrow alleyways leading to the shore.

    Sambe trains with her coach Rhonda Harper (below left), the founder of BGS.
    Harper explains that Sambe arrived without a cent in her pocket, speaking no English and with a wild, free surf style that needed taming to conform to the structure of surf competitions.

    "It's like trying to take a tornado and put a rope around it, wrangle that thing down, because she is such a dynamic surfer - it's hard," says Harper.

    In recent months, she has used a house overlooking the ocean as a base whilst she trains.

    "When I am in the water, I feel something extraordinary, something special in my heart," says Sambe.

  • Law enforcer Yogananda appointed Acting Chief of US Capitol Police

    Yogananda Pittman, a senior-ranking female law enforcement officer and HBCU graduate, has made history after her recent appointment as the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police department.

    Pittman began her law enforcement career with the United States Capitol Police in April 2001, and she has steadily worked her way up the ranks to be named Assistant Chief of Police in October 2019.

    In 1991, she graduated from Morgan State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology. In 2018, she completed the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy and graduated from the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives’ CEO Mentoring Program. In 2019, she earned her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

    “It is very important for young female law enforcement officers to see someone who looks like them in leadership positions,” Yogananda says. “It says to them that these positions are obtainable and available to them. I enjoy being a mentor. I was very fortunate to have great mentors myself.

    “Often officers will stop me and ask my advice, and it means a lot to me to be able to discuss their future plans and offer my insights. I am very appreciative of WIFLE and its mission, and for their selecting me for this honour.”

    Her appointment came just one week after the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., was breached by hundreds of Trump supporters, which resulted in multiple injuries and at least 5 deaths.

  • Leaders across the world pay their tribute to The Duke of Edinburgh

    US President Joe Biden said: "Prince Philip gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK, the Commonwealth, and to his family.

    “The impact of his decades of devoted public service is evident in the worthy causes he lifted up as patron, in the environmental efforts he championed, in the members of the armed forces that he supported, in the young people he inspired, and so much more.”

    The New York Post's coverage said Philip was known for his "easy-going humour, dapper wardrobe and sometimes startling frankness".

    It added: "Despite never being crowned king, the Duke played an important role behind closed doors, supporting his wife of seven decades during times of great tumult."

    Elsewhere around the world, King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden praised Philip as "a good friend of our family with a friendship we have placed great value on."

    The Belgian Royal Palace said it was deeply saddened by the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, tweeting a tribute along with photos of the family with Prince Philip.

    The palace said: “Deeply saddened by the passing away of His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. We wish to express our deepest condolences to Her Majesty the Queen, the British royal family and the people of the United Kingdom.

    “Philippe and Mathilde.”

    Russian Leader Vladimir Putin also issued his condolences to Queen Elizabeth over the death of Prince Philip, the Kremlin press service has announced.

    Mr Putin was said to write: ‘Philip was tied to many important events in the recent history of your country. He was rightly respected among the British public and bore international authority.’

    He also wished that Queen Elizabeth be “courage and mental fortitude in the face of a heavy and irreparable loss,” and asked his condolences to be passed on to all members of the Royal Family.