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A daily chronicle of a rapidly changing continent.

Enormous, shielded crocodile species discovered

A unique crocodile fossil is found to be that of a new, gargantuan species nicknamed "Shieldcroc"
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Male crocodile 'Rex', five metres in length and estimated to be 30-40 years old, thrashes the water while holding a chicken in his mouth during the first public feeding session in his new Kakadu Gorge enclosure at Sydney Wildlife World on March 29, 2010. (Greg Wood/AFP/Getty Images)
Boston — Researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered a now-extinct species of crocodile that has incredibly distinct physiological differences from the common crocodiles of today.

Ethiopia News: Swedish journalists appeal to Prime Minister Zenawi for pardon

Efforts to free Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson continue.
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Sweden’s Ambassador to Ethiopia Jens Odlander (C) stands next to Seleshi Ketsela (L) and Abebe Balcha (R), both lawyers for two Swedish journalists found guilty of supporting terrorism in Ethiopia, outside an Addis Ababa courtroom on Dec. 27, 2011. (Jenny Vaughan/AFP/Getty Images)
There are 3,372…now 3,374 signatures and counting asking for the release for Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and photographer Johan Persson, both serving 11-year prison sentences in Ethiopia.

Senegal: How not to defuse a protest

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade calls the latest round of protests to his continued rule "no more worrying than a light breeze."
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A protester lights a fire on Jan. 31, 2012 in Dakar during a demonstration demanding that President Abdoulaye Wade drop plans to seek a third term. Senegal riot police fired tear gas and sprayed protesters with water to break up the thousands-strong rally. (Seyllou Diallo/AFP/Getty Images)

NAIROBI, Kenya — If you're hoping to stay in power until you're 90 and face youth-led street protests, then talking like a patronizing old schoolmaster is not a clever idea.

More from GlobalPost: Protests continue against President Abdoulaye Wade


Zimbabwe News: Mugabe slams African Union

Zimbabwe leader condemns African leaders for abandoning Libya's Gaddafi and supporting the West.
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Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe attends the inauguration of the high-rise African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, built and donated by China at a cost of $200 million, on January 28, 2012. The building, which towers above the Ethiopian capital, was opened ahead of the start of the pan-African body's 18th ordinary summit, a bold symbol of China's rapidly changing role in Africa. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe condemned fellow Africa leaders for recognizing Libya’s National Transitional Council.


Africa: Facebook users grow by 165%

New data shows Facebook is rapidly growing in Africa, growing by 165 percent since July 2010.
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This map on a page from the Facebook social network site displays friendships as lights on a deep blue background. The eastern half of the United States and Europe shine the brightest, while China, Russia and central Africa, where Facebook has little presence, are mainly dark. But data shows Facebook user growth rate is increasing in Africa. (Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — With all this hype about Facebook's public stock offering, it seems as if Facebook is dominating the world.

And Africa is part of that amazing growth, as new data shows that Facebook now has a user growth rate of 165 percent in the continent, according to ICTworks.

More from GlobalPost: Facebook IPO: Five things you should know

The report from oAfrica, which compares the total number of Facebook users to the total populations of African countries, reveals Facebook growth rates for the last 18 months.

Below are some notable numbers from the report.

Facebook user growth in selected countries:

Ghana: 85 percent increase to 1,146,560 users

Kenya: 50 percent increase to 1,298,560 users

South Africa: 51 percent increase to 4,822,820 users

Nigeria: 154 percent increase to 4,369,740 users

Egypt: 130 percent increase to 9,391,580 users

More from GlobalPost: Social Media Power Index: Capital Cities

The report notes that the high Facebook adoption rates in North Africa and South Africa skew the mean. So the median is a more accurate measure to describe the presence of Africa on Facebook.

Facebook adoption in Africa:

165 percent median Facebook user growth since July 2010 (114 percent mean)

2.4 percent median Facebook penetration rate (3.6 percent mean)

There are more than 37 million Facebook users in Africa as of December 2011, as part of the Facebook's worldwide total of 800 million.

Google+, the search engine's social media tool, has 90 million users worldwide and has also seen steady growth with as many as 466,828 people from South Africa making use of its service, reported IT News Africa

"How Africa Tweets," a new report, also discovered that South Africa has the most active Twitter population in Africa. In the last quarter of 2011, South African users tweeted more than 5 million 140-character messages, according to PCMag.

The report also shows that Twitter users in Africa are generally active on multiple social media platforms like Google+ and Facebook.

More from GlobalPost: Facebook hosts YaLa Middle East peace conference

ICTworks points out, however, that increasing Facebook adoption in Africa may eventually slow down in more developmentally-advanced countries:

"Even if Facebook user growth rates settle at 25 percent annually, it could be ten years until Kenya boasts 30 percent of the population on Facebook. In 17 months, Kenya’s Facebook user rate has gone from 2 percent to 3 percent. South Africa’s is near 10 percent after increasing from 7 percent. This growth rate of 50 percent over 17 months for Kenya and South Africa — which we deem “mature” — suggests the challenges large nations face providing affordable Internet and connecting rural areas. Plus, even when Internet access is available, not everyone wants to use Facebook."

More from GlobalPost: Africa News: Business use of iPads is increasing


Senegal News: Wade urged to rein in police force

After 3 killed in anti-government protests, Amnesty International urges restraint.
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Senegalese rapper Didié Awadi (d) attends a demonstration of Senegalese opposed to the candidature of Abdoulaye Wade for highly disputed third term in office on January 27, 2012 in Dakar. (SEYLLOU/AFP/Getty Images)

Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade was urged Wednesday by Amnesty International to rein in security forces after a third person was killed and dozens injured by police during three days of demonstrations across the country.

Senegal has been roiled by anti-government protests all week and Wade's police are responding with considerable force.

Police fired on demonstrators in Dakar, the capital, and threw a tear gas canister at an ambulance, according to eyewitnesses who spoke to Amnesty.

At least one man was killed Tuesday when a police car drove into a group of anti-Wade protesters in the Place de l’Obélisque in Dakar.

“President Wade must send a clear order to his security forces not to resort to lethal force unless their lives are in danger,” said Salvatore Saguès, Amnesty International’s researcher on West Africa.

A young student protester, Mamadou Diop, was run over by a police vehicle and killed Tuesday night, according to witnesses interviewed by Amnesty International.

More from GlobalPost: Senegal frees activist Alioune Tine, braces for fresh protests

“We were talking peacefully when a police car suddenly charged into the crowd," said a witness to Amnesty International. "The car hit the student five meters from me. The police officers then turned back to shoot at us. People started to run away, the car drove up onto the pavement and then I saw that police officers in uniform were shooting in all directions.”

An ambulance that came to collect Diop’s body was hit by a tear gas canister that broke its rear window, a medic told Amnesty.

Protests have rocked Senegal since its Constitutional Council ruled on Friday that current President Wade would be allowed to stand for a third term. Presidential elections are due to be held on Feb. 26.

Last Friday, one policeman was killed during clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

“Police may be faced with hostile demonstrators but the security forces must do everything in their power to preserve life — not threaten it,” said Amnesty's Saguès. “We also call on those opposed to President Wade to prevent acts of violence that could lead to further casualties.

More from GlobalPost: Deadly protests continue against Abdoulaye Wade



Sudan News: Mitt Romney condemns killings in Sudan

Republican frontrunner denounces "slow motion genocide" in Sudan.
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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney listens during an exchange at the Florida Republican Presidential debate January 26, 2012 at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. (Paul J. Richards /AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — At last a Republican candidate is talking about an African foreign policy issue.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney today condemned the "slow motion genocide" in Sudan and pledged, if he becomes president, to "protect innocents" in Sudan.

"For too long far too many Sudanese have been victims of war crimes and other atrocities committed by the government in Khartoum and its proxies," said Romney, in a statement he released to Act Sudan.

Most of the Republican primaries have been taken up with domestic policies and mud-slinging so it is notable that Romney has spoken out on the current crisis in Sudan.

Romney strongly criticized Sudan President Omar al-Bashir's Khartoum regime. He condemned the Bashir government’s ongoing history of committing genocide and atrocities, the gravity of the current government-led assaults on civilians, and his commitment to “protect innocents” and ensure that “humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need.”

The statement was provided to Act for Sudan, a bipartisan, interfaith alliance of American and Sudanese advocacy organizations, following the alliance’s request to all presidential candidates to disclose their views on U.S. Sudan policy. Romney’s statement is the first time that Sudan has been raised by a candidate during the 2012 presidential election campaign. The other candidates have not yet responded to the Act for Sudan request.

“In Darfur, non-Arab populations have been and continue to be victims of a slow-motion genocide,” said Romney who described the current situation in the border regions of Sudan as “so dire that at least a quarter of a million people in South Kordofan will be pushed to the edge of famine by March this year.”

Romney stressed that he is “committed to protecting innocents from war crimes and other atrocities, ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need, holding accountable those leaders who perpetrate atrocities, and achieving a sustainable peace for all who live in Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.”

It will be interesting to see if other Republican candidates will step up to address the Sudan issue.


African Union summit: Leaders fail to elect new chairman

The African Union extended the mandate of its top official Jean Ping of Gabon.
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African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Jean Ping (R) is congratulated on Jan. 31, 2012 in Addis Ababa following an extension of his mandate. Intense campaigns had preceded the vote and dominated the summit during which leaders gathered to discuss broadening trade within Africa and tackling conflict hot spots. (Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — The 18th African Union summit ended Monday but in the end, it did not accomplish much unity.

Despite two days of discussion and three rounds of voting, the 40 heads of state and government representatives in attendance failed to choose a new chairman for the AU Commission, according to Al Jazeera.

Neither the incumbent, Jean Ping of Gabon who has served as AU chairman since 2008, nor his challenger Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s home minister and ex-wife of South African President Jacob Zuma, secured enough votes to win, reported the New York Times

More from GlobalPost: African Union's new headquarters opens in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The NYT article explains:

South Africa’s government had hoped that Ms. Dlamini-Zuma would help give the African Union a more effective international voice. But other major African nations, like Nigeria and Kenya, had reservations about giving so much power to South Africa, and smaller nations fretted that their interests would be neglected.

These tensions surrounding the battle for the AU's top leadership position show that unity is still a distant goal.

Neither Dlamini-Zuma nor Ping succeeded in securing a two-thirds majority required to win. A new election is scheduled for the next summit in June, but under African Union rules, neither Dlamini-Zuma nor Ping will be eligible to run for election then, according to the NYT

More from GlobalPost: African Union: UN Secretary General calls for respect for gay rights on the continent

Ping has been given a six-month extension, but he is a leader without a mandate. In a time during which Africa can use a unified voice, the AU remains in a leadership limbo, the Christian Science Monitor reported. 

This year's AU summit, held in its new $200 million Chinese-built headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was dominated by talks regarding increasing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, bloody war and famine in Somalia, and lack of trade between member states.

More from GlobalPost: African Union looks East

Here's a video on AU's extended mandate:

AU Extends Mandate of Top Official
World News Videos by NewsLook

Somalia News: Kenyan and AMISOM forces aim to expel Al Shabaab

The AU and the Kenyan military have devised a two-front strategy in order to finally dismantle Al Shabaab's military presence in Somalia.
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Kenyan Defense Force soldiers are pictured in Ras Kamboni, southern Somalia on December 13, 2011. (Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — The Kenyan defense ministry has increased its troop presence in Somalia in order to help in a final push to eliminate the military capacity of Al Shabaab.

More from GlobalPost: Kenya War: Counting the cost of the Somalia conflict


Elephants took 24 million generations to become land giant

New research says it took elephants 24 million generations to grow to present day size.
A baby elephant playing in a river in their daily outing from the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka. (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

BOSTON — Elephants may be tougher then we thought.

According to new research, it wasn't easy for them to become the largest land mammal on the planet. 

The study, The Evolution of Maximum Body Size of Terrestrial Mammals, suggests it has taken elephants 24 million generations to become so large. 

More from GlobalPost: Thai elephant meat believed to fuel jungle killings

“Big animals represent the accumulation of evolutionary change, and change takes time,” evolutionary biologist Alistair Evans of Australia’s Monash University, a co-author of the study told Wired Magazine.

The study suggests before dinosaurs went extinct, larger land animals like elephants were actually the size of present day rodents. 

Says the abstract: 

The extinction of dinosaurs at the Cretaceous/Paleogene (K/Pg) boundary was the seminal event that opened the door for the subsequent diversification of terrestrial mammals. Our compilation of maximum body size at the ordinal level by sub-epoch shows a near-exponential increase after the K/Pg. On each continent, the maximum size of mammals leveled off after 40 million years ago and thereafter remained approximately constant.

What made the size of these mammals level off? Humans.

Once we became the new dominant species, elephants and other large land mammals had less space and less food to continue evolutionary growth. The researchers believe it is highly unlikely any mammal will grow larger so long as humans are on earth. 

More from GlobalPost: Elephant 'sixth toe' discovered to help mammal's stance

While it may have taken 24 million generations to grow so large, it takes far less time to grow small. The researchers found mammals shrink at a rate 100 times faster then they grow, meaning it took a door mouse a mere 100,000 generations to become so small.

Next time you see an elephant, pat him on his large back for all the hard work it took to become that size.