US Designates China as Currency Manipulator

The U.S. government has determined that China is manipulating its currency, and will engage with the International Monetary Fund to eliminate unfair competition from Beijing, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement on Monday.

China let the yuan weaken past the key 7-per-dollar level on Monday for the first time in more than a decade and later said it would stop buying U.S. agricultural products, inflaming a worsening trade war with the United States.

The sharp 1.4% drop in the yuan comes days after U.S. President Donald Trump stunned financial markets by vowing to impose 10% tariffs on the remaining $300 billion of Chinese imports from Sept. 1, abruptly breaking a brief ceasefire in a bruising trade war that has disrupted global supply chains and slowed growth.

FILE – U.S. Dollar and China Yuan notes are seen in this picture illustration, June 2, 2017.

The last time the United States named China a currency manipulator was in 1994. The U.S. Treasury had designated Taiwan and South Korea as currency manipulators in 1988, the year that Congress enacted the currency review law. China was the last country to get the designation, in 1994.

The dollar fell to a two-week low against the euro after the Treasury statement.

Filing Details Services for Ukrainian President in Runup to Election

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service

WASHINGTON — Washington-based lobbying firm Signal Group Consulting has filed documentation of services it provided to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington between April 3, 2019, and May 21, 2019, contradicting his claim that his campaign never employed foreign lobbyists. 

According to documents presented to the Justice Department as part of mandatory annual Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings, Signal received a fee of $60,000 for its services and $9,371 in compensation for expenses, including a $1,900 steak dinner, a guided White House tour and staff meetings with members of the National Security Council, State Department officials, members of Congress, and visits to think tanks and major national news outlets such as The Washington Post.

As initially reported by Radio Free Europe and other news outlets, a portion of the FARA documents made public in April appeared to show that Signal was hired on behalf of the candidate by Marcus Cohen, whose business address is listed as a room on the second floor of a Kyiv shopping center, “to elevate the profile of Volodymyr Zelensky  Servant of the People.” 

At the time, Voice of America’s Ukrainian Service followed up with a series of questions about the Signal contract as Zelensky’s campaign had criticized  his opponent, then-incumbent Petro Poroshenko, for engaging in exactly this type of international public relations work — a fairly normal and legal part of modern European politics. 

“Due to another tide of disinformation, shared in the media on the eve of the runoff, we must officially state that our team did not engage the services of any lobbyists or agencies in the United States,” Zelensky’s campaign said in a prepared statement posted to its official Facebook page on April 17, some four days before the final election. 

“We don’t have a contract with any company called ‘Signal Group,'” the post continued. “This position is what separates us from representatives of the ‘old’ political elite.”

The contract was officially terminated on May 21, 2019, one day after Zelensky’s inauguration.

According the FARA documents, the Ukrainian delegation arrived in Washington on or before April 16, though it does not state how many people were in the the delegation.

The documents verify reports on the meetings at the Cato Institute, State Department, CSIS, Carnegie Center, the office of Congressman Brandon Boyle, former Sen. Norm Coleman, and the National Security Council.

A guided White House excursion is reported on April 17, the same day Zelensky’s campaign issued an official statement denying they’d engaged in foreign lobbying efforts.

Signal Group also contacted the Post and CNN, but there were no reports of interviews.

This weekend, Zelensky again denied having any personal contact with the Signal Group

“I’ve never used nobody. I don’t need a lobby,” he told a reporter who pressed him with questions in Kyiv.  “You know this perfectly well how many people support me. I’ve never had a meeting with any lobbyist, any intermediary, and have never asked nobody about it.”

Asked whether campaign operatives could have been acting on his behalf, he denied any knowledge of it.

“I don’t know. I didn’t do this,” he said. “I do not need it.  I never paid a penny for it, and this can’t be.”

An email sent to VOA on Aug. 3 from John Proctor, executive vice president of Signal Group, however, confirmed the business contract with Zelensky and his party.

“Signal Group’s work for Mr. Zelensky and the Servant of the People party through Marcus Cohen concluded on May 21 and is detailed in our FARA filings with the US Department of Justice,” Proctor wrote. “I would direct you to the details of those documents for your reporting. The firm does not have anything additional to add.”

Upon entering the race for president as a political novice, Zelensky had been best known for his role in a TV series about a schoolteacher who vaults to his country’s presidency on the wave of anti-corruption disgust.

“I’m not a politician,” Zelensky, 41, told former president Poroshenko in their only debate before Sunday’s runoff election. “I’m just an ordinary person who has come to break the system. I’m the result of your mistakes and promises.”

“I promise I will never let any of you down,” he said in his final statement to the audience.

Florida Man Sentenced to 20 Years for Mailing Pipe Bombs to Democrats

A Florida amateur body builder who admitted sending pipe bombs to prominent Democrats and CNN was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday by a judge who concluded the bombs purposely were not designed to explode.

Cesar Sayoc, 57, wept and crossed himself, appearing relieved, when U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff announced the sentence.

Prosecutors had urged a life prison term for Sayoc, who pleaded guilty earlier this year after mailing 16 pipe bombs days before the midterm elections last fall.

“He hated his victims, he wished them no good, but he was not so lost as to wish them dead, at least not by his own hand,” the judge said.

The one-time stripper and pizza delivery man from Aventura, Florida, apologized to his victims, saying he was “so very sorry for what I did.”

His targets included Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, several members of Congress, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. Devices were also mailed to CNN offices in New York and Atlanta.

Assistant Federal Defender Marcus Amelkin said Sayoc was obsessed with President Donald Trump and grew to believe Democrats were to blame for damage to his van, which was plastered with Trump stickers and images of crosshairs superimposed over the faces of Trump opponents. Sayoc “looked up to the president as a father figure,” the lawyer said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Kim said Sayoc “set out to terrorize people” and had not sufficiently shown remorse.

“Politics cannot justify a terrorist attack,” she said, while the judge dismissed talk of Trump as a “side show.”

In this undated photo released by the Broward County Sheriff’s office, Cesar Sayoc is seen in a booking photo, in Miami.

Sayoc read from a hand-written statement shortly before he was sentenced, saying he blamed a life of mental illness, a childhood sexual assault he suffered from a boarding school teacher, excessive use of steroids and his failure to listen to his mother, “the love of my life.”

“I was in deep denial. I understand now that I have committed a very serious crime,” Sayoc said.

“I wish more than anything I could turn back time and take back what I did,” he added. “With all my heart and soul, I feel the pain and suffering of these victims and I will be apologizing to them for the rest of my life.”

Prior to hearing from lawyers, Rakoff questioned two bomb experts and two doctors who examined Sayoc.

The bomb experts, one an FBI agent, and one hired by the defense, agreed Sayoc’s packages were not configured to explode. As the judge noted, the clocks were not set and wires were not attached.

The psychiatric experts who examined Sayoc at the request of the defense agreed that steroids influenced his behavior, particularly his delusions and obsessions.

In all, 16 rudimentary pipe bombs were mailed to addresses in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, California, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia. None exploded.

In letters to the judge, Sayoc has said he abused steroids for more than four decades and was using 274 different supplements and vitamins along with “heavy amounts of steroids” before his arrest.

He wrote that before he mailed explosives, his idea “first was how to tone down the liberal left violence platform.” He wrote that he believed prominent Democrats were encouraging violence, saying he had been attacked personally — including as he returned to his hotel after attending Trump’s inauguration.

He was living in his van when arrested in late October.

Explaining his crimes, he said he was never political until he was looking at Facebook on his phone one day when “Donald J. Trump popped up …” He likened attending a Trump rally to taking drugs.

In one letter he wrote: “I was getting so wrapped up in this new-found fun drug.”

US Mass Shootings Stoke Issues of White Supremacism and Gun Control

A pair of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over the Saturday and Sunday have dragged two of the most divisive issues in American politics — the rise of violent white supremacism and gun control — to the forefront of public conversation as politicians across the ideological spectrum are preparing for what is expected to be an extremely contentious 2020 election campaign.

The two shootings, which left 29 people dead and at least 53 more wounded, combine to create a clear political crisis for the Trump administration and its allies in Congress.

The first shooting, in El Paso, Texas, occurred early Saturday and was carried out by a 21-year-old white man who is believed to have published an explicitly racist manifesto that echoed U.S. President Donald Trump’s frequent charge that Hispanic immigrants from Mexico and Central America constitute an “invasion” of the United States. After he surrendered, he told police that he had set out to kill as many “Mexicans” as he could. He murdered 20 people and wounded another 27.

The second, in Dayton, Ohio, was committed after 1 a.m. Sunday by a 24-year-old white man toting a legally-purchased military-style semi-automatic rifle equipped with two 100-round drum magazines that helped him kill or injure three dozen people in less than 30 seconds. President Trump and Republican lawmakers have been adamantly resistant to the kind of regulations promoted by Democrats that would make it impossible for a private citizen to amass such firepower.

The murders in the Texas border city of El Paso come at a time when violence related to white supremacist ideologies is demonstrably on the rise. In July, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told Congress that the “majority of the domestic terrorism cases we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.”

A man leaves flowers near the scene of a mass shooting at a shopping complex, Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas.

A killer’s manifesto

In 2018, domestic terrorists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., according to the Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, which tracks such murders.  Every one of the killers had an identifiable connection to a right-wing political movement, the center said.

In what is believed to be his manifesto, the El Paso killer made it clear that his antipathy toward Hispanics pre-dated Trump’s rise to power in the 2016 election, but the similarity of some of his language to the president’s rhetoric in his campaign rallies was unmistakable.

Like Trump, the killer described immigrants as “invaders.” At recent political events, Trump has called for minority members of Congress to “go back” to the places they came from. In his manifesto, the killer said that “patriotic Americans” should give immigrants the “right incentive” to return to their home countries.

Most notably, perhaps, is that while railing against illegal immigrants during a re-election rally in May, the president asked the crowd “How do you stop these people?” When one supporter shouted “Shoot them!” Trump laughed as the crowd roared its approval.

On Sunday, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney made multiple TV appearances to defend the president from a chorus of accusations — most notably from Democratic presidential candidates — that Trump’s rhetoric fans the flames of violent white supremacism.

“This was a sick person. The person in Dayton was a sick person,” Mulvaney said in an appearance on ABC News. “No politician is to blame for that. The person who was responsible here are the people who pulled the trigger. We need to figure out how to kind of create less of those kinds of people as a society and not trying to figure out who gets blamed going into the next election.”

Mulvaney was then pressed on Trump’s seeming reluctance to identify white supremacism as a significant concern. After a gunman spouting white supremacist rhetoric murdered dozens of Muslims in New Zealand earlier this year, Trump was asked if he views the ideology as a global threat.  He responded:  “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

“I don’t think it’s at all fair to sit here and say that he doesn’t think that white nationalism is bad for the nation,” Mulvaney said. “These are sick people. You cannot be a white supremacist and be normal in the head.”

Mick Mulvaney, as Acting White House Chief of Staff

But Democrats, particularly presidential candidates, were having none of it.

Speaking on Meet the Press on Sunday morning, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker described Trump as “particularly responsible” for the uptick in violence by white supremacists. “In my faith, you have this idea that you reap what you sow, and he is sowing seeds of hatred in this country, this harvest of hate violence that we are seeing right now lies at his feet,” Booker said.

“There is a complicity in the president’s hatred that undermines the goodness and decency of Americans,” Booker added.

Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration, said on Sunday that Trump was not directly responsible for the shooting in El Paso. However, he said that the president’s rhetoric toward immigrants had contributed to a surge in white nationalism in the U.S.

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who calls El Paso home, may have been the most forceful in tying Trump to the killings there. Appearing on CNN, he responded in the affirmative when asked if he believes the president is a white supremacist. “The things that he has said both as a candidate and then as the president of the United States? This cannot be open for debate,” he said.

“We have a problem with white nationalist terrorism in the United States of America today,” O’Rourke added. “These are white men motivated by the kind of fear that this president traffics in.”

“Hate has no place in this country”

For his part, Trump himself made little in the way of public statements Sunday. Returning to the White House from one of his golf resorts in the afternoon, the president made brief comments to the media. “Hate has no place in our country and we’re going to take care of it,” he said.

As the day went on, and more information came to light about the killings in Dayton, Democrats – already calling for Republicans to relent on passage of gun control measures in Congress — only got louder in their calls for limiting access to firearms.

Their complaints were directed, sometimes explicitly and sometimes indirectly, at Republican lawmakers who have actively resisted efforts to tighten access to firearms. Most recently, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked votes on a popular bill to expand mandatory background checks on people looking to purchase firearms and a more controversial proposal that would ban the sorts of weapons used in the El Paso and Dayton attacks.

On Twitter, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to “bring the Senate back from recess to vote on legislation to address the gun violence epidemic.”

We must treat this like the public health crisis that it is. @SenMajLdr: Bring the Senate back from recess to vote on legislation to address the gun violence epidemic.

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 4, 2019

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg tied the two events together, saying, “America is under attack from homegrown white nationalist terrorism…And we have to talk and act about two things in this country. First of all, we are the only country in the world with more guns than we have people. We can respect the Second Amendment and not allow it to be a death sentence for thousands of Americans, and two, white nationalism is evil.”

Shooting Victims Include a Mom who Died Protecting Her Baby

In the border town of El Paso, Texas, a shooter opened fire and left 20 people dead and more than two dozen injured. Hours later in Dayton, Ohio, a shooter killed 9 people and injured at least 27 others.

Here are some of their stories:

Jordan Anchondo: ‘Gave her life’ for her baby

Jordan Anchondo was among those killed in El Paso, Anchondo’s sister said, and she apparently died while protecting her 2-month-old son from the hail of bullets.

Leta Jamrowski of El Paso spoke to The Associated Press as she paced a waiting room at the University Medical Center of El Paso, where her 2-month-old nephew was being treated for broken bones – the result of his mother’s fall.

“From the baby’s injuries, they said that more than likely my sister was trying to shield him,” she said. “So when she got shot she was holding him and she fell on him, so that’s why he broke some of his bones. So he pretty much lived because she gave her life.”

Jordan, a mother of three, and Andre Anchondo had dropped off her 5-year old daughter at cheerleading practice before going to shop for school supplies on Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso. They never returned. 

  —

Andre Anchondo: Had turned his life around

Andre Anchondo, husband of Jordan Anchondo who was killed in El Paso, recently turned his life around after struggles with drug dependence and run-ins with the law, a friend recalled. 

The friend, Koteiba “Koti” Azzam, made calls on Sunday to learn the whereabouts of his friend, who remained unaccounted for. Bodies of victims were still in the Walmart on Sunday. 

“I love the guy,” Azzam said in a phone interview from San Marcos, Texas, where he attends Texas State University. “He had the character and the charisma.”

Azzam said Anchondo had started a business in El Paso, building things from granite and stone, and made it successful through hard work. He also was on the verge of completing a home for his family. Now, his wife is dead and he himself might not have survived.

“It makes you question your faith almost,” said Azzam, who is Muslim. “But God didn’t have a part in it. The hands of man altered my friends’ life in a drastic way.”

  —

Nicholas Cumer: Had helped cancer patients

A graduate student at a university in Pennsylvania who was interning with a Dayton facility for people battling cancer was among those killed in the Ohio city early Sunday.

Nicholas Cumer was a graduate student in the master of cancer care program at Saint Francis University. 

“Nicholas was dedicated to caring for others,” university President Malachi Van Tassell said in a statement. The university, in Loretto, Pennsylvania, is the oldest Franciscan institution of higher learning in the United States.

The family released the following statement through a relative: “We are heartbroken by the loss of our Nicholas in this senseless act on August 4. As our family grieves, we ask for privacy at this time. Thank you.”

Cumer had been in Dayton as part of his internship program with the Maple Tree Cancer Alliance, which strives to improve the quality of life for individuals battling cancer through exercise, nutrition, and faith. 

Maple Tree Cancer Alliance offered Cumer a full-time position just days before he was killed, the organization said on its website. It described Cumer as hard-working, dedicated and one week away from completing his internship.

“He was well liked and respected by everyone on our team, and we all will miss him very much,” the organization said.

Van Tassell said a Mass in Cumer’s memory will be arranged on campus this week.

  —

Lois Oglesby: A nursing student who wanted to care for children

Lois Oglesby, 27, was in nursing school and looked forward to a career that would make the most of her love for children, her cousin said. She was also the mother of a newborn and had an older daughter.

Derasha Merrett told the Dayton Daily News that she was up feeding her own newborn when a friend called her at 3 a.m. Sunday to tell her, through sobs, that Oglesby had died in the Dayton shooting.

“She was a wonderful mother, a wonderful person,” Merrett said. “I have cried so much, I can’t cry anymore.”

Merrett said she and her cousin grew up in the same church, were on the same drill team and that Oglesby worked at her children’s day care center.

“We all grew up in this little town, Merrett said. “We’re all family.”

  —

Jessica Coca Garcia and Memo Garcia: Fundraising for kids’ sports team

Jessica Coca Garcia and Memo Garcia were at the Walmart in El Paso to raise funds for a youth sports team one of their children played on when a gunman opened fire, wounding them, a relative said.

Norma Coca told Wichita, Kansas-television station KWCH that her daughter and son-in-law were near the front doors of the Walmart when they were shot.

Coca, who lives in Salina, Kansas, said her daughter, Jessica Coca Garcia, was shot three times in the leg. She said her son-in-law, Memo Garcia, was shot twice in the leg and once in the back. She said her daughter was in stable condition and her son-in-law was in critical condition.

Jessica Coca Garcia’s father, Don Coca, said they have family in the El Paso area who were able to be with the couple. Don Coca says: “She was just crying … I told her that our prayers are there and we’re on our way.”

The couple’s 5-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter were also at the Walmart and were not shot.

  —

 Mario De Alba: A wounded father

Mario de Alba, 45, had come to El Paso with his family from Mexico to go shopping.

Described by his sister Cristina de Alba as an “excellent father” and as a “decent, hardworking person,” he was in serious condition Sunday after being shot in the back, the bullet exiting via his diaphragm.

His wife, Olivia Mariscal, and 10-year-old daughter Erika both appear to be recovering after also being wounded, de Alba said from the El Paso hospital where her brother is being treated.

The family lives in Chihuahua, Mexico — a four-hour drive south of El Paso — and was buying school supplies in the Texas city. El Paso is a popular shopping destination for people who live in northern Mexico.

Mario de Alba’s Facebook page shows him as a devoted father to Erika.

In one picture, taken in a living room, Erika cups her hand in the shape of a heart in front of an entertainment center. 0n the shelves behind her are the words FAMILY and PEACE in bold letters.

  —

Mexican government identifies five citizens killed in El Paso

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry identified five citizens who were killed in the shooting Saturday in a shopping complex in El Paso. The ministry did not provide ages for them. They are: 

  _ Sara Esther Regalado of Cuidad Juarez.

  _ Adolfo Cerros Hernandez of Aguascalientes.

  _ Jorge Calvillo Garcia of Torreon.

  _ Elsa Mendoza de la Mora of Yepomera.

  _ Gloria Irma Marquez of Juarez.

US Taliban Push for Peace in Day 2 of Talks

The US and the Taliban met to thrash out elements of a deal to bring a close to Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict at the second day of renewed talks in Doha on Sunday.

The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops and turn the page on its longest ever war.

But it would first seek assurances from the insurgents that they will renounce Al-Qaeda and stop other militants like the Islamic State group using the country as a haven.

The talks, now in their eighth round, began on Saturday but it was unclear if they would extend into a third day, with neither side commenting on progress by late Sunday.

A Taliban source earlier told AFP efforts had been made to organize a direct meeting between US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar, who heads the movement’s political wing.

The men have met previously, as recently as May but there was no confirmation of any meeting at this latest round of talks.

A coalition led by Washington ousted the Taliban in late 2001 accusing it of harboring Al-Qaeda jihadists who claimed the September 11 attacks against the US that killed almost 3,000 people.

But despite a rapid conclusion to the conventional phase of the war, the Taliban have proved formidable insurgents, bogging down US troops for years.

Washington is hoping to strike a peace deal with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential elections due in 2020.

US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday that “we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re talking.”

“We are pursuing a peace agreement not a withdrawal agreement, a peace agreement that enables withdrawal,” Khalilzad tweeted on Friday as he arrived in Doha after talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad.

“Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and any withdrawal will be conditions-based.”

In another sign of progress, the Afghan government has formed a negotiating team for separate peace talks with the Taliban that diplomats hope could be held as early as later this month.

‘Total mess in our country’

The Washington Post reported Thursday that an initial deal to end the war would see the US force in Afghanistan reduced to as low as 8,000 from the current level of around 14,000.

In exchange, the Taliban would abide by a ceasefire, renounce Al-Qaeda, and talk to the Kabul administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US wanted to “reduce the resources” deployed to Afghanistan as he visited Sydney on Sunday.

An Afghan official hinted last week that the government of President Ashraf Ghani was preparing for direct talks with the Taliban, the details of which have yet to be announced.

“We have no preconditions to begin talks, but the peace agreement is not without conditions,” Ghani wrote in Pashto on his Facebook page on Friday ahead of the talks.

“We want a republic government not an emirate,” he said, a challenge to the Taliban which has insisted on reverting to the “Islamic Emirate” name Afghanistan bore under its rule.

“The negotiations will be tough, and the Taliban should know that no Afghan is inferior in religion or courage to them.”

The thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Ghani’s administration also remain unresolved.

The latest US-Taliban encounter follows last month’s talks between influential Afghans and the Taliban which agreed a “roadmap for peace” — but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

Kabul resident Somaya Mustafa, 20, said her country desperately needed a peace deal — but only one in which the Taliban “accept women and their achievements.” 

“It is a total mess in our country right now. And if it continues, women will suffer more than anyone else,” she said. 

The United Nations has said that civilian casualty rates across Afghanistan matched record levels last month, following a dip earlier in the year.

On Sunday, two people were killed in a blast claimed by the IS-linked Khorasan Province group targeting Afghan television staff in Kabul.

And in the southern province of Kandahar, at least seven Afghan police officers were killed when a group of colleagues thought to be loyal to the Taliban opened fire, officials said.

Ohio Police: 9 Dead, 16 Hurt in Early Morning Shooting in Dayton

Updated Aug. 4, 8:13 a.m.

Police in Dayton, in the midwestern U.S. state of Ohio, say a gunman has killed nine people and wounded 16.

Dayton police said Sunday on its Twitter account: “We had officers in the immediate vicinity when this shooting began and were able to respond and put an end to it quickly.”

Police say the gunman, whose identity has not been released, is dead. The Associated Press quoted Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley saying he had been wearing body armor and carrying extra magazines for his weapon.

Police say the FBI is assisting in the case.

The shooting in the Oregon entertainment district of the city came just hours after another mass shooting Saturday at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, where 20 people were killed and 26 were wounded. Last Sunday a gunman shot and killed three people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California.

 

African Teens Inspired, Motivated by Basketball Without Borders

For one intense week, 40 boys and 20 girls from 29 African countries were chosen for a highly selective program to train with current and former players from the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). 

The NBA’s Basketball Without Borders program has been scouting and training girls and boys across the continent for 17 years. Teenage girls who took part say working with women from the continent who played for WNBA teams has motivated them to stay in the game. 

Iris was scouted by the program from her local team in Gabon. (E. Sarai/VOA)

“This experience has been so enriching for us,” Iris, a 16-year-old from Gabon, told VOA. “It’s helped me a lot, I’ve learned new things and it’s renewed my enthusiasm, my desire to keep going and to become someone in the world of basketball.”

Iris says she was scouted for the program by organizers who watched her local team play in Gabon. Iris was then asked to produce a video of her playing and was later informed that she’d been accepted to the program.

The coaches and mentors are helping these young players through drills and matches, but also serve as role models of what the youngsters can become. One such role model is Astou Ndiaye, originally from Senegal. She played for the Detroit Shock, which won the 2003 WNBA championship.

“We have walked the path that they want to walk,” Ndiaye told VOA. “So just being here being able to talk to them, answer their questions and really give them hopefully, the confidence they need to know that if we can do it, they can because there’s a path for them.”

Ndiaye has been coaching young women in the Basketball Without Borders program for years, but is particularly encouraged this year because it is only the second time that Senegal has hosted the program in its 17-year history.

Ndiaye’s presence and enthusiasm for the program have been particularly inspirational for many young women who hope to follow in her footsteps.

Vanessa, a 16-year-old basketball player from Cameroon, says she is looking forward to returning home and sharing what she has learned at Basketball Without Borders. (E. Sarai/VOA)

“It’s because of them — they’ve inspired us to play basketball, really,” Vanessa, a 16-old player from Cameroon, told VOA. “And it’s because of them that we really apply ourselves here and say that maybe one day we can replace them, or play with them.”

Although only half as many girls as boys are accepted to the program, organizers say that promoting young female players on the continent is just as important to them as working with the boys.

“Our primary mission and goal at NBA Africa, when we launched, was to really increase participation in our sport. So you cannot do that by ignoring more than half the population,” Amadou Gallo Fall, NBA Africa’s managing director, told VOA. “So I think over the years, we’ve seen tremendous progress in the women’s game.”

The NBA sponsors the Basketball Without Borders program each year to scout and train up and coming basketball players on the continent. (E. Sarai/VOA)

Ndiaye agrees that in recent years, the women she coaches will have better opportunities than her generation did.

“It’s getting better. If we remember, we were pioneers then,” Ndiaye said.

“And the salaries, all the benefits and advantages that the kids are getting now — it’s unbelievable — so it can only get better.”