5 must-reads from around Africa

Story highlights

  • Zimbabwe says it only has $217 left in the bank -- American dollars
  • BlackBerry still enjoys popularity in Africa despite plummeting sales in the U.S.
  • Drones come to the rescue of rhinos in Kenya
Every week, we bring you some of the most interesting stories from around Africa. Here are the five you need to know this week.
Court: Shell Nigeria must pay farmer for pollution
Nigerian farmers who filed a suit against Shell received bad news this week. Except one of them.
In a landmark ruling, a court said parent company Royal Dutch Shell was not liable for the oil spills in the Niger Delta region. But in the case of one farmer, it asked the local Shell subsidiary to pay up for pollution.
The Dutch court rejected claims by four farmers, agreeing with parent company that the leaks were caused by sabotage, not negligence.
However, it ordered Shell Nigeria to compensate a fifth farmer because the company did not take adequate measures to prevent saboteurs from attacking oil pipes. Damages in that ruling have not yet been determined.
The case, watched by environmentalist and multinational companies, was rare because it involved Dutch jurisdiction on a company that though headquartered in the Netherlands, was in court for offenses blamed on a foreign subsidiary.
You may be richer than Zimbabwe
Next time you are moping over your bank balance, take heart you're not Zimbabwe.
The country says it is down to its last US $217.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti's revelation, reported by various media outlets, raised collective eyebrows worldwide.
After paying civil service employees, the government was left with only $217 in its coffers, Biti said Tuesday, according to Zimbabwean paper NewsDay.
Biti later said his statement was taken out of context. He said his comment aimed to highlight that the government is broke and spending a bulk of its revenue on paying civil employees.
The government is working on measures that will cut the wages, which amount to 70% of the nation's total revenue, Biti told the paper.
Zimbabwe is no stranger to fiscal mess.
Four years ago, it suffered massive hyperinflation, forcing it to introduce a 100-trillion-dollar note worth about $300 in U.S. currency. At the time, a loaf of bread cost about 300 billion Zimbabwean dollars.
The cash-strapped revelation sparked discussions on the 263Chat, a weekly crowdsourcing venture among Zimbabweans on Twitter.
Some wondered how the country will hold its presidential election -- an expensive exercise -- with no money to its name.
Blogger Nigel Mugamu asked why the government is not meeting its revenue targets despite its massive diamond resources.
Shunned in the U.S., BlackBerry still a hit in Africa
BlackBerry's loss of market share in the United States is the stuff of legends.
But though the phone is losing its popularity in North America, its market in urban Sub-Saharan Africa remains vibrant .
BlackBerry estimates it holds a 70% market share in countries such as South Africa.
And in Nigeria, the phones are such a hot commodity, the nation's film industry has a movie called "BlackBerry Babes," which features women luring men into buying them the phone.
Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to add 175 million new mobile users in three years, making it an especially lucrative market.
Unlike their counterparts in Europe and America, most Africans use their mobiles as their primary link to the Internet, hence the preference for physical keyboards over touch screens. The BlackBerry's free messaging service, BBM, is also a big hit in the continent.
Unmanned drones ... for animals
At a game reserve in Kenya's vast plains, conservationists are resorting to unique measures to protect endangered rhinos: Unmanned drones.
Rampant poaching, escalated by beliefs that rhino horns have healing powers, has led to a record number of animal killings in recent months.
And the 90,000-acre Ol Pejeta Conservancy game reserve wants to change all that.
Boasting a wide array of wildlife, including the endangered black and white rhinos, the conservancy plans to deploy drones to monitor and track wildlife. The drones will provide immediate notifications when poachers are sighted.
This is the latest high-tech effort to track wildlife, a major source of tourist dollars for the east African nation.
Last year, Kenyan conservationists put GPS-enabled collars to send automated messages via wireless networks to researchers who map lion locations.
Malian troops accused of human rights violations
After three weeks of fighting, Malian troops, with the help of France and several other countries, have largely wrested control of the north from the militants.
But at a steep cost, human rights groups say.
France has been helping its former colony flush out Islamist fighters from the vast desert in northern Mali, a region world leaders feared would turn into an al Qaeda haven.
But Malian troops have carried out extrajudicial killings and abuses during the offensive, according to French-based International Federation for Human Rights.
There have also been reports of attacks on the Tuaregs tribe members, the rights group said.
A Mali military spokesman declined to comment about the allegations.
Malian and French military officials have repeatedly called for respect of international humanitarian law and human rights.