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The woes of the Cameroon forest communities

Posted NDI EUGENE NDI in Yaoundé

on  Friday, April 28   2017 at  11:24

The arrival of timber firm SOFHONY with a bag of promises to the forest communities of Djoameodjoh and Biba II in the Lomie subdivision in the Upper Nyong Division in eastern Cameroon a few years ago, brought much hope to Mr Ndovan Pial Felix and his family.

Life had always been a long struggle for the residents of Biba II Village on the periphery of the Dja reserve that hosts more than 1,500 known plant species.

The logging company promised improved livelihood for the poverty-mired communities and according to Mr Felix, it was like turning darkness into daylight.

“We were promised roads, schools, hospitals… and the hope that things will be better made us expectant and happy,” Mr Felix said.

Even poorer

But, his dream and those of the entire village did not last for long because SOFHONY failed to live up to its promise. The communities were today disillusioned and even poorer than they were before.

Like in Biba II, the residents of Cameroon’s dense equatorial forest that straddles the east, south and the centre have all bemoaned the fact that the timber companies have not kept their promises.

Traditional authorities blame the government for continuously failing to include the local authorities in their negotiations with investors.

“Local authorities and forest communities usually have little or no knowledge of what they are due at the beginning of such negotiations,” said Mr Paul Gbalene, a traditional ruler of Djoameodjoh, a mixed forest-dependent community of the Baka pygmies and Bantus.

Every negotiation

They were thus calling for proper and transparent procedures that involve the locals from the beginning of every negotiation.

“Communities need to be properly sensitised on sustainable management of the forest and natural resources on which they depend for their livelihood,” said Mr Robinson Tanyi, a traditional ruler and president of the Federation of Community Forests in Cameroon (FEDEFCOM).

There was a proliferation of complaints of massive exploitation and non-respect of the rights of local forest communities in the Central African nation that is home to the second largest forest belt in the Congo Basin, with 22 million hectares of cover, experts say.

Reached a deal

In Lomie in the the east's Upper Nyong Division where SOFOHNY was present, the conflict with the local community was evident.

After securing two “sales of standing volume” exploitation permits known in French as Ventes de Coupe in April 2013, the Chinese firm reached a deal with the local Djoameodjoh and Biba II communities to pay back $2.5 (FCFA 1,500) per cubic meter of wood exploited from their forest, community leader Mr Gbalene explained.

He said the company was supposed to open and maintain the enclaved local community’s road, “but you have seen for yourself what we have, is that a road?” he posed, saying the company was Chinese-owned, though its name was Cameroonian.

While the Djoameodjoh community was expecting $26,000 (FCFA16 million) for wood already harvested from their forest, SOFOHNY instead gave out 800 sheets of zinc valued at $6,500 (FCFA 4 million).

According to Mr Gbalene, the roofing sheets were not even given directly to the community as their agreement prescribes. It was instead remitted through the council, but finally ended in the local Lomie public treasury.

The picture was the same in Djoum in the Dja and Lobo Division in the south,

The indigenous Avebe community was angry with SIBOIS for non-respect of terms of a verbal agreement both parties reached in January 2016.

Stamped logs

SIBOIS obtained a government permit and reached an agreement with the community to be paying FCFA 1000 ($2) per cubic meter of wood exploited from their forest, the traditional ruler and head of Avebe community, Mr Mbondjo Remy, explained.

“SIBOIS gave us $1,500 (FCFA900,000) and after felling the forest for about two months, they left, abandoning hundreds of already cut and stamped logs in the forest without giving a franc again,” the traditional ruler explained, saying the company also extended it activities outside its legal logging permit.

In Lembe Yezoum in the Upper Sanaga Division of the Centre region, the situation was probably worse for the local Endoum community. Besides the logs abandoned in the forest, CTA company has imposed a debt of about $113,000 (FCFA70 million) on the community.

“The company constructed a bridge and debited us, though the bridge was meant to facilitate the transportation of their wood. They said they had to deduct the money from what they owed us,” the president of the Endoum community forest management committee, Mr Timothée Engongomo Abomo, explained, saying CTA is a Chinese logging firm.

However, administrative authorities and representatives of some of the indicted companies do not agree with the complaints.

The money

In the case of Djoameodjoh and SOFOHNY, the local Lomie sub-division authority, Mr Oumarou Housseini, admitted that the money paid by the company was delayed because of the 2013 municipal elections, but claimed that it was subsequently used to provide zinc for the community.

“When SOFOHNY brought the money in 2013, it was in the midst of the municipal and legislative elections and the mayor’s signature was invalid, reason why it was kept in the state treasury,” the administrative officer explained, saying the amount was $10,000) (FCFA 6 million).

A senior SOFHONY official, who only gave his name as Cheriff, denied the allegations that the firm owed the community money.

“We paid everything as agreed with the communities and we have the receipts. We paid about $34,000 (FCFA21 million) for one of our two permits,” Mr Cheriff said on phone.

Ensure transparency

He also denied that the logging firm was Chinese-owned.

“The company is not Chinese, Upper Nyong is not in China.”

Experts recommend the strengthening of the forest governance legislation and strict application to ensure transparency.

According to Forest Governance and Policies Expert Patrice Kamkuimo, some Chinese companies have little regard for Cameroonian forest law and the principles of sustainable management.

The import

“Given the fact that some Chinese enterprises are profoundly tarnishing China's image and investments in rural communities, it is important that China establish a policy banning the import of illegal timber,” Mr Kamkuimo said.

RECTRAD (French acronym), a network engaged in protection of the environment and sustainable management of forest ecosystems in Africa, says it had made attempts for a lasting solution to no avail.

The coordinator of the network and traditional ruler of the Bityili-Minko Village in the south, Mr Mvondo Bruno, said the Chinese embassy in Yaoundé promised to facilitate a meeting with the Chinese firms in Cameroon to check the activities of logging companies but the result of that promise was still being awaited.

Evict villages

The question of abuse of the rights of forest communities has become a global issue.

A May 2016 report <http://www.forestpeoples.org/topics/agribusiness/publication/2016/securing-forest-peoples-rights-and-tackling-deforestation-democ> by Forest Peoples Programme, highlights the many socio-environmental impacts and human rights violations that communities experience in association with forest loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yet globally, communities only hold legal ownership rights to 20 per cent of their customary lands, leaving the door open for states and private companies to reach in, evict villages and cut down the trees in order to exploit the treasures beneath, according to a March 2017 report by Greenpeace.

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Unfair to Africa? Not ICC!

Posted CHARLES OMONDI

on  Tuesday, April 25   2017 at  19:12

The sustained attack on the International Criminal Court (ICC) by the African Union came into sharp focus at the 2017 Mo Ibrahim Foundation annual Governance Weekend in Marrakech – Morocco on April 6-9.

The Foundation chairman, Dr Mohammed Ibrahim, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, all put up a strong defence for the institution that has in the recent past become the object of much hate by the AU members.

The narrative that ICC targets Africans unfairly should be rejected in toto, said Ms Bensouda.

“A lot of African leaders choose to ignore how the numerous cases found their way to the ICC in the first place,” she said, disclosing that seven of them were referrals by various African governments.

Principal sponsors

The referrals include the one against Ugandan insurgents, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and another against former Cote d’Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has distinguished himself as one of the fiercest critics of the international court. Curiously, whereas he takes every opportunity to demonise the court with regards to the trials of African leaders, he seems at peace with The Hague-based judges trying Ugandan insurgents.

Kenya’s case involving six suspected principal sponsors of the 2007/08 post-election violence was another referral. However, all the accused have since been absolved.

They included President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto. Other accused were former Cabinet minister Henry Kosgey, former police boss Hussein Ali, former Secretary to the Cabinet Francis Muthaura and former radio broadcaster Joshua arap Sang’.

The Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali have also referred cases to ICC. The CAR cases relate to the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the context of a conflict in the country since July 1, 2002, with the peak of violence in 2002 and 2003.

The Mali case focuses on alleged war crimes committed since January 2012, mainly in three northern regions of Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, with incidents also occurring in the south in Bamako and Sévaré.

Military bases

A rebellion in Mali’s north involved deliberate damaging of shrines of Muslim shrines in the city of Timbuktu, attacks on a military bases in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu, alleged execution of between 70 and 153 detainees at Aguelhok, and incidents of looting and rape.

Separately, incidents of torture and enforced disappearances were reported in the context of the military coup that ousted President Amadou Toumani Toure.

The Kenya cases found their way to the ICC after parliament twice voted in the court’s favour to prosecute the six chief suspects in the mayhem that claimed an estimated 1,300 lives and rendered at least 600,000 other internally displaced.

Much faith

Dr Annan recounted how, after waiting patiently for parliament to constitute a local tribunal to try the post-election violence cases, he was left with no option but to hand over the envelope containing the names of the chief suspects to ICC.

The retired UN chief had been handed the envelop by the Justice Waki Commission, constituted by the Kenya government, to investigate the violence that wracked the country as the opposition leader Raila Odinga contested President Mwai Kibaki’s second five-year term poll victory.

The case of Cote d’Ivoire, Ms Bensouda said, was referred to the ICC even before Abidjan became a signatory to the Rome Statute, underlying how much faith the continent, in general, and the Ivorians in particular, had in the international court.

African leaders, it would appear, have no problems with the ICC until it goes after one of them, yet all ICC seeks is justice for all and not for a select few, said Ms Bensouda.

Dr Annan explained in detail how in 1998 and when he was at the helm of the UN, African states played a critical role in founding the ICC.

To date, he went on, Africa constitutes the single largest ICC bloc, whose majority judges were also from the continent. The court has 18 judges who are elected for nine-year terms by the member-states.

How then could such an institution turn out to be targeting the African leaders? Dr Annan posed.

Be ashamed

“African leaders should not be ashamed of the activities of the ICC,” said the Ghanaian.

Dr Annan said that the threat of mass withdrawal from the Rome Statute by African states was a myth, since the former was an extension of the domestic jurisdictions.

To Dr Ibrahim, it was regrettable that African leaders had mobilised themselves into something a kin to a trade union with the sole purpose of shielding themselves against justice, with total disregard to the victims of their atrocities or misrule.

Following a campaign largely set in motion by Kenya, several AU members threatened to pull out of the Rome Statute. South Africa, Burundi and the Gambia made good their threats by applying for a withdrawal.

Not a member

The South African bid has since hit a brick wall after a Pretoria court declared it null and void, while the Gambia’s new President Adama Barrow announced his government would abandon the move initiated by long-serving dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Burundi seems to be the last state standing with President Pierre Nkurunziza maintaining a stranglehold on power, having forced his way into a third term against the constitution.

What also the African leaders seem to be ignoring is that fact that the international court could come after a suspect irrespective of whether their country was a Rome Statute signatory or not. Sudan is not a member of the ICC, yet the court has issued warrants of arrest for President Omar al-Bashir.

The first warrant for arrest of President Bashir was issued on March 4, 2009, and the second on July 12, 2010. The Sudanese leader is wanted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur in 2003.

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Cameroon counts losses after unprecedented Internet shutdown

Posted NDI EUGENE NDI in Yaoundé

on  Monday, April 24   2017 at  10:20

A conservative estimate by a coalition of right groups, Access Now, pegs economic losses of the 94-day Internet shutdown in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon at a minimum of $4.5 million.

The rights group said the figure did not take into account the social cost—losses due to disruptions of supply chains, lack of investor confidence and the human costs.

“We’re still accounting for the damage this unilateral, malicious act has done to the people, students, entrepreneurs, activists and family and friends in Cameroon’s Anglophone communities,” said Mr Peter Micek, the Global Policy and Counsel at Access Now.

The government, without prior notice, switched off Internet connectivity to the regions; home to 20 per cent of Cameroon’s populace in mid-January, following months of protests and unrest by Anglophone activists against alleged chronic marginalisation by the predominantly French speaking Yaoundé government.

Mounting pressure

Access Now has been mounting pressure on the Cameroon government to reinstate Internet services.

Businesses and other internet-dependent income generating activities in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon were unsympathetically blocked as a result of the state order.

The 94-day shutdown has been the longest ever recorded on the African continent, according to the Internet Without Borders (ISF).

Access Now, that worked closely with ISF and local partners to quantify the economic damage and pressurise for the restoration of Internet connectivity to the restive regions, said the shutdown “notoriously affected” Buea, the Southwest capital.

Buea, located at the foot of the famous Mount Cameroon, is home to dozens of start-ups and has been described as Cameroon's "Silicon Mountain". The outage forced some of the start-up developers and their staff to temporarily relocate to other cities like Douala and Yaoundé, where the Internet was available.

The protests

Several people have been killed and tens of others; including the leaders of the strike and journalists, arrested since the protests that started last year as a lawyers' and teachers’ work boycott metamorphosed into violence in January.

Following “high instructions” from President Paul Biya, Cameroon’s Posts and Telecoms minister on Thursday, ordered Internet service providers to restore services in the two English speaking regions.

Communication minister and government’s spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary, in a statement, said the decision came after “significant improvements” in the conditions that led to the temporary shutdown.

He said: “Some extremists” in the regions took advantage of a strike initiated by English-speaking teachers and Common Law Lawyers, to spread damaging information through the communication medium and the blockade was part of security measures by the government to restore order and ensure the safety of citizens and their property

Incite hatred

However, the release further said the government reserved the right to “take as and when necessary appropriate measures to prevent the Internet from being used once and again to incite hatred and dissention among Cameroonians or to undermine public order”.

The Northwest and Southwest Cameroon internet users welcomed the re-connectivity with mixed feelings.

A Bamenda-based journalist, Ms Commy Mussa, said tit was “like the first rains after a long dry season”.

ISF said it welcomed the reinstatement “with relief”.

to bad

“We regret that it had to take 94 days of violation of fundamental freedoms – including expression, communication, opinion….for the Cameroonian government to put an end to an unnecessary and disproportionate measure”, said Ms Julie Owono, the ISF Executive Director, attributing “the victory” to an international mobilisation through the #BringbackourInternet hashtag.

ISF said it was documenting the burden millions of Cameroonians bore during the shutdown.
It said the responsibility for those costs would have to be established since local telecom companies owed their customers and citizens of Cameroon transparency on their role in the shutdown, “what lessons they have learnt and what steps they will take to avoid another shutdown in the future”.

The shutdown

The Internet Service Providers (ISP) which all rely on fibre-optic infrastructure provided by the state-owned Cameroon Telecommunications (Camtel), had said then that the shutdown was for reasons beyond their control.
President Biya's Thursday decision followed a visit to the country by the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for Central Africa, Mr Francois Lonseny Fall, who told journalists at a press conference in Yaoundé that he asked for the restoration to be done and all detainees of the crisis released.

Though largely hailed by supporters of the Yaoundé regime as gradual process towards resolving the stalemate, Anglophone activists have been calling on supporters not to let the Internet restoration “victory” cause their resolve for the independence of the former British Southern Cameroons waver.

Preventing protests

Advocacy groups say the 35-year-old Cameroon government was not alone in using Internet shutdowns as a means of controlling or preventing protests.

The Biya regime was among the “most egregious offenders” ISF and other advocacy groups have continued to urge to end the practice of shutting down the Internet worldwide. ISF says the number of blockades skyrocketed within the last two years, from 15 to 56 documented cases between 2015 and 2016.

The governments of Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Mali, the Republic of Congo, and the Democratic Republic of Congo interrupted access to all or part of their internet in 2016.

According to ISF, the common thread between these shutdowns was elections and calls for democracy a growing number of citizens on the continent.

Electoral calendar

Yet, there were growing fears of more imposed interruptions of internet access this year in Africa; considering the continent's electoral calendar.

The African countries listed on the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) website with upcoming elections later this year include Kenya, Rwanda, Liberia, Angola, Somaliland and most likely the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Kenyan, for example, authorities may soon be monitoring the phone calls, text messages, and mobile money transactions of millions of its citizens.

According to a news report by the Daily Nation, regulators were ordering mobile phone operators to allow access.

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Will opposition unity hold to dethrone Mugabe?

Posted KITSEPILE NYATHI in Harare

on  Wednesday, April 19   2017 at  19:38

After three failed to attempts to dislodge Africa’s oldest ruler, Zimbabwe’s veteran opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is convinced he has finally found the formula to send President Robert Mugabe to retirement.

Mr Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist, will face the 93-year-old ruler for the fourth time in presidential election next year, and unlike in previous polls, he has started his campaign early.

He has been working on building a coalition of opposition parties that would bring all President Mugabe’s opponents together and this would make 2018 the most anticipated poll in Zimbabwe’s history.

The former Prime Minister believes an opposition coalition would give Zimbabweans, especially the youth, a reason to take part in the polls as voter apathy has in the past played into the veteran ruler’s hands.

Joining hands

“We want an alliance that will address the apathy in the country, especially among the young voters, and to ensure that the possibility of victory is assured before we even go into that election,” he said.

“That is going to be a game changer.”

Mr Tsvangirai recently concluded a nationwide tour to consult his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters on the proposed coalition and it appears his mind was already made about joining hands with former Vice-President Joice Mujuru and her newly-formed National People’s Party (NPP).

Mrs Mujuru was fired from both the ruling Zanu-PF party and government in 2014 after she was accused of plotting to topple President Mugabe.

She has since become an attractive partner for the opposition parties seeking an alliance because of her liberation war history and the belief that she still enjoys some form of support in the security forces.

Morgan Tsvangirai

Her husband, the late General Solomon Mujuru, was Zimbabwe’s first black army commander and was considered a power broke in the ruling party.

Top security commanders have publicly challenged Mr Tsvangirai’s presidential ambitions, saying he had no liberation war record and that he was too close to Western countries.

An alliance with Mrs Mujuru, which the MDC leader is convinced, was now close to becoming a reality, would help win over the doubting Thomases, some observers say.

“It is too early yet (to comment on the coalition with NPP, but I can tell you that it is a process that has been fully endorsed by my party and I have been given the sole mandate to ensure that an alliance for the opposition succeeds; I can tell you that it will succeed,” Mr Tsvangirai added.

The media

“I am not at liberty to reveal (the nature of the negotiations) because we have made a commitment that we will not negotiate in the media.

“Much as we would like the media to cover these stories, I always think it is something instructive that you do not negotiate in the media.”

On the other hand, Mrs Mujuru has been speaking more confidently about prospects of a united front against President Mugabe in the next elections, indicating that a deal between the major opposition parties was imminent.

“Like what I have said already, from what you have heard from Mr Tsvangirai that he is ready to work with us and that even from our side, we are also ready to work with other democratic forces that are ready to work with us,” she told The Standard newspaper recently.

Bridge the gaps

“Right now, it is MDC we are talking to on a bilateral basis but we also have many more that we are talking to.

Mrs Mujuru added: “So for 2018, we are sure the democratic forces will be ready to work together because the enemy we are facing is one.

“We are not enemies amongst ourselves as opposition parties.

“We know what the Zimbabwean people are aiming to have at the moment, so our focus is to bridge the gaps that separate us so that come 2018, which is very close, we will pull together,” she said.

While the gap between Mr Tsvangirai and Mrs Mujuru’s parties was narrowing, they were viewed with suspicion by smaller parties who have since formed their own alliance known as the Coalition of Democrats (Code).

Code, which has among its ranks parties led by former Finance ministers Simba Makoni and Tendai Biti as well as former Industry minister Welshman Ncube, has over a dozen parties.

It also shares the belief that a divided opposition would be a gift to Zanu-PF in next year’s elections.

“The signing of the Coalition of Democrats framework presents a new narrative for the people of Zimbabwe where ego and selfish aspirations were discarded for a better people-centred Zimbabwe,” Code said last year.

“Indeed the challenge and crisis of governance can only be answered by those who are inclusive and not exclusive.”

Alliance building

Both Mr Tsvangirai and Mrs Mujuru insist they are not shutting the door on the so-called small parties.

“We see the need for an alliance, the only problem is that some people feel that in the alliance building process, we should be equal,” the MDC leader said when asked about his reluctance to negotiate with Code members.

“How do you say you are equal when you are not equal? It is a realistic assessment but what I want to tell you is that, we respect every party and we respect every leader.

“The coalition is not about individuals but it is about what the people on the ground have been crying for.”

The veteran opposition politician also does not see any problems when it comes to selection of the coalition’s leader in a race that was likely to be between himself and Mrs Mujuru.

Policy agreement

“I do not think the leadership of the alliance is an issue that can stop the alliance,” Mr Tsvangirai said.

“Remember, I outlined that we need an alliance agreement, we need a policy agreement and we need a post-election agreement.

“So, those agreements are very important because during the course of that, you will be able to ascertain who should lead this process for the success of the alliance.”

MDC founder member Bekithemba Mpofu, now an academic based in South Africa, said President Mugabe had managed to stay in power for over 36 years largely because of a fragmented opposition.

“If you look at past elections and how the opposition lost to Mugabe, it was not popularity contests but a political scientist who has manipulated public opinion with or without the involvement of the media,” he said.

Split votes

“Mugabe’s people using state resources, continue to sponsor opposition forces to split votes.

“The opposition parties have to be vigilant because there is no way they can win next year’s elections without a coalition.”

Dr Mpofu warned the opposition parties to guard against infiltration, pointing out that Zanu-PF had a history of sponsoring candidates during elections to split votes.

“The mistake a coalition can make is to try and bring everyone together because they risk infiltration,” he added.

“Zanu-PF sponsors most of these small parties directly or indirectly.”

The Zimbabwe Christian Alliance leader, the Reverend Useni Sibanda, said there was a real possibility of President Mugabe losing next year’s elections if the opposition parties joined hands.

“I think that if the opposition parties united and also ensured that pseudo political parties created by the intelligence are not part of the mix, a major upset against the ruling party is likely,” he said.

“However, the key issue is to deal with the uneven electoral field and control of the election management system by Zanu-PF.

“It is also important to bear in mind that main opposition party MDC has won elections without a coalition but failed to take over the reins due to the militarisation of the state. This is why the Joice Mujuru factor is critical.”

Zanu-PF insists that it is not missing sleep over the looming coalition of its rivals because it considers other opposition parties that the MDC is courting as too weak.

Grand coalition

“A grand coalition in Zimbabwe is by definition untenable because there are many opposition individuals, but only one real opposition party, MDC,” tweeted Prof Jonathan Moyo, a leading Zanu-PF strategist.

“The first rule in electoral strategy is to distinguish between phantom and real opposition,” he added.

According to Zimbabwe’s constitution, next year’s polls should be the last for President Mugabe and this could see him retiring at the age of 98.

A fractured opposition has been President Mugabe’s trump card in previous elections.

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Traffic jams make Nairobi world’s ‘second-worst’ city

Posted LILLIAN MUTAVI in Nairobi

on  Monday, April 17   2017 at  17:34

Nairobi has been ranked the second-worst city in the world on traffic congestion.

According to the Serbia-based website numbeo.com, the 2017 Traffic Index lists Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) in India as the most congested city in the world.

Mumbai, also in India, is ranked third, followed by Jakarta (Indonesia) and Manila (Philippines).

Traffic Index is a composite index of time consumed in traffic due to commuting to work, estimation of time consumption dissatisfaction, carbon dioxide consumption estimation in traffic and overall inefficiencies in the traffic system.

The worst

On average, Nairobians spend 62.44 minutes in traffic while Kolkatans spend an average of 68.86, Mumbai 60.11, Jakarta 56.98 and Manila 56.77 minutes.

But Nairobi leads in the top five cities in Africa with the worst traffic, followed by Cairo in Egypt (51.56 minutes) and South African cites Pretoria (49.00), Johannesburg (45.15), Cape Town (44.15) and Durban (53.12).

Speaking to the Nation, Mr Frederick Karanja, the Nairobi County chief officer for roads and public works, said the volume of cars has contributed to the endless traffic jams in the city.

The designs

Mr Karanja said lack of a proper and organised public transport system in the city has increased the number of personal vehicles.

“Nowadays, it is easy to acquire a vehicle, which makes the volumes of cars in the city increase rapidly. This has contributed to traffic jams in the city,” said Mr Karanja.

He adds that the nature of Nairobi’s roads is also to blame, with the designs a major contributor to jams.

He cited Thika Road as one of the highways posing serious challenges. It has more than eight lanes on the city’s outskirts, gets another feeder road at Muthaiga but towards Ngara, the number of lanes drops, causing a snarl-up to the city centre.

However, efforts are under way to ease the traffic jams, according to Mr Karanja. Key roads around the city are being built or expanded, such as Outer Ring and Ngong roads, he said.

A number of key terminuses are also being built outside the city centre to serve public service minibuses (matatus), which would not have to reach the city centre.

They include Park Road/Ngara for all matatus from the central Kenya; Pangani, currently under construction; and Muthurwa, which is complete and is only awaiting gazettement.

Cleared of hawkers

Mr Karanja said the Muthurwa terminus would be cleared of hawkers for effective use by matatus and buses from Eastlands.

Mr Karanja also blamed motorcycle taxis (boda boda) operators, pedestrians and taxis for the traffic mess.

The taxis park on roads, eating up precious space, though they were expected to be constantly on the move.

Major menace

“We did away with taxi ranks to encourage them to move around, picking and dropping off passengers, like it happens in other countries. Instead, they have been parking on the roads in the city,” Mr Karanja said.

For their part, boda boda operators continue to be a major menace, operating with impunity and endangering the lives of pedestrians though they are banned from operating in the city centre.

But nominated Member of County Assembly (MCA) Jacquiline Nyangala criticised county officials for doing little to address the traffic menace.

A good business

She said the county assembly passed motions to tackle traffic jams in the city, but they have never been implemented.

A lobby for the boda boda operators - City Riders Sacco - said traffic jams in the city were a good business opportunity for its members, whose motorcycles can easily manoeuvre through the gridlock.

Boda boda taxis charge between $1 and $2 (Sh100 and Sh200) for rides within the city centre and more for destinations farther away.

Lobby chairman Denis Ochieng' urged the county to allocate boda boda taxis designated spots where they can pick up and drop off passengers to avoid the cat-and-mouse games with city askaris.

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Sierra Leone on edge over presidential term limit

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Monday, April 17   2017 at  12:13

Last month, the youth wing of Sierra Leone’s ruling All People’s Congress (APC) endorsed a motion declaring President Ernest Bai Koroma chairman for life.

It was unclear what that eyebrow-raising move means outside the party, but it certainly fuelled an already fiery atmosphere occasioned by the so-called ‘More Time’ campaign.

Sierra Leone’s constitution provides for two five-year terms limit for the president. President Koroma and his supporters have repeatedly denied he intends to overstay. But the assurances come on the backdrop of cyclic suspicious moves.

The latest such moves, coming on the eve of the election year, have set the country in an unparalleled electrifying mood.

Campaign manager

It all began shortly after the 2012 polls, when President Koroma’s handpicked campaign manager, Mr Leonard Balogun Koroma, took to the airwaves to campaign for a third term. A strong public opposition to the move forced State House to issue a disclaimer.

And as the nation struggled to grasp the rationale behind his campaign, Mr Koroma was appointed to a senior ministerial position – Transport and Aviation, a move interpreted as a reward for initiating what would be the dominant subject of discourse throughout the rest of the following five years.

It went on and off, sometimes justified with some of the most bizarre arguments. One goes that the president should be “rewarded” with more time in recognition of his development achievements.

Youth groups

Even the Ebola epidemic provided a pretext, with proponents arguing that much of the president’s second term was not spent doing developmental and therefore he should be “compensated” with a longer tenure.

At one point, at the height of the debate, the president infamously defended the pro-more time campaigners, saying they were entitled to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

The 'chairman for life' declaration came at the backdrop of a chain of events that appeared to further consolidate APC’s preparedness for the inevitable.

At that Youth League conference in the northern Port Loko District, there were familiar scenes of youth groups demonstrating in support of more time.

And a few days later, news of an attempt by parliament to debate a motion seeking to extend the president's term spread on social media like wild fire.

While the government continues to insist that no such attempt was made, the issue persistently makes headlines, fuelled by yet more suspicious moves, like the APC dominated House questioning the legality of the ongoing voter registration and pushing for activities pro-democracy campaigners say risk derailing the electoral process, with the potential of postponement of the March 7, 2018 polls.

The government’s insistence on pursuing a controversial boundary delimitation based on the disputed 2015 census has left the civil society unsettled. There is also the planned referendum for the revised constitution, the approval of which could occasion a whole new barrage of squabbles.

Civil society

The Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), Ms Valnora Edwin, says civil society is concerned these and several other governance processes rolled out on the eve of the elections could provide an excuse for the derailment of the electoral calendar.

CGG, one of the country’s foremost civil society groups, is part of a seven-member NGO coalition which recently warned against any attempt to change the election date.

“We are thinking if all these things are coming now, whether it’s a ploy just to delay the process,” Ms Edwin said.

Presidential Spokesman Abdoulay Bayraytay says government had long closed the chapter of the term extension. He told the Africareview that their preoccupation now was bridging the funding gap for the electoral process.

Remains committed

“He [president] remains committed as provided for in the 1991 constitution.”

The election was costed at $48 million. The government says it has allocated $28 million, hoping to raise the remainder from development partners.

But the opposition and civil society also fear that the slow pace disbursement to the Electoral Commission offers another opportunity for exploitation in favour of the third term agenda.

Ms Edwin says the track record of the government in terms of conflicting statements made it hard to gain public trust. She says the background of the more time campaign explains why every step the government took was being weighed against the third term issue.

Change the date

“We are on a wait and see process now and even thinking ahead of what could be any further steps to change the date and move on with the more time agenda,” she says.

Even within APC, the third term is a divisive issue. It is said that former Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana’s sacking was accelerated because of his uncompromising desire to replace his former boss.

Some analysts believe that the party's apparent intolerance to the outpouring of presidential standard bearer aspirants may also explain the hostile reactions from people, including the president himself.

At last month’s Port Loko meeting, President Koroma left even some of his admirers in awe with a dismissive statement to “over ambitious” aspirants. Those who did not want to toe the party’s line could form their own party, he said, to a thunderous applause from his supporters.

Curiously, former parliamentary Majority leader Ibrahim Bundu’s dismissal came just after that.

Next year’s election is crucial for the international community, not just because it marks the first post-war polls without their direct involvement, but also it serves as test of the resilience of a democratic process started in 2007, when Sierra Leone made history with the first peaceful transfer of power - from one democratically elected president to another.

As an indication of the concern of the international community, the UN Special Envoy to West Africa, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has visited Freetown twice within the last six months. And his message has been consistently on the “need to meet constitutionally required timelines”.

Major progress

The last two decades witnessed major progress in Africa’s democratisation journey as many countries adopted term limits. But recently, there have been concerns over a growing list of countries seeking to reverse the trend.

Nearly 40 of the 55 AU-member states have term limits in their constitutions. Majority have two five-year terms.

Egypt, Ghana and Nigeria - have two four-year terms. Ethiopia and Liberia have two six-year terms, while Equatorial Guinea has two seven-year terms.

The rest, among them three monarchies, have unlimited terms.

Urgent reforms

Senegal’s President Macky Sall in 2016 fulfilled a campaign promise to cut down the presidential term from seven to five years two terms. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been reported expressing support for suggestions to reduce the number of years per term to five.

Presidential term limits is one of the most urgent reforms pro-democracy campaigners in Gambia were angling for after the recent dramatic fall of the 22-year-old regime of former strongman Yahya Jammeh.

On the flip side, Rwandan President Paul Kagame in 2015 prevailed against international pressure and amended the country’s constitution, paving the way for him to contest after the end of his second term later this year.

Neighbouring Burundi was plunged into chaos in 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced and later succeeded with similar plans.

Democratic gains

For some, it did not get so well, like in Burkina Faso where Blaise Compaoré’s attempt to change the constitution prompted mass protests that ended his 27-year rule.

The Sierra Leone civil society fears that the third term agenda could reverse the country’s democratic gains, barely 15 years since its devastating 11-years war ended.

“Definitely, there might be some adjustment and some processes obviously need to be followed, but that should not require that we have a change of date of the elections or any extension for any government,” says Ms Edwin.

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Egypt faces uphill battle against corruption

Posted MARAM MAZEN in Cairo

on  Saturday, April 15   2017 at  12:03

When Egyptian real estate developer Hassan tried building an apartment block without paying bribes, officials stalled the project, going so far as to suggest there were ancient relics beneath the lot.

Hassan buckled and found a middleman to disperse the bribes.

Bribery and corruption have been rife in Egypt, where a traffic policeman can look past a violation if a crumpled bill finds its way into his pocket.

The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has decided to crack down, with each month bringing news of stings ensnaring a corrupt official.

The crackdown

Corruption "breaks people's morale, and gives them a feeling that there is no hope," President Sisi has said.

It was one of the main causes of the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

But critics say that despite the crackdown, more work has to be done to fight corruption.

"The only thing that changed is the faces" said Hassan, a pseudonym.

In custody

Since 2015, the Administrative Control Authority (ACA) has prosecuted several high-profile cases, including an Agriculture minister forced to resign and later sentenced to 10 years for taking bribes.

In January, a senior judge hanged himself in custody a day after his arrest for alleged corruption.

"The ACA's efforts were very fruitful and there is a noticeable decline in corruption incidents" reported in the media and in government statements, said Walaa Gad al-Karim, Partners for Transparency's general manager.

The ACA declined several interview requests.

Public scrutiny

Analysts including Gad al-Karim say high profile stings alone cannot end corruption. A legal overhaul is needed, they say, including guarantees of freedom of information, protections for whistle blowers and autonomy for agencies tasked with battling corruption.

"There is a very strong anti-corruption political discourse as the president is always talking about fighting corruption, but we need this to be translated into legislation faster," said Mr Gad al-Karim.

Egypt scored 34 on Transparency International's 2016 Corruption Perception Index, dropping two points from the previous year. A score of zero is highly corrupt while 100 is very clean.

The decline was partly because of "restrictions on civil society and public scrutiny over corruption," said Mr Kinda Hattar, TI's regional advisor for the Middle East and North Africa.

Mr Hisham Geneina, the former head of the Central Auditing Authority (CAA), has become a cautionary tale for officials who are too outspoken on corruption.

He was fired and then sentenced to jail after publicising a study based on 2012-2015 reports that calculated the cost of corruption at about 600 billion pounds (about $33 billion).

It was reduced to a suspended sentence on appeal.

"Geneina crossed an important red line, which stipulates that the independence provided to the CAA has always been conditional on the confidentiality of their data," said Mr Osama Diab, an anti-corruption researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).

Direct subordination

A July 2015 decree in which President Sisi gave himself the right to sack oversight institutions' heads and members, "adds to their direct subordination to the executive authority," the EIPR said in a 2016 report.

Corruption costs the country a lot of money, and occasionally lives.

Losses to state coffers from selling state land at below-market prices translate into losses in state services, said Mr Gad al-Karim.

"Egypt is known for buildings that collapse on its residents where buildings weren't done in accordance with proper specifications," said Mr Hattar.

Minimum wage

The low salaries of civil servants and policemen contribute to the phenomenon.

Many of Egypt's civil servants make 1,200 pounds monthly, the public sector's minimum wage.

The average low ranking policeman, the sort Egyptians are more likely to interact with on a daily basis, makes less than 3,000 pounds, an officer told AFP, although Egyptian media has reported higher salaries for them.

Their wives

"Three quarters of my colleagues have problems in their homes because their wives believe the media," said the officer, who requested anonymity.

When Danya, also a pseudonym, was pulled over with an expired driving licence, and paid a 500-pound fine, a police officer told her: "If you had paid the policeman back there 50 pounds you wouldn't have had to pay the 500".

Hassan said he would pay higher fees to compensate underpaid officials, "if this money will actually go to the government." (AFP)

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Citizens take African tyrants to local and international courts to get justice

Posted GEOFF HILL

on  Sunday, April 9   2017 at  10:16

It’s not just the International Criminal Court that should worry the presidential palace if events are anything to go by.

Over and again, leaders used to getting their way have lost to NGOs, opposition parties and ordinary citizens who approached the local bench. 

While Kenya and Uganda mutter about leaving the ICC, South Africa has reversed its decision to withdraw after a challenge in the Pretoria High Court by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).

Three judges ruled in favour of the DA that any step away from the Rome Stature would be at odds with the constitution. 
President Jacob Zuma’s desire to leave stemmed from an effort by the group Lawyers for Human Rights to force an arrest of Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir who, in June 2015, attended a Heads of State Summit near Johannesburg.

A warrant from The Hague on a charge of genocide meant any ICC member was compelled to detain him on sight.  

READ:South Africa to appear at ICC in April over Sudan's Bashir
President Zuma and his ministers hatched a plan to whisk their guest out of the country and, since then, no one wanted at The Hague has dared enter South Africa.

UGANDA

The ICC has also asked Uganda to explain why President al-Bashir was allowed to attend President Museveni’s inauguration in May 2016. 

Further afield, tyrants are being tested not by global justice but in local courts. And for the most part, they are losing on a continent with more democracy now than at any time in history.

 • In Nairobi, athletes sued officials who allegedly stole money meant to cover their expenses at the 2016 Rio Olympics. If the matter is not resolved, there are fears Kenya could be barred from future games.

 • Zimbabweans detained for protesting against President Robert Mugabe were released by the court after they challenged the legality of their arrest.

 • In Nigeria, a local court has thrown out Abuja’s effort to stop Biafran separatist, Nnamdi Kanu, from taking his case to be heard by judges from the regional body, Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). He is suing the state for $800 million, claiming a lengthy detention and alleged abuse have violated his rights.

 • Former Gambian strongman, Yahya Jammeh, who fled the country in January faces multiple charges of murder, torture and embezzlement.

 • The new African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, based in Arusha, has been inundated with cases from NGOs and individuals including 50 from Tanzania alone. Four of the court’s 11 judges are from East Africa, with Kenyan lawyer Ben Kioko serving as vice president.

BRIBERY

But it’s not all good news. According to a new, continent-wide poll, 30 per cent of respondents paid a bribe before getting help from the courts.

In the study by Afrobarometer, Sierre Leone fared worst for judges on the take (67 per cent) while in Uganda and Kenya, more than 40 per cent said they had to pass money or a gift to someone in the system. Botswana scored a perfect zero.

There is also a problem with the cost of retaining a lawyer and sitting unpaid in a courtroom instead of at work.

In Kenya, 49 per cent found the process too expensive and, across the continent, more than a third complained about the price.

Prof Gregory Stanton, one of the world’s top authorities on international law and founding president of Genocide Watch, the leading monitor for crimes against humanity, says that democracy must be grounded in the grassroots.

“That’s why courts are open to the public.  It’s why legal challenges can be brought to stop orders of the president, a minister or anyone else in authority,” he said.

According to Stanton there are two ways to cut short a crisis: “Use the media and use the courts.”
But taking on a tyrant is not easy, even if you win.

DJIBOUTI

Last month in London, the long-time president of Djibouti was humiliated after losing what critics say was an attack by proxy on the political opposition.

Since independence from France in 1977, Djibouti’s only two presidents have been Ismaïl Omar Guelleh and his late uncle.

The Constitution has a two-term limit but President Guelleh is on his fourth, winning 87 per cent of the vote last year in a country where media is under state control and opponents have largely been driven underground or to exile.

Enter Abourahman Boreh, a friend of the president who spoke out when President Guelleh ran for a third term in 2011, and suggested he may stand as a rival candidate. 

Mr Boreh’s firm had been retained to expand the port on a strategic piece of land near the capital, jutting into a narrow strait of water that forms the only link between the Indian Ocean and Suez. 

Mr Boreh was placed on a trumped-up terror charge and, when he fled, President Guelleh pursued him through European courts, freezing his assets, then suing the businessman who now had no money to fight his case.

But the Guelleh regime lost every time — the evidence was either lacking or shown to be fabricated. Mr Boreh’s assets were released and he was found innocent on all counts.

Then Djibouti went after the company Boreh had contracted to build a container dock at the port, claiming Dubai-based DP World had won the tender through a bribe. DP also has terminals in Europe, Senegal, Mozambique and across the Middle East.

In February, a commercial court in London found nothing to back the claim.

Djibouti was ordered to reimburse Mr Boreh a staggering £9.3m (±R150m) for his legal team.

COURT DELAYS

Another complaint in the poll was time. More than 60 per cent said justice is too slow. For example, three-quarters of Kenyans felt delays at court were intolerable. Ditto Tanzania at 60 per cent and Liberia the worst at 81.

Other gripes were that judges don’t listen and the process is hard to understand.
Little wonder the challenge to state power comes mostly from NGOs and class action. But, for the all the problems, there’s been a steady rise in cases. So much so that President Zuma says the courts are making his job difficult. He has been challenged over renovations to his private home and on claims of corruption and abuse of the constitution.
President Zuma is set to stand down in 2019 and unless his successor grants a pardon, supporters fear he could face years of litigation.
And it’s not just the president. The South African police, ministers and state entities have all been sued in the past year as citizen groups become ever more aware of their rights.
And contrary to complaints logged by Afrobarometer, many cases were resolved in months if not weeks, usually with the state caving in. 
The Hague process is costly and trials can run for a decade, but in or out of the ICC, Africa has found its voice.

IMPARTIALITY
Prof Stanton still sees an area of worry.

“Judges need to be totally impartial for the system to work,” he said.

And taking on the president? Stanton says that citizens have not just a right but a duty in holding power to account.

“There should be no sacred zone. Rural folk can go to court over their environment, business people can stand up against corruption and protest groups can push human rights.

“The only real enemy is silence.”

Some say this makes lawyers rich and the country hard to govern. Maybe so, but the trend of “I will see you in court,” is growing.

And those who, just a few years ago, ruled with impunity may have to get used to being hounded by the law.

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Inside the world of South Africa's army of illegal miners

Posted PETER DUBE in Pretoria

on  Sunday, April 2   2017 at  19:16

After over a century of mining, a 16,000km maze of underground pathways extend across the famous gold mining belt of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

At least 350 illegal miners, popularly known as Zama Zamas (slang for try your luck), operate in the West Wits area alone, at any given time.

Experts believe the illegal miners in that particular area support, at least, 5,000 dependants.

Nationwide, statistics by the International Council for Mining and Metals (ICMM), say there were between 5,000 to 50,000 illegal miners operating in South Africa.

ICMM, however, believes that the number was much lower than in Zimbabwe where up to 500,000 illegal miners were known to operate, especially in diamond prospecting.

Growing poverty

For years, illegal mining has been an ever-growing concern across South Africa and the African continent. Largely due to socio-economic issues such as unemployment and growing poverty, many individuals were pushed to become illegal miners in a desperate bid to put food on the table.

The trade is usually spearheaded by illegal mining syndicates, which were, however, professionally run and well organised.

According to South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the most popular commodities in the illegal trade were gold, diamonds, sand and aggregates.

Mr Themba Khoza and Mr Liberty Ndou, both Zimbabwean immigrants living in tin and wooden squatter settlements of Sol Plaatje township, subsist on prospecting in the abandoned mine shafts.

Search for gold

“We’re not here because we love this job, but a man has to put food on the table,” says Mr Khoza.

The duo say sometimes they can spend several days underground in search for gold.

But, often, once they find the gold, they have to hide it as there were ‘robbers’ underground.

“Robbery underground is common‚ if any group outnumbers the people they come across‚ they take everything – food‚ water‚ torches and gold‚” says Mr Ndou.

Underground robbery

He claims that he has never been part of any group involved in the underground robbery.

“There is stabbing and shooting underground‚ life is rough down there‚” he adds.

Mr Ndou points out there were areas which were fertile with gold and when word gets out‚ many groups change their directions and follow.

“The last three years we were all heading to Roodepoort (in the Greater Johannesburg area)‚ but now the Midrand (central Gauteng Province) direction is lucrative,” he explains.

Watery and stuffy

Mr Khoza says as they go down the belly of the earth, there were various directions.

“There are written signs of Midrand‚ Benoni (a town 40km from Johannesburg), Roodeport and Soweto. The previous owners wrote those names. It is like taking a gravel road to a particular destination. The difference is after about two kilometres, you go down and get another flat area and so on. The longer you go, the deeper it gets‚” he says.

Mr Ndou adds that it was dark‚ watery and stuffy underground.

“In some shafts, we struggle to breath.”

The groups identify areas where there were deposits of gold and start chipping them off. They all carry bags.

to bad

Last month, police reported that 14 illegal miners had been found dead in Benoni.

The killings of illegal miners have become a common occurrence in South Africa. On average, 100 illegal miners were reported dead every year, while authorities believe a lot of them died underground and went unreported.

Following the killings, there has been the suggestion by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) that the South African government decriminalise the activity.

“It is now obvious that focusing on criminalisation of the independent small scale mining, where there are millions of unemployed people desperately looking for jobs is not the solution,” it said.

Desperate people

“The federation is calling on the Chamber of Mines and Government to explore the possibility of legalising and regulating the small scale mining as a way of minimising dangers and also removing the criminal elements that send some of these desperate people underground,” it added.

The Chamber of Mines estimates that about 70 per cent of all arrested illegal miners were also illegal immigrants feeding a five-tier system which has the impoverished individuals operating at the bottom of the chain and unwitting, offshore metal refining companies at the top. The other three tiers consist of local and regional buyers of metals and other criminal elements participating in an industry that generates $500 million in revenue a year.

DMR says most Zama Zamas were from Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Mozambique.

Were retrenched

“A number of illegal miners often leave a decent-paying job to earn more underground,” says Ms Sukoluhle Thebe, a Benoni residents, who has interacted with the illegal miners.

DMR deputy minister Godfrey Oliphant believes some of the illegal miners were former mineworkers who were retrenched.

“The country has recently seen an increase in illegal mining incidents that have resulted in the loss of life of both the perpetrators and in some cases the surrounding communities, mainly as a result of underground fires, fall of ground accidents and murder,” he said recently.

To tackle the problem, Mr Oliphant believes there was a need to understand the major factors fuelling the illicit activities.

Highly organised

“Illegal mining is largely fuelled by highly organised, dangerous, well financed and complex local and international crime syndicates which have up-to-date maps of mining operations. The syndicates operate in liquidated, operating and non-operating mines.

The kingpins mainly recruit unemployed illegal immigrants, providing them with basic survival necessities while training them on how to access the mine workings,” Mr Oliphant said.

DMR was collaborating with law enforcement agencies and other stakeholders to implement measures which will ultimately lead to the eradication of the illicit activities.

Precious metal

In South Africa, one needs a licence to start mining.

DMR defines illegal mining as “conducting mining activities without a mining right”. This ‘right’ depends on how long you expect to be digging and the size of the mine.

But South Africa was also one of the only countries in the world where it was illegal to be in possession of unwrought precious metal without the right authorisation.

But until the country thoroughly deals with unemployment and illegal immigrants, Zama Zamas will forever be trying their luck underground.

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Kenya champion runner has no regrets for visiting Nigerian 'prophet'

Posted JEREMIAH KIPLANG'AT and BERNARD ROTICH

on  Sunday, March 26   2017 at  12:12

The shining trophies perched on top of a wall unit in the sitting room are testimony to athletics achievements spanning 10 years.

There are about 20 pictures of the momentous occasions when Mercy Cherono has conquered her competitors, in a career she started in earnest as a teenager in 2007.

A conspicuous image shows the athlete on the podium kissing the 5,000 metres gold medal she won during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014. She has also pinned some with President Uhuru Kenyatta in State House, Nairobi, ahead of last year’s Rio Olympics. Then there is one where she is sitting on the laps of her husband, Edmond Ngetich.

When Lifestyle arrives at their house in the outskirts of Kericho town west of Nairobi, the couple’s flat-screen television is showing Emmanuel TV, associated with renowned, if controversial, Nigerian televangelist Temitope Balogun Joshua — commonly known as Prophet TB Joshua — and remains on the channel throughout our three-hour interview.

International debut

She speaks with a smile, happy that her career has flourished since a demoralising 23rd place finish in her international debut during the World Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya in 2007 at the age of 16. Last year, she came fourth in the 5,000 metres in Rio behind her compatriots — gold medallist Vivian Cheruiyot, Hellen Obiri — and Ethiopian Almaz Ayana.

But Mercy, one of the most recognisable faces of Kenyan athletics, has in recent weeks been in the news for a different reason: a YouTube video showing her being prayed for and later giving testimony before tens of people at Prophet TB Joshua’s The Synagogue, Church of All Nations in Lagos, Nigeria.

For the first time, Mercy opens up about her visit to Nigeria where she was captured on video telling the congregation about the challenges in her four-month-old marriage and injuries that have blighted her career and which, according to the clip, were caused by evil spirits. There were also images of the athlete in a trance before falling to the ground after being touched by the televangelist.

Career problems

Standing next to her husband on the podium, she later said her marital and career problems had been resolved after the prayers.

That visit sparked off a vibrant debate with some fans wishing her well while others remained sceptical and expressed concern about her well-being. There were also suggestions that her husband was seeking spiritual intervention to be the Member of the County Assembly for Kaplelartet Ward in Sigowet-Soin constituency, Kericho County.

However, Mercy told Lifestyle she has taken it all in her stride. The athlete, who is a serving policewoman, says she has always been a religious person and travelling to Nigeria for prayers was nothing out of the ordinary.

She reveals it was the second time she was travelling to Prophet TB Joshua’s church after a similar visit last year, but has been watching his sermons on television for the last three years.

“I went there to seek spiritual uplifting. And when you are in church you pray for everything. What came to my mind immediately I was there was my career and my marriage. I wanted God to help me know the source of my injuries,” she says.

Look for help

She explains that persistent injuries before major races, including last year’s Olympics, were stressing her and she had opted to look for help.

“It is so stressing when you have trained for a major race and a few days to the event you get an injury and you miss out or perform poorly. There is nothing more stressful than that. I do not believe in witchcraft so the only place I could seek spiritual assistance was in a church,” she says.

Mercy denies there was a special arrangement for Prophet TB Joshua to pick her out, but was pleasantly surprised when he came to where she was and started praying for two other people next to her.

“I just began praying for everything: my family, my career and everything that came to my mind. The Prophet came back and picked me this time round and asked me why I was in the church,” Mercy says.

My marriage

It was then that she talked about her injuries and the stress that came with them but also “thought it was important” to mention the disagreements with her husband. She is, however, surprised that some people, most of them strangers, have blown things about her life out of proportion.

“People out there are saying I was desperate to have my marriage fixed because it was going down. It is not true. We are okay apart from the normal issues people face in any relationship,” she says.

Mercy explains that she was first prayed for on March 2 at the Lagos church after travelling with a group of about 30 people from different parts of the country. She was joined a week later by her husband who had to travel after the televangelist asked for him to come. The entire trip, she explains, cost them $2,500 (Sh255,000).

“We did not pay anything more. People are saying we paid millions for the prayers but that is not true at all. We only paid for the air tickets and accommodation, nothing more. I wish those saying we paid millions could have bothered to ask us first before spreading lies,” says the athlete, adding that she does not regret visiting the church and having her story beamed across the world.

The original plan, she says, was to be in Nigeria for one week but there was a change of plans after Prophet TB Joshua asked for her husband, who had to travel from Kenya.

“We had planned to go with my husband but things changed because of his (political) campaign programme. I left alone but after the service, the Prophet asked me to call my husband to join me and we had to stay for another week,” she says.

The church accommodated her for free for the extra days.

Mercy and Edmond first met during a race in Nakuru, about 152km west of Nairobi, in 2008 and kept in touch as friends for two years before they lost contact only to bump into each other again in 2014 at a hotel in Kericho belonging to Edmond’s family.

Before they met for the second time, Edmond already had a child with another woman who he had parted ways with.

A relationship

“I am proud to say I am a father of a four-year-old son. I was in a relationship long before I met Mercy. It did not work and we parted ways. During our first date, I told Mercy about the son and she was okay with it. She is still okay with it,” he says.

The aspiring politician is unimpressed by some of the things he has heard and read being said about him.

“People are saying that I have been seeing someone else besides her but that is not true. We have only been together for four months. It is not possible that I could have someone else and a child is born within that period,” he says.

Mercy says she has accepted the child. Even though for some time the boy’s mother used to make many phone calls, that had stopped.

Believes her story

“It was bothering me then but things are okay now,” she says.

But it is in the tracks that Mercy believes her story is eloquently told. In 2015, she got a silver medal when she participated in the World Championships in Beijing, China, where Kenya topped the medals standings for the first time.

Her schedule this year involves the Diamond League races from May as she prepares for the World Championships trials.

“I will be going for the Diamond League races in May and I will be using it as a build up for the World Championships. I need a gold medal before I think of retaining my title at the Commonwealth Games in Australia next year,” she says.

Edmond says he is committed to ensuring his wife succeeds on and off the field, adding that he usually accommodates her schedule.

Mocked her

“When my wife is in Eldoret training, I miss her very much but I understand athletics and that is why I give her full support by even visiting her,” says Edmond, who was in the news last year for winning $102,000 (Sh10.5 million) in a sports bet.

He adds: “She is a lovely person. She is charming and always ready to come home and be a good wife even after hours of tough training.”

By way of a parting shot, Mercy says she has forgiven all those who mocked her visit to Nigeria.

“I really felt nothing. Such negative talk does not stop me from moving on with life. There were a few who were trying to speak negatively about it. I have forgiven all of them. I have learnt to let God take care of everything,” says the athlete, who is, however, happy that there are many people who have been asking her how they can also go to the Lagos church.

(Article first published in the Sunday Nation's Lifestyle magazine)