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Voter listing offers hope for peace in DR Congo

Posted SOSTHENE KAMBIDI in Kananga and MARTHE BOSUANDOLE in Kinshasa

on  Monday, September 18   2017 at  10:34

After more than a year of bloodshed, faint hopes of peace are starting to stir in the heart of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In the vast region of Kasai, the authorities are now starting to register voters — an outwardly banal operation that is nonetheless key to securing the country's stability.

"It's telling proof that peace has returned to the greater Kasai area," Mr Bernard Kambala Kamilolo, the acting governor of Kasai Central Province, said as the registration got underway.

Mired in poverty and with a reputation for corruption, DR Congo — a country nearly twice the area of Britain, France and Germany combined — has a long history of violence, especially in its volatile east.

The diamond-rich Kasai region was deemed a relative haven until August 2016, when a tribal chieftain known as the Kamwina Nsapu, who had rebelled against President Joseph Kabila's regime in Kinshasa and its local representatives, was killed.

Child soldiers

According to UN figures, clashes between local groups and government troops have led to more than 3,000 deaths, and around 1.4 million people have fled their homes.

The alleged catalogue of violence includes extrajudicial killings, rapes, torture and the use of child soldiers, along with the torching of villages and the systematic destruction of schools, public buildings and clinics.

The big hope is that voter registration in the Kasai will open the door for a solution to DR Congo's dangerous political standoff.

The country was plunged into crisis last year after President Kabila — in office since he succeeded his murdered father in 2001 — failed to stand down at the end of what was supposed to be his final term, according to the country's constitution.

On New Year's Eve a deal was cut by the regime and the opposition to hold elections by the end of 2017.

But no electoral calendar has been published so far, and there seems no sign of an end to the impasse as President Kabila hangs on.

Among the greatest obstacles to holding the ballot is the turmoil in the Kasai provinces — although the authorities have registered 42 million electors in the country's 24 other provinces.

The start of the registration drive on Tuesday shed light on voters' craving for stability as well as the long road that lies ahead.

At a registration centre inside a Catholic school in Kananga, people formed long lines, eager to acquire a voter's card.

Mr Glody Kabongo said he had got up at dawn in preparation for a six-hour wait but he was unfazed, because the coveted document also serves as an important ID card.

"I am very happy, because I'm a student and this card will save me a lot of hassle," he told AFP.

The violence

In Kananga's Nganza District, which has been badly hit in the violence, the turnout was far less — many people have fled, said Mr Mamie Kakubi, the local mayor.

"I am determined to stay here as long as it takes to get my card," said Mr Emery Nondo, a man in his 50s.

"It means I can vote to choose leaders who will improve security in our province."

Registration so far has been opened only in Kananga and another city in the Kasai, Tshikapa. People are still being trained to carry out the registration procedure, and it will take time to extend the drive to rural areas.

A predatory state

The laborious campaign will have an important knock-on effect for the national timetable.

Under the law, voter registration in the Kasai has to last 90 days from when the final registration office is open.

That badly compromises the aim of having presidential, legislative and provincial elections take place "in December 2017 at the latest," as the New Year's Eve deal, brokered by the influential Catholic church, stipulates.

Last week, Pope Francis' representative in DR Congo sternly warned that the pontiff would not visit Kinshasa until the elections were held.

"The (Congolese) state has a tradition of being a predatory state," Monsignor Luis Mariano Montemayor said. (AFP)

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Will Togo withstand the clamour for democratic change?

Posted CELIA LEBUR

on  Wednesday, September 13   2017 at  19:22

His family has ruled Togo for more than 50 years but President Faure Gnassingbe has in the last week faced unprecedented public pressure to step down.

He and his country stand alone in West Africa in resisting calls for constitutional reform, even as parliament begins to look again at the issue.

"Togo is the only Ecowas country never to have seen any real democratic change," said political analyst Gilles Yabi, referring to the West African regional bloc.

"The current regime is carrying on the one before it, which was one of the most brutal Africa had ever known," he told AFP.

"Beyond (constitutional) reform, the Togolese people want real change."

Faure Gnassingbe took over as Togo's president in 2005 after the death of his father, Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the French-speaking nation for 38 years with army support.

The opposition

Bloody riots followed elections that year, which the opposition disputed. President Faure was re-elected in 2010 and 2015.

With The Gambia, Togo was the only Ecowas member to reject a proposal to limit the number of presidential terms across the region, during a summit in Accra in May 2015.

After peaceful changes in power in Benin and Ghana, popular uprisings in Burkina Faso, Togo and The Gambia won them a "bad boy" reputation in a region often cited as an example in a continent where many leaders cling to power.

The fate of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh was sealed in December 2016 after his refusal to recognise defeat at the polls.

Ecowas sent troops to ensure he left office after 22 years.

In Togo, human rights organisations have criticised cases of torture, arbitrary detention, as well as the muzzling of both the press and the opposition.

But unlike Gambia's Jammeh, President Gnassingbe, who currently holds the rotating presidency of Ecowas, is not an isolated figure, experts say, noting that he enjoys the support of his counterparts.

Last Wednesday, Marcel de Souza, president of the Ecowas commission, made an unannounced visit to Lome to meet the opposition as protesters demanded President Gnassingbe's resignation.

Apart from a handful of former heads of state, such as Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo and Ghana's Jerry Rawlings, who backed Togo's people, West Africa has been largely silent over the protests.

"We shouldn't expect any strong reaction," said Mr Yabi.

"Like France and the European Union, they are partners that value stability above everything."

Comi Toulabor, head of research at the Institute of Political Studies in Bordeaux, described the lack of reaction as "radio silence".

Security problems

Togo's neighbours "close their eyes because, for many of them, security problems and the terrorist risk have become more important than everything else", he added.

Mr Toulabor said Togo's regime had this time bowed to pressure by allowing last week's protests to take place.

In 2005, the authorities cracked down on dissent, leaving at least 500 dead following a wave of post-election violence, UN figures show.

President Gnassingbe has also made apparent overtures to his detractors by proposing a Bill to limit the number of presidential mandates to two five-year terms and introduce two-round voting.

As such, he was "trying to make people forget the barely democratic nature of his regime and show himself to be very active on the international diplomatic front", said Mr Yabi.

The country has hosted a number of international summits, such as the African Union meeting on maritime security in October 2016.

High unemployment

Last month it held the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) forum and had been due to host the Africa-Israel summit in October before it was postponed this week.

Lome, with its deep-water port and new international airport, wants to become a regional hub and is wooing foreign investors.

Economic growth is at 5.0 percent a year and the country has long been calm, despite high unemployment among young people and widespread poverty

Former colonial power France has made no comment since the start of the protests.

Asked about the events, a foreign ministry spokesman said only that France had "followed the events of recent weeks closely".

"France calls for responsibility and consensus to begin constitutional change". (AFP)

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Noose tightens on Libya's people traffickers

Posted IMED LAMLOUMSABRATA, Libya

on  Wednesday, September 13   2017 at  15:14

In Sabrata, Libya's main departure point for clandestine migrants hoping to reach Europe, people trafficking gangs are under so much pressure that some have closed for business.

The results have been noticed on the other side of the Mediterranean where the number of arrivals on the Italian coast has dropped dramatically.

Italy has registered 6,500 arrivals since mid-July, barely 15 per cent of the average for the same period between 2014 and 2016.

Libyan officials say the falling number is due to stronger surveillance by the coastguards of both countries, as well as pressure on major people smuggling gangs in Sabrata.

Six years since a revolution and Nato intervention that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, violence-wracked Libya has become a key gateway for clandestine migration to Europe.

Makeshift boats

But now traffickers in Sabrata, 70 kilometres west of Tripoli, are preparing to hand security forces thousands of migrants they had planned to put on makeshift boats heading for the Italian coast, Sabrata security officials told AFP.

"We are giving them a chance. It's an opportunity for traffickers to repent," said Bassem Ghrabli, commander of a force tackling clandestine migration.

Libya's unity government originally formed the force to battle the Islamic State group after it briefly occupied the centre of Sabrata in 2016.

"Since the creation of this cell, we have had support from the Government of National Accord. Before, we didn't have the means to fight the traffickers, who were better armed," Mr Ghrabli said.

"We expect (the smugglers) to hand over more than 10,000 migrants to us."

Mr Ghrabli said 90 per cent of the city's traffickers had agreed to halt their illegal activities after negotiations with residents.

"We gave them an ultimatum: we will no longer tolerate such activities in the city. If they do not agree to abandon their trafficking, we will use force," he said.

In an eastern suburb, warehouses are being rehabilitated to house migrants.

"They are big enough to house thousands of people" waiting to be repatriated, Mr Ghrabli said.

On the other side of the huge dust-swept yard, prefabricated building sites, initially set up as offices, will accommodate women, he said.

Held in warehouses

Migrants waiting to embark towards the Italian coast are usually held in warehouses the traffickers have set up along the beach.

"Those warehouses will be destroyed," the officer said.

Some trafficking barons, who control whole sections of the city, have even built their own jetties, from which dozens of boats loaded with migrants leave every day.

Sabrata mayor Hussein Dhawadi said residents and security forces had "sent a strong and threatening message to the traffickers: 'If the migrants do not leave the city, there will be clashes.' This message was well understood by the smugglers."

Mr Ghrabli said the traffickers "understood the risks" they were taking.

Libyan security forces have a growing presence in the city, whilst across the Mediterranean, Italy has reinforced its maritime surveillance, he said.

Widespread rumours

He said that suspected IS jihadists are still present in the city and continue to benefit from human trafficking.

"The Europeans have also understood that they are under threat from terrorists" who can infiltrate Europe by hiding among migrants, he said.

Some traffickers have tried to adopt a new image so their criminal past is forgotten, Mr Ghrabli said.

One of the best-known trafficking barons, whose forces control half of the city, a few weeks ago became head of a force tackling clandestine migration.

That came after an alleged "agreement under the table" with Italian officials at an informal meeting with major traffickers in July in Malta, according to widespread rumours repeated by officials in Sabrata.

"I asked the ambassador and the Italian interior ministry but they denied having been party to such an agreement. But even the traffickers themselves talk about" the meeting, the city's mayor said. (AFP)

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First public fertility hospital in East Africa to open next year

Posted ANGELA OKETCH in Nairobi

on  Sunday, September 10   2017 at  18:06

Women with infertility problems in East Africa will soon benefit from the first ever public hospital to offer in vitro fertilisation (IVF) services in the region.

The fertility centre, currently under construction in Kampala, Uganda, after a deal with Merck Foundation, will be opened to the public in March 2018.

The centre will improve access to safe and regulated fertility care in sub-Saharan countries including Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, Ghana, Ethiopia and Cote d’Ivoire.

According to a recently released report by the World Population Data, prepared by US-based Population Reference Bureau, Kenya’s fertility rate stands at 3.9 which is below Africa’s average of 4.6 or about five children for every woman, but still higher than the global average of 2.5.

In East Africa, Burundi tops the list with a fertility rate of 5.5, or nearly six children for every woman, followed by Uganda (5.4), Tanzania (5.2), Ethiopia (4.6), Rwanda (4.2) and Kenya (3.9).

The high cost

IVF is the most common and most effective type of assisted reproductive technology to help women become pregnant.

The method of treatment involves the man’s sperm and the woman’s eggs being combined outside the body, in a laboratory dish, and then implanted in a woman’s uterus.

Merck Foundation Chief Executive Rasha Kelej, said she was optimistic that the hospital will reduce the high cost of IVF to less than $980.

For couples seeking IVF, one of the biggest obstacles is the cost, which is not covered by insurance companies.

“In East Africa there is no single public hospital offering IVF, while the cost of services in private hospitals is too high that most patients cannot afford.

The procedure

The establishment of the IVF centre in Kampala will drastically reduce the cost and make it affordable,” said Dr Kelej.

A session of IVF costs an average of $3,400. And if the procedure is not successful in the first round, the cost can go up to Sh1 million depending on how many times it is done.

She said only five per cent of the population which suffers infertility can afford treatment and that’s why many couples suffer in silence.

“The test tube baby costs around $4,000 yet the probability that pregnancy will occur in one cycle is not guaranteed. On average, a couple needs three cycles which cost $12,000 million or even more,” said Dr Kelej.

The programme being implemented under the Merck More than a Mother campaign will also provide long term practical training for African embryologists and IVF specialists to treat couples and work on sub Saharan Africa as stand alone experts and this will contribute significantly to reduce the high cost of IVF.

She said the training will go for 20,000 euros per trainee for three months.

In rural areas

“One of my most fulfilling moments is seeing these childless women lead happy and independent lives. We are going to raise awareness about infertility prevention and management and break the stigma around infertile women. This is quite a transformation,” she said.

She said raising awareness about male infertility is equally important to change the culture as the infertility affects women and men equally and yet women are the ones who have been solely blamed, discriminated and mistreated in their communities.

According to the World Health Organisation, the incidence of infertility is too high in Africa and developing countries, one in every four couples are infertile.

More than 1,000 infertile women have benefited from Merck More than a Mother support in rural areas.

Dr Paul Mitei, a Kisumu-based gynaecologist and obstetrician, said the centre will be saviour to many couples who are suffering in silence.

“Many women have gone through nasty experiences in the name of looking for a child. This will give them an opportunity to feel like women and mothers,” said Dr Mitei.

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Sierra Leone mudslide: The harrowing tales of victims

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Wednesday, August 30   2017 at  11:10

A spot on the main highway of Hill Station, an uptown residential area west of the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, offers a near perfect view of what has become a scar on the country’s conscience.

The reddish pyramid-shaped image, carved on nearby Mount Sugar Loaf, down below, was the scene of the deadly August 14 landslide in Regent, on the outskirts of the city.

Nearly every passer-by stops to have a glance at the scene of what has become Sierra Leone’s Ground Zero, where hundreds of houses and an unknown number of people were buried by boulders and trees that moved down after an eruption atop the mountain.

The incident happened after a heavy downpour and flash floods that affected about a dozen other communities across Freetown.

But it is the landslide that has kept the whole world talking, partly due to the sheer loss of lives from it, and partly because it rekindled debate over the uncharted issue of a perennial housing crisis facing the West African nation.

Morteme, the small community at the foot of Mount Sugar Loaf, is now a bare piece of land covered by red earth. Mariama, one of the few survivors, lost her husband, three children and two sisters there. The young mother is alive because she had been admitted to a hospital in another part of town.

Hospital bed

Mariama breaks into tears as she explains how she learnt of the incident from her hospital bed. She and her new born baby were now homeless, sharing a space in an unfinished building, alongside about half a dozen other affected families.

The stories of these men and women are both dreadful and sad. They speak of an explosion at the top of the mountain and gushing water with boulders and trees falling down with speed and devastation.

“It was like the sound of thunder,” recalls Joseph, a young man who lost 11 family members. Joseph was lucky to survive because he had moved out of their house to a neighbour’s, down the hill. Moments after he left the friend’s house, it was crushed.

According to people familiar with Morteme, the community was largely composed of makeshift structures like corrugated houses, commonly referred to as Pan Bodi. But it also had solid modern buildings. In fact, among the houses buried were said to be two storied buildings, one of which reportedly belonged to a Cabinet minister.

Prayer session

There was also a church and an orphanage. Survivors say the church had an all-night prayer session the previous day, meaning most, if not all, of its congregation would have perished in the landslide.

Kumba Marrah, a mother of one, was out early on the day, frying cake, which she sold at a nearby street. Her neighbour, another early riser, had realized some unusual activity up the hill when he called her attention.

“We saw a movement of stones and trees. And then there was an explosion. Brown water was gushing up and down and we saw the trees and stones falling,” she explained.

Zainab, seven months pregnant, lost her husband, mother, father and other extended family members totalling 13. She only survived because she had gone out to buy bread at a nearby shop.

Zainab was able to identify the remains of only her mother-in-law at Freetown’s main mortuary, Connaught, a day before the government conducted mass burial for over 200 bodies on August 17.

Body parts

Official figures, as of the end of last week, put the death toll at 499 due to both the landslide and the flood. Over 90 per cent of them were attributed to the landslide.

The number of deaths, say analysts, could be higher when body parts discovered at various places are put into consideration.

When the landslide occurred in that early Monday morning, many people would have still been in bed. Boulders and trees from the mountain, with the aid of flood water, rolled several kilometres further down along a valley, destroying every other structure on the way in the communities of Pentagon, Kamayama, Engine and Kaningo.

Bodies of victims were discovered several kilometres from where they were first hit.

The crushing effect of the boulders and other objects, coupled with the long distances the bodies moved, left many of the victims unidentifiable, say rescue workers.

Body parts were discovered in ditches and a nearby beach. Many families, like that of Sheku Kargbo of Pentagon, never identified the remains of their loved ones.

Kargbo’s sister, niece and six other family members died in the incident. He listed the names of his neighbours who also perished, some of them whole families.

Mohamed Jalloh is still searching for his brother and his (brother’s) pregnant fiancé. She had just visited them from the northern city of Makeni, against the wishes of her parents, who were opposed to the relationship.

The part of the Pentagon community, situated in the valley, used to be a busy community. Today it is a bare strip of land, dotted with rocks and trees nearby residents say were brought by the flood.

Only two buildings survived in the affected part of Pentagon. One of them was under construction, at foundation level. The other, a one storied building, had its ground floor seriously damaged by a massive tree trapped within. Community youths who have been volunteering as rescue workers believe several bodes washed down were trapped inside the building.

The rocks

Over two weeks now since the incident, search operation was still on, with most of the focus on Morteme, the epicentre of the landslide, where volunteers with shovels, aided by a single bulldozer, offered by a construction company, were digging frantically.

Officials say some of the rocks there were as big as storied buildings and doubt that there was any chance of recovering all the bodies.

“We are not expecting to retrieve any survivor from this place. We just want to make sure if there are any bodies here they get proper resting,” says Gibrilla Bangura, one of the volunteers.
The Government estimates that at least 800 people were still missing. And officials have hinted at plans to cease the search.

Reports also say the government intends to declare Morteme a memorial area.

Risk of disease

Concern, however, was rife over the risk of disease outbreak amidst all the rotting bodies and the unrelenting rains.

Occasionally, a body or two is discovered in a destroyed building, a ditch or the beach. The government has therefore warned residents against touching dead bodies discovered and to instead call on the relevant authorities.

Earlier in the week, the head of the tourism agency warned visitors against swimming on Freetown’s beaches, which were feared contaminated by several dead bodies and debris.

Amidst an outpouring of international and local aid, the government has announced plans to undertake massive relocation of people from disaster-prone areas.

Private sector

Freetown is made up of a highly mountainous terrain. And overpopulation over the last 10 years, fuelled largely by rural-urban migration, the legacy of the [1991-2002] civil war, coupled with the lack of housing regulation, which analysts say has occasioned exploitation in the housing sector, has forced many people to live in dangerous places like mountain tops, valleys and even under bridges.

The view from the spot at Hill Station gives a perfect idea of the situation, with houses, some of them expensive storied buildings, seen scattered across various mountains along the peninsula.

Vice-President Victor Bockarie Foh, at a donation presentation ceremony last week, called for private sector involvement to provide “permanent solution” to the problem.

“We want to build affordable houses so that Sierra Leoneans will be better housed…,” he said.

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End of plastic bags era in Kenya

Posted PAULINE KAIRU in Nairobi

on  Sunday, August 27   2017 at  17:20

Kenyans with stocks of polythene bags may declare them to the county governments, take them to supermarkets or wait for official communication on alternative drop-off points—but they must dispose of them anyway before the Monday ban.

“If you have any plastic in your house, please declare it to the municipal authorities,” said Environment Principal Secretary Charles Sunkuli on Thursday.

National Environment Management Authority (Nema) Director-General Geoffrey Wahungu said the agency would give alternative collection points.

“We are setting up a take-back scheme and are requesting supermarkets to be in charge of the take-back, from where licensed recyclers or any other people involved in the cleanup of plastics can pick up the bags,” Prof Wahungu told participants at a forum held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in Nairobi.

Countrywide cleanup

The Nema boss said stocks will not be incinerated but recycled.

“We’ll take everything we have and convert it into something usable—like having them woven into kiondo (alternative bags) that can last for many years,” he said, adding that the countrywide cleanup could take even three years.

The forum heralded an exhibition on eco-friendly alternatives to polythene bags and was hosted by Environment Cabinet Secretary Judi Wakhungu.

The two officers were among panellists comprising implementers of the plastic bag ban and other industry stakeholders.

From Monday, anyone found with a carrier or flat plastic polythene bag will be liable to a fine of not less than $38,700 (KSh4 million) or serve a jail term not shorter than four years.

The manufacturers

Prof Wahungu said supermarkets had agreed to gradually phase out the free polythene bags at all retail stores in readiness for the ban and ease Kenyans into the new regime of packaging.

Meanwhile, the glaring wedge between the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) and the State agencies reared its head once again.

KAM sectors manager Samuel Matonda took issue with the way the government agencies had handled the matter. He said plastic bag manufacturers were still not ready with alternatives but had not been given ample time to make the transition.

“Plastics, which are being targeted, make up less than 5 per cent of the solid waste,” said Mr Matonda and wondered: “Why not go the holistic waste management way instead of targeting a small industry?”

He added: “Details on which bags are exempt keep changing everyday on the Nema website. It is confusing to the manufacturers and the public. We need to have this gazetted so that it is legally binding and so that we know which factories will close down come Monday.”

Mr Matonda accused Nema of wavering in communicating details of the ban on its website, and creating uncertainty and confusion.

“We’re not at war,” said Mr Matonda.

“We’re not going against the cleanup of the environment or the ban on plastics; we just want more time, so that those plastic producers with stocks can finish it.”

KAM has filed a case in the High Court challenging the ban, saying it would hurt consumers and suppliers. But the government has said it will not give any more extensions.

“Manufacturers are ready to close the factories on Monday,” said Mr Matonda. “I am sure they have made arrangements if nothing will change. Many have notified their workers that they’re going to close as from Monday.”

KAM has constantly complained about the heavy investment and jobs that will be lost due to the ban.

It is estimated that the industry directly employs more than 80,000 people.

Questions lingered

Ms Jacqueline Mugo, the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) executive director, while admitting that the ban will benefit the environment, argued that questions lingered about what the ban would portend for the thousands of workers in the industry.

“We know we’re polluting the environment with polythene bags and we’re not disposing of plastic properly,” Ms Mugo conceded. “Most rivers are clogged with plastic bags, especially in the city.

“It’s difficult to say that, come Monday, we’ll be ready—because of the many questions around the industry about loss of jobs. These uncertainties and other issues are yet to be resolved. It’s a conversation that as a country we need to have so that we effect the ban in a way that does not hurt any side.”

The Nema boss accused KAM of attempting to derail the ban while a section of plastic producers had agreed to comply and even begun the transition to manufacturing alternative eco-friendly packaging materials.

Papyrus baskets

Retail Trade Association of Kenya (Retrak) chief executive officer Wambui Mbarire said retail stores were ready to transition and would deal with the challenges as they went along.

“The carrier bags...we don’t have a problem with that; it’s pretty easy and we are ready for that,” said Ms Mbarire. “The flat bag is what we’re still looking at...the alternative innovations available. There’s a gap there.”

She noted that the kadogo (small-scale) economy would be most affected by the lack of a flat-bag alternative.

Exhibitors showcased a range of alternatives—from the traditional kiondo to non-wooven bags, biodegradable plastic-look-alike bags, woollen, paper bags and papyrus baskets.

However, Prof Wahungu said biodegradable bags will not be allowed because of their mistakable resemblance to polythene bags.

“We don’t want to bring in something that we can’t tell apart from what we’re trying to rid the environment of,” said Prof Wahungu, adding: “We have no problem with biodegradable bin liners because we don’t have a solution yet.”

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RwandAir goes for new routes to drive profits

Posted ALLAN OLINGO in Nairobi

on  Sunday, August 27   2017 at  16:09

RwandAir is banking on new routes and efficient use of assets to get back to profitability this year after it plunged into loss-making last year.

The Rwandan national carrier’s financial documents show that it posted a $1.01 million loss last year, from an operating profit of $2.8 million in 2015.

But the airline has in the past three years reduced its losses from $37.3 million in 2014 to $1.01 million last year. The airline’s revenue is steadily growing, recording earnings of $99.85 million last year, up from $95.2 million the previous year, and $86.8 million in 2014.

RwandAir has in the last three years expanded to new routes, increased frequencies on others, and acquired new aircraft, which it hopes will give it an edge on long flights. In May, it made its maiden entry into Europe, with three weekly flights to London’s Gatwick airport.

It has also applied for a landing rights licence from the US Department of Transport as it seeks to tap into the American market. On March 29, it applied for a foreign carrier permit from the US, signalling its intention to start plying the transatlantic route.

RwandAir will mainly utilise its own Airbus A330s into the US, or such other aircraft as it may have or acquired to conduct the proposed operations,” Derryck Nuwagaba, the manager in charge of partnerships, government and industry affairs at RwandAir said in the March 29 request letter seen by The EastAfrican.

Trade and tourism

Charles Ndagano, the airline’s acting chief executive, said the latest routes in its network demonstrate the commitment to improving connectivity on the African continent, while creating new opportunities for trade and tourism between countries.

From its financial documents, the airline has seen its grant allocation from the Rwandan government reduce drastically from $56.2 million in 2015 to $53.8 million last year.

In the 2017/18 budget, Finance Minister Claver Gatete reduced this further to $47 million, but it is expected that the airline’s aircraft guarantees, which the government provided on its new aircraft and the expansion of RwandAir operations, could see a negative reflection in its 2017/18 books of account.

Employee costs

RwandAir has also seen its operating expenses slightly fall last year to $115.7 million, down from $116.4 million in 2015, even as its staff costs increased, possibly due to the new routes, which require more human resources.

Last year, it spent $11.8 million on employee costs, up from 10.3 million the previous year.

The airline’s total liabilities have risen to $238.1 million up from $166.06 million even though its borrowing went down to $113.9 million from 131.7 million in 2015, while its finance costs rose to $15.12 million, up from $10.5 million last year.

The airline has also seen its total assets increased to $238.15 million, up from $166.06 million in 2015.

The money

The Rwandan government has in the past borrowed to finance the operations of the airline as it hopes that it will break even by the end of next year. In 2013 where Rwanda went for a 10-year Eurobond, Kigali indicated that it would use part of the $200 million to finance RwandAir, without indicating how much of the money went to the airline.

In the revised budget for 2013/2014, RwandAir allocation rose from $32.3 million to $47.9 million as more funds were committed to repay loans. In 2015, the airline received $160 million from PTA Bank to acquire the two new Airbus aircraft that it received last year.

The airline is currently servicing a loan of $60 million borrowed from the same bank in 2011 and due for maturity in 2021.

RwandAir has indicated that it will bolster its West African operations through establishment of a hub in Cotonou, Benin, with three new connections from this secondary hub.

New deliveries

The airline will start plying the new routes from September 30, which will include three weekly flights to Conakry in Guinea, Bamako in Mali and Dakar in Senegal.

In the last three months, the airline has launched new routes to Europe, plying the London route in May and Brussels in July. It also started flights to Mumbai, India, and Harare in Zimbabwe this year.

The airline acquired two new deliveries of an Airbus A330 in September and December last year, and plans to lease a further two Boeing aircraft, to bolster its fleet and actualise its long range flights to Europe and Asia.

Currently, it has 11 aircraft, comprising of two Boeing 737-800s, two Bombardier Q-400s, two Bombardier CRJ-900s and two Boeing 737-700s.

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Secession debate points to Kenya's deep-seated divisions

Posted MACHARIA GAITHO in Nairobi

on  Thursday, August 24   2017 at  11:11

Kenya's National Super Alliance (Nasa) strategy and policy chief David Ndii has stirred the hornet’s nest with a series of controversial statements that have raised questions about the real intentions of opposition chief Raila Odinga in contesting President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election victory.

First, the economist and Saturday Nation columnist retweeted an Online petition advocating secession for a large swathe of Kenya that did not support extension of Jubilee Party rule.

Then the same night, Tuesday, in an NTV interview with talk show host Larry Madowo, Dr Ndii amplified the secession call, and also asserted that even after having challenged the presidential election outcome in the Supreme Court, Nasa would still resort to calls for ‘mass action’ even if streets protests led to violence and bloodshed.

That was not new from Dr Ndii as he had in a Saturday Nation column in March last year declared Kenya a “a cruel marriage” and said it’s time to talk divorce.

Regime change

His latest comments generated an uproar that Dr Ndii would probably have expected.

The provocative posts drew widespread condemnation from the ruling Jubilee Party supporters as robust social media exchanges peaked on Facebook and Twitter, as well as closed chat groups such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

Jubilee supporters generally took the view that Dr Ndii was advocating anarchy and bloodshed, some proposing that he be arrested and charged with treason.

Many also concurred that Dr Ndii was simply exposing Mr Odinga’s ultimate game plan: to lead a violent insurrection aimed at regime change if he loses at the Supreme Court.

The furore, however, also brought out the very real schisms in Kenyan society. As much as Jubilee supporters were outraged, there were an equal number of Nasa supporters on the other side fully behind secession calls or mass action.

Their general feeling was that the electoral system in Kenya was rigged to ensure perpetual rule for an alliance of two major ethnic groups that had monopolised leadership and the economy since independence.

Many also felt that the Supreme Court cannot really be expected to deliver ‘justice’ in a system where the Executive holds all the cards and is not shy to use the coercive power of the State machinery.

Dr Ndii, who on his Twitter profile describes himself as a ‘public intellectual’, probably got just the reaction he had set out to provoke.

While most of the comments simply reflect the Jubilee-Nasa political divide, what the debate brings out is a much deeper issue that goes to the heart of Kenya’s existence as unitary nation state.

Beyond Jubilee versus Nasa or the age-old Kenyatta versus Odinga dynastic feuds lie serious unresolved issues that define politics competition in Kenya.

While David Ndii provoked the outrage and generated the sound bites that had him trending on Twitter, it must have been lost in all the frenzied arguments that he was raising issues of legitimate political discourse.

Make pledges

Both the Jubilee and Nasa manifestoes make pledges towards realisation of cohesion, reconciliation, national unity, and peace; a fair share for all regions and population groups; fair distribution of development resources; special attention for marginalised and disadvantaged groups and regions; equal access to employment, education and health services; and fair representation of all groups in leadership and government.

These are also ventilated in the 10-point Nation Agenda issues by the Nation Media Group ahead of the election campaigns.

A reading of the two manifestoes reveals that Jubilee and Nasa are actually in accord on diagnosing the unresolved issues that must be fixed to make a truly united Kenya.

Where they differ is on the prescription, and that is where the ideological gulf emerges.

The Jubilee approach emphasises economic growth, infrastructural development and rapid expansion of health, education and other social services. It gives only fleeting mention to righting past wrongs.

Old wounds

Nasa, by contrast, rejects ‘trickle-down’ economics and obsession with GDP growth, focussing on redress for historical injustices and addressing old ethnic grievances through implementation of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC)Report; land reform; and shifting of development resources to neglected regions.

At a simplistic level, Jubilee offers a forward looking model that prefers not to re-open old wounds, as put by Deputy President William Ruto in rejecting implementation of the TJRC report.

Nasa sees the old wounds as still open and in need of stitching and dressing, lest they continue festering.

These may be issues dwelling in the respective economic and social policies and development paths drawn up by the rival political groups, but they also define the political divides that make electioneering in Kenya such a time-bomb.

Reactions to Dr Ndii’s comments invariably recalled that Kenya was yet to heal from the bloodletting that followed the disputed 2007 elections.

Many were quick to recall Mr Odinga’s role as presidential candidate for the then Cord coalition that disputed President Mwai Kibaki’s victory.

In the run-up to the 2017 elections, Jubilee consistently accused Mr Odinga of plotting violence in case he lost. It was in such an environment that Mr Odinga’s decision to go to the Supreme Court, rather than to the streets, was seen as major development.

What is shaping up now, however, is a scenario where Nasa might be anticipating defeat in court, and preparing to pursue mass action.

Dr Ndii may have intellectualised the issue, but he spoke on NTV after Mr Odinga had the same day publicly declared that the election petition was just one part of a wider national campaign against what he termed a culture of electoral fraud.

Speaking in Mombasa, he said that seven Supreme Court judges cannot override the votes of a majority of Kenyans, asserting that the solution would lie in ‘People Power’.

The struggle

Mr Odinga, who claims he was cheated of victory in three successive presidential elections, is typically cagey on what mass action or people power would entail, or the ultimate goal.

For many in Kenya, mass action brings back memories of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

However, Dr Ndii points out that no change in Kenya, whether it was the struggle for independence, the struggle against one-party dictatorship, or the struggle for a new constitution, has been achieved peacefully.

He also rejects the notion that mass action must of necessity be violent, countering that it is the police who unleash violence in turning their guns and on legitimate and lawful protests.

Ethnic grouping

What is not clear, however, is what mass action is intended to achieve.

It might be difficult to make the case for protests aimed at forcefully ejecting President Kenya and installing Mr Odinga in State House, especially when the latter cannot conclusively demonstrate that he was the rightful winner of the elections.

If the main complaint is that the electoral playing field is tilted to the advantage of a dominant ethnic grouping or coalition, then mass action would be intended to force though constitutional amendments for a more just and inclusive leadership structure and electoral system.

That would not lead to an immediate change in leadership. It also might need to be viewed against the fact that the Nasa masses will not necessarily out-number the Jubilee masses.

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Angola's secretive leader heads towards exit

Posted DANIEL GARELO PENSADOR in Luanda

on  Monday, August 21   2017 at  16:31

When Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos steps down and his successor is chosen in Wednesday's elections, it will bring to an end a 38-year reign dominated by his unrelenting authoritarian style.

Though seldom seen in public, he has been a looming presence in daily life for as long as most Angolans can remember, maintaining fierce control over the country throughout its devastating civil war and recent oil boom.

Now aged 74 and reportedly in poor health, Mr Dos Santos became president in 1979, making him Africa's second-longest-serving leader — one month shy of Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang' Nguema.

Until the 27-year civil war ended in 2002, President Dos Santos presided over a country torn apart by conflict as his People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) government fought rebels led by the Unita group.

Abject poverty

He has been credited for leading Angola out of the war, moving away from hardline Marxism and fostering a post-war oil boom and foreign investment surge that transformed central Luanda.

But his rule has also been criticised as secretive and corrupt, with Angola's citizens suffering abject poverty as his family and the elite enriched themselves.

He is "an accomplished and shrewd economic and political dealmaker with an instinct for political survival," said Mr Alex Vines of Chatham House, a British think-tank.

Married to the glamorous former air hostess Ana Paula, who is 18 years his junior, his children include Isabel, who is head of the state-owned Sonangol oil company and reputed to be Africa's richest woman — worth $3 billion.

From humble beginnings as the son of a bricklayer, Dos Santos joined the MPLA as a teenager and rose quickly through party ranks as a fighter during Angola's struggle for independence from Portugal.

After stints in Kinshasa and Brazzaville, he went to Azerbaijan to study petroleum engineering, returning fluent in Russian and French, in addition to his mother-tongue Portuguese.

In 1979, following the sudden death from cancer of Angola's liberation President Agostinho Neto, Dos Santos — then the Planning minister — was sworn in as president.

A presidential election in 1992 was aborted before a second-round vote when his battlefield rival Jonas Savimbi claimed the vote was rigged.

The civil war reignited until Dr Savimbi was killed in 2002.

During the 2012 election campaign, President Dos Santos made a series of unexpected appearances at public rallies, wearing colourful T-shirts and promising better universities and jobs for young people.

Few constraints

But his policies remained little changed after the vote.

As head of the military, police and Cabinet, the president operates with few constraints.

He chooses senior judges and had MPLA allies in all public agencies, including the supposedly independent electoral commission.

The state keeps a firm hand on the media, and his picture often appeared on the front pages of newspapers as well as on countless billboards and posters.

Angola has become a major supplier of oil to China, and President Dos Santos built close ties with the Asian powerhouse.

But while he sought to present himself as a rock of stability, rights activists and opposition members accuse him of systematic repression.

Music and poetry

In a 2013 interview for Brazilian television, he said that his rule had been "too long, too long," but added that decades of war "meant we couldn't strengthen state institutions or even carry out the normal process of democratisation."

President Dos Santos has reportedly received cancer treatment in Barcelona over several years.

Always immaculately dressed, President Dos Santos has split his time between his palace in Luanda and a second residence south of the capital.

He rarely travelled abroad on official business, but is said to enjoy music and poetry as well as cooking fish, and was once a keen footballer. (AFP)

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Orania, and Afrikaners’ dream of a city of their own

Posted PETER DUBE in Orania, South Africa

on  Thursday, July 20   2017 at  17:48

Just over a thousand men and women in Orania, a small town tucked away in the South African hinterlands, dream of a an independent Christian, Afrikaans-speaking city.

Their place of refuge is an Afrikaner-only enclave, which was established towards the end of apartheid in 1994.

Every single person in the town, which lies halfway between Cape Town and Pretoria, is a descendant of Dutch-speaking migrants who arrived in South Africa in 1652 with Jan van Riebeeck. The Afrikaner haven was the brainchild of Prof Carel Boshoff III in 1990.

Prof Boshoff III, without a doubt a visionary of note, was the son-in-law of HF Verwoerd — a man singled out as the architect of apartheid.

He and a number of families purchased an abandoned workers’ village with lofty ambitions that one day hundreds of thousands of Afrikaners would call it home.

“My father spent the bulk of his life as a missionary. The advice he got at that stage was that if you plant a church among people other than your own, you will not always be welcome, because once people take ownership they will say ‘Thank you but we want to take care of this now.’

"So he was aware that if you want to really add something to a group, it must become their own,” explained Mr Boshoff Jnr.

He added that, according to his father, the Afrikaner people, who make up only seven per cent of the South African population, were living thinly spread out all over the country without a concentration point.

“Every cultural or linguistic group has a centre. The Zulus are centred around Kwa-Zulu Natal, but Afrikaners ended up with nowhere because they trekked all over South Africa and they were nowhere in the majority,” he said, adding that Orania was not founded out of hatred.

“It was definitely out of an affirmation of our own identity and to look after our interests. But now people just assume that we are a group of white racists,” the Orania leader added.

Twenty-seven years later, the town, built on 8,000 hectares of private farmland along the Orange River in the desolate region of the Karoo, is home to 1,400 Afrikaners, has two schools, a museum and even its own currency, the Ora.

The town also boasts amenities such as shops, a hair salon, a library, a post office, a hotel, a cinema and three Christian churches.

South Africa has a large Afrikaans-speaking black and coloured population that identifies with the Afrikaner culture. However, Orania has no single Afrikaans-speaking black or coloured person in sight.

Prospective residents are screened by authorities using a criterion, which includes, either being an ethnic Afrikaner or genuinely wanting to integrate. It is not enough to simply speak Afrikaans.

Pieter Kriger, the Orania Movement’s vice-executive head, said he gets 150 calls per week of people wanting to stay in Orania.

He insisted the criterion is “about the Afrikaner culture”.

“You either need to be an Afrikaner or a person willing to assimilate with the Afrikaans culture. We actually have first generation guys from Germany who want to assimilate,” added Mr Kriger.

The general message from locals in Orania is that they have set out on a journey to help create a generation of pure Afrikaners untouched by the “outside world”.

“It’s about knowing your culture, understanding it, accepting everything about it, the good and the bad. I moved to Orania because for the first time in my life as an Afrikaner, as a South African, I understood the place of Afrikaners in the broader spectrum of Africa,” said Sarel Roets, a businessman in the town.

Their own culture

Mr Kriger added: “We believe in diversity in that the Zulus must celebrate their own culture, because they are different from the Sothos.”

Understandably, the community has gained notoriety beyond its modest means as a parochial enclave within the rainbow nation that post-apartheid president Nelson Mandela dreamt of.

“From Orania the town, we are looking to build Orania the small city. We are also looking to make it more of a region than a town,” Mr Boshoff Jnr said.

Ironically, the town’s flag bears colours reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid-era flag, featuring a blond boy rolling up his sleeves.

The enclave does not have an armed force and depends on a security company and its isolation for protection.

The modest and easy-going Oranians never miss an opportunity to flash a greeting smile to visitors.

Fear of violence

They also do their own work, from gardening to plumbing, bricklaying and waste-collection – jobs usually done by black labourers in the rest of the country. In fact, the town’s motto is “Working for freedom.”

Most of its residents argue that Orania offers a safe sanctuary from the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of South Africa.

Last year, South Africa was ranked third in the world’s top 10 countries with the highest crime rate.

“Women like Ester (a tour guide) can walk around town at 11pm without any fear of violence, or being robbed or killed. My house has no key. We went to Pretoria the other day and left my door open for my dogs to come in and out of the house. It’s a safe community,” Mr Kriger said with pride.

Interestingly, Orania is protected under Article 235 of South Africa’s Constitution which ensures the right to self-determination.

The legislation recognises “The notion of the right of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage within a territorial entity within the republic.”

Chairperson for the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the Orania community also needed to participate in social cohesion and nation building.

“While we acknowledge the right to self-determination, we say the same constitution expects social cohesion and unity. We need to find mechanisms to build social cohesion, reduce whatsoever fears they have and get over our differences,” Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said..