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Fleeing DR Congolese tell of rape and murder

Posted OBERT SIMWANZA in Nchelenge, Zambia

on  Thursday, November 9   2017 at  10:49

Recounting horrific stories of rape and murder allegedly by government soldiers, thousands of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo have sought safety on the Zambian side of Lake Mweru.

About 6,000 Congolese residents have fled across the border since late August, triggering an emergency response from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) which has struggled to provide basic food rations and shelter.

DR Congo's huge eastern region has long been wracked by violence, but fighting between government soldiers and militia groups, as well as inter-ethnic clashes, has increased this year.

The UNHCR said that the unrest had caused the largest influx into Zambia for the past five years, with many refugees blaming DR Congo President Joseph Kabila's troops for the worst of the violence.

"I witnessed an incident where one pregnant woman was raped, her stomach ripped open and the baby killed before they killed her," Ms Kaimba Kazili, 39, a former subsistence farmer, told AFP at the Kenani transit camp in Nchelenge, northern Zambia.

Boys and a girl

"It is not safe to live in Congo any more because government soldiers are killing people," she said.

On her journey to the camp, Ms Kazili gave birth to triplets Ari, Kalangila and Kanaila — two boys and a girl — who were born on August 20, before she finally arrived in Zambia on September 14.

"It was not an easy thing but luckily we found a man driving a minibus who gave us a lift," said Ms Kazili, originally from the Kivu region of DR Congo.

The triplets were shown to Zambian President Edgar Lungu when he visited the camp last week accompanied by UNCHR officials and reporters.

But President Lungu had an uncompromising message for the refugees.

"You have run away from lawlessness, so don't bring lawlessness here," he told them.

"We have laws which should be obeyed by everyone. If we jail you, when you finish your jail, we will send you back to Congo."

Despite Lungu's harsh words, Ms Pierrine Aylara, the UNHCR head in Zambia, told the president that she wanted "to applaud your hospitality towards those displaced by war and conflict".

For those in the camp, the only priorities have been the safety of their lives and getting enough to eat.

"Thank God that we all arrived safely as a family with my husband and all the four children," said Ms Mauno Rukogo, 42.

"I will never go back to Congo because war is tough. President Kabila's government was supposed to protect citizens but is killing its people."

Inter-ethnic violence

Ms Rukogo said she had been repeatedly displaced inside DR Congo, where the eastern region has been roiled by conflict for more than two decades, before she fled to Zambia on September 9.

The UNCHR said the refugees have fled inter-ethnic violence and clashes between the army and myriad militia groups, particularly in Haut Katanga and Tanganyika provinces since end of August.

Earlier this year, security worsened sharply in the Pweto area of Haut Katanga, which shares a border with Zambia.

Many refugees said that they feel safer in Zambia but that food rations were scarce and children were not getting enough to eat.

"We are also asking for medical clinics for the children," Ms Rukogo added, with rampant malaria and diarrhoea posing major health problems.

The UNHCR has set up tents and grass-thatched shelters at the 140-acre site, as well as sunk two boreholes and nearly 300 pit latrines.

An agency official said that they provide 400 grammes of maize and 60 grammes of rice a day for each family, as well as other food supplies.

"I saw my wife being killed by government troops and I only just managed to run away with my three children," said Mr Minga wa Minga, a 40-year-old school teacher.

"I had to keep going until I found some Congolese heading to Zambia," he added.

"The UN have described the situation as a humanitarian crisis but let them do something to stop President Kabila from destroying the country."

President Kabila failed to step down after his second and final term last December.

Elections were re-scheduled for this year, but have now been announced for December 2018.

DR Congo's military spokesman in Kinshasa could not be reached for comment on the refugee's accusations. (AFP)

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Will Lake Chad withstand the onslaught?

Posted MOHAMMED MOMOH in Abuja

on  Tuesday, November 7   2017 at  12:21

The mayhem unleashed on the people of northeast Nigeria by the Boko Haram since 2009 seems to have added to the suffering of millions of inhabitants who have been impoverished by the shrinking Lake Chad Basin.

No fewer than 18 million people in the Lake Chad region of Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon have had to endure poverty occasioned by their inability to harvest the water resources which hitherto had been their main source of livelihood.

Beside the irrigation and agricultural benefits, the lake also provides access to aquaculture and potable water for both human and livestock.

In 47 years, this life saving lake has shrank from 25,000 square kilometres to 2,000 square kilometers. It is 10 per cent of what it was 47 years ago.

Very expensive

The Chairman of the Nigerian Committee on Climate Change, Mr Abba Bukar-Ibrahim, said the water in Lake Chad had receded over 260 kilometres, affecting the livelihood of millions of people.

Mr Ibrahim, said: “Previously, every day lorry loads of thousands of fish departed from that area to different parts of the world, but these days, you hardly see a lorry load leaving that region with fish. The fishermen have to go very far into the water to make any catches, which makes it very expensive.

“We cannot sit back on this, it is already a crisis situation," he said.

The Senator wondered how long it would take before the lake dried up completely.

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The crisis, he said, affected six countries directly, while several others shouldered the indirect consequences, including the migration of people in search of alternative livelihoods.

The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr Stephen O'Brien, said the human suffering created by the shrinking lake was better told by the migration, displacement and the relocation of the affected people.

Mr O'Brien said more than 9 million people were seeking refuge outside the lake Chad region.

"If we do not act now, the human suffering will only get more extreme. We have to stop this, we can with the will, money, urgency and coordination."

Mr O'Brien said more than nine million people were in need of urgent food aid in the region, saying seven million of them lived in Nigeria.

Several public outcries aimed at saving Lake Chad and promoting socio-economic development in the area were expressed through 14 summits of heads of states and governments and 58 sessions of council of ministers of the riparian states.

Placed in jeopardy

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, while participating in the High-Level Segment of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, reiterated the need to recharge the shrinking waters of Lake Chad to avert an environmental disaster along the basin.

But he warned that the four most affected countries could not muster the tremendous financial resources required to turn around the dire situation.

According to President Buhari, millions of people whose daily livelihood had been placed in jeopardy were looking up to their leaders to bail them out.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed with President Buhari and announced that her government had set aside $21billion (18bn Euro) to assist the recharging of the Lake Chad, through the diversion of rivers from the Congo Basin into it.

She noted that the $58 billion (50bn Euro) project was a great priority to Germany and Nigeria.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) was laying a five-year Investment Plan on the proposed water transfer project.

In December 2016, the Commission and PowerChina International Group Limited (PowerChina) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a technical and financial assistance towards the water transfer from the Congo Basin to Lake Chad.

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The MoU was to establish the basis on which the parties would carry out further research of the Lake Chad Basin Water Transfer Project and other future projects in accordance with the Lake Chad Basin Water Charter, national legislations, regulations and practices of member countries.

The core idea is to increase the water quantity in Lake Chad, improve the flow conditions, alleviate poverty within the basin through socio-economic activities, meet the energy needs the surroundings areas and conduct an in-depth environmental impact assessment.

Nigeria’s Water Resources minister Suleiman Adamu said the project had the potential of transferring 50 billion cubic meters annually to Lake Chad through a series of dams in the DR Congo, the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic.

Besides, if fully implemented, it would lead to the development of a series of irrigated areas for crops, or livestock over 50,000 to 70,000 km2 area in the Sahel zone in Chad, north-east Nigeria, northern Cameroon and Niger.

Water treasures

Mr Adamu added that it would also create an expanded economic zone by providing new infrastructure of development in agriculture, industries, transportation and electric production, affecting up to 12 African nations.

He disclosed that the Federal Government had allocated $28 million as its contribution to the Lake Chad Basin Commission in the 2017 fiscal proposal of the Ministry of Water Resources.

The Director-General, Mother of Earth Foundation, Mr Nnimmo Bassey, urged Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, the Central African Republic and Libya to apply best practices in tackling the problems in the Lake Chad Basin in order to avert more conflicts and violence in the region.

“So, the countries in the Lake Chad Basin Commission need to sit down together and look at ways of enforcing best practices to maintain and protect the water treasures that we have,’’ he said.

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Flawed election could turn out to be Uhuru Kenyatta’s poisoned chalice

Posted WACHIRA MAINA in Nairobi

on  Sunday, October 29   2017 at  18:04

In 1966, President Jomo Kenyatta amended the Constitution to force 29 members of the National Assembly and the Senate who had defected from the ruling party, Kanu, to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union, (KPU), into a series of by-elections that came to be called “the little general election”.

Kanu won a majority of the now vacant seats and though KPU won the popular vote, Jomo Kenyatta was able to leverage the result to further amend the Constitution and, eventually, decimate the opposition.

Fifty years later, his son President Uhuru Kenyatta, lacking the legal means to force his opposition into a similar debacle, rushed headlong into an election boycotted by his principal opponent, Raila Odinga, and unwittingly converted what should have been a coronation into a referendum on his government.

The results — already controversial because the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has results from areas that never voted – will almost certainly damage and weaken Uhuru’s political authority beyond repair.

This was supposed to be the election that buried Odinga’s political career like the little general election buried his father’s. Instead, it will realise none Uhuru’s hopes and bring about all the consequences that a more reflective leader would have foreseen.

Shrunken electoral mandate

First, it will bolster Odinga’s political legitimacy as it retrospectively undermines Uhuru’s earlier claim that he had overwhelmingly won the election of August 8.

Second, it will strengthen deputy president William Ruto, as Kenyatta becomes ever more reliant on him.

Third, a weakened Uhuru must become more authoritarian and yet, without the reservoirs of legitimacy that come from an electoral mandate, he will find the population increasingly resistant. The upshot will be that what was initially a political crisis will metastasise, becoming a constitutional crisis that must undermine the very stability that the business community craved when they argued for an early election.

Central to Kenyatta’s problems is his shrunken electoral mandate. The final turnout figures have not been announced. The chair of the IEBC, Wafula Chebukati, had initially announced a voter turnout of 48 per cent.

No sooner had he done that than he tried to walk that number back — saying it was “a best estimate” — as results from monitors in the field showed that this was patently false. On the most optimistic outlook, the real number will probably be nearer or lower than 40 per cent. If that turns out to be the case, the implications are devastating.

In the first election on August 8, five out of every six registered voters turned out to vote. A 40 per cent — or lower — turnout means that less than three out of six voters have come out to vote barely two months later.

This raises six problems. One, the vote is essentially a Kikuyu/Kalenjin vote, a hugely unsettling political fact in a country of 44 ethnic groups.

Two, voter turnout among the Kikuyus and the Kalenjin did not come anywhere near what it was in August. Though electoral studies show that such a turnout is normal in electoral reruns, Kenyatta’s opponents will seize on this as proof of, at best, growing fatigue and at worst, dwindling support for Kenyatta in his own backyard.

Three, Odinga will spin the low turnout as his doing, evidence, he will say, of a country responding to his call to boycott the election.

Divisive figures

Four, it will leave Kenya even more divided than it was before: Kenyatta has been as divisive a figure as his main opponent Odinga. This election has sharpened those divisions and Kenyatta’s headstrong — some would say hubristic — refusal to even consider putting off the vote to increase cross-party trust and improve the environment, will have curdled political sentiment, perhaps irretrievably.

Five, the result will reenergise Odinga and, thus pumped up, he will be more intransigent to any overtures from Kenyatta.

Six, and most unsettling from an ethnic voting point, the result in central Kenya exposes Kenyatta’s tenuous hold on the Kikuyu. The turnout supports what many always feared, Kenyatta’s base is anti-Raila rather than pro-Uhuru: Without Odinga in the running, they were not motivated to vote.

Ruto, Kenyatta’s presumptive heir, will note this with alarm. Can Kenyatta really deliver the Kikuyu vote to him in 2022?

Few unattractive options

Unfortunately, Kenyatta has few options now and none are attractive. This has exposed his soft underbelly, serving up a lame duck second term even if he is able to hold on to the end of his presidency. That has three implications, each of which he will find unsettling:

One, looking at these numbers any Nasa (opposition coalition) leader Kenyatta reaches out to with promises of goodies so as to outflank Odinga will be coy. Is it worthwhile to accept a position in an administration at a time when that seems so obviously like a kiss of death?

Two, that Kenyatta is serving his last term will fray his own support within Jubilee, a party teeming with young politicians with political gifts to burn and years of political life ahead. If they see Kenyatta as a liability — as these numbers say that he is — their support will be mostly equivocal and low key, all geared to wait out Kenyatta’s five years as they consolidate their experience.

Three, unable to co-opt the opposition, Kenyatta will be thrown back on his allies, principally Ruto, on whom he must increasingly rely to get his measures through parliament. Ruto in turn will have two concerns: First, a legitimate worry — in the wake of this election — that he cannot rely on Kenyatta to deliver the Kikuyu block and second, a realisation that though another Kikuyu/Kalenjin alliance remains numerically attractive, fronting it in 2022 will be fatally toxic in terms of ethnic relations in Kenya.

At a minimum, Ruto must see that any winning future coalition must reach beyond Mt Kenya and the central highlands of the Rift Valley.

Kenyatta has just thrown his deputy a curve-ball: Ruto must now try to keep his current coalition in power even as he cobbles up a wider coalition that can win in 2022.

Political business

This dual play is both a boon and a bane from where Kenyatta sits: In keeping the current coalition together Ruto will be helping keep Kenyatta in power but whatever he does to build a new coalition for 2022 will undermine him.

And then there are Kenyatta’s “political business” allies, the oligarchs who finance his politics and the real power behind the throne. Many will already have been thinking ahead, scouting for politicians to fund for 2022 as Kenyatta’s second term ends. This election result must have shocked them. Some will recalculate their risks; some may even defect — if not to the opposition then to the heir apparent, Ruto — especially if the crisis deepens.

In a way, this was inevitable: In five years, Kenyatta has done everything to undermine institutions and empower the “contractor elite” — the oligarchs — around him.

That he must soon find that very elite fickle in their support is his own doing. Two thousand years ago Aristotle presciently said that democracy — together with its institutions — was safer than oligarchy because oligarchies suffer a double risk.

First, oligarchs often fall out with each other and, second— and more usually — they invariably fall out with the people. A Kenyatta who cannot deliver the goods is ripe for betrayal by his allies. Thus abandoned, he will be further weakened if the opposition confronts him with violent upheavals.

Double crisis bites

Some will think that Kenyatta’s now fragile coalition can survive the coming turbulence. Perhaps that is so but it seems unlikely. Part of the problem is that the administration is facing deeper problems that will feed Kenyatta’s political nightmares. The economy is not doing well.

The political uncertainty has had an effect on it to be sure, but then so has the weather, with its knock-on effect on food production. Our growing debt and its onerous interest repayments will eventually bite. Given the administration’s appetite for expensive debt — a few other costly loans are lined up — there is more trouble to come.

Juggling a tanking economy and fissiparous politics would tax a leader with better political skills and a more equable temper than Kenyatta, who started out desperate to be liked in 2013 and now seems keener to be feared. Without political resources to draw down and short of economic performance to brag about, he will — at least in the short run — turn to repression, becoming more authoritarian as the double crisis bites.

Unfortunately, the authoritarian option is never a good one. First, autocracy invariably solves all political conflicts violently. Second, its success depends on the coherence of the ruling elite. Let’s explore each of these two problems.

Using violence to solve political problems is both inefficient and unpredictable. It is inefficient because it means significant investments in surveillance and control. It is unpredictable because what the state can do, the public can do too.

The dramatic collapse of the Romanian dictator Nicolae Caeusescu in December 1989 is a case in point. The dictator had run a vicious and violent regime. In the face of economic crisis, he imposed a severe austerity programme that eventually provoked riots in the town of Timisoara, Romania’s third largest city and a key economic and cultural centre.

Christmas Day

Caeusescu called for a rally in Bucharest, the capital city, intending to condemn the protestors and check the spread of discontent. The crowd grew unruly and demanded that the dictator step down. Caeusescu unleashed his dreaded security forces, the Securitate, on them but in the week that followed protests flared up across the country.

At that point, the security forces baulked at shooting at the unarmed public and Caeusescu then fled Bucharest with his wife, deputy prime minister Elena Caeusescu, on December 22, 1989. Three days later he was arrested, summarily tried and executed on Christmas Day.

The rapid collapse of longtime Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011, hot on the heels of violent protests triggered by the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi, a hawker, on December 17, 2010, following economic and political crises, underlines the same lesson.

That brings the second point into play: The coherence of the ruling elite. All regimes must strike some bargain with their supporters, implicitly or explicitly.

Repression — as happened in Romania and Tunisia — forces regime supporters to recalculate the actuarial risk of losing power. Whether repression succeeds over time also depends on the co-operation of the security forces. When there is an economic crisis — such as the one we seem headed into — and the country is sharply and deeply divided, as Kenya was and is now more so, there is a dual risk.

The economic crisis erodes the support of the political elite and the political divisions fragment the security forces into ethnic militia. This means that though Kenyatta may be tempted by the authoritarian option, it is a dangerous and fickle mistress that he will be courting.

Majority rule

Given this, his advisers — who have been criminally inept in the past — may suggest that he tries, instead, a softer version of authoritarianism, what is often called “rule by law” rather than the “rule of law.” According to Javier Corrales’ essay, Autocratic

Legalism in Venezuela this softer authoritarianism has three elements: The use, abuse and non-use of the law in service of the presidency.

Given his legislative majorities, Kenyatta could find this appealing and cost-effective. He has already tried it, with some success, in the recent amendments to the election laws.

In some ways, Kenyatta will be genetically familiar with this instrumental use of the law. His father was a master of it. If the constitution did not give him power to do something that he desired to do, he simply ignored or amended it.

In 1975, for example, he famously amended the Constitution and then backdated the amendment, all so that he could pardon his friend Paul Ngei, who had been barred from a by-election because he had committed an election offence, a crime for which the president could not pardon Ngei with the constitution as it then stood.

The problem with “autocratic legalism” is that it depends on a quiescent judiciary. Right now, there is a coterie of intrepid judges whom Kenyatta cannot bend to his will. These judges are backed by an unforgiving Constitution that, properly interpreted, will nullify the laws Kenyatta may need to achieve his aims.

Autocratic legalism then — and the soft authoritarianism that Kenyatta needs to govern a divided country over which he has lost political control — does not look like a feasible option.

This brings Kenyatta to the place where he was before this election: He urgently needs to talk to Raila Odinga. Ill-advised procrastination and a flawed election have robbed him of his two most precious assets: Initiative and leverage.

And, sadly, Kenya seems set to lose again, as it did the last time a Kenyatta and an Odinga quarrelled.

*Article first published on http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/

Wachira Maina is a constitutional lawyer.

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Culture in crosshairs of Sisi's Egypt

Posted MARAM MAZEN in Cairo

on  Sunday, October 29   2017 at  16:50

In movie theatres, concert halls or out on the streets, culture in Egypt is faced with increasing curbs as the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expands censorship, critics say.

Hossam Fazulla of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) said artistes were being subjected to increasing limitations.

"What the government is trying to do is... to create a model of an obedient citizen who is tame, who is very convenient for this regime," said Mr Fazulla.

The curbs have wiped out some art forms, especially street events, which were starting to flourish after the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak, he said.

More restrictions

In the turmoil that followed, ex-army chief Sisi led the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsy to be elected president himself the following year.

A 2013 law banning unauthorised protests or gatherings has in effect been applied to culture, with street arts paying a heavy price, according to Mr Fazulla.

"It's been a while now that we've been reporting that this period has witnessed more restrictions than the previous one," he said.

In a notable example, censors have stalled the film In The Last Days of the City, although it has been screened in 60 countries and at 91 festivals, winning more than 10 awards.

Egyptian director Tamer El Said finished shooting the movie in December 2010, six weeks before the uprising that overthrew Mubarak.

"The film was trying to capture this feeling that we had before the revolution... that something big is going to happen. We don't know what it will be, but that it seems that we won't be able to continue like this," Mr Said said.

Mr Said applied for a licence to screen the movie in October 2016, only for Egypt's censorship authority to flood him with paperwork requests until it stopped answering his calls.

"Now it's been 12 years that I've been dreaming of this moment to come and it doesn't come... it's killing me," said the director.

This is the new method to ban films, said Mr Fazulla.

Censorship authority

"They would keep delaying this for months until the movie does not get screened in the end," he said.

After initially agreeing to speak, the head of the censorship authority, Khaled Abdel Geleel, stopped answering calls and messages from AFP.

Another award-winning film, The Nile Hilton Incident directed by Tarik Saleh, a Swede of Egyptian origin, takes place in Egypt but was banned from being shot in the country.

The movie on police corruption is based on a true story, that of real estate tycoon and Mubarak associate Hisham Talaat Moustafa, who was convicted in 2010 of paying for the murder of his ex-lover, a Lebanese pop diva.

"It was my idea (to film in Egypt). It was a very bad idea," Mr Saleh said in an interview on the Munich international film festival's YouTube channel.

"We were thrown out three days before we were going to start to shoot so we left to Casablanca" to film instead in the fellow North African state of Morocco, he said.

Music has also been a casualty.

In July, Cairokee, a popular band, said the censorship authority had banned some songs from their 2017 album A Drop of White, which features calls for political freedoms.

But the banned songs are widely available on the web.

Heavy metal has been in the firing line of Egypt's state-recognised Musicians' Syndicate since it tried to have a gig called off in February 2016.

Event organiser

Its head, Mr Hany Shaker, told Al-Assema television that his union had reported the event to police because of the presence of "devil worshippers in weird clothes".

In April 2016, a concert by Brazilian band Sepultura was cancelled and event organiser Nader Sadek spent several days behind bars on suspicion of having failed to secure a permit.

"Our role is limited to notifying security... And Egyptian security is very alert," syndicate spokesman Tarek Mortada said. (AFP)

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Plague alert over Madagascar's dance with the dead

Posted TSIRESENA MANJAKAHERY in Antananarivo

on  Thursday, October 26   2017 at  14:41

In Madagascar, ceremonies in which families exhume the remains of dead relatives, rewrap them in fresh cloth and dance with the corpses are a sacred ritual.

But an outbreak of plague sweeping the Indian Ocean island nation has prompted warnings that the macabre spectacle, known as the turning of the bones or body turning, presents a serious risk of contamination.

On a recent baking hot Saturday in Ambohijafy, a village outside the capital Antananarivo, a "turning" procession snaked through the streets in a fevered carnival atmosphere bound for the cemetery.

For the community's few hundred residents, the time for famadihana — the local name for the ceremony — had arrived.

The unique custom, originating among communities that live in Madagascar's high plateaux, draws crowds every winter to honour the dead and to honour their mortal wishes.

The ancestors

"It's one of Madagascar's most widespread rituals," historian Mahery Andrianahag told AFP.

"It's necessary to assure cosmic harmony... it satisfies our desire to respect and honour the ancestors so that they can be blessed and one day return."

At the head of the procession, 18-year-old Andry Nirina Andriatsitohaina eagerly awaited the big moment as a uniformed band played on loud trumpets.

"I am extremely proud to go to rewrap the bones of my grandmother and all of our ancestors. I will ask them for blessings and success in my school leavers' exams," he said.

In front of the family mausoleum, the assembled men dug into the earth and opened the tomb's door as women and children looked on.

One by one, the wrapped remains were carried out into the open and carefully placed on a mat where they were rewrapped, or "turned" in the new shrouds.
Oly Ralalarisoa, 45, was overcome with emotion.

"I am so happy to be able to exhume my great-great-great-grandfather. It means that their descendants can ask for blessings for the next nine years."

Relatives invite all their fellow villagers to attend the ceremony and to take part in the procession as well as musical and food festivities, but the wrapping of the body is a purely family affair.

The dead may be "turned" more than once but only every five, seven or nine years, and can be wrapped in several shrouds if different parts of the family or loved ones want to honour them.

Close by, Isabel Malala Razafindrakoto had tears in her eyes as she held the wrapped body of her son, who died aged just three years old.

"I'm happy to once again see my son and to fulfil my duty," she said.

A religious rite

The customary ritual, rather than a religious rite, can be shocking for some, but for those taking part, it is an intense celebration accompanied by music, dancing and singing, fuelled by alcoholic drinks.

As the gathering in the Ambohijafy cemetery drew to a close, the bodies were carefully returned to their resting places after one last dance.

As soon as the ritual was over, the mats on which the bodies were laid were pulled up.

Veteran participants will store them under their mattresses until the next famadihana.

Looking after the mats is often seen in Madagascar as bringing good luck.

But some doctors warn that they can also transmit germs and infections.

And, at a time when Madagascar is enduring its most lethal outbreak of the plague in years, the practice of body turning has raised fears among health officials.

Since August, the disease has infected more than 1,100 people, with 124 deaths. Officials this week cautiously welcomed a slowdown in infections.

Health ministry epidemiologists have long observed that plague season coincides with the period when famadihana ceremonies are held from July to October.

"If a person dies of pneumonic plague and is then interred in a tomb that is subsequently opened for a famadihana, the bacteria can still be transmitted and contaminate whoever handles the body," said Willy Randriamarotia, the health ministry chief of staff.

To limit the danger, rules dictate that plague victims cannot be buried in a tomb that can be reopened and instead their remains must be held in an anonymous mausoleum.

But the local media have reported several cases of bodies being exhumed covertly.

Forgotten objects

Despite the serious risks publicised by the authorities, few in Madagascar question the turning ceremonies.

"I don't want to imagine the dead like forgotten objects. They gave us life," said Ms Helene Raveloharisoa, a regular at the ritual.

"I will always practise the turning of the bones of my ancestors — plague or no plague. The plague is a lie."

Josephine Ralisiarisoa was even more strident in her view that the plague risk had been exaggerated.

"The government in power is short of money for the next presidential poll (in 2018), so they invent things to get cash from lenders," said Ms Ralisiarisoa.

"I have participated in at least 15 famadihana ceremonies in my life. And I've never caught the plague."(AFP)

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Zuma Cabinet reshuffle fuels the South African succession war

Posted CHRIS ERASMUS in Cape Town

on  Wednesday, October 18   2017 at  10:37

South Africa’s beleaguered President Jacob Zuma has again reshuffled his Cabinet, deepening the divisions in his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party amid mounting calls for his resignation.

The South African Communist Party (SACP), a key member of the ruling alliance that the ANC enjoys with the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), has lashed out at the move, calling it a direct attack on their unity.

The move that saw Mr Blade Nzimande removed from the Higher Education ministry, is also being seen as an assault on the SACP Secretary-Genera, a vocal Zuma critic, over "state capture" allegations involving mass corruption and gross mismanagement of public finances.

"We emphatically reject these manoeuvres that place the alliance on the brink of disintegration. Our view is that this is not a reshuffle but the targeted removal of Comrade Blade [Nzimande] as a direct attack on the SACP," said the party.

SACP added that rather than strengthening governance, the reshuffle was about President Zuma surrounding himself with loyalists, as evidenced by "the retention of so many dead woods (sic) and compromised individuals in Cabinet".

The party called the move a "continued authoritarianism" that disregarded relations between the ANC and its alliance "partners" and which had "plunged the alliance into unchartered waters".

The reshuffle was the 12th undertaken in under eight years by President Zuma and the second in six months. The previous one on March 30, caused a downgrade of SA’s investment status to that of "junk".

Like the previous reshuffle, the latest ministerial rejig was done without consultation with the ANC’s alliance partners.

As much as the dropping of the widely respected Nzimande was upsetting to SACP, what is being seen as President Zuma’s repeated high-handed unilateralism has further alienated and antagonised his party’s alliance partners.

Political observers said that the chances of a split between the Mandela party, on the one hand, and SACP and Cosatu, on the other, had been much increased.

A split within the ANC itself was also considered increasingly likely.

SACP has previously indicated it may "go it alone" in the 2019 national elections, due to President Zuma’s many scandals, with Cosatu making similar threats.

SACP concluded that President Zuma had crossed the line and that the reshuffle was "nothing but a response to the popular call, led by SACP and Cosatu, for the president to resign".

President Zuma had become "irrational" and "delusional", said senior SACP figures at a press conference where anger at the move was clearly signalled, with the SACP saying it would use "revolutionary tactics and strategies" from within the ANC national executive committee, where it has a number of members, to deal with the growing crisis around President Zuma’s continued leadership of both South Africa and ANC.

"Instead (of being silenced), the SACP is even more committed to continuing with its leading role in waging the struggle against state capture and corruption," said the party leadership.

SACP added that the dropping of Mr Nzimande was "part of Zuma's manoeuvres to secure successful election of his ordained successor", his ex-wife, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, at the ANC national elective conference in December.

"It is a well-known fact that the malady of corruption, governance decay and state capture has worsened exponentially under the incumbency of President Zuma and his friends, the Gupta family," added the angered SACP leadership.

The leader of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mr Mmusi Maimane, addressed another aspect of the reshuffle in which a close Zuma ally was put in charge of the Energy ministry, saying the move was an attempt to revive a nuclear power deal with Russia, which was quashed by the courts earlier this year.

Mr Maimane said the appointment of former State Security minister, Mr David Mahlobo, to the Energy docket, was a clear attempt to seal a billion-dollar energy deal with Russia.

"This smacks of an attempt to reignite the ANC's efforts to chain our country to a nuclear deal with the Russians," said Mr Maimane, adding that President Zuma was relentless in his pursuit to "loot state funds".

DA was not surprised by the reshuffle which was "the latest move in Zuma's war against anyone who opposes his project of 'State Capture'," said Mr Maimane.

He added that it had nothing to do with good governance and that "Zuma appears to be firing his critics, and offering promotions in exchange for support ahead of the ANC's elective conference in December".

The reshuffle has also raised question about why President Zuma did not include Dr Dlamini-Zuma in his new Cabinet, despite backing her to succeed him against the desires of a growing number of his former supporters.

Analysts said the move was designed to give Dr Dlamini-Zuma a free hand in her campaign. A Cabinet post would impose many duties and leave her little time to advance her candidacy.

Just a day before the reshuffle, Dr Nkosazana-Dalmini’s leadership hopes received a severe blow when the ANC’s Eastern Cape provincial leadership announced that delegates from the region would back current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma at both party level and as South Africa’s President.

The overt move by Eastern Cape coincides with indications that delegates in other regions formerly believed staunchly pro-Zuma were now ditching both him and his chosen candidate in favour of Mr Ramaphosa.

At least three other regions are believed to be leaning towards Mr Ramaphosa. Even in President Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal, the indications were that between 30 and 40 per cent of delegates would support Mr Ramaphosa’s bid.

In another development, lobby group AfriForum announced that it was going ahead with the private prosecution of President Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma for the motor vehicle collision death of a woman in February 2014.

AfriForum recently made news by offering to fund the private prosecution of Zimbabwean Frist Lady Grace Mugabe for assaulting a young South African woman.

Prosecutors said they had decided in 2015 that a successful trial of Duduzane was not likely. But AfriForum, which has formed a private prosecution unit, said Gerrie Nel would take the matter on.

Mr Nel, who successfully prosecuted world famous paralympian Oscar Pistorius – nicknamed the "Blade Runner" – for the shooting to death of his girlfriend, Ms Reeva Steenkamp, joined that unit earlier this year.

Duduzane has been named repeatedly in connection with the system of corruption which has developed under President Zuma’s administration, along with immigrant family, the Guptas, who are alleged to have benefitted from the public purse to the tune of millions of dollars.

On another, parliament began what were expected to be lengthy and detailed committee hearings into "state capture", starting with what had transpired at Eskom, the state-owned power producer which has been closely associated with the Guptas.

And in yet another blow to President Zuma, a high court has ruled that the new Communications minister will not be able, unlike her predecessors, to interfere with the day-to-day operations of the national broadcaster, SABC, especially on political matters.

SABC is among several national institutions in which undue political interference has been exercised by President Zuma appointees and loyalists.

The ruling severely hampers efforts to force SABC’s radio and TV coverage to be pro-Zuma or to favour his faction within the ruling party.

It also levels the broadcasting playing field ahead of the 2019 elections.

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Why Cameroon’s English speakers are demanding their own country

Posted NDI EUGENE NDI

on  Wednesday, October 11   2017 at  13:10

Cameroon’s anglophone crisis reached a new low last week, when 17 people were shot dead by security forces and 50 wounded, according to Amnesty International, but local media put the death toll at more than 20.

Protesters had gathered in towns across the country’s two English-speaking regions to mark a symbolic declaration of independence, and were confronted by police firing teargas canisters and live ammunition.

There has been an 11-month strife between the authorities in the majority francophone country and English-speaking protesters, who allege discrimination and the marginalisation of their two regions – Northwest and Southwest Cameroon.

The agitation has deepened from a demand to return to a long-abandoned federal system, to increasing calls for secession. In the confrontation last week, protesters hoisted the blue-and-white flag of the self-styled Republic of Ambazonia.

The crisis began last year, with protests by lawyers and teachers over the influence of French in courtrooms and schools.

The root of the grievances is anger over the region’s under-development, its lack of political representation, and the perceived erosion of an anglophone cultural heritage.

The government has labelled the demonstrators terrorists. It has tried to snuff out dissent with hundreds of arrests. Earlier in the year it cut Internet to western Cameroon for three months, arguing that social media was being used to fan the unrest.

'Ghost town'

The response from the protesters has been to declare a weekly one-day business stayaway as part of a broader civil disobedience campaign, which has included school boycotts. Those tactics have served to further impoverish the west.

The so-called “ghost town” stayaways are also increasingly being enforced by violence.

President Paul Biya, 84, who has been in power for 35 years, has described anglophone activists as “extremists” and any division of Cameroon as non-negotiable.

As positions harden, there is narrowing space for dialogue. A day after the latest clashes, shots could still be heard, with the government declaring a day-time curfew in the city of Bamenda, the capital of the North West Region.

The country’s linguistic divide dates back to 1961, when the British-administered Southern Cameroons united with Cameroon after it gained Independence from France in 1960. It was a federal state until 1972.

Prior to the bloody October 1 clashes, protests took place in major towns and cities of the regions on September 22, as President Paul Biya was about to address the UN General Assembly in New York. The protesters said the aim of the demonstrations was draw UN’s attention to the to the crisis.

Crisis point

Amnesty International said the violence witnessed last weekend has now reached a crisis point.

“The use of excessive force to silence protests in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon is not the solution. All deaths related to these protests must be promptly and effectively investigated,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, Amnesty International’s Lake Chad researcher.

In October last year, lawyers started a work boycott after the government failed to respond to a list of grievances they had lodged in 2015. Teachers in the English speaking part of the country joined the work boycott a month later.

Yaoundé initiated dialogue with representatives of the striking lawyers and teachers but it ended in a deadlock after representatives of the unions, who rallied under the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, walked out.

The consortium leaders were arrested in January this year. More than 100 other protesters were already in detention after violent clashes on December 8, 2016.

The jailed leaders named an interim leadership with Brussels-based activists, Mark Bareta and Cameroonian student in the US Ivo Tapang to run the activities of the consortium. Through social media, the activists flooded English-speaking Cameroonians with messages calling for civil disobedience and street protests.

In trying to quell the protests, the government deployed troops to the regions and shut down Internet for three months.

In a recent Facebook post, President Biya said he has not forbidden anyone to voice concerns in the republic.

“However, nothing great can be achieved by using verbal excesses, street violence and defying authority. Lasting solutions to problems can be found only through peaceful dialogue,” he wrote.

Social Democratic Front (SDF) leader Ni John Fru Ndi said the president is responsible for the escalation of the crisis.

National and international bodies have called for restraint from both parties. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman of the UN Secretary-General said the UN is “deeply concerned” with the situation and “strongly condemns” the acts of violence reported.

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Cameroon in a fix as refugees troop in

Posted NDI EUGENENDI NDI in Yaoundé

on  Monday, October 2   2017 at  17:44

As tension grow in the Central African Republic, Salimane Oumarou has been busy. He has made many rounds in his Kilometre Five Hausa quarter in Cameroon, sensitising Muslims and Christians on the need for peaceful coexistence.

The 36-year-old father of three is among 24,000 CAR refugees living at the Gado Badzere refugee camp in eastern Cameroon. He still recalls how assailants attacked his village in 2014, destroyed their houses and killed villagers, forcing them to flee.

While the camp offers solace, life has not been easy.

“We do not have enough to eat. Food rations and medical supplies have been curtailed and we do not have income-generating activities to supplement the little we receive,” said Oumarou.

Venture outside

Tresor Mbo Mbaline, who was orphaned when rebels attacked their home in Bangui said besides the hunger, “it is difficult to find a job in the camp”.

The refugees are not allowed to venture outside the camp in search of jobs.

Equally, access to basic social services such as education, protection, water, sanitation and hygiene is a challenge.

The World Food Programme said that food rations were slashed by half a year ago “due to resource constraints”.

The United Nations says financial resources to support the needs on the ground were “fast decreasing,” as more refugees arrive from the volatile CAR. The total number of refugees in the country is above 300,000.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says about 70 per cent of the number were settled among the communities. The rest live in one of seven refugee sites.

Cameroon has also been grappling with more than 191,000 internally displaced persons, the result of a spillover from the sectarian violence in CAR and the Boko Haram terrorist group insurgency.

Cameroon’s eastern region borders the CAR. It has suffered a humanitarian crisis since 2014 when refugees began to troop in. It is one of the poorest of the country’s 10 administrative regions.

Highly underfunded

Cameroon’s Minister for Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, Rene Emmanuel Sadi said Yaoundé needed the support of development partners and donors to meet the growing needs of the refugees and the local communities.

According to the UNHCR, only 21 per cent ($20.2 million) of the requested $94.2 million funding for Cameroon had been received as of August this year.

“It is an operation that is highly underfunded,” said the resident coordinator of the UN systems in Cameroon, Allegra Baiocchi.

“The refugees are worried because they see that assistance has been reducing, but there is not much we can do with 20 per cent funding.”

The Swiss ambassador to Cameroon Pietro Lazzeri described the refugee situation in Cameroon as being “very complex”.

“We will evaluate the situation [of CAR refugees in Cameroon] and see what can be done,” he said.

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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)