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On temporary islands in CAR, hundreds flee militia torture


on  Tuesday, March 20  2018 at  15:05

For a few months each year, the Ubangi, a tributary of the mighty River Congo, dries up and a cluster of ephemeral islands emerge from its torrents before the skies darken and seasonal downpours return.

The river, also spelled Oubangui, marks the border between Central African Republic (CAR) and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and most of the islands are barren and deserted.

But a handful host temporary communities, with dozens of makeshift straw huts and tarpaulins stretched out along their sandy banks, as villagers, displaced from their homes in CAR, take refuge on their isolated, transient shores.

Fisherman Matthias Kongba is one of the hundreds to have sought sanctuary.

He comes from the Satema region 300km upstream but he moved to one of the temporary islands three months ago, tending to his nets and his battered wooden canoe because, he says, "the evil came back".

The evil he speaks of is a militia called the anti-Balaka, a band of Christian and traditionalist fighters that rose up after mostly Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew the government of President Francois Bozize, a Christian, in 2013.

Military intervention

The Seleka's short-lived but brutal rule ended in 2014 after intense international pressure and a military intervention led by France, leaving the Muslim population to face bloody reprisals from the anti-Balaka.

Since then CAR has descended into further turmoil and thousands have been killed in inter-communal violence. Amid murder, rape and retaliatory attacks, the conflict has forced a million people to leave their homes, and more than half the population is in dire need of assistance.

"The anti-Balaka were robbing, torturing, committing crimes. We fled to Congo, it's a disaster," says Mr Kongba, who left his wife and nine children in the DRC and now represents displaced fishermen on the island.

His family are among the almost 200,000 people from CAR who have registered as refugees in DRC, according to UN refugee agency figures.

The racketeering

Nearly 500 people have settled on the river islet, which faces the village of Bagobolong 2 (80km east of the capital, Bangui), to escape the anti-Balaka.

"They gradually arrived between December and January. They settled between here and Zawara," says Francois Kokayeke, village head of Bagobolong 2, noting it is the first time fishermen have lived on the island.

Along the Ubangi, traders and fishermen are routinely subjected to the racketeering of the anti-Balaka militia, that has posts along the length of its banks.

Many fishermen have stories of friends or family who have been kidnapped or ransomed. Others have been forced to join the militia, through a bloody scarification ritual that they call "vaccination".

The process involves scarring several parts of the body during a ceremony that can involve whipping and cutting — it's supposed to make a person invincible to bullets.

"Anti-Balaka catch the fishing boats. They want to 'vaccinate' us. If you refuse, they 'vaccinate' you by force," says Mr Kongba, his voice full of anger.

Another fisherman, Mr Aran Bambindo, who is also living on the island after anti-Balaka forces looted and burned the houses of his village, Satema, says family members have been scarred.

"The anti-Balaka take our fish, they whip us and force us to be 'vaccinated'. It is to force us to fight with them," Mr Bambindo says.

"Before the 'vaccination', they tie you down and give you hemp. This lasts three hours. Some people agree to fight with them and they are 'vaccinated' with their children."

"Others refuse and flee," he adds.

Dozens of scars

Mr Bambindo points to his nephew, who does not speak, his eyes staring at the ground.

He has dozens of scars that have cut into the flesh on his arms, chest and back.

As the numbers of displaced on the islands have grown, so too have the problems, including food shortages.

Village chief Kokayeke returns from a fishing trip but his nets are almost empty.

"The fishing is not good because there are too many fishermen now," explains Mr Kokayeke.

"Some are using the small mesh nets that catch the small fish, so it reduces the reserves even further," he adds.

Temporary homes

The local fishermen association says it has tried to distribute unused nets to new arrivals but that there are too many people.

In the dry season, the Ubangi runs at about five metres, but during the rains its swollen waters can rise up to 12 metres.

Unable to fish, the island inhabitants hang around the tiny entrances to their straw huts, aware that their temporary homes will submerge under the river once the rainy season returns in May.

"It's (because of) poverty," says Mr Kongba, in a torn blue T-shirt.

"We can not eat well, we have no drinking water, no care, not enough fishing equipment," he says, before returning to his fishing net. (AFP)

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The Sierra Leone election like no other

Posted KEMO CHAM in Freetown

on  Tuesday, March 6  2018 at  11:35

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma last week took a break from attending to state matters to join the campaign trail. His first stop was Kabala in the northern Koinadugu District.

For the ruling All People’s Congress (APC) party, the concern over Wednesday’s polls is not just the fear of losing power, but also at stake is the legacy of a man who has dominated politics in this country’s for the past 10 years. President Koroma is under pressure to deliver victory for the party, not just to justify his controversial hand-picked successor, but also to guarantee himself a peaceful retirement.

There has been a lot of talk about corruption under his watch and the need to protect the alleged loot. But for his supporters, the 64 year-old former insurance broker has no match in terms of his accomplishments. He has himself never missed an opportunity to blow his own trumpet.

“Under normal elections, we are strong enough to win in the next five to six elections…,” he said in December, at a Christmas Dinner party organised in his honour, boasting that he was leaving the presidency with the APC at its strongest.

Dozen heavyweights

But less than a week before the votes are cast in what has been described as the most competitive elections since multiparty democracy was introduced in 1996, few people can agree with his overoptimistic demeanour of Mr President. And his visit to Koinadugu was part of the explanation.

APC is not only facing a more determined opposition, it is simultaneously dealing with cracks within like never before. At least half a dozen heavyweights have abandoned it.

Notable among those are three former cabinet ministers. One of them, Mr Peter Bayuku Conteh, who hails from Koinadugu, cited “dictatorial” tendencies as reason for his departure.

Koinadugu, like the rest of the northern Sierra Leoneans, has always been an APC stronghold. But the bruising flagbearer contest last December left its people disenchanted. Former Central Bank Governor, Dr Kaifala Marah, one of about a dozen people who vied for the APC’s ticket, is from the district. Angry youths burnt down APC paraphernalia in protest against President Koroma’s choice of his former Foreign minister, Mr Samura Kamara, when he was unveiled.

There were similar expression of discontents in Port Loko and Kambia in the region, over what was seen as the president’s unilateral decision.

In addition to the intraparty quagmire, APC has to deal with a fragmented but determined opposition. For the first time in a long period, a third force with a real chance of influencing the elections outcome has emerged.

In all, 17 political parties are contesting the polls. According to the National Electoral Commission (NEC), 446 elections will be held for local council positions, including mayoral contests in five cities: Freetown, Makeni, Kenema, Bo and Kono.

The 3,178,663 registered voters will also vote directly for the 132 seats reserved for ordinary members of parliament. The elections for the 12 seats reserved for traditional rulers [Paramount Chiefs], were held earlier.

But the presidential race, with 16 candidates, is the major point attraction. And the APC and SLPP candidates are the undoubted favourites.

But the winner must have at least 55 per cent of the total vote to avoid a runoff, which many analysts say was unlikely in this poll. Part of the reason for this is the emergence of many breakaway parties, notably the National Grand Coalition (NGC), led by a hugely charismatic and respected former UN diplomat, Dr Kandeh Yumkella.

Most of NGC’s top figures are aggrieved former SLPP members, but the party appears much of a threat to APC.

Dr Yumkella, 58, is campaigning on the platform of job creation, hence his popularity among the youths. He has vowed to declare education as an emergency as his first act in office.

If the Sierra Leonean elections were to be decided internationally, the impressively eloquent agricultural economist would win hands down.

Dr Yumkella is best known for his tenue as head of the Vienna-based United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (Unido) and he has served at various high level UN panels, including as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sustainable Energy, a position he left to contest the presidency.

His purported recent public endorsement by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo almost created a diplomatic row with Nigeria.

NGC came at a time when pro-democracy campaigners mounted a drive to promote issue-based as opposed to ethnic-based politics, that have characterised Sierra Leone since before independence in 1963.

APC and SLPP have dominated the system throughout the period. While APC has largely enjoyed support from the northwestern part of the country, SLPP held sway over the southeast.

This seemingly impenetrable reality is what NGC seems to have crushed.

Dr Yumkella appeals to the mostly educated elite, who have refused to partake in the country’s politics due to disillusionment.

NGC comes across as the moderate version of the two extremes – APC and SLPP – and the alternative for those who feel aggrieved in either [and there are many of them] and wanted to switchover without risking humiliation.

All three former cabinet ministers who left APC joined NGC.

Another hurdle for the APC is the eastern Kono District, which has until now played the role of a swing state.

Kono was notably instrumental in the election of President Koroma in 2007. But with the formation of the Coalition For Change (C4C) party, things have changed. C4C is the brain child of former Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana, a presidential candidate himself, who has been sounding like someone seeking his pound of flesh for his unceremonious removal from office in 2015.

Those and several other factors, including the struggling economy exacerbated by the events of Ebola epidemic and the flooding and mudslide disasters in 2015 and 2017 and how they were handled, were all working against the incumbent.

Despite opposition to his candidature, Mr Kamara exudes a remarkable character.

The 66-year-old economist has the unique experience of having served under all governments since 1991, including the junta regime led by his main challenger in this election, Brig (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio, whom he served as Finance minister.

The father

Mr Kamara also served as Financial Secretary in the late Tejan Kabbah-led SLPP administration. And in the Koroma administration, he notably served as bank governor and Finance and Foreign Affairs minister. He is credited with spearheading President Koroma’s development blueprint, the Agenda for Prosperity, but which also makes him a target for critics who say Koroma failed to deliver his promises.

Mr Kamara campaigned on the platform of an inclusive government. His manifesto, ‘Governing for the Grassroots’, promises effective public finance management.

Brig Bio, 53, is making his second attempt at the presidency. The man who considers himself as the father of Sierra Leone’s Democracy, lost to President Koroma in the 2012 polls.

Bio is campaigning on the premise of revamping the education system. In his New Direction Manifesto, he promised to provide free primary and secondary education.

The other candidates include two women, highly educated and intelligent, with interesting programmes.

Sadly, due to Sierra Leone’s highly regionalised politics, these men and women were mere statistics in the race.

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Hits and misses as Ghana turns 61

Posted TOM OSANJO in Accra

on  Monday, March 5  2018 at  11:58

Ghana marks its Independence Day Tuesday and for President Nana Akufo-Addo, the occasion will be more of an assessment of his performance since his swearing in as the head of state on January 7, 2017.

It is instructive that it will be at the same Black Square, also known as the Independence Square where he was sworn in that the president will stand before his compatriots and tell them how well he has captained the ship.

Early in his presidency, Akufo-Addo ran into headwinds when he named what opponents called an unwieldly cabinet. Having 110 ministers and deputies went contrary to his campaign pledges of keeping expenditures down.

His supporters threw their weight behind the new leader with local press reports quoting a member of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) saying that the president needed commendation and not condemnation over his cabinet choice.

“Let us not heckle or destructively criticise him on the appointment of 110 ministers. He and his team have more to rescue Ghanaians from their state of despair,” Mr Odeneho Kwaku Appiah was quoted as saying.

As fate would have it, just days before the Independence Day celebrations, the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) issued its yearly report which said that Ghana had slid further down on its ratings.

The report, released by the local chapter of TI, the Ghana Integrity Initiative (GII), indicated that the West African state had recorded the worst corruption perception score in the last six years after it was ranked 81 out of the 180 countries assessed in the 2017 Global CPI.

It scored Ghana 40 out of 100, its lowest since 2012 when CPI scores became comparable.

The report, which was released at a press conference last Wednesday, showed that Ghana’s performance dropped by three points from its 2016 score of 43, and seven points cumulatively from the 2015 score of 47.

This then opened another war of words between government supporters and those in the opposition.

Mr Andrew Asante is an Uber taxi driver in Accra. A staunch supporter of Addo’s since the president’s days in the opposition, Mr Asante believes the president will deliver.

“It is just a matter of time and we will soon start seeing the difference. The good thing about Addo is that he hates corruption and he has promised to deal firmly with the corrupt,” he said.

But this is not how opposition members of parliament see it. The National Democratic Congress (NDC) feels that the head of state was abetting corruption. In a scathing attack on President Addo, NDC Secretary-General Johnson Asiedu Nketiah, the president had employed ‘an army of cousins’ in the government who were fuelling corruption.

At a press conference last week in Accra, Mr Nketiah said that when he clinched the NPP ticket to run for president in January 2016, Akufo-Addo promised that he would not run a family and friends’ government, but “for the first time in the country’s history, the president has appointed his own daughter to a government position and even appointed a woman he has a child with as an ambassador.”

Mr Nketiah thinks the president was leapfrogging his kinsmen over better qualified and more deserving Ghanaians.

“His insatiable affinity for nepotism and cronyism that has resulted in the appointment of dozens of his blood relations, known friends and associates as well as relatives of senior government officials into public sector positions has not been lost on the Ghanaian public,” he said.

On their part, ruling party legislators say the statistics used by the anti-graft body to vilify Ghana were collected during the reign of the former President John Mahama. On that note, they argue that the blame should be laid squarely on Mr Mahama’s doorstep.

War on graft

President Akufo-Addo recently made a major score of sorts when he appointed an opposition member Martin Anidu to the newly created position of Special Prosecutor who would be charged with spearheading the war on graft.

The head of state himself is upbeat on the future of not only Ghana, but Africa. Addressing Geram Africa Economic Forum in Dortmund recently, President Akufo-Addo said the continent had the world’s second fastest economic growth, better FDI, 30 per cent of the world’s remaining natural resources and with a young, vibrant population.

Two recent missions from international organisations gave President Akufo-Addo and his government the thumbs up to the delight of his supporters. The acting Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Mr Jonathan Nash, described President Akufo-Addo’s first year in office as a success, hailing him for his “work in the first year to turn around Ghana’s economy”.

The deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Ms Carla Grasso, praised Ghana for implementing important reforms which she said would propel rapid and inclusive growth of the economy.

Local or foreign

“Ghana has very high ambitions and much potential for rapid and inclusive growth and the authorities are currently implementing a number of important reforms to help achieve this, with the close support of IMF capacity development,” she said.

Ghana’s economy grew by 7.9 per cent and the IMF projects it to grow by 8.9 per cent this year.

The government last week completed the building of the residence of the national team coach, a very important move in this football mad nation, and which might just lead to more popularity for the president,

Mr Asante hails the move.

“Before this, all the national team coaches whether local or foreign, would put up in a five star hotel at the government’s expense for the entire duration of his tour of duty. This is a very good move by the government of Akufo Addo,” he said.

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Uncertainty reigns as seized Zimbabwe farm is returned

Posted FANUEL JONGWE in Headlands, Zimbabwe

on  Thursday, March 1  2018 at  13:09

When the riot police arrived, Zimbabwean farmworker Mary Mhuriyengwe saw her life fall apart as her job and home disappeared in the ruthless land seizures that defined Robert Mugabe's rule.

Ms Mhuriyengwe, 35, watched as police carrying AK-47 rifles released teargas to force white farmer Robert Smart off his land in June 2017 — perhaps the last of 18 years of evictions that helped to trigger the country's economic collapse.

A widow and mother of two, Ms Mhuriyengwe relied on her work as a general labourer at Mr Smart's Lesbury Estates farm in Headlands, 160km east of the capital Harare.

"It's the only job I had and I had no husband to turn to," she said, her voice breaking with emotion.

"I found myself with nothing."

To her shock and amazement, Ms Mhuriyengwe is now back at work on the farm and back living in her modest house, after Mr Mugabe was ousted in November and Emmerson Mnangagwa became president.

Mr Smart was allowed to return to his farm within weeks of Mr Mnangagwa's inauguration, becoming the first — and so far the only — white farmer to be given back his property.

But it is far from certain whether Mr Smart's case will be a precedent enabling other white farmers and their employees to return.

Mr Smart's farm had been at the centre of a power tussle within the ruling Zanu-PF party involving a close ally of Mr Mugabe — whose sudden fall from power saw the property quickly returned to its owner.

President Mnangagwa himself has described Zimbabwe's land seizures as "irreversible", and stressed that white farmers would not get their old land back.

Instead, they are being encouraged to take other farms on new 99-year leases as the government seeks to boost the agricultural sector to revive the moribund economy and create jobs.

Evicted white farmers may also receive cash compensation — but where the money would come from is unclear.

Zimbabwe's often-violent land reform programme started in 2000, with thousands of farmers forced off their land by mobs or evicted.

Mr Mugabe said the reforms would help black people impoverished by British colonial rule.

But critics blame the land redistribution for the collapse in agricultural production that led to Zimbabwe's economy being wrecked by hyper-inflation, mass unemployment and emigration.

Many of the seized farms were given to Mr Mugabe's loyalists or fell into disrepair.

Now other white farmers and their employees are waiting to see if Mr Smart's case offers them any hope.

"There might be changes in future but as things stand, there is absolutely no change," former cattle rancher Mike Clark told AFP.

Ben Gilpin, director of the Commercial Farmers' Union, said he was not aware of any other farmers yet allowed back on their land.

Casual workers

Whatever the fate of other farms, Ms Mhuriyengwe smiled as she watched a tractor leaving the shed to plant a potato crop.

Mr Smart has already recalled 40 of his 300 permanent and casual workers, and has prepared the first 12-acres of his 120-hectare farm for potatoes.

"It pained us when Mr Smart was evicted and we were ordered to leave," said Ms Mhuriyengwe who was among families forced to seek shelter in nearby mountains.

Ms Mhuriyengwe's daughters attended school on the farm where Mr Smart also ran a clinic for his workers and families.

"Imagine the trauma for the children coming to school from the bush and not knowing whether their parents will still be there after school," teacher Tecla Muyeye said.

Stripped of furniture

"For some time, the farm resembled a war zone. The occupiers fired guns to scare away the farmworkers and we did not know how it was going to end."

Workers organised a homecoming party for Mr Smart, breaking into song when he arrived accompanied by security provided by the government.

He found the family's house stripped of furniture and much of his farm equipment and supplies stolen.

But Mr Smart, who inherited the farm from his father in 1965 and is grooming his son to take over, is determined to be upbeat.

"There was a feeling of joy that we were allowed to come back," he said.

"It is about the three generations of us and the guys who work here." (AFP)

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Protesters face 'zero tolerance' in Chad

Posted CAROLINE CHAUVET in N'Djamena

on  Thursday, February 15  2018 at  10:58

"Fear rules over the city," said Mahamat, a resident of the Chadian capital N'Djamena for more than 40 years who did not dare to reveal his real name.

"Although people are frustrated, they don't want to be arrested, kidnapped or tortured."

In Chad, a large partly-desert nation straddling north and central Africa, taking discontent to the streets is a dangerous game under the stern rule of President Idriss Deby, in power for 27 years.

Early in January, a public sector strike over pay and conditions garnered some backing, but once trade unions, students and the political opposition urged people to demonstrate against "bad governance", security forces were deployed across the capital and few chose to protest.

Risk of attack

The regime, which is fighting the violent jihadist group Boko Haram based in neighbouring Nigeria but active across several borders, argues that the risk of attack is too high to allow marches and public gatherings.

"Terrorists, thugs, could infiltrate the march," Security minister Ahmat Bachir recently warned.

Among those who have risked public protest, several hundred people have been arrested since the end of January.

Most were released after spending several hours in custody, but police on Wednesday said 17 people were sentenced to four months in prison for "disturbing public order, destruction of property, holding an unauthorised gathering and injuring members of the police force".

Human rights

The prosecutor of Chad, Mr Mahamat Saleh, warned protesters: "There will be zero tolerance for troublemakers."

Last week, the authorities also handed down two month suspensions to 10 opposition parties that called for a protest rally in N'Djamena on the grounds that they were "disturbing public order" and "inciting violence".

In a report released last September, Amnesty international charged that since early 2016, the security forces have stepped up "efforts to repress human rights", with a key role for the feared national intelligence agency (ANS).

The report said the ANS's mandate was expanded in January 2017 "allowing its agents to target and arrest human rights defenders on the grounds of national security".

"The ANS had already been illegally arresting people and detaining them in unofficial detention facilities, without allowing access to families and lawyers," Amnesty reported.

Secret detention and arbitrary arrests marked a return to a dark past, said the human rights NGO, referring to the brutal methods of the infamous Directorate for Documentation and Security under former president Hissene Habre, who was ousted by Deby and sentenced by a special court in Dakar in 2016 to life in jail for crimes against humanity.

"For the past two weeks, we've seen what happened under Habre," including "arrests in bedrooms", Clement Abaifouta, chairman of an organisation representing Habre's many victims, told AFP.

The presence of security forces and suspected government "spies" around N'Djamena has helped fuel rumours that opposition groups are being infiltrated. "We are wary of each other," said a human rights activist who wished to remain anonymous.

Rebel groups

Yet in spite of the oppressive climate, Chad has in the past three years witnessed "an increase in strength of social movements and popular protests that breaks with the political opposition and armed rebel groups," observes Chadian sociologist Appolinaire Rititingar.

With a movement called Lyina (That's Enough), young Chadians have picked up the example of youths in Senegal and Burkina Faso and their "Fed Up" and "Citizens' Broom" campaigns.

These two movements played a decisive role in the politics of their respective countries to bring down the unpopular presidents Abdoulaye Wade and Blaise Compaore.

But in Chad, apart from repression, "we lack unity in our protests and in calls to demonstrate, for many of our leaders go solo," said a representative of civil society who asked not to be named.

Moreover, political scientist Evariste Ngarlem Tolde at the University of N'Djamena argues that "Chadian civil society has no social roots, since it has not worked on raising awareness as in other countries."

Ethnic divides

"People often don't even understand the why of what civil society does," Mr Rititingar said, pointing out that almost half of Chad's population of some 13.6 million live beneath the poverty line and survive "hand to mouth".

"One day, it's all going to blow at once," said a city resident using the name Abakar, looking both fearful and joyous.

Chad introduced new austerity measures in January to meet the requirements of international donors in a bid to escape from a latent crisis that has undermined the economy for years.

General discontent with President Deby's regime now crosses ethnic divides, according to Ngarlem Tolde, who notes that social movements in Chad tend to emerge spontaneously.

In February 2016, the revelation that a 17-year-old girl had been gang raped by youths close to the family of the head of state triggered widespread protests that lasted several months. AFP)

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Power giant at the core of SA’s state rot

Posted PHILIPPE ALFROY in Johannesburg

on  Sunday, February 4  2018 at  16:06

The name of Eskom, Africa’s largest electricity company, has become synonymous with the worst corruption scandals in South Africa and the utility could well become the final nail in the political coffin of President Jacob Zuma.

Now the new head of the ruling ANC party, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, has moved in to overhaul Eskom — as well as ease President Zuma out of office.

In his first major move, Mr Ramaphosa has already appointed a new board and ordered them to sack corrupt executives.

Dire financial results

“We are determined to address the damage that has been done to this institution,” Mr Ramaphosa said in a statement released on the presidential website. Rescuing Eskom will not be easy, even after Mr Ramaphosa replaces President Zuma as expected.

The sacking of yet another of its short-lived CEOs this week and the release of dire financial results confirmed the depth of the crisis plaguing the power utility.

Finance minister Malusi Gigaba admitted Eskom represents the single worst crisis facing the government.

“Eskom is the biggest risk,” Mr Gigaba said.

“There would be no currency, and no economy for the country if Eskom went belly up.”

Parliament in South Africa has for months been probing Eskom over so-called “state capture” — alleged corruption at South African state institutions.

A damning report published a year ago by the then-ombudswoman Thuli Madonsela first laid bare misconduct at Eskom, a state-owned monopoly founded in 1923.

Ms Madonsela detailed how the Gupta business family, who are close friends of President Zuma, allegedly arranged the 2015 appointment of Brian Molefe as Eskom chief to line up lucrative contracts to syphon off cash.

Officials and former workers appearing before a parliament hearing in recent weeks have made startling revelations of how Eskom executives helped the Gupta family benefit from favourable deals.

Three brothers

Whistle-blower Mosilo Mothepu, who worked for a company advising on the deals, told the parliamentary committee that Eskom was identified as a “cash cow” by the Guptas.

In one case, Eskom paid more than $49-million to a Gupta-owned mining firm Tegeta to help it buy a coal mine from Glencore. The Guptas would then sell the coal to Eskom.

Former Eskom chairman Zola Tsotsi told lawmakers how one of the Gupta’s three brothers, Tony, summoned him to a meeting and threatened him with dismissal because he was not “helping” them.

“Tony told me 'Chairman, you are not helping us with anything. We are the ones who put you in the position you are in. We are the ones who can take you out!’” he said.

Respected former Finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who was abruptly sacked by President Zuma last March, sharply rebuked former Eskom executives appearing before the committee.

“You brought Eskom to its knees, the biggest utility in Africa,” Mr Gordhan told the utility’s former chief financial officer Anoj Singh.

All implicated executives have pleaded innocence.

“There are hundreds of decisions taken at Eskom that the CEO will not know about or know the details of,” said Mr Molefe.

Liquidity problems

Opposition Democratic Alliance’s MP Natasha Mazzone drew parallels between the denials and “omerta” — the mafia’s code of silence.

But Ms Lynn Brown, a close ally of President Zuma and minister in charge of state enterprises, denies that she covered up governance and financial irregularities at Eskom.

“We are not at that point yet that we can prove that people have done things wrong,” Ms Brown told MPs.

Eskom’s woes started in 2007 with the highly unpopular power shortages that plunged many neighbourhoods into darkness on a nightly basis.

Outages have been sharply reduced, but credit rating agencies have repeatedly downgraded the power utility over its financial and liquidity problems. Its annual financial results, released on January 30, showed profits plummeted 34 per cent and the firm is heavily indebted to the tune of over 300 billion rand ($250 million). (AFP)

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The legacy of Africa's first elected woman president

Posted TAMASIN FORD, Buutuo, Liberia

on  Wednesday, January 24  2018 at  19:50

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made history as Africa's first elected woman president, but also faced accusations of corruption and nepotism. How will she be remembered?

Mrs Sirleaf's story is pitted with remarkable feats of defiance and courage, entangled with accusations of corruption and nepotism.

Just days before she was due to step down from 12 historic years in power, she was expelled from her own political party. Some people hold her up as their saviour; others say she's just like all the rest.

"The best thing she did is the peace she kept for us," said 22-year-old Jenneh Sebo, who was sitting lazily in the scorching sun drumming down on the capital Monrovia when I saw her ahead of the country's election in October last year.

This is not an uncommon answer. Liberians went through 14 years of barbaric, drug fuelled, chaotic war, where child soldiers carried out the most unspeakable crimes. Myriad rebel groups reigned over towns and cities with terror, stripping the country of any semblance of infrastructure.

End of the war

Hospitals, schools, roads and even lamp-posts were destroyed; the latter out of a belief that enemy soldiers could turn themselves into one. So to be thankful for peace is not a flippant response.

How did we get here? BBC Africa looks at the 20 years leading up to the 2017 Liberian elections

However, 15 years on from the end of the war people have long begun demanding more from their government. Jenneh, too young to remember much of the fighting, was sitting in the sun because she did not have a job and had not been in education since high school.

The same month, on a grassy field opposite President Sirleaf's house in the more affluent Sinkor area of Monrovia, hundreds of women dressed in white danced to music blasting from massive speakers. The musicians sang "we want peace in Liberia, peace in Monrovia", the song Ivorian reggae star Alpha Blondy wrote about their country during the war in 1992.

Many of these women launched a mass peace movement in 2003 that helped finally end war. They organised sex strikes, until their men put down their arms. They forced a meeting with President Charles Taylor, getting him to agree to go to Ghana for peace talks. Once there, they surrounded the room threatening to take off their clothes until some sort of peace deal was reached.

It was these women who then rallied the country to vote for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005.

"We don't want no problem again," said 73-year-old Kula Freeman, who remembers the war in all its graphic detail. "We don't want no wahala," her friend, 65-year-old Kwa Sheriff said, chipping in over her shoulder. Wahala is the Liberian word used to describe anything from an argument in the street to a full out war. They are both happy for the peace President Sirleaf brought to the country.

Behind them, activist Leymah Gbowee, who won the Nobel Peace Prize alongside President Sirleaf in 2011, began rallying the ladies together. She was one of the key figures who led the peace movement at the end of the war.

Cosy character

Ms Gbowee said Mrs Sirleaf will always be remembered for becoming the continent's first elected woman president. But for Ms Gbowee, that is all she has achieved.

"In terms of delivering a women's agenda we really didn't see that," she said.

President Sirleaf is not a warm, cosy character and she certainly didn't focus on women during her 12 years in power. However, the Harvard-trained economist did erase nearly $5 billion in debilitating foreign debt after three years of being in office, paving the way for foreign investment and boosting the annual government budget from $80m to $516m by 2011.

But Ms Gbowee expected more for women.

"She's said she's not a feminist, that feminism is extremism," she exclaimed. "I say, well, if it is I'm a proud extremist."

Under President Sirleaf's tenure a new, tougher rape law came into force but was then amended, reducing the tough sentences and making it a bailable offence.

During her final week in office, President Sirleaf signed an executive order on domestic violence, protecting women, men and children against "physical, sexual, economical, emotional and psychological abuses".

She is, however, disappointed that a key part of her proposal, the abolition of female genital mutilation (FGM) against young girls under the age of 18, was removed.

"It undermines the very essence of the law and leaves it incomplete", Mrs Sirleaf's spokesman said of the amendment by the Senate and House of Representatives.

Many thought a woman president would pave the way for more women in politics. Yet, not unlike the Thatcher era in the UK, Mrs Sirleaf's departure also marks the departure of women in power. Of 19 presidential candidates, there was only one woman, 40-year-old Macdella Cooper, a former girlfriend of incoming President George Weah.

"She didn't have enough women in the house of parliament to help push bills to support women initiatives," said Ms Cooper.

"Economically she didn't have enough women to approve budgets or at least create and craft budgets that will support women. So, she had her limitations."

Public enemy

Despite sharing the title of Nobel Laureate, Mrs Sirleaf and Ms Gbowee haven't spoken since Ms Gbowee said she "criticised her government for corruption and nepotism".

Mrs Sirleaf has long come under fire for appointing three of her sons to top government posts, something she has always defended. Up to 20 members of her family have had government positions at some point. As for the charge of corruption, in 2006 Sirleaf declared corruption "public enemy number one" only to be hit with a flurry of scandals.

Civil servants routinely went unpaid; most notoriously health officials in Lofa County in the north west of the country just as Ebola crept across the border from Guinea. The devastating virus killed nearly 5,000 people, leaving the country reeling and its health system in tatters.

Despite all this, Mrs Sirleaf was a history-maker. Her presidency may have been riddled with corruption and nepotism, but she proved to the world that a woman can dismantle the patriarchal seat of power.

"One thing we can brag and boast of, she broke the glass ceiling," said Ms Gbowee.

"That's a huge inspiration for women." (BBC News)

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Militias turn their guns on wildlife in Central Africa


on  Wednesday, January 3  2018 at  09:00

Heavily armed militia and poachers are a threat to wildlife populations in the Garamba-Bili-Chinko (GBC) region in Central Africa.

The militias are decimating wildlife in the 75,593 square kilometre region straddling northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo and southeastern Central African Republic.

Investigations have unearthed that poachers are trafficking in wildlife products like elephant tusks and leopard skins, among others, to South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, with corruption facilitating the illicit trade.

Garamba National Park and Bili Reserve are in the DRC, and Chinko Reserve is in CAR.

Garamba National Park, which has the Azande, Gangala-na-Bodio and Mondo-Missa reserves, is 14,635 square kilometres, and Bili reserve is 43,358 square kilometres. Chinko reserve is 17,600 square kilometres. The 755-kilometre Bomu River forms the border between the two countries.

“This remote region lacks infrastructure and government services. It is characterised by weak governance and insecurity perpetuated by activities of foreign armed groups, notably LRA,” said the Cambridge-based lobby.

CAR and DRC were at the bottom, at position 91 and 88 respectively, of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2016. DRC’s military, the FARDC, historically has been implicated poaching.


The LRA has operated outside Uganda since 2005. The militia group poaches elephants to sell the ivory and acquire supplies.

The leader, Joseph Kony, is wanted by the Hague based International Criminal Court for human rights abuses.

LRA also trades in diamonds and gold through networks in DRC and CAR. Traders in Kafia Kingi area are the final outlets of LRA’s illegal goods. Kafia Kingi is a disputed area bordering Darfur between Sudan and South Sudan.

In the CAR, Haute Kotto Prefecture is a known hub for illicit trafficking to Darfur and Khartoum.

The LRA has recently broken up into smaller groups, reducing the likelihood of detection by the African Union-Led Regional Task Force (AU-RTF) and UN peacekeeping missions.

“They operate in small, decentralised groups, with rotation of personnel between units in the DRC, CAR and the Kafia Kingi enclave, where it is believed that Kony is headquartered,” said Traffic International.

Endangered species

Liz Williamson of Traffic International, and one of the authors of the report, said lack of enforcement of poaching and hunting laws further threatens shrinking endangered species such as elephant and chimpanzee.

“The lack of governance and enforcement has rendered local communities and wildlife an easy target for exploitation by armed groups, while illegal wildlife trade fuels continued instability across the landscape,” she said.

Armed groups, illegal trade in wildlife and illicit cross-border movements have led to political instability in the countries, as CAR and DRC rank fourth and seventh on Fragile States Index.

“These poachers transport high-value products, such as ivory, skins and other trophies to larger towns and cities to continue funding their poaching efforts. This group is made up of local and foreign actors,” said Traffic International.


Militarised poachers armed with semi-automatic weapons target buffalo, elephant and hippopotamus as well as other large mammals that live in protected areas.

Bushmeat is sold to individuals and restaurants in nearby villages and towns.

The militias include LRA, Sudan’s Janjaweed and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) as well as groups related to the anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka factions.

Séléka emerged as a coalition of rebel militia in 2012 and overthrew CAR’s government in 2013. The Muslim alliance was bolstered by heavily armed mercenaries and poachers from Chad and Sudan.

Anti-Balaka are a loosely organised self-defence militia, made up of Christians and animists, formed in 2013 to oppose Séléka. Over 14 factions, local militia and regional mercenaries are fighting to control CAR’s resources.

The rise in sectarian violence in CAR in 2013 created an ideal space for the LRA to operate in. UN troops control some towns in Mbomou and Haute-Kotto prefectures, but LRA has exploited gaps in security.


Traffic International and the International Union for Conservation of Nature in a recently concluded assessment found that GBC is losing its wildlife at an alarming rate.

“People and wildlife in this landscape have been deeply affected by the spillover of a long and complex history of violence and civil war in Sudan and South Sudan,” said the wildlife conservation organisations.

Janjaweed has poached CAR’s elephants since the 1980s, and has recently moved into the DRC.

Armed poachers from South Sudan are considered the greatest threat to Garamba’s wildlife. South Sudanese poachers appear to be soldiers, former soldiers, police officers and civilians.

The armed groups enter the DRC through Lantoto National Park.

A field investigative team from Traffic International and IUCN collected data, carried out research, and held discussions in 87 villages with over 700 people including traditional, religious and local leaders.

The investigators recommended incentives be put in place to discourage poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking activities, as well as developing economic opportunities for communities living in the GBC region.

Other recommendations to save the wildlife include strengthening law enforcement, engaging pastoralist communities, and improving transboundary conservation collaboration.

“It highlights the need for governments and other actors to work together as a global conservation network to stop the slaughter of wildlife in this region,” said IUCN Cameroon programme head Leonard Usongo.

Bushmeat is transported on motorcycles and in cars to villages and towns. Traders sell ivory, coats of big cats, teeth and claws hidden in bags of palm oil, pepper or cassava.


The investigators learnt that the routes used by traffickers are not fixed since they are serving black markets: Buyers do not always use the same locations and often have flexible itineraries.

There is also the presence of armed Mbororo, a subgroup of nomadic Fulani cattle herders, in northeast DRC. Most of the Mbororo now living in CAR arrived in the 1920s from Cameroon and Nigeria, through Chad.

From 2004, the Mbororo began to settle in CAR facilitated by Jean-Pierre Bemba’s Movement for Liberation of Congo. Mbororo are viewed suspiciously by the local Congolese communities.

Their culture, religion and lifestyles are different, and are perceived to be taking over the land from residents. They are viewed as illegal immigrants.

“Fulani have been reportedly trafficking ivory and leopard skins to South Sudan and Uganda. There are strong indications that Janjaweed are still benefiting from illegal ivory transiting through Kenya,” said Traffic International.

Conflicts with the Mbororo are blamed on competition for resources like water, illegal grazing, trampling of crops by livestock, and cattle herds taking over pasture from wildlife.

About 60 per cent of Mbororo interviewed admitted to being in violation of immigration laws, but planned to stay in the DRC anyway.

Hunting generates income for people living around protected areas in the GBC region, and about 20 per cent of men in northeast DRC engage in small-scale poaching.

Households get 11.6 per cent of annual income from artisanal mining of gold and diamonds in Bili. A study in Garamba found 82 per cent of miners earned enough for health care, school fees and basic needs.

“Some 18 per cent said the income from mining did not meet their needs. Although price of gold in area is $25 to $35 per gram, an individual’s yield from artisanal mining does not reach marketing units of whole grammes,” said IUCN.

The first points of sale for illegally procured wildlife products in CAR are Rafaï and Zemio towns. Zemio is the largest trading centre in the southeast for elephant meat and orphaned chimpanzees.

Some of the poachers are linked to backers who supply guns and ammunition. They too sell the meat locally, but the ivory and skins are transported to larger towns and cities including Bambari, Bangassou, Bria and Bangui.


Around Bili, traffickers heading south go to Buta through Bondo or Titule, and on to Banalia and Kisangani. Traffickers heading north to CAR cross Bomu River, and follow pastoralists’ trails into open grasslands or to where the border is porous.

“To reach CAR, they cross the river at Adama, Bakpolo or Basokpio, and head to a landing point near Zemio. Using the Ango route, through Dakwa, the crossing point and interim destination is also Zemio,” investigators said.

Almost all crossing points are controlled by armed groups including ex-Séléka elements who levy illegal taxes on passengers and goods.

The first points of trade from Garamba are urban centres like Aba, Dungu, Bangadi, Doruma, Durba and Faradje. It is estimated there are about 15 to 30 ivory dealers in Dungu. Goods then move to Aru, Isiro, Buta and Kisangani.

“From here on, intermediaries from other countries enter the trafficking chain. In CAR and DRC, wildlife products are generally delivered to local merchants, often nationals of Chad, Libya, Mali and Senegal,” said IUCN.

Products exit DRC through Aba, a town at the border with South Sudan, or Arua on the border with Uganda. Another route is the road between Dungu and South Sudan, for ivory from Garaba to get to Juba.

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Ethiopian pop star Teddy Afro delights fans, irks authorities

Posted AFP

on  Thursday, December 28  2017 at  12:18

He may be Ethiopia's biggest pop star but Teddy Afro hasn't held a concert in his country for years, some of his songs have been effectively banned, and the launch party for his last album was broken up by the police.

But sitting in the living room of his spacious house outside the capital, Addis Ababa, the 41-year-old musician is relaxed and says he is focused on promoting peace and unity in Ethiopia.

"As a child, I remember that we lived as one nation. We knew a nation that is called Ethiopia," Teddy said.

"But nowadays, we are identified and called by our ethnic background. And this has already become dangerous."

Ethiopia has been rocked by widespread anti-government protests over the last two years, killing hundreds and leading to a 10-month state of emergency that was only lifted in August.

In this context, Teddy's latest album, "Ethiopia", was released in May and shot to the top of Billboard's world music chart — despite his songs not being played on state radio and TV.

His lyrics and music videos have often been controversial, and viewed by many as critical of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a formerly Marxist guerrilla movement that has ruled the country since 1991.

While fans adore Teddy's catchy melodies and nationalistic, often historical songs, written mostly in the national language Amharic, the authorities — who brook no opposition — view him with suspicion.

Protest anthem

Teddy — real name Tewodros Kassahun — first crossed the authorities in 2005 when his album "Yasteseryal" came out days before an election that descended into violence after the opposition denounced it as rigged.

That album was a homage to the country's final emperor from 1930 to 1974, Haile Selassie I, and its lead single "Jah Yasteseryal", questioning whether the government was improving the country, became a protest anthem.

In 2008, the musician was jailed for more than a year over an alleged hit-and-run killing in a case that many fans believe was politically motivated. He has always protested his innocence, saying he was not even in the country at the time of the accident.

While Teddy's songs can today be heard blasting from bars and buses across Addis Ababa, Ethiopians still fear playing "Jah Yasteseryal" in public, lest they be seen as agitating against the government.

to bad

In 2012, Teddy released "Tikur Sew", an album that took as its theme Emperor Menelik II, whose victory over 19th century Italian colonial invaders is a defining moment in Ethiopian history.

Yet among the country's largest ethnic group the Oromos, "Tikur Sew" was seen as an affront because it glorified an emperor who brutally absorbed Oromo territory into Ethiopia's borders.

The backlash was fierce enough that Heineken — whose beers are popular among Oromos — backed out of a deal to sponsor Teddy's concerts.

But Teddy says he is unbowed.

"There may be groups that have a negative attitude towards the last Ethiopian kings and history," he said, sat with a sword belonging to Menelik mounted on a wall nearby.

"While respecting their views as a perspective, the fact that they like or dislike my views will not change the truth."

Break-ups and bans

Ironically, it was the EPRDF's takeover of the country that allowed Teddy's music to flourish, as it ended the brutal communist dictatorship of the Derg, during which nightlife was suppressed.

While some musicians went on to reimagine traditional styles of jazz or dabble in rock, Teddy distinguished himself by making nationalism a centrepiece of his compositions.

When a rumour spread early in his career that he committed the taboo deed of autographing the breasts of female fans, Teddy batted down the allegation by saying that as an Ethiopian he could never do such a thing, a remark that won him admirers across the country.

His songs have urged harmony between Muslims and Christians and lampooned members of the diaspora who return home with nothing to show.

"He's preaching what he's living. We like that, Ethiopians like that," said Eyuel Solomon, programme manager for the capital's Afro FM radio station.

But the authorities remain firmly opposed to helping Teddy showcase his music.

Not only did police halt his launch party for "Ethiopia", but a planned concert to celebrate the Ethiopian new year was refused permission and he is still waiting for approval to play a concert marking Ethiopia's Christmas, in early January.

He insists the restrictions and setbacks do not damage his resolve to use his music as a force for good in Ethiopia.

However, his plans to spread his music more widely are likely to anger the government even more.

Teddy says he hopes to perform in the capital of Eritrea, a one-time territory of Ethiopia that is now a bitter foe, believing a performance in Asmara could improve relations between the two countries.

"What we need is the spirit of love, peace and forgiveness. This is because the current problems are the results of historical resentments," he said.

"We have to shake them off. We have to leave it behind."

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George Weah: ex-football star who could be Liberia's next leader

Posted AFP

on  Sunday, December 24  2017 at  13:11

George Weah emerged from Liberia's slums to become a superstar footballer in the 1990s, and has leveraged his status as a revered figure among the country's young and poor in his second run for the presidency.

Mr Weah will face Vice-President Joseph Boakai on Tuesday in a presidential run-off, the culmination of 12 years spent building political credibility to match his huge popularity.

"You know I've been in competitions — tough ones too and I came out victorious. So I know Boakai cannot defeat me," Mr Weah said ahead of the vote.

"I have the people on my side."

Civil war period

The first African player to win both Fifa's World Player of the Year trophy and the Ballon d'Or, Mr Weah was largely absent from Liberia during the 1989-2003 civil war period, playing for a string of top-flight European teams including Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.

After running unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2005, when he was defeated by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Mr Weah says he has "gained experience" since becoming a senator in 2014.

Another fruitless run for the vice-presidency on the ticket of presidential candidate Winston Tubman in 2011 brought him to further prominence among the nation's voters, many of whom say this time it is "Weah's turn".

Mr Weah, 51, has put education, job creation and infrastructure at the centre of his platform — in line with Mr Boakai — and won 38.4 per cent of votes in the first round election on October 10, while Mr Boakai came second with 28.8 per cent.

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Younger voters overwhelmingly favour Mr Weah, who is idolised in his country as "Mister George".

A member of the Kru ethnic group, Mr Weah was raised by his grandmother on a reclaimed swamp in one of the worst slums of the capital Monrovia.

"Grassroots citizens identify with George Weah, considering that he is close to their day-to-day experience," explained Mr Ibrahim Al-Bakri Nyei, a Liberian political analyst at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

His critics say the high school dropout, who later completed a degree, is unprepared to lead a country.

"George Weah is a good, humble and respectful person that should not be given the Liberian presidency, because he is being controlled by an evil hand," said Mr Benoni Urey, a losing presidential candidate who switched his allegiance to Mr Boakai.

Mr Urey and others say Mr Weah is being manipulated by President Sirleaf so she can continue to push an agenda when she steps down after 12 years in power.

But many voters see a poor boy from the slums who made good against the odds.


"I believe that whenever we give him a chance, he will be able to give a better Liberia to the youth and the homeless," Mr Andrew Janjay Johnson, a shoeshiner in a Monrovia market, told AFP.

Critics also accuse Mr Weah's Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of having too vague a political platform, and have challenged his long absences from the senate since being elected in a race he won over President Sirleaf's son.

Mr Weah has also fended off barbs over his vice-presidential pick, Jewel Howard-Taylor, the ex-wife of jailed former president and warlord Charles Taylor.

Ms Howard-Taylor, however, is also a respected senator in her own right, bringing him important votes in the key county of Bong, and along with President Sirleaf is one of few powerful women in Liberian public life.

Mr Weah is married to Clar Weah, and his son, Timothy, signed a professional football contract with Paris Saint-Germain in July.