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Four ways Kenyan elections could be rigged — and how to stop it

Posted NIC CHEESEMAN

on  Wednesday, June 14   2017 at  15:12

After a long period during which President Uhuru Kenyatta looked a shoo-in for re-election, Kenya’s presidential race is looking increasingly competitive.

Although the most reliable polls still give the incumbent a strong lead of around six percentage points the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, has the greater momentum.

Following a year in which his poll ratings hovered between 20 per cent and 30 per cent, Mr Odinga has been buoyed by the confirmation that he will be the flag bearer of the main opposition coalition, the National Super Alliance (Nasa). Other prominent alliance leaders have also said they will back his candidacy.

The closer the race becomes, the more Kenyans and those who care about the country will start to worry about election rigging. Both candidates have committed themselves to free and fair polls, but many Kenyans still fear that the process may not be credible.

In large part, this scepticism is a legacy of the events of 2007/8, when flawed polls led to post-election violence that took the lives of over 1,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

Although the 2013 polls were much more peaceful, the process also suffered from a number of shortcomings which led the opposition to reject the official results.

Without prejudging whether the 2017 contest will be clean or not, it’s therefore important to ask how the election might be rigged, and how this could be stopped.

Here are four ways that elections could be rigged.

1. Bring down the technology

In the 2013 elections, the technology used to safeguard the process failed systematically. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) fell back on manual processes.

This meant there was no fingerprint verification to ascertain that the right people were voting, and were only voting once. The breakdown of the technology, and the potential for the manual process to be abused, was a central part of the opposition’s election petition.

Mr Odinga and his colleagues campaigned to make the use of biometric technology compulsory in the run-up to this election. But resistance from the government means that the commission retains the right to fall back on a manual system if the technology breaks down.

This is worrying for two reasons. First, candidates who fear they are losing and know that manual processes are less well insulated from manipulation have an incentive to make the technology fail.

Second, technological problems will be interpreted as a sign of rigging whether or not they are, undermining confidence in the process.

2. Inflate turnout in North-eastern

Electoral turnout in the north-eastern region of Kenya has traditionally been poor. This is because of low population density and the fact that the region has historically been politically and economically marginalised.

Given this, the high official turnout of over 80 per cent in 2013 surprised many. There were suspicions that the turnout may have been artificially inflated by adding ballot papers in the name of voters who did not actually go to the polls.

Ballot box stuffing in the north-eastern part is particularly viable, because it’s the most remote part of the country. It is also an area prone to terrorist attacks. As a result, it is a place that international election monitors tend not to visit, which opens the door to electoral abuse.

3. Set up fake polling streams

Many Kenyan polling stations are split up into a number of “streams” to allow people to be processed more quickly. Another allegation about the 2013 election is that in some cases fake polling streams were set up so fraudulent votes could be added.

The suggestion is that while real voters cast their ballots in one or two real polling streams, the ballots of people who had not turned out were artificially added to a made-up stream and then submitted.

This would be a smart way to rig an election. While the figures for polling stations are often recorded, the exact figures for polling streams are quickly lost.

Indeed, because the results from polling streams are merged to generate polling station totals, which are then merged to generate constituency totals, it is possible to hide suspicious results from a stream — such as turnout in excess of 100 per cent — because once everything is collated the final result may not look that exceptional.

4. Fiddle the figures

One of the classic forms of election rigging is to change the results as they are being transferred from the polling station or constituency level to the national tallying centre.

In 2013, the failure of a new results transmission system run through a mobile phone app generated concerns about electoral manipulation during the vote tallying.

This was especially when it became clear that in some cases the security forces had been deployed to bring results back to Nairobi.

This was also a major source of concern in 2007. European Union monitors found that there were serious discrepancies between the results they observed being released locally and those that were subsequently read out nationally.

How to stop election rigging

There may be no plans afoot to rig the elections, but in matters of such great importance, it is better to be safe than sorry. So how can the process be safeguarded?

When it comes to the risk of the vote being inflated in North-eastern, the answer is straightforward: international election monitors need to overcome their risk aversion and ensure that the region is thoroughly covered.

Deploying a parallel vote tabulation based on a sample of polling stations would also make it possible to tell whether turnout is artificially high.

The solution to the fiddling of election figures is also straightforward, although it will require political will. If the electoral commission agrees to accept the constituency-level results as final — unless there are exceptional cases that would require a full and transparent investigation — domestic observers and the different political parties will be able to record all of the results as they are announced, and use these to ensure that the national total adds up.

That leaves the more tricky issues of fake polling streams and the breakdown of election technology.

It is tempting to think that the solution to a breakdown is a technical one — that if the electoral commission learns from its previous mistakes it will be possible to ensure that the system works. But if the threat to the electoral process is political rather than logistical, better preparations will not help.

It is therefore important for every party to deploy a full set of trained party agents, not just in every polling station but also in every polling stream.

This will ensure that the manual process cannot be abused even if the technology fails, and it will enable any fake polling streams to be identified and reported.

This conclusion is probably not one that the parties themselves will want to hear because it involves a lot of hard work and expense.

But it is the only thing that will guarantee that the outcome of the election represents the will of the people.

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We want Ecowas soldiers out of our village, Gambia's Jammeh loyalists say

Posted BABOUCARR CEESAY in Banjul

on  Tuesday, June 6   2017 at  19:45

Residents of The Gambia'sKanilai village in the West Coast region have renewed their demands for the removal of West African troops, and are now calling for the return of exiled former president Yahya Jammeh.

In January this year, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) deployed its forces to stabilise the country after the long-serving Jammeh refused to cede power when he lost the December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow,leading to a political standoff.

Since then, tension has been high in Kanilai, the home of the former president, with residents insisting that troops serving under the Ecowas Mission in The Gambia (Ecomig) must leave the village over what they term as mistreatment of civilians.

Clashes on Friday June 2, 2017 between Ecomig troops and protestors left one man Haruna Jatta, 63, dead and a number of villagers injured.

Residents told this Africa Review reporter who visited Kanilai on Saturday June 3 that Mr Jatta was shot in the abdomen and died at the Bwain hospital where he was taken for medical attention.

Lala Jammeh, a middle-aged woman who accompanied the deceased to hospital said Mr Jatta was not attended to promptly.

"Jatta was left in the ambulance in the hot sun while bleeding profusely from his abdomen with his intestines sticking out," said Lala. “I tried to use my handkerchief to keep the intestines in place. He was later attended to by a nurse as he cried out for help.”

The deceased's daughter Fatou Jatta, 29, described her father as a "very good man" who earned his livelihood through farming.

“I have no appeal to make to the authorities since they have such powers as to kill my father,” she said as tears rolled freely down her cheeks.

Protests

Witnesses said residents marched to the base of the Ecomig troops at the ex-president Jammeh's mansion in Kanilai during the Friday protests, burning tires along the tarred road while chanting "we want soldiers out!"

Some youths were allegedly armed with weapons such as cutlasses and big sticks.

Upon arriving at the mansion, Ecomig troops allegedly fired shots at the protestors.

Some villagers said there were initial warning shots but the protestors were undeterred. The Police Intervention Unit (PIU) moved in to help quell the riots.

A number of people were arrested and detained at the Sibanor police station in the area.

Sources said almost two dozen people are in custody and more are still being arrested. Many others are fleeing their homes for safety.

Two of the injured protestors are said to be in critical condition at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul where they were admitted.

Govt admission

The public relations officer of the Gambia Armed Force Lt. Col. Omar Bojang said that he was aware of the shooting in the area.

Lt. Colonel Bojang said that the presence of the security forces in Kanilai was to protect the territorial integrity of the country and its people, since the area is near a conflict zone.

He said that the Friday incident occurred due to rising tension between the Ecomig soldiers and area residents - even though there were moments of peaceful encounter between the two groups prior to the shooting - resulting in the injuries of six people and the unfortunate death of one person.

Kanilai borders the restive Casamance region in southern Senegal, which has witnessed more than three decades of rebellion with anti-government forces demanding for independence from the rest of the country.

Violence

However, some residents in Kalinai dispute claims that the protest was violent.

Yusupha Bojang, a young man wearing a T-shirt bearing former president Jammeh’s portrait said the demonstrators were unarmed and peaceful, "but the soldiers shot back using live ammunition."

His sentiments were echoed by David Kujabi, also a resident of of Kanilai, who was carrying a spent AK47 copper bullet allegedly used against the protestors.

“We are advocating for the soldiers to leave because we don’t know and don’t trust their mission here,” said Kujabi, adding that there were complaints from villagers about mistreatment particularly towards children and the elderly.

Ebou Jammeh, an aide to the Kanilai village head Bakary Jammeh said that children were no longer attending school due to the volatile security situation.

“We cannot be comfortable seeing soldiers armed to the teeth in our village and roaming our streets,” Ebou said.

He said they want the soldiers to vacate their village, adding that Kalinai had never experienced such military presence during Jammeh’s time. He said residents feel that the return of the former president would pacify the region.

“The worst are the Senegalese forces; the Gambian soldiers are a bit friendly,” said Ebou.

Ecomig is composed of Senegalese, Ghanaian, Malian, Togolese and Nigerian forces.

Amicable solution

A councillor Kaddy Badjie condemned the presence of Ecomig in the West Coast region.

“Is Kanilai in particular and Foni as a whole a threat to the new government,” she questioned?

National Assembly member for Foni Musa Amul Nyassi said the residents of Kanilai have expressed fears due to the heavy military presence.

He said he received complaints from the residents that the Ecomig soldiers at Kangfenda hold their people hostage and tell them to perform “monkey dances” as punishment.

He added that had he known about the the situation earlier he would have intervened and pushed for an amicable solution to the problem that has now morphed into a fierce confrontation between the residents and the military.

“I am advising the residents to remain calm, peace-loving and law-abiding as a way to nurture peace and stability,” said Nyassi.

He also appealed to the authorities to resolve the situation amicably.

“The former President Jammeh before his departure said that he will not allow the security, peace and stability of The Gambia to be compromised,” Nyassi said.
Political party Gambia Democratic Congress led by Mamma Kandeh also condemned the killing of "an unarmed civilian" in Kanilai.

“The use of firearms was unnecessary to quell a peaceful demonstration by civilians and defeats the purpose of fighting against 22 years of misrule,” said a statement issued by the party.

GDC described the incident as a catastrophic intelligence failure that "demonstrates government's failure to stitch together our much divided society," adding that the government’s "snail pace efforts towards reconciliation will only further divide our society."

GDC extended its condolences to the families of the victims and urged government to investigate the incident and address the situation without delay.

Justification

On his part, Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty said that Ecomig forces would not have been in The Gambia, had the former president accepted the will of the people and peacefully handed over power to a newly elected democratic government.

He said every citizen and every part of The Gambian territory is subject to the law.

“Reports reveal that groups of civilians armed with traditional weapons proactively engage members of the security forces in the area, make demands one of which is the removal of security personnel from Kanilai in particular the Ecomig forces,” said the minister.

He added that no part of Gambia shall be permitted to be an island in as far as enforcing the law is concerned.

“Impunity shall not be accepted from any community or settlement in the Gambia,” said Mr Fatty.

“A security situation existed which necessitated the interventions of Ecowas, which led to the presence of Ecowas troops in The Gambia,” he said.

Mr Fatty described Ecomig forces as Gambia’s guests.

“Ecomig is here to support Gambia’s security stabilisation so that the country can consolidate its democratic gains in accordance with international rules of engagement,” said Mr Fatty

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The mystery behind Rwanda's road carnage

Posted JOHNSON KANAMUGIRE and LEONCE MYUNYI in Kigali

on  Sunday, June 4   2017 at  14:11

A recent accident involving a coaster bus plying Rwanda's upcountry route has rekindled fears about public transport safety in the country.

It also brings to light simmering frustrations among long distance drivers over what they term exploitative employment terms imposed by operators.

The accident, which happened last weekend, claimed 14 passengers. It involved a speeding coaster owned by Kigali Safari, which was coming from Musanze, Northern Province, heading to Kigali. It rammed into an oncoming vehicle in Shyorongi, while descending to the city.

The grisly accident is one of the many blamed on speeding drivers plying upcountry routes who seek to cover as many trips as possible in a bid to earn more — sometimes not getting enough rest.

Eye witnesses said the driver was speeding, despite upcountry buses being fitted with speed governors.

The spokesperson of the Traffic Police Department at Rwanda National Police, Mr Emmanuel Kabanda, could not confirm whether the bus was speeding, but said investigations were ongoing.

Emergency services

“At this point, we are still investigating the cause, but one of them points to an oncoming vehicle being in the wrong. We confirmed 14 passengers died from the accident,” Mr Kabanda said.

Following the head-on collision, the mangled bus rolled down the steep Shyorongi hill and it took police and other emergency services hours to recover the bodies.

The scramble for passengers and the rush to make the required trips, as well as meeting daily revenue targets has, in most instances, been blamed for drivers’ haste, resulting in crashes and breach of traffic rules in the city and upcountry roads.

A field survey by Rwanda Today showed total disregard for the country’s labour provisions in the transport sector where many drivers get only three to four hours of sleep per night and are not paid for the overtime.

The drivers said they are working without contracts or insurance, while getting little pay that is subject to illegal deductions.

While drivers’ monthly salaries range between Rwf70,000 and Rwf120,000, most end up taking home as low as Rwf15,000 because employers force them to take responsibility for charges on traffic offences as well as compensating for unmet targets.

In Kigali City, for instance, drivers of the popular 35-seater coasters are given a target of ferrying between 750 and 850 passengers each day, failure to which the money is deducted from their pay.

Your employer

“If you get into an accident and are hospitalised for two or three months, you don’t get medical or accident cover from your employer. When you recover and come back to work, you find that your position has been given to someone else,” said Omar Innocent Nshyimiyimana.

Due to the high unemployment rate in the country coupled with stiff competition in the transport sector, operators only hire drivers who are willing to accept these difficult terms and verbal contracts.

Young drivers are the most preferred because in most cases they are willing to work under these conditions.

According to drivers, attempts to raise their concerns result in them being fired in most cases.

Mr Dieudonne Karege, a former driver, told Rwanda Today he was sacked for voicing his grievances after his employer denied him a copy of the terms of employment he had been told to sign.

A court case

Contracts are said to contain clauses considered unfavourable for drivers hence why some employers fear they could be used against them or be the basis for a court case.

Mr Karege said not having a copy of the contract denied him the chance to take his case to court after he was fired.

About 1,200 drivers claim to have been illegally sacked from Belvedere Lines, Sotra Tours and Impala Travel Agency, which are transport companies that closed down.

The former drivers come together under an association called PRODCO that seeks to advocate for drivers’ rights. However, attempts by other drivers to join PRODCO attract harsh action from employers.

“Most of the affected drivers fear to raise their grievances because when their bosses find out, they get fired,” said one of the drivers, adding that transport companies make sure that they block workers from joining trade unions.

A few upcountry transport operators grant drivers two days off in a week, but only during off peak hours. Majority of the drivers in Kigali like John Gitore, who has been working in this sector for more than 10 years, reported living with prolonged fatigue as they are usually overworked. They start work at 1am and report back as early as 4am.

Hit targets

The fatigue, coupled with speeding and the need to hit targets, are blamed for the accidents which put passenger’s lives at risk.

Transport Regulator Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) estimates a sharp increase in the number of passengers using public transport from 250,000 people in 2013 to 450,000 people last year.

Rwanda Today could not establish if anything was being done about the driver’ concerns since concerned government officials were not available for comment by press time.

However, public transport owners’ association (ATPR) chairperson Eric Ruhamiriza, said no claim of unlawful working conditions had been brought to their attention.

RURA had touted the awaited use of Drivers Vocational Cards in public transport as likely to contribute to improving drivers’ working conditions since employer-employee job terms would be the basis for issuing the card.

Mr Kabanda said initiatives such as the use of cashless payment systems, installation of speed governors and the just-introduced vocational cards were being used to curb accidents and bad driving habits.

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The Dangote answer to Nigeria's oil crisis

Posted MOHAMMED MOMOH in Abuja

on  Tuesday, May 23   2017 at  10:56

The completion of the Dangote Refinery in 2019 will mark another milestone in the Nigerian oil and gas industry.

The refinery is being built by Mr Aliko Dangote, the founder of the Dangote Group of Companies and the richest man in Africa.

The $14 billion refinery will produce 650,000 barrels per day of refined petroleum products to meet all Nigeria’s needs, as well as for export.

It holds the prospects of stopping the importation of refined petroleum products by the African giant.

The resource base

The West African state spent N2.59 trillion to import refined petroleum products in 2016, according to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. Mr Dangote said that the refinery projects were primarily meant to diversify the resource base of Nigeria.

"This is the biggest industrial site anywhere in the world from the fertiliser, petrochemical and refinery plants.

"Our refinery will be 1.5 times the capacity of all the existing four refineries in the country, even if they are working at 100 per cent capacity.

Fertiliser plants

"This is the single largest refinery in the world. The petrochemical that we have is 13 times bigger than the Eleme Petrochemical built by the government,” Mr Dangote said.

Acting President Yemi Osinbajo described the project as an incredible industrial undertaking, possibly the largest and most ambitious on the continent.

Apart from refining crude oil, the Dangote Refinery will also have petrochemical and fertiliser plants.

An Executive Director in the Dangote Group, Mr Mansur Ahmed, said the plant would process 1.3 million metric tonnes per annum of petrochemical products.

The fertiliser plant will produce 2.8 million metric tonnes of assorted fertiliser, while the gas plant will produce three million cubic metres of gas per annum.

The refinery will also have the largest sub-sea pipeline infrastructure in the world, with capacity to handle three billion cubic metres of oil annually.

The project is located in Lekki Free Trade Zone on 2,200 hectares, an area eight times bigger than the entire Victoria Island in Lagos.

According to Mr Mansur, the first phase of the plant will be ready by the end of 2017, the second by the end of 2018, while the third and the inauguration of the refinery will be in 2019.

It is regrettable that Nigeria, with large oil reserves and being the largest crude oil producer and exporter in Africa and eighth in the world, still imports more than 80 per cent of its petroleum products.

The capacity

The country often experienced fuel shortages due to the poor state of its refineries. All the three refineries, operated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), were producing far below their capacity.

The Port Harcourt Refinery has 10.500 million mt/y (metric tonnes per year) capacity of refined products, but it was producing at less than 20 per cent of the capacity.

The Kaduna Refinery, built in 1980, has capacity to produce 5.5 million mt/y (110,000 b/d), while Warri Refinery, built in 1978, can produce 6.2 million mt/y (125,000b/d) of refined products.

With the Dangote Group on board, Nigeria will now host one of the largest refineries in the world after the Jamnagar Refinery in Gujarat, India, the world's largest, which produces 1,240,000 barrels per day.

Syndicated loan

The Dangote Refinery will be the biggest in Africa taking over from the South Africa’s Sapref Refinery, which produces 180,000 barrels per day and Cairo’s Mostorod with a capacity of 142,000 barrels per day

Mr Dangote has already provided $7 billion in equity out the $14 billion estimated total cost of the project.

Some Nigerian banks provided a syndicated loan of $3.3 billion for the project.

The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) has also promised to assist the Dangote Group to access foreign funding for the project.

Afreximbank President Okey Oramah gave the assurance during a tour of the project with the bank’s board members in 2016.

Is delivered

Dr Oramah said the board members decided to visit the Dangote Group to assess the project for possible financial assistance.

He said the Dangote Group was making tremendous impact across the continent, which included in Tanzania, Gambia, Zambia and Niger.

“We are supporting them in what they are doing in those countries, so we are equally supporting them in this ongoing project, so it is important for the Board of Directors of Afreximbank to pay a courtesy visit to the site.

“It is important to come and see first-hand the project that is ongoing because we are also planning to support them to ensure the project is delivered on scheduled," said Dr Oramah.

Some other private investors were still visiting the project site to evaluate the facilities with the prospect of investing in the project.

The likely benefits of the Dangote Refinery to Nigeria are diverse.

Mr Dangote said that the project would save the country about $7.5 billion annually in foreign exchange being used to import petroleum products and also generate $5 billion foreign exchange earnings annually.

The plant, according to him, will generate over 100,000 employment opportunities and revive over 11,000 filling stations that had been shut due to shortage of products.

Dangote said that the refinery would lower the price of petrol products in Nigeria and save some costs incurred in importation.

He urged the Federal Government to pursue the diversification programme, to wean Nigeria from heavy reliance on crude oil export.

According to him, the best way to diversify the economy was through agriculture and “our fertiliser plant is in line with that goal”.

Export gas

“By the time we finish out gas pipeline, it can generate about 12,000mw and we can export gas to other African countries.

“We would have the capacity to store four billion litres of products and can load 2,680 trucks per day.”

The Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, said the project would create some 235,000 jobs both directly and indirectly.

He said the project would boost the economy of Lagos and entire Nigeria through its multiplier effects.

Eliminate problems

The Independent Petroleum Marketers of Nigeria (IPMAN) National President, Mr Chinedu Okoronkwo, described the Dangote Refinery as a welcome development.

He said it would ease operations of marketers and help to reduce their costs, stressing that the association had long been calling for total deregulation of the sector.

Mr Okoronkwo said that the new refinery would also boost industrialisation in the country.

The President of Nigerian Association of Petroleum Explorationists, Mr Abiodun Adesanya, said the refinery would eliminate problems associated with fuel importation, create competition and generate employment.

He said that the success of Dangote Refinery was an indication that the Nigerian private sector could make commercial success of refineries.

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Millions of dollars at play as Kenyans go into their most expensive election yet

Posted ERICK ODUOR

on  Monday, May 22   2017 at  20:07

International propagandists, bulging campaign kitties and investments in modern technology are the key factors driving the campaigns of Kenya’s main political groupings — the Jubilee Party and National Super Alliance — in the run-up to the August 8 polls.

Both Jubilee and Nasa have crafted classy campaign strategies, whose implementation, analysts said, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement beginning May 28, when the official campaign period kicks off.

According to Johnson Sakaja, a statistician and former chairman of The National Alliance, the party that catapulted President Uhuru Kenyatta to power in 2013, a successful presidential campaign requires about Ksh5 billion ($50 million).

“Sometimes this figure can go up. Media and publicity take the lion’s share of the budget,” said Mr Sakaja, who is flying the Jubilee flag in the Nairobi senatorial race.

Other major budget items are campaign merchandise, advertising, communications, transport, research, human resources, event organising and operations.

In addition, leading politicians have also bought helicopters and four wheel vehicles to ease their movements across the country during the campaign period. Hiring a helicopter costs about $2,500 per hour, inclusive of fuel and the pilot’s remuneration.

A campaign budget for a gubernatorial aspirant for the just concluded party primaries seen by The EastAfrican for a county in rural Kenya was rounded off at Ksh300 million ($3 million) but the figure will double when official campaigns begin. This means that to become a governor, a candidate should have at least Ksh600 million ($6 million) to mount a successful campaign.

Independent candidates

To become a Member of Parliament, three aspirants who participated in the just concluded party primaries said one needs at least Ksh15 million ($15,000) to mount a successful campaign.

However, this figure could change depending on size of the constituency and its population dynamics. The emergence of independent candidates is also said to have pushed up the cost of campaigns, because a candidate who has won party primaries will end up facing the same opponents in the August 8 polls.

The leading two political groupings have resource mobilisation teams, mainly comprising leading business moguls who help presidential candidates raise the millions needed for campaign.

Nasa’s team is led by businessman Jimmy Wanjigi, who midwifed the Jubilee Coalition but later fell out with President Kenyatta’s allies while President Kenyatta is being backed by billionaires from his Mount Kenya backyard under the aegis of Mount

Kenya Foundation in addition to his family’s vast business empire.

Mr Wanjigi avoided the limelight during former regime but attended the unveiling of the Nasa presidential candidate at Uhuru Park in Nairobi last month, leading to a propaganda blitz from Jubilee supporters, who printed banners that were displayed along major highways in Nairobi last Thursday to castigate his political leanings.

Sources of funding and budgets are closely guarded secrets, however, the recent admission by a US-based lobby Vanguard Africa, that it is working with the opposition raised speculation that Mr Odinga could have sought and received financial and technical support.

In March, Vanguard Africa invited Mr Odinga to the US for a visit during which roundtable talks were arranged with leaders of think tanks focusing on Africa in Washington.

Political parties maintain that their campaign finances are generated mainly from party activities like membership fees, monthly contributions by elected leaders, fund-raising and donations from well-wishers and supporters. For instance, in 2007, retired President Mwai Kibaki fundraised for his re-election at a Ksh1 million ($10,000) per plate dinner.

Political parties also receive funding from the exchequer to run their programmes, depending on their performance in the previous election.

According to the Political Parties Act, a party must have garnered at least three per cent of the total votes cast in a general election to qualify for funding by the exchequer. In the 2014/2015 financial year figures, the National Alliance received $866,679, the Orange Democratic Movement $848,239 and United Republican Party $273,688 on the basis of their strengths in parliament.

Fundraising, Mr Sakaja says, is critical in politics due to the high stakes and costly expenditure during the campaigns.

“People raise funds from friends and people both locally and abroad,” said Mr Sakaja.

Sources close to the leading political parties say a lacuna in the law will see campaign funds hit a record high, given the increased stakes, investment in international experts and modern technology to spearhead campaigns and monitor voting and transmission of results at the polling stations.

Law is changed

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) had capped the budget for the presidential campaign but parliament and Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga opposed the regulations, saying they were not backed by law.

Amendments to the Elections Act in December last year sealed the fate of the IEBC in regulating campaign cash after MPs ganged up to repeal the Elections Campaign Financing Act.

“There is no way IEBC can monitor campaigns funds this year. Perhaps beginning with the 2022 polls, if the law is changed,” said Andrew Limo, IEBC communications manager.

According to earlier regulations, political parties could receive up to Ksh15.03 billion ($148.2 million) in contributions with a single source limited to Ksh3 billion ($29.5 million). Presidential candidates were limited to spending Ksh5.25 billion ($51.8 million) while those contesting for the governor/senator/women’s representative seats allowed to spend up to Ksh433 million ($4.3 million).

The Parliamentary Committee on Delegated Legislation and that of Legal Affairs and Administration of Justice then raised the red flag, saying the regulations were not backed by any law, setting the stage for amendments to the Elections Act that rendered them null and void.

To craft strategies, sources revealed, parties have already acquired services of reputable international information and communication technology and campaign experts to work with their local counterparts. To these teams goes the task of crafting and monitoring implementation of campaign strategy.

While Nasa on Wednesday, appointed Nairobi-based lawyer Willis Otieno to head its campaign secretariat, a team of experts is working from separate locations around Nairobi to deliver on various assignments.

Kibisu Kabatesi, spokesman of Musalia Mudavadi, one of the Nasa principals, said the opposition already has a team of international and local experts working on a campaign strategy, which will be handed to the co-principals at the end of the week to pave the way for gradual implementation.

“A team of local and international experts are working on our strategy, which we hope will be ready by the end of this week. We are going to match Jubilee’s tonnes of campaign cash because we have majority of Kenyans behind us,” said Mr Kabatesi.

President Kenyatta, on the other hand, is relying on services of a British consultancy firm SCL Elections to work with the Jubilee Party secretariat headed by Raphael Tuju to deliver victory.

According to information available on its website, SCL focuses on several electoral areas — research, analysis of data, campaign strategy, communications, party organisation, budgeting and fundraising.

In Kenya’s last general election, SCL Elections handled President Kenyatta’s communications, branding and policy formulation.

“We’ve worked with brands, political organisations and advocacy groups all over the world, and our methodology has been approved by the US State Department, Sandia National Laboratories and Nato,” SCL says on its website.

The government has been jittery about foreign funding of political activities including civic education, even going as far as freezing bank accounts of foundations run by key opposition leaders — Kalonzo Musyoka and Nairobi Governor Dr Evans Kidero — over what it termed lack of accountability for millions of dollars they had received.

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The luxury business of bespoke menswear

Posted CHRISTINE MUNGAI

on  Monday, May 22   2017 at  19:06

Little Red is a East African luxury-clothing retailer based in Nairobi that is not only one of the city’s iconic stores for high-end menswear, but also among the oldest. Founded by Abdulla Fazal in the early 1950s, the store now is in its fourth generation of operation.

The story of this remarkable business isn’t just that of the resilience of its owners. Among the sleek designs and luxurious fabrics, you will also find the story of the evolution of the urban East African man, and how demographic change is shaping consumer preferences and business practice.

Today, the generation of young Kenyans in their early-to-mid 30s, those just settling into the rhythms of adult life, have something unique about them.

Between 1980 and 1985 — around the time this group was born — Kenya’s population growth rate was at an astonishing 3.8 per cent, the highest, not only in Africa, but also globally. At the time, Kenya was the youngest country in the world.

Those babies are all grown up now, and as they adopt the habits and style of adulthood, that huge population cohort is a lucrative business opportunity for retailers like Little Red, who have had to customise their product offerings to the young, upwardly mobile urban professional.

Just a decade ago, their primary customer was older, more conservative, and less exposed to global trends in fashion menswear.

Managing director Aziz Fazal describes the shift.

Shoes and accessories

“We are a fourth-generation business, and now we are dealing with fourth-generation client, 25-35-year olds who are well educated, well travelled and highly paid,” Fazal tells The EastAfrican.

“This group takes fashion seriously. Everything — the suits, ties, shoes and accessories — has to be sleek and trendy, they want the full GQ Magazine look.”

It means that Hugo Boss suits — a brand marketed globally to appeal to the young, trendy, discerning man — are now among Little Red’s best sellers, when this wasn’t the case even a few years ago.

It also doesn’t hurt that Hugo Boss is on the more affordable end of the luxury spectrum, at about $800 to $1,200 apiece, and so is relatively accessible to the younger demographic.

“Hugo Boss is a visible brand, worn by today’s celebrities and athletes,” Mr Fazal explains.

“It is good value at a good price range, and it is where most of our younger customers begin their commitment to luxury menswear.”

It is from here, Mr Fazal explains, that customers begin to evolve into a more classic look.

The higher levels

“In their mid-30s, we see customers leaning towards designers like Armani, known for finer fabric and a more refined cut. The price range for an Armani suit here is $1,800 to $2,400.

The next step is around age 40, when a professional is now ascending into the higher levels of management, moving towards making partner at their law firm, or getting into the C-suite corner office.

Here, the shift is towards brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, which are more elegant and clean. Unlike Hugo Boss, Zegna is not a trendy brand; it is more known for its classic, timeless designs. Off the rail, a Zegna will set one back $2,200 to $3,800.

Armani and Zegna customers will also typically begin to be invited to international conferences and seminars, where they need to look the part, and be also comfortable for the season.

For this reason, Little Red now stocks winter wear, with everything from trench coats and overcoats its gloves and wool scarves available for travel during the winter season.

The ultimate step in the evolution of elegant menswear is when one begins to wear brands like Brioni and Stefano Ricci, which typically happens in the late 40s to early 50s and beyond, Fazal tells The EastAfrican.

“At this point, bonuses and serious money have begun to kick in – we’re talking the owners of blue-chip firms, banks and insurance companies, presidents and high-flying ministers,” he says.

Mr Fazal describes Brioni as the “Rolls Royce of the suit world,” with exquisite styling on everything from on the inside of the jacket to hand-stitched buttonholes.

Even the New Zealand sheep that provide the wool for the suits have to be reared under precise conditions, and their wool sheared in a temperature-controlled environment.

“You can tell a Brioni by sight, by the way the shoulders fit and the way the entire suit falls on the body.

When you lift your arm, for example, the fabric under the arm and on the back of the neck does not bunch up — it is almost like wearing a second skin.”

A Brioni retails at least $4,000 a piece, and can be even up to $8,000.

Noisy and bustling

Many of Little Red’s Zegna and Brioni-level customers find the store environment too noisy and bustling for their liking.

For this reason, Little Red has set up a showroom house on a quiet corner off Riverside Drive — an upmarket suburb of Nairobi — where one can come and do a fitting in a more private, serene environment.

The company converted a private home into a luxury menswear studio, complete with a fireplace, sofa sets and a lush garden.

Three to four times a year, a master tailor is flown in to the studio from Italy, to take the measurements of select clients in order to create custom-made suits — the epitome of the bespoke experience.

There is a waiting list, so one has to apply to secure a spot with the master tailor. With fixed prices and no discounts, most of Little Red’s customers pay by credit card, Mr Fazal says, and there is not much window-shopping, even for those who would be interested in the “more affordable” brands such as Hugo Boss. When one enters a luxury store like Little Red, they are there to buy.

Wander around aimlessly

It is part of the psychology of luxury retail. Window shopping, bargaining and haggling for a discount is acceptable at a department store or street market. But once you enter a store where jackets retail at $3,000 apiece, you had better know what you are getting yourself into. It would be distasteful to wander around aimlessly or – worse – try and bring the price down. Although not many clients are on that bespoke, Brioni tailor-made circuit, Fazal sees the shifting demographic as a huge opportunity in the future. Today, half the country’s population is under the age of 19.

“The 19-24 year olds are the biggest consumer segment in this country, relatively speaking, says Fazal.

“In five years’ time, they will be at the entry point of Hugo Boss; in ten years’ time, we are looking at future Armani and Zegna customers.

If we keep on this trend of economic growth, increasing incomes, education and exposure, Little Red will be in business for a long time to come.”

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Woman vows to soldier on in race for Rwanda presidency

Posted The EASTAFRICAN

on  Thursday, May 18   2017 at  15:16

Ever since Diane Shima Rwigara came out to express her political views — and later declared her intention to run for president of Rwanda in the August 4 elections — the 35-year-old has attracted praise and criticism in equal measure.

One week after nude photographs — which she has disowned — were circulated on social media a day after she announced her presidential bid, Ms Rwigara says she will not be deterred: “I will not stop. I am going to continue with my preparations. The incident made me stronger, more resilient and determined to continue with this cause,” she told The EastAfrican.

The photographs were released through an email titled “the shameless acts of Diane Shima Rwigara who wants to contest for presidency”, with the sender adding “look at our presidential candidate”.

Were doctored

The sender identified himself/herself as Emmy Twahirwa and claimed to be a journalist.

Robert Mugabe, a journalist who has reportedly been associated with Ms Rwigara, later stated on Facebook that the photos were doctored and were the work of her detractors.

Following that, Ms Rwigara took a few days off the public scene and later told The EastAfrican that the photographs were manipulated.

The incident elicited sympathy for the US-educated activist-turned politician, with many condemning the act of shaming her and others called for investigation.

No government agency has commented on the nudes scandal nor has any official come out to publicly condemn the sharing of the photos or denounce the presidential hopeful over her supposed “questionable integrity”.

But Ms Rwigara, who on May 10 went to the National Electoral Commission to present the list of people who will sign for her and pick documents needed for the purpose, attracted wide coverage.

As an independent candidate, she must raise 600 signatures, at least 20 from each of the 30 districts. She believes that once she makes it to the ballot, she would make a good case and race against President Paul Kagame, who is widely expected to win the August 4 polls with a landslide.

Ms Rwigara, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance from the California State University, Sacramento and a master’s degree in accounting from California State University, San Francisco, has surprised many with her boldness.

Engage in politics

On February 23, she held a press conference where she described herself as a “concerned Rwandan and activist” but denied intending to engage in politics. She highlighted several issues the country was facing that she said needed to be addressed urgently.

Among these, she said, were the growing levels of poverty and hunger, which she said the government did not want to recognise, let alone address.

“I am neither a politician nor a member of any political party,” Ms Rwigara told The EastAfrican shortly after the press conference, adding that she decided to speak out about the issues “because no one else appeared willing to speak about them”.

On May 3, she called another press conference, during which she announced her intention to pit candidature against President Kagame.

No freedom of press

“The reason I am contesting is because our country has a stained past. The RPF government has achieved a number of things, attempted to deliver on others but completely failed on several aspects. Rwandans still face many challenges including poverty, hunger and injustices in all sections of the society,” she said.

Ms Rwigara also said there was no freedom of press and expression in Rwanda, pointing out that none of the media were critical while those who tried to criticise the government often ended up in trouble, pointing out that she was ready to raise those concerns on behalf of the people.

“We have cases of insecurity as people disappear without trace, some are killed while others flee the country. Most Rwandans know these but won’t speak out because of fear,” she said.

Indeed, her move caught many off-guard, in a country where many people prefer silence rather than point out issues affecting them. A lot of talk followed her press conference, with many wondering where she got the guts to run for the country’s highest office.

Several other prospective candidates have announced similar intentions for the top job in Rwanda, among them Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, former journalist Philippe Mpayimana and Gilbert Mwenedata, who will contest as independent candidates.

Injustices

The daughter of Assinapol Rwigara, a prominent businessman and RPF member, who died in February 2015 in an accident, Ms Rwigara maintains that her political ambitions were her personal decision and should not be in any way connected to her family.

The embattled family has been in the limelight since the passing on of the tycoon after it contested the police version of the circumstances under which Mr Rwigara died. They went as far as petitioning President Kagame to call for an inquiry into the death.

Since then, the family found itself in trouble when Kigali city authorities demolished a hotel of the deceased businessman because “it did not have the necessary permits”. Several of Mr Rwigara’s properties were also repossessed by the City of Kigali administration.

An exiled group

Ms Rwigara maintains that she is not driven by anger or disgruntled by events surrounding her family, but says the manner in which her father died are some of the injustices she is willing to fight to correct.

Her bid has not been helped by support from ‘renowned enemies’ of Kigali, including members of the Rwanda National Congress, an exiled group which Rwanda refers to as a criminal organisation, and of which one of her exiled uncles Benjamin Rutabana is a member.

Ms Rwigara denies being a member of the group or any other political party, existing inside or outside the country.

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Be cautious if you must visit South Africa

Posted PETER DUBE in Pretoria

on  Tuesday, May 16   2017 at  11:15

South Africa is seemingly at odds with the rest of Africa and, probably, the world over a rising wave of crime and sporadic attacks on foreign nationals.

In recent weeks, at least three countries including Kenya issued travel alerts to their citizens.

Understandably, according to data released by the South African police at the end of March, over 960,000 serious crimes were reported to the police between April and December 2016, averaging over 3,550 cases every day – or 148 every hour.

The biggest increase has happened in the contact crime category, where robbery with aggravating circumstances, including carjacking, showing an increase of 6.1 per cent.

With this, the so-called ‘trio crimes’ – carjacking, robbery at home and robbery at non-residential premises – all saw huge increases across all crime categories.

Strong message

Foreign nationals have not been spared, hence some countries cautioning their citizens intending to visit the Rainbow nation.

Kenya had a more pronounced advisory after its Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Monica Juma warned of increased cases of armed robberies, carjacking, theft, burglary, kidnap, rape and mugging.

“The most worrying element of this crime wave is the rising number of incidents of attacks within the vicinity of hotels,” Dr Juma said.

She added that the diplomatic community was being openly attacked in residential areas and in the central business district.

The African Diaspora Forum (ADF) chairperson, Mr Marc Gbaffou said the travel warnings were a very strong message to the South African government that the world was watching.

“It’s quite disappointing to hear the remarks that authorities will make publicly about issues like xenophobic attacks. It shows the world that visitors are not protected in the country,” Mr Gbaffou said.

Three months ago, houses belonging to migrants were burnt down in Rosettenville, south of Johannesburg and in Pretoria west.

Several businesses belonging to foreign nationals were also attacked by locals, who looted them.

Dr Juma’s letter blames South African authorities for failing to stop the wave of attacks, despite the crime reports being filed with the police.

“We need to bring to the attention of all official delegations or members of public travelling to South Africa on duty or official assignments to be cautious,” the letter says.

The Kenya advisory advises visitors to arrive in South Africa before 6pm and book accommodation in well-established areas and avoid travelling in public service vehicles.

Sexual assault

Ironically, the letter is dated April 24, the same day the UK issued a travel advisory against South Africa.

“There is a very high level of crime, including rape and murder in South Africa,” the UK says in its travel warning.

South Africa has one of the highest rape statistics in the world, with 30,069 sexual assault cases reported between April and December 2016.

An NGO that helps rape victims, Rape Crisis said “most cases went unreported because victims have lost faith in the country’s justice system”.

A 35-year-old Zimbabwean woman has been clamouring over how the police have neglected a case of rape she reported against a prominent figure.

Sensible precautions

“I am aggrieved with the way the police have handled my case. The person assigned to investigate my case told me that I do not have a case and l feel that it is not the place of the police to decide on whether or not I have a case. Theirs is to investigate and collect all evidence, which they have dragged their feet in doing,” she said.

The UK’s advisory further said the most violent crimes tend to occur in townships, remote and isolated areas and away from the normal tourist destinations.

Nyanga, a notorious township in Cape Town, and Tembisa in Johannesburg, are the murder capitals in South Africa, recording the highest cases every year.

“Most visits to South Africa are trouble-free, but you should take sensible precautions to protect your safety,” the UK advisory read.

Canada also issued a travel advisory against South Africa. On May 2, the North American state said it had not issued a nationwide advisory for South Africa, but warned its citizens “to exercise a high degree of caution due to the significant level of serious crime”.

South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Corporation (DIRCO) slammed Kenya for its alert.

DIRCO spokesperson Clayson Monyela said he noted with concern the manner in which the Kenya alert had distorted information and randomly elevated issues which were inconsistent with the main thrust of bilateral relations between the two countries.

“The South African authorities will continue to seek further clarity on the matter from their Kenyan counterparts.

South Africa wishes to emphasise that Kenyan citizens continue to travel to South Africa on a daily basis as well as official and business visits, with only three incidences reported to the South African authorities,” Mr Monyela said.

He added that South Africa was home to more than 3,000 Kenyan students who lived and studied in an environment free of harassment.

“South Africa wishes to recall the historic State Visit to Kenya in October 2016, which was hailed as a remarkable success following the signing of five new agreements. The signing of these agreements is a demonstration of the collective determination to take our bilateral relations to a higher level.”

Wreaking havoc

A fortnight ago, South Africa’s Police minister Fikile Mbalula, sparked a spate with neighbouring Zimbabwe when he said Zimbabwean ex-soldiers were wreaking havoc across South Africa, committing violent crime including robberies.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador Isaac Moyo, promptly hit back saying the minister’s remarks were irresponsible.

“We cannot accept the many ill-informed elements in the said statement and we deeply regret that they were made without due regard to their accuracy,” he said.

Two months ago, Nigeria called on the African Union (UN) to intervene over the renewed xenophobia attacks in South Africa.

Safety of visitors

The Nigerian government said it had it on record that 16 of their nationals had been killed in South Africa in the last two years.

“This is unacceptable to the people and government of Nigeria,” read an emailed statement.

Mr Gbaffou believes how South Africa handled concerns about the safety of visitors and migrants was critical to its relations with other nations.

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Is Africa’s development real or an illusion?

Posted CHARLES OMONDI

on  Thursday, May 4   2017 at  17:46

Kenya's telcom giant Safaricom CEO Bob Collymore and former African Development Bank (AfDB) President Donald Kaberuka were at the 2017 Mo Ibrahim Foundation annual Governance Weekend conference on April 7. Their business was to convince a huge audience that Africa’s development was real and not an illusion as held in some quarters.

On the opposite side were Ms Vera Songwe, the head of International Finance Corporation (IFC) in West and Central Africa, and Mr Mohammed Ould Bouamatou, the founder of Foundation Pour l’Egalite de Chances en Afrique. The 63-year-old self-made Mauritanian is also a leading business man.

The umpire

Mr Patrick Smith, the Editor of Africa Report, was the umpire.

By a show of hands, the audience voted for or against the notion that Africa’s development was an illusion. The vote would be conducted again at the end of the debate to determine those swayed by the respective arguments to change their positions.

The Afro-Optimists, the believers that Africa’s development was real, easily won the first vote. The victory was probably because the voters were genuine or were merely being ‘patriotic’ by not being seen to have lost faith in sweet mother Africa.

Service industry

To Dr Kaberuka, things were looking up for Africa, but a lot of people tended to focus more and erroneously on the continent’s two giants, Nigeria and South Africa, whose economies were currently headed south. Outside of the two and in a few conflict zones, the rest of Africa was doing great, Dr Kaberuka asserted.

In particular, Dr Kaberuka pointed out, there was phenomenal growth in the service industry, even if manufacturing and agriculture were not as vibrant.
Fewer businesses, Dr Kabeuka went on, had closed shop in Africa in the recent past, compared to Russia and Mongolia. Even Africa’s bludgeoning population was a positive as there could be no development without the requisite human resource.

To Ms Songwe, even agriculture, the mainstay of the African economy, was limping. Though the sector employed 70 per cent of the population, they only worked for three months a year, as their activities were dependent on human labour and the forces of nature.

How could Africa’s development be real when it was home to half of the total 746 million people who lived in extreme poverty globally? She posed.

That some 600 million Africans lived in darkness, having no access to electricity, which is the main driver of modern economies, was a further confirmation that Africa’s development was an illusion, Ms Songwe went on.

The glitzy airports and shopping malls that Africa’s elite were directing immense resources to, made no meaning to the majority, Ms Songwe reckoned.

The magic wand

“Africa’s development is an illusion because the majority were excluded from the economy,” Ms Songwe emphasised.

“We are not growing with equity and for as long as there is no equity, Africa’s development remains an illusion, she said, pointing out that China had demonstrated that the magic wand lay in equity in development, and Mauritius and Namibia were following suit.

Mr Collymore pointed out that Africa has the fastest rate of urbanisation and boasts a consumer trend valued at $4 trillion, hence it was on the right development trajectory.

Good governance was taking root on the continent and beginning to pay dividend according to the mobile telephone firm boss.

The economies

He also reckoned that Africa was increasingly adopting policies promoting diversification of the economies, many of which were no longer defined by commodities alone.

A new whole range of economic powers had emerged in Africa, according to Mr Collymore, who went on to give the example of new light manufacturing relocating from China to Ethiopia.

Then Mr Bouamatou jumped in to explain why to him, Africa’s development was an illusion. That the continent watched almost helplessly as the Ebola epidemic threatened to decimate its populations in West Africa recently, was enough proof that real development was yet to be realised, explained the Mauritanian.

Four more votes

Run-away impunity defined the continent, a real impediment to any meaningful development, Mr Bouamatou said.

He capped his arguments with the detailed account of how terrorists and militant groups were laying waste vast swathes of Africa. From the Boko Haram in the West to the Al-Shabaab in the east, how could anyone talk of any meaningful development in Africa? he posed.

Mr Smith then conducted his vote again. The Afro-Pessimists had increased their tally by four more votes, but they still lost!

So, Is Africa’s development real or an illusion?

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The woes of the Cameroon forest communities

Posted NDI EUGENE NDI in Yaoundé

on  Friday, April 28   2017 at  11:24

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

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

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

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

Even poorer

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

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

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

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

Every negotiation

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

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

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

Reached a deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stamped logs

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

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

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

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

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

The money

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

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

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

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

Ensure transparency

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

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

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

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

The import

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

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

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

Evict villages

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

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

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