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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.

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Unfair to Africa? Not ICC!

Posted CHARLES OMONDI

on  Tuesday, April 25   2017 at  19:12

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

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

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

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

Principal sponsors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Military bases

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

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

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

Much faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be ashamed

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

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

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

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

Not a member

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

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

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

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

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Cameroon counts losses after unprecedented Internet shutdown

Posted NDI EUGENE NDI in Yaoundé

on  Monday, April 24   2017 at  10:20

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

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

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

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

Mounting pressure

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

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

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

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

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

The protests

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

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

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

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

Incite hatred

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

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

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

ISF said it welcomed the reinstatement “with relief”.

to bad

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

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

The shutdown

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

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

Preventing protests

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

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

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

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

Electoral calendar

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

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

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

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

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Will opposition unity hold to dethrone Mugabe?

Posted KITSEPILE NYATHI in Harare

on  Wednesday, April 19   2017 at  19:38

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

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

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

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

Joining hands

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

“That is going to be a game changer.”

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

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

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

Morgan Tsvangirai

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

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

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

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

The media

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

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

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

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

Bridge the gaps

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

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

“We are not enemies amongst ourselves as opposition parties.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alliance building

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

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

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

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

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

Policy agreement

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

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

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

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

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

Split votes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand coalition

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

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

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

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