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South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela dies aged 78

Posted PETER DUBE

on  Tuesday, January 23   2018 at  11:50

South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela has died aged 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer, his family said on Tuesday morning.

“After a protracted and courageous battle with prostate cancer, he passed on peacefully in Johannesburg, South Africa, surrounded by his family,” read the statement from his family.

His fans and leaders including South African President Jacob Zuma expressed their condolences following the news of his death.

“Mr Masekela was one of the pioneers of jazz music in South Africa whose talent was recognised and honoured internationally over many years. He kept the torch of freedom alive globally fighting apartheid through his music and mobilising international support for the struggle for liberation and raising awareness of the evils of apartheid,” President Zuma said in a statement.

Last October, Mr Masekela cancelled a scheduled performance at the Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival in Rockville, Soweto, south of Johannesburg, saying he wanted to focus fully in battling the disease and urged men to go for regular cancer check-ups.

The jazz maestro was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008. He is said to have undergone several operations including an eye surgery in March 2016 after the cancer spread.

Trumpeter

Born on April 4, 1939 in KwaGuqa township in the eastern Mpumalanga province, Mr Masekela began singing and playing the piano at the tender age.

Popularly known as Bra Hugh, the multi-award winning singer and composer began playing the trumpet at the age of 14 inspired by the 1950 Young Man with a Horn film.

His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid chaplain at St Peter's Secondary School where he was schooling.

Masekela quickly rose to fame with a unique Afro-Jazz sound and hits such as Soweto Blues which became an anti- apartheid anthem in 1976.

Masekela's musical work was largely inspired by the turmoil that South Africa went through during apartheid. His music, he said, was used as a weapon to spread political change.

Hugh Masekela married musician Miriam Makeba in 1964, but later divorced in 1966.

He is survived by his wife, Elinam Cofie, whom he married in 1999, his daughter Pula Twala, and his son, Selema ‘Sal’ Masekela, from his relationship with Haitian Jessie Marie Lapierre.

In 2004, Masekela published his autobiography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela (co-authored with D. Michael Cheers), which Vanity Fair, a USmagazine said "…you’ll be in awe of the many lives packed into one."

Mr Masekela received several accolades throughout his life, among them the Order of Ikhamanga – South African National Orders Ceremony (2010); an honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of York (2014); a Doctor of Music (honoris causa) from Rhodes University (2015); and the African Music Legend Award - Ghana Music Awards (2007).

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UN report backs peacekeeping changes in face of deaths

Posted AFP

on  Tuesday, January 23   2018 at  11:45

UN peacekeeping forces need to change the way they operate and not shy away from using force to reverse a worrying trend of escalating fatalities, according to a new report made public Monday.

The recommendations were submitted to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in December by a team of experts headed up by Brazilian lieutenant general Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, a former UN commander in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

New reality

"The United Nations and troop- and police-contributing countries need to adapt to a new reality: the blue helmet and the United Nations flag no longer offer 'natural' protection," the report stated.

"Unfortunately, hostile forces do not understand a language other than force. To deter and repel attacks and to defeat attackers, the United Nations needs to be strong and not fear to use force when necessary," it recommended.

Casualties have spiked since 2013, with 195 personnel in UN peacekeeping missions killed by acts of violence — more than during any other five-year period in history. Last year saw the highest number of fatalities since 1994, with 56 deaths.

"These numbers go beyond a normal or acceptable level of risk," the report said. "Something needs to change to reverse the trend."

As missions face threatened budget cuts from the Trump administration, the report said troops are often too "in a defensive posture" and need to "take the initiative to neutralise and eliminate" threats to their security.

Fatalities

The report recommended that the United Nations start replacing officials, contingents and units that lack capacity to carry out their mandate.

Deficient pre-deployment training is a main cause of fatalities, it said. Among the recommendations were "surprise exercises and tests" to verify troop readiness.

The report also called for missions to be strengthened with sophisticated equipment such as mine-protected vehicles, special weapons and night-vision goggles.

Missions in Africa are the most vulnerable: the UN mission in Mali has lost 91 people since 2013, 29 in the Central African Republic and 26 in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur.

The vast majority of the victims were from Africa. Chad and Tanzania have suffered the heaviest losses since 2013, followed by Guinea, Niger and Ethiopia, the report said.

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UN chief urges 'restraint' in DR Congo after deadly protest crackdown

Posted AFP

on  Tuesday, January 23   2018 at  11:33

The UN's Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday called for "credible investigations" after at least six people were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo during a crackdown on a protest against President Joseph Kabila.

Guterres said the government should "hold those responsible accountable" in a statement issued by his spokesman in New York after live rounds and tear gas were fired to disperse demonstrators in Kinshasa.

The country's powerful Catholic Church, one of the few institutions to enjoy broad credibility nationally, had called for the rallies despite a government ban on all demonstrations.

Guterres "urges the Congolese security forces to exercise restraint", his spokesman said in the statement, and "called upon all concerned to ensure full respect for places of worship".

The UN peacekeeping mission Monusco said six people were killed in Kinshasa and scores injured nationwide in the rallies.

Congolese authorities said two of the deaths were caused by "stray bullets".

Election

Kabila, 46, has been in power since 2001, at the helm of a regime widely criticised for corruption, repression and incompetence.

His constitutional term in office expired in December 2016 but he has stayed on, stoking a bloody spiral of violence.

Under an agreement brokered by the Catholic Church, he was allowed to stay in office provided new elections were held in 2017.

The authorities later blamed organisational problems for a new delay until December 23, 2018 — a postponement that has angered Western nations, but one that they have reluctantly accepted.

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Joy, hope in Liberia as George Weah is sworn in

Posted AFP

on  Monday, January 22   2018 at  18:42

To the cheers of a crowd fired by his promise to bring them jobs and prosperity, former football star George Weah was sworn in as president of Liberia on Monday, completing the country’s first transition between democratically-elected leaders since 1944.

Weah, 51, took over from Nobel laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who over 12 years steered the country away from the trauma of a civil war, although prosperity eluded her.

Weah was sworn in as president by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Francis Korkpor, at a packed sports stadium near the capital, Monrovia.

The presidents of Gabon, Ghana and Sierra Leone, along with friends and fellow African football stars, including Cameroonian legend Samuel Eto’o, watched as he took the historic oath of office.

“I have spent many years of my life in stadiums, but today is a feeling like no other,” Weah said, as he thanked Sirleaf for “laying the foundations on which we can now stand in peace.”

Root out corruption

His first priorities, he said, would be to root out corruption and pay civil servants “a living wage,” and encourage the private sector.

But he urged the public to show solidarity for the tasks that lay ahead.

“United, we are certain to succeed as a nation, divided we are certain to fall,” he declared.

Crowds queued for kilometres, singing, dancing and waving the Liberian flag as they waited for their hero, who rose from the slums of Monrovia to the nation’s highest office.

“Today is one of the most exciting days of my life,” said Benjamin Bee, a 21-year-old student at the University of Liberia as he waited in line with thousands of others.

“The man I’m supporting now, President Weah, is an icon, he is my role model. Today is not just an inaugural programme for us Liberians, but signifies that Liberia has found itself.”

Weah played for a string of top-flight European teams in the 1990s and was crowned the world’s best player by FIFA and won the coveted Ballon d’Or prize, the only African to have achieved this.

After losing his first run at the presidency to Sirleaf in 2005, he spent the next dozen years attempting to gain political credibility to match his popularity, becoming a senator in 2014.

Under pressure

Sirleaf will be remembered for maintaining peace after the harrowing 1989-2003 civil war left an estimated 250,000 dead.

But extreme poverty remains entrenched. Liberia ranks 177th on the 188 countries in the Human Development Index compiled by the UN Development Programme, which assesses health, education and economic progress.

At a church service attended by Sirleaf and Weah on Sunday, the pair presented a united front following a bruising election campaign in which Sirleaf’s longtime vice-president Joseph Boakai failed to convince as her successor while alleging fraud had marred the ballot.

Delayed a run-off

Legal proceedings lodged by Boakai delayed a run-off vote to December 26, when Weah won a massive 61.5 per cent of the vote.

The transition period also shrank, giving Weah less than a month to prepare for government rather than the three months initially scheduled.

Analysts hailed Liberia’s achievement in having two successive transitions of power by democratically-elected leaders.

But they were also mindful of the rocky road ahead, especially the challenges posed by sky-high public expectations and likely opposition to his reforms by the Liberia’s establishment.

Depressed economy

Liberia’s depressed export economy is highly reliant on rubber and iron ore. More than 60 per cent of its 4.6-million citizens are under 25, and many voted for Weah in the belief he would quickly boost employment.

“He will need to manage expectations carefully: this window of optimism will be short,” Elizabeth Donnelly, a research fellow at the London think tank, Chatham House, told AFP.

“Weah has already stated that he will seek more investment into the private sector — he understands that Liberia has a large youth population, whose expectations and needs he must satisfy.

“This means tangible change in terms of visible civil infrastructure, and it means more jobs and opportunity,” she said.

“But the reality is there is also a political establishment whose expectations he will also try to meet.”

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South Africa ruling party confirms discussing Zuma exit

Posted AFP

on  Monday, January 22   2018 at  17:54

South Africa’s ruling ANC party confirmed Monday that discussions were underway on President Jacob Zuma leaving office, but said no date for his departure had yet been agreed.

Mr Zuma has been under growing pressure to resign since he was replaced as head of the African National Congress in December by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

The party executive “discussed this matter... there will be interaction between officials, President Zuma and (party) president Ramaphosa,” party secretary-general Ace Magashule told reporters.

“There isn’t any decision taken to remove Jacob Zuma,” he said.
“There are no timelines... we don’t do things that way, we engage, we discuss. We haven’t reached a decision that President Zuma must go or President Zuma must stay.”

Corruption scandals

Mr Zuma’s presidency has been mired in corruption scandals and tarnished by a weakening economy, with the party losing public support ahead of next year’s general election.

Ramaphosa’s supporters are keen for him to take over as president immediately and try to revive the economy before the election, when the ANC could lose its dominance for the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Land reform

Meanwhile, Mr Ramaphosa has pledged to carry out the ANC’s organization’s policy of land reform.

The ANC remains committed to expropriating land without compensation, said Mr Ramaphosa.

The ANC’s land reform policy has been on the cards since 1994, when apartheid was brought to an end, but little progress has been made in redistributing land to blacks whose land was seized during the apartheid rule. 

Redistributing land among South Africans is a way to resolve the land question, Ramaphosa said at the Osuthu Royal Palace in Nongoma, Kwazulu-Natal Province, where he visited Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini to brief him on the ANC’s 54th national conference in December, at which Ramaphosa was elected as ANC president.

In a bid to alleviate concerns about land distribution, Ramaphosa said land reform will be carried out in a way that will not harm the economy and the agricultural sector, or affect food security.

The ANC’s policy of expropriating land without compensation has given rise to concerns that redistributed land would be idle like what has happened in Zimbabwe where arable land was abandoned after it was seized from white farmers.

Economy growth

Taking land should not be equal to destroying the economy, Ramaphosa said, adding that taking land should be equal to making the economy grow and farm production grow.

“This gives us the options, the possibilities and opportunities to be able to move forward with addressing the land question and at the same time make sure that the economy of our country grows,” said Ramaphosa. 

Agriculture is an important sector for the economy, therefore it is possible for the country to begin a process of working the land while improving agriculture, said Ramaphosa.

The ANC-led government has been criticized for failing on its ambitious land reform target of transferring 30 per cent of white-owned land to black farmers by 2014.

This was a promise made by the ANC when it took power in 1994.

According to the government, only 8 million hectares of arable land has been transferred to black people since 1994, less than 10 per cent of the 82 million hectares available and a third of the ANC’s 30 per cent target.

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Three killed by suspected rebels in DR Congo

Posted AFP

on  Monday, January 22   2018 at  15:38

Suspected Ugandan Islamist rebels killed three civilians in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, despite an offensive by government troops, sources said on Monday.

The deaths occurred on Sunday in the Beni region of North Kivu province, where government forces launched a campaign against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) militia on January 13.

"There was an incursion by the ADF yesterday (Sunday) in Kokola. Three people — a motorcycle taxi driver and his two customers — were killed before the army intervened," the administrator of Beni district, Bernard Amisi Kalonda, told AFP.

The incident was confirmed by Jonas Mbusa, a community leader.

The army's spokesman in the region, Captain Mak Hazukay, told AFP that that the ADF "incursion yesterday at Kokola was repelled. Operations are continuing." He gave no further details.

The ADF

Present in DR Congo since 1995, the ADF was initially created by Muslim radicals to oppose Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's rule.

Today, they are a number of armed groups that hold swathes of territory in eastern DR Congo, battling for control of mineral resources.

Congolese authorities and the UN mission in DR Congo, Monusco accuse the ADF of having killed more than 700 civilians as well as combatants in the Beni region from 2014-16.

The ADF is also accused of killing 14 UN peacekeepers in eastern DR Congo on December 7, in the biggest single loss of peacekeepers in nearly a quarter of a century.

The government last week declared it was waging "war" on the ADF and a Congolese militia, the Yakutumba, which is active in South Kivu province, several hundred kilometres (miles) to the south.

However, troop losses have been heavy. Diplomatic sources say 22 troops were killed on Friday in an ADF attack.

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George Weah to be sworn in with Liberian hopes sky-high

Posted AFP

on  Monday, January 22   2018 at  06:38

Former international footballer George Weah will be sworn in as Liberia's new president on Monday, a landmark moment that marks the troubled country's first peaceful democratic transition since 1944.

Weah will become the 25th president of the West African nation, taking power from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf after 12 years, with expectations running sky-high among Liberians that he will deliver on his promises of jobs and better schools.

The inauguration is due to begin at 9.45 am (0945 GMT) in Samuel Kanyon Doe stadium near the capital, Monrovia, with heads of state from Ghana, Mali, Nigeria and Togo expected to attend along with friends and former colleagues from his football years.

Weah played for a string of top-flight European teams in the 1990s and was crowned the world's best player by FIFA and won the coveted Ballon d'Or prize, the only African to have achieved this.

After losing his first run at the presidency to Sirleaf in 2005, he has spent the last 13 years attempting to gain the political credibility to match his wild popularity at home, becoming a senator in 2014.
Volunteers were putting the final touches to decorations and giving the streets a final lick of paint on Sunday, and many expressed hope the everyday difficulty of their lives would change.

"It's my very first time to see Liberia transferring power peacefully. People expect real democracy," said Samuel Harmon, 30, a street trader.

"The expectation of the people and the country is all up to him (Weah). Everybody believes that if he fails us, the majority will be disappointed with politics," he added.

Under pressure

Sirleaf will be remembered for maintaining peace after the harrowing 1989-2003 civil war left an estimated 250,000 dead. But extreme poverty remains pervasive and Liberia ranks near bottom in international rankings for health, education and development.

At a church service attended by Sirleaf and Weah on Sunday, the pair presented a united front following a bruising election campaign in which Sirleaf's longtime vice-president Joseph Boakai failed to convince as her successor while alleging fraud had marred the ballot.

Legal proceedings lodged by Boakai delayed a run-off vote and the transition period, meaning Weah has had less than a month to prepare for government rather than the three months initially scheduled.

Sirleaf told AFP the inauguration "implies continuity; it implies meeting the challenges," as she left the event.

Challenges

Weah faces the challenges of a depressed export economy highly reliant on rubber and iron ore, and outsized expectations he can turn the country around within months and provide jobs for the overwhelmingly young population.

More than 60 per cent of Liberia's 4.6-million citizens are under 25, and many voted for Weah in the expectation he would quickly boost employment.

He told journalists on Saturday at a football game — a friendly with the army — that his first priority was keeping the peace, and hit out at critics who say he is unqualified for the position.
"I am a human being, I strive to be excellent, and I can be successful," Weah said.

"When I work hard I believe what I believe in and I showed I could persevere," he added, referring to early disbelief amongst his countrymen that he could make it in the top European leagues.

Re-paying political debts

Experts are concerned however that hopes of tackling rampant corruption and bringing technocratic expertise into his cabinet are at risk from the need to repay favours.

"He is under pressure from various constituencies and unlikely to nominate a cabinet of experts as he claimed he would do shortly after his electoral success," said Malte Liewerscheidt, Senior Africa Analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.

The rumoured names were "clearly tilted towards re-paying political and personal debts of gratitude, suggesting continuity rather than a new dawn in Liberian politics," he wrote in a briefing note.

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South Africa's ANC vows change as Zuma exit looms

Posted AFP

on  Saturday, January 20   2018 at  15:26

South Africa's ruling ANC party said Saturday that it "must act decisively" to rebuild its reputation, as local media reported that President Jacob Zuma could soon be forced to leave office.

Zuma has been under growing pressure to resign since he was replaced as head of the African National Congress (ANC) in December by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa.

Zuma's presidency has been engulfed by corruption scandals and a weakening economy, with the party losing public support ahead of next year's general election.

Ramaphosa's supporters are keen for him to take over as president and try to revive the economy before the election, when the ANC could lose its grip on power for the first time since the end of apartheid.

"The ANC must act decisively and with determination to rebuild the bond of trust between our people and the movement," the party said in a statement after a two-day meeting of its senior members.

The statement addressed criticism that South Africa currently has two centres of power — Zuma still in office as president, while Ramaphosa heads the ruling ANC party.

"(Party) officials, led by President Ramaphosa, will continue their engagement with President Jacob Zuma to ensure effective coordination between the ANC and government," it said.

Zuma to leave, but when?

The News 24 website said the party's executive meeting had decided that Zuma must leave office, but that no exact timeline had been agreed.

"We will have a new president in the coming weeks," it quoted one unnamed party member at the meeting as predicting.

Zuma's closest allies still hold senior positions in the party, and he could in theory remain president until the 2019 election that marks the end of his second and final term in office.

His control over the ANC was shaken when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — lost out to Ramaphosa in the closely-fought race to be party leader.

Zuma, 75, could leave office either by resigning, through losing a motion of no-confidence in parliament or impeachment proceedings.

He could also be recalled by the ANC, forcing him to step down.

Whoever is president on February 8 will deliver the annual state of the nation address in parliament — providing one deadline for political manoeuvring.

Ramaphosa, 65, is a former trade unionist who led talks to end white-minority rule in the early 1990s and then became a multi-millionaire businessman before returning to politics.

The ANC, which has ruled since 1994 when Nelson Mandela won the first multi-racial election, recorded its worst-ever results in 2016 local polls.

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After two-year wait, Uganda gets its new cancer machine

Posted AFP

on  Saturday, January 20   2018 at  14:04

Uganda's only radiotherapy machine has officially been replaced, nearly two years after the previous one broke down, giving hope to cancer patients who had been denied a crucial tool against the disease.

The failure of the old machine in March 2016 caused a public outcry and was seen as symbolising the deterioration of Uganda's medical services.

Since 1995, Mulago Hospital in Kampala had become a hub for treating cancer patients across east Africa, many of them coming from countries lacking radiotherapy equipment.

On Friday, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said the new $815,000 Cobalt-60 machine, housed in a concrete bunker at the hospital, is part of a "vision of becoming the East African centre of excellence in the management of oncology."

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which helped install the new machine, said the commissioning is a "major cause of celebration".

The agency and the Ugandan government each paid half of the cost of the machine which is capable of treating up to 120 people a day.

"In 28 countries in Africa there are no cancer machines. (Patients) cannot be diagnosed and they cannot be treated," said Amano.

Dr Jackson Orem, director of the Uganda Cancer Institute, toldAFP that about 5,000 cases are referred to the institute each year. Many patients show up with cancer that is already at an advanced stage.

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Emmerson Mnangagwa invites the UN to observe elections

Posted AFP

on  Saturday, January 20   2018 at  06:51

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa wants international observers including UN officials to watch over the country's upcoming elections, he said in a Financial Times interview.

Mnangagwa has adopted a more diplomatic tone since taking over as leader in November, after the ousting of the authoritarian Robert Mugabe, his former boss.

After announcing earlier this week that elections will be held in four to five months, the new president invited international observers to Zimbabwe for the vote.

"We want fair, free, credible elections," he told British business newspaper the Financial Times in an interview published Thursday.

"I would want that the United Nations should come, the EU should come... If the Commonwealth were requesting to come, I am disposed to consider their application," he added.

Zimbabwe shunned international observers during Mugabe's 37-year rule, during which elections were marred by vote-rigging and violent suppression of the opposition.

Mnangagwa was one of Mugabe's closest allies in the ruling Zanu-PF party and the 75-year-old has been accused of playing a vital role in the authoritarian regime.

But since taking over the presidency he has extended an olive branch to the international community, including to former colonial ruler Britain.

The UK was an outspoken critic of Mugabe's leadership, but Mnangagwa predicted closer ties when Britain leaves the European Union next year.

"They will need us. And we will make sure we become very close to them," he told the FT.

The Zimbabwean president also said he would be open to seeking to rejoin the Commonwealth, a grouping of nations largely formerly ruled by Britain.