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African News

China’s Demand For African Donkeys Prompts Export Bans

The Guardian


Humans owe a lot to the humble donkey. Domesticated for more than five millennia, they have been used for everything from farming to warfare. 

But as the world has industrialised, only the very poorest communities still rely on donkeys for their day-to-day needs and nowhere is this more apparent than in China: after two decades of economic growth, the country’s donkey population has dropped by almost half. This decline has had an unintended consequence for traditional medicine. When boiled, donkey skin produces a rubbery, gelatine-like substance, known as ejiao, which is included in many popular Chinese tonics and medicines for its perceived ability to cure coughs, relieve insomnia and revitalise the blood. But these days, there simply aren’t enough Chinese donkeys to make enough ejiao, so manufacturers are turning to Africa, where donkey populations remain in rude health.

In Niger, some 80,000 donkeys have been exported to China this year, compared with 27,000 in 2015. In Burkina Faso, donkey traders sold 18,000 animals to international buyers in the first quarter of 2016, up from just 1,000 for the same period last year. In Kenya, a donkey abattoir opened in April in Naivasha to cater for the burgeoning Chinese market. 

But this thriving export market is not without considerable drawbacks for local people. In Niger, the price of donkeys has risen from $34 to $147, a huge rise for farmers and merchants who need to buy donkeys to maintain their livelihoods. 


Officials are also worried that the demand for exports will decimate local donkey populations. In response, the government has banned donkey exports.


Burkina Faso implemented similar regulations last month. In Ouagadougou, the situation was reportedly discussed twice in cabinet meetings before the ban was announced.


In South Africa, meanwhile, the surge in demand has led to a rise in cruelty towards, and theft of, donkeys. In a statement released this month the National Council of Societies for the Protection of Animals (NSPCA) said it was “horrified to confirm that donkeys are the latest victims of the trade in animal parts ‘for medicinal purposes’ to the far east. Donkeys are being rounded up, stolen, then transported and brutally slaughtered for their skins.”


The NSPCA cited one incident in which 70 “sick, weak and emaciated” donkeys were discovered on a plot outside Bloemfontein. The owner confirmed he intended to ship their skins to China.

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Legal Rhino Horn And Ivory Trade Should Benefit Africa, Says Swaziland Government



The government of Swaziland has called the destruction of rhino horn “extravagantly wasteful destruction” and accused western NGOs of compromising Africa’s wildlife by blocking the legalisation of the ivory and rhino horn trades.

 In an official document sent to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) the government of the tiny African state claimed unnamed NGOs have become dominated by “activists who do not live with the day to day realities on the ground, who do not face the grave dangers of protecting rhinos [from poaching] in the bush, who do not cover the enormous costs necessary to protect them”. 

Cites banned the international trade of elephant ivory and rhino horn in 1989 and 1977 respectively. On Sunday, the congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a motion that softened the ground for a ban on all domestic trade in ivory as well.

Swaziland called trade bans a “failed policy”. The only way to fight the poaching gangs, the document said, was to sustainably manage stocks of elephant and rhino and sell their valuable protuberances legally.

“African rhinos belong to Africa and they should surely benefit those countries in Africa which own them,” the document said. Swaziland estimates it could raise $9.9m from its 330kg stockpile of horn collected from naturally deceased animals and confiscated from poachers. Swaziland surprised the wildlife community earlier this year by issuing a proposal to sell its stockpile in order to pay for the conservation of its herd of 73 white rhinos. There is a similar push from Namibia and Zimbabwe to lift the global ban on ivory for tusks from their countries. The motions will be discussed at the triennial Cites conference to be held in just over two weeks in South Africa. 

None of the proposals are expected to succeed and Swaziland blames “armchair preservationists or anti-trade activists” for hijacking the response to a poaching crisis that has seen a 10-year 30% decline in African savannah elephants and could send rhinos to oblivion within decades. The Swaziland government says that NGOs are trying to “impose their foreign values and influence on Africa”.

The idea of legalising the trade in a species’ parts in order to preserve them it is not without backers beyond the southern African states. Enrico Di Minin, an economist at the University of Helsinki, believes the trade could bring $717m to South Africa and protect its rhino populations. 

“Only a legal trade in ivory can stop elephant poaching,” Dan Stiles, a member of the African Elephant Specialist Group, told the Guardian. 

But there is strong opposition from many conservationists to any move back towards a legal trade. WildAid is one of many NGOs that has attempted to drive down demand for the products in Asia, using celebrities to spread their message. 

WildAid CEO Peter Knights said: “It’s not just western activists, most African countries think it’s a bad idea too. The reality is we’ve tried ‘strictly-regulated’ ivory trade twice [and] poaching quickly escalated.” Heather Sohl, WWF-UK’s chief advisor on wildlife said that funding conservation through a legal trade was merely theoretical. “






At present, there is no proven way for consumer countries to manage a regulated horn trade without allowing significant quantities of illegal horn into the market. 

For these reasons legalising trade runs huge risks of exacerbating the current poaching crisis rather than resolving it,” she said.



Why the Guardian is spending a year reporting on the plight of elephants

 Read more

The Swaziland submission was partially drafted by the operators of Big Game Parks, a private company that manages three game reserves in the tiny kingdom. The CEO of Big Game Parks Ted Reilly also heads the government’s anti-poaching body.


In May, the head of Kenya’s wildlife service Richard Leakey accused Swaziland of acting as a puppet for South African game farmers who recently won a legal battle to legalise the domestic trade in that country.


Reilly, who co-authored the Swaziland position paper, said the accusation was “absolutely wrong” and denied any influence from South Africa’s game parks or its government.


“We stand totally independently on this position and we have got a lot of support from other southern African states,” he said.



The missive did not reserve criticism for NGOs. On Thursday, the US government and San Diego Zoo destroyed a stockpile of rhino horn worth $1m. This type of symbolic destruction has become common in recent years as governments demonstrate their commitment to treat certain animal products in the same way as illicit drugs.


But Swaziland’s government said these events were “extravagantly wasteful destruction”.


“What is the difference between burning $170m worth of self-renewing natural resources and taking $170m in cash out of the bank and throwing it all on the fire?” said the submission.


“Only a rhino needs a rhino horn, and it’s time we all understood that,” said US Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe on Thursday as his officials burned their contraband.

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Seizure Of Libya Oil Terminals Sparks Call For Military Action


The Guardian


Libya’s internationally backed government has urged its forces to act after two oil terminals fell to rival troops, raising fears of further violence in a country already gripped by turmoil. The call came after forces loyal to the unrecognised eastern authority seized two key export facilities on Sunday.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord called on all forces loyal to it to “protect and defend” the ports against what it called “flagrant aggression” of Libyan sovereignty. The two Mediterranean ports are in Libya’s “oil crescent”, and seen as a vital source of income for the GNA which is struggling to assert its authority.

Previously controlled by guards allied to the GNA, the ports of Al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf were seized by forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar.

One of the most powerful military figures in Libya, Haftar is allied with a rival authority to the GNA based in the east.

Ahmad Mesmari, a spokesman for Haftar’s forces, told a press conference that another oil terminal at Zuwaytina was not yet under their control.

A colonel with pro-GNA forces, allied to guards defending the facilities, confirmed that Haftar’s fighters were in control of Al-Sidra and Ras Lanuf.

Hatem El-Ouraybi, a spokesman for the eastern authority, told AFP the attack was aimed at “regaining full control of the oil crescent”. 

“The government calls on all the people of the oil crescent area – including those who were in the oil installations guards – to join the army or return to their homes,” he said.


But the GNA on Facebook urged all “military forces” loyal to the unity government “to protect and defend the oil installations and terminals and to carry out their military and national duties bravely and without hesitation”.


The GNA also called on Haftar’s forces to “immediately withdraw from all the sites they have attacked”.


Ras Lanuf and Al-Sidra are together capable of handling 700,000 barrels of oil per day but had been closed for months after jihadist attacks.


In late July, the oil installation guards announced the reopening of the two ports after an agreement with the unity government to resume oil exports.


They had been closed following attacks in January by the Islamic State group, who took advantage of turmoil after the 2011 uprising to gain a foothold in the country.


In recent weeks, pro-GNA forces backed by US air strikes have been pressing a months-long campaign to expel the last Isis jihadists from what was their North African stronghold.


IS took the city of Sirte in June last year, sparking fears they would use the city west of the oil crescent as a launchpad for attacks in Europe.



Haftar’s forces have since 2014 been fighting jihadists in the second city of Benghazi northeast of the oil-rich crescent.


UN Libya envoy Martin Kobler said on Twitter he was worried about the fighting.


“Oil belongs to ALL Libyans,” he tweeted. “Conflicts can only be solved through dialogue, not violence. Urge all parties to sit 2gether.”


Mattia Toaldo, a Libya expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the seizure of the terminals could deal a fatal blow to Libya’s oil sector.


“Unless there is a very quick mediation, this could lead to conflict and a final blow to Libya’s oil industry,” Toaldo said.


Oil is Libya’s main natural resource with reserves estimated at 48bn barrels, the largest in Africa.


But since 2010 the country’s production has plummeted from 1.5m bpd to just 200,000 bpd.


Libya’s oil sector is managed by the National Oil Company which is split into two rival branches, one allied to the GNA and the other to the authority in the east.


Once pro-GNA forces expel Isis from Sirte and there is no buffer between them and Haftar’s army, either side “could easily clash again”, Toaldo said.


The pro-GNA military command is based in the city of Misrata.


The attack on the ports aimed to “take advantage of Misrata’s exhaustion after Sirte” and “undermine any negotiation on the future of the GNA”, Toaldo said.


Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 revolt that toppled and killed longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, with rival authorities and militias vying to control the country.


A UN-brokered deal in December led to the unity government starting to work in Tripoli, but it has struggled to assert its authority.


The parliament in the east last month voted no confidence in the GNA in a setback to efforts to end the political chaos.

“It’s safe in Dar but we are still worried about the safety of our family,” the AFP correspondent added. “The regional hospital is overwhelmed and can’t handle any more patients.Emergency operations are poor and the government isn’t saying anything,” he said.


The earthquake was felt as far away as Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya, the US Geological Survey said.


“The walls of my home shook as well as the fridge and the cupboards,” said an AFP correspondent in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.


AFP journalists in Democratic Republic of Congo said slight tremors were felt in Bukavu in the east but not in nearby Goma or Lubumbashi.

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Gabon’s Bongo Shrugs Off Calls For Vote Recount




Gabon’s re-elected President Ali Bongo shrugged off international calls for a recount of last week’s disputed vote, saying it was a matter for the constitutional court to decide.

Opposition leader Jean Ping says the election was a sham, and the European Union has questioned the validity of the results. France, the former colonial ruler once close to Bongo’s father and predecessor, supports the idea of a recount. The poll and its violent aftermath has brought unwanted international attention to the central African oil producer, which counts Total and Royal Dutch Shell PLC among foreign investors, bringing petrodollars that have flowed mostly to the elite.

Asked in a pre-recorded interview broadcast on Wednesday whether he would permit a recount, Bongo told France’s RTL radio: “What people should be asking me to do is apply the law. I cannot violate the law. As far as a recount is concerned ... that’s done at the level of the Constitutional Court.”

Bongo said that under Gabon’s electoral law, his opponents had until Thursday to lodge their complaints with the court. He said he was preparing his own objections.

Ping called on Tuesday for international help, and told Reuters: “Everybody knows the result and everybody knows that Bongo is doing everything not to accept it.”

France has intervened in its former African colonies in the past but has ruled out intervention in Gabon, which has been run by the Bongo family for half a century. France has a military base in Gabon but relations have soured recently. Gabon recalled its ambassador earlier this year after the French government appeared to question the legitimacy of Bongo’s 2009 election win. In April, anti-corruption investigators seized several Bongo family properties in France.

Ping, a former diplomat, has said he has no faith in the constitutional court because of its alleged ties to the Bongo family and said in his interview with Reuters late on Tuesday that a recount under international supervision should be conducted first.

He has alleged the number of votes cast for Bongo in southeastern Haut-Ogooue province was inflated. Official figures show the president won 95.46 percent of the vote in the province, a Bongo stronghold, on a 99.9 percent turnout. Bongo has countered that it was Ping who cheated.

“Jean Ping has committed fraud,” Bongo said in a separate interview with Europe 1 radio on Wednesday. “I didn’t organize anything, I didn’t put in place a network of cyber criminals in order to rig the vote.”

Asked whether he would accept the court’s ruling if it did examine the results, he said: “I am a democrat. I am in favor the Constitutional Court taking up the case and may it confirm my election. That’s what I am expecting.”

He said any suggestion of forming a unity government with opponents was premature.

“I will be the president for all Gabonese, I will work with all compatriots who want to join me in working for the development of the country. But it is difficult to work with those who asked the Gabonese people to go into the streets and loot.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday suggested a recount would be sensible, and urged the Gabonese authorities to help locate about 15 French nationals who are missing. Bongo said his government had been handed a list of six names.

“They are among those who rioted and looted and were therefore arrested,” Bongo said, adding that dual nationals would be treated like any citizen of Gabon.


The interior minister, Magdy Abdel Ghaffar, said in March that forced disappearances do not occur in Egypt. He claimed reports of alleged forced disappearances were often taken directly to the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), or to international institutions, who he accused of being allied with the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, to scare citizens.


The head of the NCHR, which has repeatedly demanded answers from the government about forced disappearances, recently resigned over what he described as “a lack of cooperation” from the state.

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Zuma’s Nephew To Pay $1.65 Million To South Africa Mine Liquidators: Union



A nephew of South African President Jacob Zuma will pay 23 million rand ($1.65 million) to the liquidators of a gold mining company after a court last year ruled he and other directors stripped the company of assets, leaving thousands of workers jobless and destitute.

Khulubuse Zuma and a grandson of South Africa’s anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela were found by a judge to have acted in a reckless and fraudulent manner when they stripped the assets of two mines operated by their company Aurora.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann ordered the directors and associates involved in Aurora Empowerment Systems to pay shareholders and liquidators 1.7 billion rand ($121 million)compensation for their role in the demise of the operations. Trade union Solidarity said on Wednesday that Khulubuse Zuma agreed to pay 23 million rand in damages in the High Court in Pretoria in a deal that was struck last week. “He came forward and said I can only pay 23 million rand ... But if it is found he has the means to pay more, he could be liable for more,” Solidarity General Secretary Gideon du Plessis told Reuters.

He said that after 5 million rand is paid for the legal fees of the liquidators, most of the balance will go to the miners. Solidarity has been a party to the proceedings because it has been representing 180 of its members.

“Zuma has already made the first payment of 5 million rand and he has to pay a further 500,000 rand by the end of the day,” Solidarity said in a statement. Zuma will subsequently make monthly payments until the full 23 million rand is paid.

Aurora was appointed in 2009 to manage two gold mines near Johannesburg after the Pamodzi Gold company which ran them went into liquidation.

But it did not have the capital to keep the mines running and the operations ground to a halt, with assets removed. Aurora’s acquisition of the mines was held up in the media as an example of how well-connected members of the political elite get preferential treatment in Africa’s most industrialized economy, especially under Zuma’s presidency. Mandela’s grandson Zondwa Mandela, another former Aurora director and other people involved with the company will face sequestration proceedings at a later date, where their assets could be taken and sold, Solidarity said.

Lawyers representing Zuma and Mandela could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Says Judges Reckless For Allowing Protests




Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has accused court judges of being reckless in allowing anti-government demonstrations that later turned violent, state media reported on Sunday, a day before a legal challenge to last week’s official ban on protests.

The southern African nation on Thursday outlawed all demonstrations for two weeks in the capital Harare, which has witnessed protests against Mugabe’s handling of the economy, cash shortages and high unemployment. Some political activists have approached the High Court to challenge the ban which they say is unconstitutional. The hearing is set for Monday.

Mugabe told a conference of the ruling ZANU-PF’s youth wing on Saturday that “enough is enough” and he would not allow violent protests to continue, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported.

Violence erupted more than a week ago when police used teargas and water cannon to disperse marchers.

“Our courts, our justice system, our judges should be the ones who understand even better than ordinary citizens. They dare not be negligent in their decisions when requests are made by people who want to demonstrate,” the Sunday Mail quoted Mugabe as saying. “To give permission again when they are to the full knowledge that it is going to be violent or (there is)probability that there is going to be violence is to pay reckless disregard to the peace of this country.” Police routinely cite lack of manpower and a threat to security as a reason for barring opposition protests, but the decisions have often been overturned by the High Court. Tendai Biti, leader of the People’s Democratic Party and the lawyer behind the legal challenge to the latest ban, accused Mugabe of intimidating the judiciary and violating the constitution.

“What Mugabe is trying to do is breaching the constitution by assaulting the judiciary and by trying to cause direct and indirect fear into judges,” Biti said.


(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Stella Mapenzauswa and Mark Potter)

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Tension Eases In Gabon Capital After Riots Over Disputed Election

The Guardian


Tension eased in Gabon’s capital on Saturday after days of deadly rioting triggered by an announcement that President Ali Bongo narrowly won re-election in a vote the opposition said was stolen.

More than 1,000 others were arrested in the protests that began on Wednesday and the opposition, led by Jean Ping who claims he is now president, said five people also died.

Shops began to re-open on Saturday and some traffic returned to the streets as the government sought to restore stability with mass arrests and a heavy security presence. At the same time some impoverished residents of Libreville who need to buy food every day said they hoped for a return to normality given the hardship caused by closed shops and markets.

“The last few days were really difficult for us. The fact that traffic has started to move is very important ... because our families have really suffered,” said Alex Ndong, 42, a mechanic who lives in the Lalala suburb of south Libreville. “I hope everything goes back to normal as quickly as possible,” he said. Bongo came to power in 2009 on the death of his father, Omar, who ruled the Central African country for 42 years, relying on patronage fueled by oil wealth to buy off dissent. France has had a military base in Gabon since independence in 1960 and 450 troops are stationed there, according to the French Defense Ministry. The disputed election sparked the protests but discontent has risen in an economy hit by lower global prices for its crude exports and falling production. Major oil producers include Total and Shell.

Many citizens also say the fruits of oil wealth have been shared too narrowly. Ping appealed to the American people in an op-ed in the New York Times to send a clear signal to Bongo that they would not tolerate a stolen election.

He also repeated a call also taken up by the European Union for the electoral commission to release results bureau by bureau to make it easier to detect any potential discrepancies.

“The people of Gabon voted for their leader, they chose me. They chose a change from the dynastic regime that has ruled our country since 1967,” Ping wrote.

He earlier called for international intervention but there were few signs by Saturday of the kind of decisive external action Ping seeks.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault appealed to all sides in the dispute to use constitutional means and called on the authorities to restore all social media and Internet connections after days of interruptions and cuts. In several recent African elections the Internet and sometimes cellular phone services have been suspended. Ayrault also welcomed a decision by the African Union to get involved.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council expressed concern over the violence, saying the situation could affect regional stability. In a statement, the Council “called on all Gabonese stakeholders to demonstrate utmost restraint and make use of all available legal and constitutional channels to resolve any differences pertaining to the results of the elections.”

Gabon’s law society said on Saturday 800 people were detained in the capital and 300 arrested elsewhere. It called on authorities to respect human rights and treat those who have been detained fairly.

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South Africa Committee Recommends Ex-Diplomat To Head Graft Watchdog




A South African parliament committee on Tuesday adopted a report recommending lawyer Busisiwe Mkhwebane to replace outgoing Thuli Madonsela as Public Protector, a powerful watchdog position that has subjected President Jacob Zuma to unwelcome scrutiny. The committee’s recommendation will go to a vote in parliament on Sept. 7 that requires 60 percent approval, the office of the Chief Whip of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said in a statement. It will then be sent to Zuma for assent.

Mkhwebane is a high-level civil servant and former diplomat, positions typically held by those with solid ANC connections.

Corruption Watch, a local NGO that focuses on graft issues, applauded the committee’s recommendation, saying it was satisfied “that the final candidate got the job on merit and not for any other reason”. Among Mkhwebane’s past achievements, Corruption Watch noted she had set up a Public Protector’s office for the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

Madonsela, who steps down in October when her seven-year term expires, has become a household name in South Africa. Her probes have cast Zuma and other powerful figures in an unflattering light, contributing to the ANC’s poor showing in local elections in early August. In 2014, Madonsela found Zuma had included in a state-funded $16 million “security upgrade” to his rural Nkandla home such items as a swimming pool and amphitheatre. She said Zuma should pay back a portion of the cost of those items. In March, South Africa’s highest court said Zuma had broken the law by ignoring Madonsela’s order. The Public Protector has a constitutional mandate to probe misconduct in state affairs. Madonsela’s replacement may inherit current probes, including one into whether Zuma allowed a business family, the Guptas, to decide on cabinet appointments.

Zuma and the Guptas have denied the accusations. The Guptas announced on Saturday they would sell all their stakes in South African businesses.

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Zimbabwe Rights Body Criticizes ‘Violent’ Police Crackdown




Zimbabwe’s Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has accused the police of brutality and violating the rights of protesters when clamping down on anti-government demonstrations in the last two months.

Political tension is rising in the southern African nation, where public anger at the dire state of the economy, in particular an 80 percent jobless rate, cash shortages and delays in salaries for public workers, has spilled onto the streets. Zimbabwe’s police have a history of violence against President Robert Mugabe’s opponents and last month a trauma clinic said dozens of people, including children, suffered “savage” abuse after a demonstration.

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba declined to comment on the findings of the ZHRC, an independent body formed in 2013.In its first statement on the protests the commission said its investigations had revealed “unbecoming and violent conduct” by police officers and urged victims to make formal complaints.

“It is noted with regret that the police did violate the fundamental rights of the people as evidenced by the facts gathered on the ground,” it said.

“Security concerns should not be used as an excuse to harass demonstrators and non-demonstrators. Citizens should enjoy police protection and not brutality.” The commission also said demonstrations should be peaceful, after protests on Friday descended into some of the worst violence seen in the former British colony for two decades.

Sixty-eight people have been charged with public violence at Friday’s clashes. A court was due to rule on Tuesday whether they should be released from custody while they await trial.

Mugabe has said there would be no “Arab Spring” in Zimbabwe, referring to a wave of revolts in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, some of which toppled governments, while others were stamped out by security forces. Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe rejected criticism from the United States and Canada. “Their statements last week were not only unacceptably repugnant but vainly suggested their governments play father-figure to a sovereign state, as if Zimbabwe is under some kind of joint U.S.-Canadian trusteeship,” he said in a statement.

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Gabon Leader And Top Rival Both Claim Presidential Victory, Allege Fraud




Supporters of Gabon’s President Ali Bongo and his chief rival both said on Sunday they were set to win a presidential election that poses the most serious challenge yet to the Bongo family’s half-century rule in the tiny, oil-rich nation.

Backers of the president and his main challenger, Jean Ping, also traded accusations of fraud allegedly committed during Saturday’s vote, raising the prospect of increased tension in the wake of an uncharacteristically bitter campaign. At a large gathering of supporters at his campaign headquarters in the capital, Ping, 73, distributed figures showing him handily beating Bongo.

“The general trends indicate we’re the winner of this important presidential election,” Ping told backers and reporters. “Despite numerous irregularities ... you have managed to thwart this regime’s congenital traps of fraud.” Interior Minister Pacôme Moubelet-Boubeya, who had already warned candidates that giving results before the official declaration was against the law, condemned Ping’s announcement. “The candidate Jean Ping has just carried out an attempt to manipulate the democratic process,” he said in a statement distributed late on Sunday. Official results are expected on Tuesday. Bongo, 57, who first won election after his father Omar died in 2009 after 42 years in office, has benefited from being the incumbent in a country with a patronage system lubricated by oil largesse.

Gabon’s one-round election means the winner simply requires more votes than any other candidate. In 2009, Bongo won with 41.73 percent of the vote.

Addressing Ping’s declaration, Bongo warned his rival against pre-empting the result by claiming victory before an official announcement. “You must not sell the skin of the bear before you’ve killed him,” he said, speaking at one of his campaign offices in Libreville.

“In any case, I am confident.” Minutes earlier, his spokesman Alain Claude Bilie By Nzé told journalists that Bongo was leading in five of Gabon’s nine provinces. In comments broadcast overnight on state-owned television, the spokesman went even further, stating that Bongo was poised to win another term in office. “Even if no figure can or should be given at this stage, we are, in light of information we are receiving, able to say that our candidate ... will claim victory,” he said. Bilie By Nzé also said “massive fraud” had been observed during the vote, particularly in polling stations located in opposition strongholds.

The interior ministry on Sunday acknowledged fraud had been noted in some polling stations. But it offered little detail and said that the process remained “satisfactory and positive”.

An oil producer with a population of less than two million, Gabon is one of Africa’s richest countries. However, declining oil output and falling prices have resulted in budget cuts and provided fodder for opposition claims that the average person has struggled under Bongo’s leadership. His re-election bid was also hobbled by a series of high-profile defections from the ruling party.

Ping, one of 10 candidates contesting the poll, is a former foreign minister and African Union Commission chairman, who was a close ally of Omar Bongo. Some opposition supporters have called into question Bongo’s Gabonese nationality, claiming he was adopted from eastern Nigeria as a baby, a charge that risks fuelling xenophobic sentiment and which the president denies.

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Nigeria Would Let Boko Haram Pick NGO Intermediary In Talks To Free Chibok Girls




Nigeria would let Boko Haram choose a non-profit organization as an intermediary in any talks on the release of about 200 schoolgirls kidnapped from the northeastern village of Chibok in 2014, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Sunday.

Buhari first said last year that his government was ready to negotiate with Islamist militants Boko Haram over the girls, but the group has not commented on the proposal.

Nigeria’s failure to find the kidnapped children prompted an outcry at home and abroad. Critics of Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, said his government was too slow to act.

Any negotiations would be the first publicly known talks between the government and Boko Haram, whose seven-year insurgency to create an Islamic state in the northeast has killed 15,000 people. “The government which I preside over is prepared to talk to bona fide leaders of Boko Haram,” Buhari told reporters at a conference on African development in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, in comments later issued in an official statement. “If they do not want to talk to us directly, let them pick an internationally recognized non-governmental organization (NGO),” he said.

Buhari said Boko Haram could begin negotiations on a prisoner swap if they could provide evidence to the NGO that they had the girls.

Around 270 girls were taken from their school in the village of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in April 2014. Dozens escaped in the initial melee, but more than 200 are still missing.

Earlier this month, Boko Haram published a video apparently showing recent footage of dozens of the girls and saying some were killed in air strikes.

Authorities said in May that one of the missing girls had been found and Buhari vowed to rescue the others. Nigeria is fighting the group on the ground and with air strikes. A multi-national joint task force - comprising troops from Nigeria and neighboring Niger, Cameroon, Chad and Benin - is also battling the militants.

On Tuesday, Nigeria’s air force said it had killed some senior Boko Haram militants in raids. Boko Haram pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) last year, but there are signs of a rift emerging.

This month IS announced a new leader for what it described as its West African operations but Boko Haram’s hitherto leader Abubakar Shekau appeared to later contradict this in a video message.

Buhari said that if the Nigerian jihadists moved to start discussions “through the ‘modified leadership’ of Boko Haram and they talk with an internationally recognized NGO” then Nigeria would be prepared to discuss the release of militant leaders.   

“We want those girls out and safe. The faster we can recover them and hand them over to their parents, the better for us,” he said.

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Tanzania: Rukwa Bans Planned Chadema Rallies, Deplores Defiance



Sumbawanga — The Rukwa Region Commissioner (RC), Mr Zelothe Steven, has banned political demonstration plans by CHADEMA in this municipality on September 1, warning that all those who will defy the order “will live to regret”.

The RC issued the warning during an exclusive interview with the ‘Daily News’ here yesterday in which he insisted that the people should obey the law “without any coercion”.

Mr Zelothe further called on the people to be careful with politicians who have plans to disrupt peace and tranquility and instead continue to cooperate in safeguarding the unity that the country has maintained all along. “I insist that the people should obey the law without either intimidation or threats.

Citizens want to carry out their businesses in peace and harmony; they don’t need interference that will be caused by unlawful protests,” added the RC. Mr Stephen maintained that the law would take its course once anyone breach peace and tranquility of the country. “The consequences of taking part in restricted demonstrations like these are well understood.

I, therefore, advise the youth not to involve themselves in such things as the law will take its own course once anyone breaches the country’s peace,” cautioned the RC. The RC’s warning came two days after the CHADEMA Rukwa Regional Chairman, Mr Shadrack Malilla, maintained that their stand on public meetings remained unchanged and that they would stage a peaceful demonstration. “We in CHADEMA in Rukwa Region have planned to stage a peaceful demonstration on September 1 ; we will march from our headquarters at Mazwi area to Ndui area in Kizwite area in the municipality where we will hold a public rally.” Reached for comment, the Rukwa Regional Police Commander (RPC), Mr George Kyando, maintained that their stand on public meetings remained unchanged as all rallies and political parties meetings were banned. He added that whoever would be caught defying the directive will be punished as per the laws of the country.

The RPC warned that stern measures would be taken against any defiant person. “The Police Force calls upon politicians to immediately stop putting pressure on citizens to disobey the country’s laws,” he added.

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Libyan Forces Say They Capture Mosque, Prison From Islamic State In Sirte




Libyan forces renewed their push to oust Islamic State from its former North African stronghold of Sirte on Sunday, saying they had seized the city’s main mosque and a jail run by the militants’ morality police.

The forces, mainly brigades from the city of Misrata, say they are close to capturing Sirte after taking most of the city in a three-month campaign and restricting militants to a shrinking residential area in the city center. Since Aug. 1, they have been supported by U.S. air strikes.

At least nine brigade fighters were killed and 85 wounded in Sunday’s fighting, Misrata hospital spokesman Akram Gliwan said. Fighters backed by heavy artillery and tanks advanced early in the day in Bufaraa neighborhood, seizing a building used by Islamic State’s morality police as a prison, said Rida Issa, a spokesman. Later, forces took Ribat mosque, Sirte’s biggest, where senior militants, including leading Islamic State ideologue Turki Ben Ali, had preached, the forces’ media office said.

The media office said “dozens” of bodies of Islamic State fighters were found in newly captured areas, although it did not give a specific number and it was not clear when the militants were killed.

As of Thursday, the United States had carried out 65 air strikes over Sirte, according to U.S. Africa Command, most recently against a supply truck, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device and three enemy fighting positions. The strikes have accelerated the progress of Libyan forces, whose advance had been slowed by suicide bombings, snipers and mines.

Islamic State took control of Sirte last year, setting up a proto-state modeled on its practices in Iraq and Syria and enforcing its ultra-hardline rule on residents.

Losing the city would be a major blow for the group, although militants who escaped or are based elsewhere in Libya are expected to keep trying to exploit the country’s political turmoil and security vacuum.

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Liberian Nurses Learn To Spot Danger Signs In Babies As Healthcare Gets Shot In Arm


The Guardian


The Well Baby clinic in Buchanan is busy. But that’s not unusual. The clinic, a two-hour drive from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, sees between 700 and 1,000 mothers and children each week.

Nurse Cellian Fahncole sits in a consulting room off the main waiting room. She is examining a baby girl and asking the mother a series of questions, checking the responses against a list. “I am asking, ‘Does the child have fever and for how long? Is the fever accompanied by other symptoms?’ I refer to my book and check for danger signs, which are highlighted in pink. If there is any one of the danger signs, I know that I need to refer the child to a hospital,” she says.

Fahncole is using a system of diagnosis in which midwives and nurses in 77 health facilities across three counties were recently trained. “The mother said the child was coughing so I did a breath count on the child, measuring how many breaths per minute, but the breath count did not fall into the pink zone on my check list so I know that was not serious.

“The same with diarrhoea. She had it but it wasn’t threatening her life. I asked, ‘Is she drinking normally? Is she thirsty all the time?’ If it showed symptoms of dehydration, then I go to that column and explore that aspect in more detail. But she didn’t have more than two of the signs, so I was able to rule it out. It helps me know I am making good decisions.” The system is being introduced by the international health organisation Jhpiego, which has supported the mother and baby clinic since the Ebola crisis.

Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, US, provided training on how to use protective equipment for staff during the Ebola epidemic. It now offers wider medical staff training and, crucially, the introduction of standardised systems of care designed to better spot and treat illnesses. The new system is part of a global push to better manage childhood illness.

“It was difficult for our government to standardise healthcare; they do not have the resources. The best thing that Jhpiego has done here, aside from giving us protective kit during Ebola, is training us. I feel now that we have the best knowledge to help people. We really didn’t have that before,” says Fahncole. Satto Johnson is a county health programme officer at the Well Baby clinic in Buchanan.

The training is really helping nurses, says Satto Johnson, a county health officer. Until recently she worked as a nurse in a government-run hospital that faced huge difficulties providing care where there is a chronic lack of equipment and expertise. Johnson adds: “Once I had three patients needing oxygen and only one oxygen tank, so I kept having to move it between the three of them. That kind of thing is really tough when all you want to do is help people but you can’t. At the hospital only the bosses used to get any training, never the nurses. But now every level of worker gets it. It has really helped us to stay on top.”

Babygryl is at the clinic with her daughter Ellis for vaccinations. It cost her 25 Liberian dollars (about 20p) and took two hours to get here by motorbike taxi. When she arrived she asked for paracetamol because Ellis had a fever. Normally, the fever would have prevented staff from vaccinating her. But rather than letting her go, nurses have kept her at the clinic all day, regularly bathing her in a bid to bring down her fever.

“It’s not ideal,” explains a nurse. “But if we let her go she probably won’t come back so we want to see if we can bring down the child’s temperature enough to safely vaccinate her. I am also a little concerned about the mother’s health. When I was talking to her I could see she sounded a little depressed, so we want to assess her too.”

The clinic is streamlining its services for women. In the past if a woman came to have a baby vaccinated, she would be told to come back on another day if she also needed family planning. Attempts are now being made to identify and serve all a woman’s needs in one visit.


Jamyah, 17, came to the clinic for antenatal care but was also offered family planning advice by a specialist worker. She says she didn’t know about family planning “so it is good to learn this today”.


Stephen E James, the local director for community health, says he’s confident that standardised systems could be key to helping Liberia withstand another Ebola outbreak.


“Before, we didn’t do enough prevention control or case management of individual patients. But now, if you take this clinic as just one example, you can see the changes. Where once only senior level staff had proper training, now it has cascaded to all healthcare workers.”


Fahncole diagnoses the baby girl with non-life threatening malaria and she is allowed to go home. But as she points out, there is still a long way to go when it comes to improving the health of the nation.


“Malaria is one the biggest killers of children here. Many families have no roofs on their houses so they have no way to protect themselves from malaria. When it rains they have to sleep in the wet, then they get pneumonia. We still have no way to stop poverty making people sick.”

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Kenya’s Ogiek People Forced From Homes Amid ‘Colonial Approach To Conservation’


The Guardian


They came without warning, forcing people from their homes with no time to collect their possessions. A deaf old man was attacked when he didn’t hear the orders to leave. Then the houses were burned to the ground.

More than 200 families, all from the indigenous Ogiek minority, were evicted from their homes on the slopes of Mount Elgon in western Kenya by a force of about 50 police and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) rangers in June. “They were armed,” says Peter Kitelo, an Ogiek activist.

While some people found refuge with friends and family, or have been able to build shelters, many still have only trees for cover. “We are really cold. There is no food, there [are] no blankets, there is no shelter,” says Cosmas Murunga, 68, who fled his home with 10 family members as it was set on fire.

About 80,000 Ogiek live close to the border with Uganda and in the Mau forest, roughly 140 miles to the south-east, according to Kenya’s 2009 census (pdf). Both communities of hunter-gatherers have experienced multiple evictions since the British colonial authorities expelled them in the 1930s to make way for forest reserves and white settlers.

The Ogiek believe a huge area, stretching from the Ugandan border through a national park created in 1968, and down into farmland below the forest, is their ancestral land. They have been negotiating with the local government on an out-of-court settlement, after it recognised that land turned into the Cheptikale game reserve in 2000 should be community-owned. Since those discussions began in 2012 the Ogiek have been allowed to live undisturbed on the land. But the boundary between the 17,000-hectare (42,000-acre) reserve and KFS-controlled land has never been made fully clear, says Justin Kenrick of the Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO that has been working with the Ogiek.

Kenya’s 2010 constitution protects indigenous rights to land, but the community land bill that is meant to put these into law is yet to be passed by parliament. “[Ogiek] rights have been brutalised,” says Esther Mwangi, a scientist at the Centre for International Forestry Research. “A lot of this happens because of the lack of political power and influence.”

Things had been looking up for the Ogiek of Mount Elgon. They have written bylaws to ensure protection of the forest – which have been shared with government agencies, as part of their fight to convince the authorities that they had coexisted with the forest and its wildlife for centuries. They were also working with the KFS and Kenya Wildlife Service to hand over poachers and illegal charcoal burners. Five Ogiek scouts were being trained by the government to carry out arrests.

But a great deal of destruction is evident in the forest reserve that borders Mount Elgon national park. Entire hillsides have been stripped of trees to make way for maize farming. While some of the deforestation is due to charcoal burning, much of it has been KFS-sanctioned. The agency is allowed to rent some forest land to farmers under the plantation establishment and livelihood improvement scheme (pdf). But this is only meant to take place in areas where tree seedlings are being regrown (pdf). Kitelo claims trees are not being replanted and that farming is covering about 30,000 hectares, three times the area it is supposed to cover. Meanwhile, the KFS maintains that conservation requires the forest to be uninhabited.

“There was no one living there,” says Alex Lemarkoko, the KFS’s head of enforcement, who claims that in June his team were only “clearing” the area of livestock herders. “In terms of evictions – no we have not done evictions.” Lemarkoko also denied the existence of villages on the moors above the forest. “It is too high, people cannot live there – they don’t live there,” he says. “Hunting and gathering is a primitive practice, it doesn’t happen in Kenya.” The KFS believes people and wildlife must be kept separate. But, as Kenrick points out, numerous studies have shown that indigenous groups are often the most effective guardians of forests. “The colonial approach to conservation has involved evicting the very communities who have sustained their lands for centuries or millennia, leaving their forests at the mercy of those whose only interest is in exploiting them,” he says.


This “colonial approach” is followed across Kenya. As well as the Mount Elgon evictions, in March Ogiek homes and stores in the Mau forest were destroyed by a gang organised by a local politician and supported by police. In the Cherangany hills, the Sengwer people have experienced repeated evictions since 2009. The KFS says the community has been resettled; activists say the terms attached to compensation payments, many of which were taken by men who left their families behind to move to towns, were not made clear.


At least one constitutional ruling has been ignored: a high court judgment in March 2014 said the evictions of Ogiek Mau violated their right to life, and that a healthy forest was necessary for them to “sustain their ways of life as well as their cultural and ethnic identity”. The ruling also ordered negotiations over land ownership in the Mau forest to take place under the aegis of the National Land Commission, a body established under the 2010 constitution. But so far no discussions have taken place.


International donors continue to fund the KFS. The Finnish government, which gave €18.6m (£14.2m) to a forest reform programme that ran from 2009 to 2015, and is planning a new donation as part of its “human rights-based approach”, declined to comment for this article. The EU is due to give the KFS €5m as part of a €31m, six-year programme to conserve the Mount Elgon and Cherangany hills water towers.


Meanwhile, Murunga and his family are still out in the cold. “We are at the mercy of God,” he says.

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Somalia: One Man’s Terrorist Is Another Man’s Carpenter


The Guardian


What does a terrorist look like? No such archetype exists of course, but you certainly wouldn’t figure somebody like Mohammed Abdi*. Yet the slight, middle-aged man with a neatly trimmed beard was until 18 months ago a member of the Somali jihadist group al-Shabaab – albeit in its finance department.

He joined willingly. The former shopkeeper heard a sermon in the mosque in his home town, 50km north-west of the central city of Bosaso, urging people to stand up to defend Islam, and was convinced.

He handed the keys of his shop to his aunt, and despite the objections of his family, joined the insurgency fighting what he regarded as an illegitimate government backed by western interests. “I was very excited and very happy as I was serving the religion,” said Abdi. His job was to collect the money raised from al-Shabaab checkpoints and the taxes levied once a year on households. When al-Shabaab controlled much of the countryside before an offensive last year by the African Union’s intervention force, known as Amisom, they raised “a lot of money”, he said. It was enough to keep men like Mohammed Farah* armed, fed and fighting. The stocky, gravelly voiced former al-Shabaab soldier had been with the militants from the early days, but now, like Abdi, he has defected.

Both men have taken advantage of a government amnesty and are in a voluntary programme for disengaged combatants. These are men and women who are assessed as low-risk by the Somali intelligence service, which means they have not been involved in major military action or committed any serious crimes.

The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) initiative provides them with vocational training, then hires them on public works projects – typically building schools and clinics – and finally they are set up with a trade and released. Throughout their time on the programme, they live in the community. There are currently three centres: in Mogadishu, south-central Beledweyne and Baidoa, with a facility in the southern city of Kismayo due to open soon. There is also a safe house in Baidoa for female al-Shabaab members and their dependents, which graduated its first group of 19 women this year.

Farah is on the programme, despite his combat experience, because he is a marked man and it’s probably the safest place for him. He was arrested by al-Shabaab as a suspected spy after US-piloted drones kept finding his unit, and was lucky to escape what was likely to have been a death sentence.

“The only thing that al-Shabaab fears are drones and the Ethiopians,” he said, a reference to Ethiopian soldiers in Amisom and Ethiopian commandos camped inside Somalia who report directly to Addis Ababa. A colleague helped Farah get away after he had been beaten up and thrown into detention. He made the 90km journey to Baidoa barefoot, over terrain he knew well, but he believes he has only delayed the inevitable. He has heard al-Shabaab is out to kill him and, even though he sleeps in the barracks, he thinks it’s only a matter of time before they get him.

Both men said they joined al-Shabaab out of conviction. But the evidence for most low-level defectors is that recruitment is driven by economic need, peer pressure, or coercion by family or religious leaders. According to research based on focus group discussions by the UN assistance mission in the country, Unsom, the main attractions are: the promise of a large salary ($400-1,000); the power of the ideology; the cool uniform; the promise of an exciting life; and the attraction of fighting for Islam. “Religion is not one of the main reasons that compels anyone to join al-Shabaab,” said Patrick Loots, Unsom’s chief DDR officer and the architect of the disengaged combatants programme. “On the questionnaire, people listed that they needed money, or that their family needed money,” he told Irin. “But once in, that’s when al-Shabaab works very hard on the religious component.” The bulk of al-Shabaab’s recruits are drawn from the central region, and there is little community disapproval over recruitment. “The attitude is ‘these are our sons and daughters’,” said Vikram Parekh, Unsom’s head of office in Baidoa. “There’s only stigma if you’ve committed something horrendous, and that’s not the people we’re talking about in the disengaged combatants centre.”

Abdi and Farah share similar reasons for quitting to take up the government’s amnesty offer. Abdi said he was angered when he realised al-Shabaab’s public profession of piety was not the reality. “I saw a lot of vices, like burning people’s property at checkpoints – that is not in the Qur’an.”

But it was witnessing the murder of eight elders accused of collaborating with the government that caused Abdi’s doubts to really set in. “They should have been taken to court, but instead they were taken to a different location and killed,” he told Irin. “I saw the bodies.”


As a soldier, Farah has seen far worse. But it was a similar episode of injustice, and the impunity with which al-Shabaab operates, that finally got to him. There was one episode in particular. It was near Beledweyne, when al-Shabaab again ordered the execution of an elder. With the knife at his throat, the man started reciting the Shahada [the Islamic declaration of faith]. “I began weeping,” said Farah. “There was nothing I could do.”

Farah believes al-Shabaab is at its weakest point. It is paranoid about spies, and, although the movement is historically loyal to al-Qaida, there is discord over the influence of so-called Islamic State. Being accused of Isis sympathies is a dangerous charge to have hanging over one’s head, explained Farah.


Al-Shabaab is also short of cash. In the past, money allowed it to buy support from the community and provided the intelligence tips that made it so effective. Now, fear of retribution is the main currency. “It’s not human and it’s not Islamic,” insisted Farah.


Unsom’s research suggests the reason low-level al-Shabaab combatants defect is that their expectations are not met after they join up. The salary, if paid at all, is between $20 and $500; the discipline is ferocious; and the frontline is far from a glamorous place to be.


Abdul Abdulahi* works in one of the government’s rehabilitation centres. He understands the initial appeal of al-Shabaab: it was a powerful vision of cleaning Somalia of the clan-based warlords that had destroyed the country, and returning to a golden age of justice and righteousness. “They occupied a void. There was no good government. People were tired of the clans. But they are hypocrites.”


He sees the DDR programme as a potentially powerful weapon in the fight against the militants, if it is properly promoted. “We have to set up more centres like this one, and to tell the low-risk combatants to defect and be retrained and reintegrated.”


In his town, among the 79 who have so far graduated from the programme, are people who are now providing jobs to their families and the community. It means that “instead of being destructive, they are now productive”, said Abdulahi.

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Nigeria Relaunches Controversial ‘War On Indiscipline’ Brigade


The Guardian


The Nigerian government has announced it is relaunching the controversial “war against indiscipline” task force, more than 32 years after it was first introduced during a military dictatorship.

President Muhammadu Buhari, who was elected last year after running a campaign promising to fight corruption, first established the brigade in 1984 and charged it with maintaining public order.

Pledging that it would once again fight for “orderliness in our society, both in private and public life”, the 170,000-strong force made up mostly of volunteers will be redeployed across Nigeria. When operating under Buhari, the force was able to hand out fines for offences such as littering or “not queuing correctly” at bus stops.

At the official launch in the capital on Monday, the head of the National Orientation Agency, a government organisation tasked with running the brigade, announced that in a period of insecurity and violence exacerbated by the Islamist group Boko Haram the war against indiscipline (WAI) would play a crucial role in “civil intelligence gathering”.

The minister of information, Lai Mohammed, has also said that the brigade will help to address the “lack of ethics and values” in Nigerian society.

“Many Nigerians are worried about the erosion of values, widespread indiscipline, dwindling integrity and poor attitude to work,” he told reporters when plans for the WAI’s return were first announced in May.


‘It got extreme’

But while complaints from politicians on the lack of public order are not new, the relaunching of the WAI marks a controversial turn in Buhari’s administration.

Though it is unlikely to be as aggressive as it was in 1984, there is little clarity on the powers that will be granted to the modernised force, leading some citizens to fear a return of the brutality of the public order campaign of the 1980s, a period of beatings and human rights abuses that came to characterise Buhari’s military regime. Hannah Oke, a 58-year-old former nurse in Ibadan, remembers how pervasive the campaign’s propaganda was. On television and radio, broadcasters repeated the slogans of the campaign and encouraged people to queue correctly and to behave with integrity.

“[The] idea was that we all had to act in the right way to make Nigeria great for everyone in the country,” she said. TV news presenters reportedly wore badges with “war against indiscipline” printed on them and theatre productions and art exhibitions found creative ways to reinforce the campaign’s mantra.

“But it got extreme. People were being sent to prison for years for doing petty things. On our street someone was detained because they threw their rubbish in a wrong place and was reported. Really it just became too much,” Oke said. “I don’t see why in a supposed democracy you need organisations like this. Let the police enforce the law and other security forces, not WAI.” But others remember the time with nostalgia. Alphonso Ajayi, a retired manager living in Lagos, remembers a time when Nigeria was more orderly and organised. “Back then I was a supporter of WAI because Nigeria needed something that will correct so many bad practices,” he said.

“It was a good initiative because it brought a lot of order and stability. People responded to it because it was a strict approach. I think it is a good idea that it is being relaunched because since the 80s things in our society have so deteriorated. It is much needed again.”

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Gabon Aims To Cut Yawning Poverty Gap By Ending Its Dependency On Oil

The Guardian


Gabon is 85% rainforest. Flying over the giant canopy, the miles pass without a glimpse of the forest floor.

Then a bald patch emerges. In the clearing in Awala, which has become Africa’s biggest industrial plantation, men in boots tend to thousands of small palm trees in long rows.

They are setting the scene for palm oil production, which the government says is one of the best ways to tackle the country’s terrible inequality. Gabon is one of Africa’s richest countries, but many of its citizens are among the poorest – a malady common in countries rich with natural resources.

Its tiny population of 1.9 million and huge oil wealth mean in 2015 it had a GDP per capita of about $8,300 (£6,446), one of the highest in the continent. However, a third of its citizens live below the poverty line, and unemployment stands at more than 20% – 35% among young people.

The plantations, the government hopes, will create jobs in rural areas and help the country diversify away from oil. “Inevitably, when you have a country which suddenly gets quite a considerable revenue, and you don’t have production on the market level, the result is the atrophy of other sectors,” says Gabon’s economic minister, Regis Immongault. “The result is that costs go up, marginalising part of the population.

“We don’t try to hide the poverty. Although there is growth, it is not necessarily inclusive. There is still a level of precariousness that we should absolutely fight.”

The need to diversify industry has grown more urgent as falling oil prices have slashed the country’s income, with a knock-on effect on the poorest citizens.

With a still relatively unskilled workforce, attracting foreign investment is key, according to the country’s president, Ali Bongo Ondimba. His bold ambition is to turn Gabon into an emerging economy by 2025.

“Ali Bongo is very sharp and he could see that the difficulty with producing raw materials was that it doesn’t create many jobs,” says Paul Melly, an associate fellow at Chatham House. “His goal has been to move Gabon to a higher-tech, skilled economy.”

Bongo has signed deals worth $4.5bn with three Asian companies. One is Singapore-based Olam, which is developing 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres) of oil palm trees in Gabon. The company has also collaborated with the government to set up a 1,000 hectare special economic zone, in a 40-60% public-private partnership. The government offers special terms to any foreign firm willing to build inside the zone.

There are no taxes or customs duties for the first 10 years. The zone offers fast-tracked documentation – you can create a company in 48 hours, or get an investor’s visa in three days.

The walled-off zone is in Nkok, just outside the capital, Libreville, on a road that is being rebuilt. Just inside the gate, two concrete panthers gaze down from a large replica of the national coat of arms.

Warehouses containing logs, scrap metal and workers are inside the walls. Most of the land is empty, although it is a constant race against the forest to keep it so. Here, abandoned cars don’t just sit and rust, they are swallowed by the jungle.


Most of the warehouses are used to process timber – one of the country’s main exports. However, Gabon has banned the export of raw logs to ensure materials are transformed in-country, to create more jobs.




Many of the skilled jobs – in Nkok and on the plantations – are done by foreign workers while Gabonese are trained.


Bongo, who became president in 2009, has sought to distance himself from the legacy of his late father, Omar, who was president for 42 years and was accused of squandering Gabon’s oil wealth. To great fanfare – and widespread cynicism – Bongo announced last year that he would “give up” his share of the inheritance from his father. He has also implemented a successful health insurance system for poor people funded by a 10% levy on the turnover of mobile phone companies.


Gagan Gupta, the head of Olam in Gabon, believes that the strategy is working: the new factories and plantations are helping to reduce poverty. In Mouila, in Gabon’s south-west, a plantation meant a $1.5m monthly salary injection into what was previously a subsistence economy, according to Gupta.


“Putting money in is very easy,” he says. “The more difficult bit is how you make a public-private partnership work. The government brings the ability to give investors ease of doing business. We bring technical experience. We bring credibility. When we go to the banks and say we’re executing it, the banks are much more comfortable that if Olam is doing it, it’ll get done.


“What the government does not bring, which helps us, is interference. About 6,000 people work in the extractive industry. And with us, you have about 9,000 people working in a project that’s six years old. Olam and the government of Gabon have brought relevant contributions to this partnership and actually made a success [of it].”


However, big plantations like Olam’s are a serious threat to biodiversity and rural populations, according to a 2013 report by Brainforest, an environmental NGO in Gabon.


Building up other industries to lower oil dependency could have taken other, more sustainable routes, Brainforest said.




“Gabon is very dependent on other countries for its food. So their efforts to diversify away from oil should have been focused on planting food crops, so as to move towards self-sufficiency,” says Brainforest’s Protet Essono-Ondo. “But since 2009, the government has been focused on agribusiness, specifically palm oil and rubber, even though various studies have shown that people’s priority is food crops and vegetables.”


Most of the jobs created were “precarious seasonal jobs, without any security or sustainability,” says Essono-Ondo.


He added there is not enough consultation about government initiatives to attract business, and the awarding of contracts is murky.


Ultimately, Melly says, delivering results for the poorest will depend on how strong the government’s willpower is, or the leverage donors can still exercise. “In other countries they can still strike a bargain, and if you’re in Mali or Benin, you’re not in a position to argue. That’s not the case in Gabon.”


The question is whether the hundreds of thousands Gabonese living below the poverty line will get a share in the success this time around.

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South Africa Enters Awkward Coalition Era After ANC Domination



Gladys Sithole had voted for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) ever since its long-jailed former leader Nelson Mandela swept to power in South Africa at the end of apartheid 22 years ago. She did not expect much in return, just a toilet.

Standing in the doorway of her house in Atteridgeville near Pretoria and wrapped in a blanket against the cold, she explained the sea change among ANC supporters in local elections on Aug 3 which nudged South Africa from post-apartheid one-party ANC rule into a new era of uneasy coalitions.

“The ANC promised us many things when they freed us but those things haven’t happened,” the 64-year-old said at the three-room home she shares with her frail husband and unemployed son in one of the townships blacks were confined to by apartheid.

She is pinning her hopes on the Democratic Alliance (DA), formerly the preserve of South Africa’s white minority, while others in Atteridgeville support the Economic Freedom Fighters, a radical party vowing to shift wealth from whites to blacks.

The ANC still scored the most votes across the country but failed to win an outright majority in key urban municipalities, which means all three major parties are now scrambling to build coalitions, by an official deadline of Saturday. It is a type of politics South Africa has little experience of, requiring compromises so great they threaten to dash the hopes of voters whose patience with politicians is wearing thin.

Successful opposition coalitions could show that the ANC’s rivals can run local councils, strengthening their credentials to unseat the ANC nationally in 2019. But they may also descend into wrangling, slowing decision-making or triggering new elections at a time when Africa’s most industrialized country teeters on the verge of recession.

“No one really knows what’s going on. It’s confusing,” said 20-year-old student Wiseman Siyabonga, who stayed loyal to the ANC because of education and housing grants he benefits from.

Atteridgeville, the township on the edge of Pretoria where Sithole has lived since 1970, is typical of dozens on the fringes of South African cities that used to be so dominated by the ANC that opponents barely bothered to campaign. That changed in Atteridgeville after the ANC, without consulting locally, replaced its mayor for the municipality that includes the township after he criticized the party.

Residents of the township barricaded roads, looted shops and set vehicles ablaze during riots in June and the ANC’s share of the vote in Sithole’s ward fell to 54 percent from 88 percent.

Nationally the ANC won 53 percent, down from 62 percent five years ago, opening the way for a possible challenge to President Jacob Zuma’s leadership before the 2019 parliamentary election, in which the winning party’s leader becomes president. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told reporters on Sunday the party’s leadership was trying to “deal with perceptions of the ANC being arrogant, self serving, soft on corruption and increasingly distant from its social base”. Investors have largely welcomed the election results, and the rand has gained around five percent since the vote. But future coalitions face the daunting task of improving the lives of millions of South Africans, with a quarter of the potential workforce unemployed and the jobless rate among black people aged 20-24 at almost half, not to mention poor housing. “It’s not nice, especially when it’s cold,” said Sithole, referring to the rickety cubicles in her own and other yards, which the ANC vowed to replace with inside toilets years ago.


There are 27 municipalities out of 278 where no party won an outright majority, including four urban municipalities wielding budgets totaling around 130 billion rand ($9.65 billion).


The DA, which elected its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane, last year, won the most votes in the symbolically important Nelson Mandela Bay, which includes the manufacturing center Port Elizabeth, and Tshwane, home to the capital Pretoria.


The ANC narrowly won the largest share in economic hub Johannesburg and the neighboring industrial region of Ekurhuleni where the main airport is based.


Julius Malema’s three-year-old Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has been cast in the role of kingmaker, coming third with 8 percent of the national vote.


The three parties say they are holding talks with one other and other smaller parties but details have been kept secret.


“I think a coalition between DA and EFF could work. They might get something done,” said Thabiso Clemenet, 26, an unemployed IT graduate who lives with six family members, aged between 8 and 80, in a two bedroom house in Atteridgeville.




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Clemenet points at pot-holed roads that have not been fixed and an empty plot of land where a health clinic was supposed to be built three years ago as examples of the ANC’s failure.


But his reasons for voting for the EFF, a party which has struck a chord with many young black men, hint at the difficulty of coalition building. “The EFF seems to offer the most radical offer of change,” he said. “That’s what we need.”




On the surface, it would seem unthinkable that the pro-business DA with a white support base, could partner with the EFF, which proposes nationalizing mines and banks and redistributing land from whites to blacks without compensation.


The DA and EFF do share common ground, notably an avowed determination not to work with the ANC, and the DA has the track record of a successful coalition with like-minded parties in Cape Town, where it boosted its majority to over two-thirds.


“I’ve no doubt there will be issues but I think a DA/EFF coalition is the best government citizens could get,” said political analyst Prince Mashele.


“The two parties will watch each other so there is no corruption. They will also pull each other toward the center and they should both want to deliver to the people if they are going to convince voters in 2019.”


Lingering inequality is a central issue. Black people make up 80 percent of South Africa’s 54 million population yet most of the economy remains in the hands of white people, who account for about 8 percent of the population. “We are going to show what can be done,” Solly Msimanga, DA mayoral candidate in Tshwane told Reuters, citing the creation of tax free zones outside townships like Atteridgeville where small businesses like bakeries and mechanics could thrive. “You talk about nursery schools and health clinics. There are budgets for these sort of projects but they are not being spent,” Msimanga said of projects neglected in the township.


EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi has said the party would announce its decision on coalitions on Wednesday and James Selfe, a senior DA executive who has led the party’s negotiations, said on Tuesday talks were at an advanced stage.


“Everyone is in a position where they know what’s on offer, they know what’s at stake,” Selfe told reporters. “They’ll have to take a decision.”


But in a country where coalitions remain largely untested, there are many who doubt they can succeed. “There’s no way the EFF and DA can work together,” said student Siyabonga. “They will fight each other and the people will suffer.”

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Fears Of Global Yellow Fever Epidemic Grow As Vaccine Stocks Dwindle


The Guardian


A last-ditch effort to prevent yellow fever spreading through Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and potentially developing into a global epidemic is to be launched using vaccines containing a fifth of the normal dose because the global stockpile is so low.

Yellow fever is frequently lethal, killing half of those who develop severe symptoms. It is transmitted by the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is also responsible for the spread of Zika virus. There is a vaccine which protects people for life, but few adults had been immunised in Angola when yellow fever broke out there in December last year, and in the DRC, to where it has spread.

If it takes hold in Kinshasa, a densely packed city of more than 10 million people, it is feared that infected mosquitoes could travel beyond the central African region, which has been experiencing so severe an outbreak that vaccine stocks are almost exhausted.

There have been nearly 4,000 suspected cases of yellow fever in Angola and more than 2,200 in DRC, with around 400 reported deaths in the two countries, mostly in Angola. Almost 19m doses of vaccine have been administered since January, but there are only 5m left in the emergency stockpile. The vaccine takes a year to make, so even with the handful of manufacturers working flat out, stocks cannot be replenished quickly. “It has got us incredibly worried,” said Ruairidh Villar of Save the Children, which is helping with the vaccination effort. “We’ve just scrambled an emergency team to DRC to support a last-ditch vaccination campaign before the outbreak reaches Kinshasa. Our fear is it is likely to go global if we can’t stop it soon and it hits the city.”

He added: “It is not as fatal as Ebola but it is pretty awful. The symptoms include fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. Some people recover within a few days but a minority become severely ill, suffering organ failure, bleeding from the eyes and death.

“Yellow fever is something that we know and it is something for which we have the tools to prevent the spread, which is the vaccine,” said Dr Joanne Liu, international president of Médecins Sans Frontières, which is involved in the yellow fever response. “The first cases of yellow fever were in December 2015 and confirmed in January. The first vaccination started a few weeks afterwards, but it could have been a bit more prompt. “What does it tell us? Even if we have the best surveillance systems and tools, we still need the political will to act at local level, regional level and international level. As with Ebola, when that is not enacted, we always, always have a delay in the response. There were some critical weeks which basically allowed fertile ground for spread.

“This makes me deeply saddened and also a little bit in despair. We need to act – a quick and prompt response.”

There have been reports of 1m doses of vaccine disappearing after being delivered to Angola, but the World Health Organisation denies any doses went missing. The government appears to have used the vaccine elsewhere in Angola.

“Following a review of the first round of vaccination campaigns in Angola, it was found that around 1m doses from the emergency stocks had been used to vaccinate people in other medical facilities that were not part of the initial approved emergency vaccination plans,” a WHO spokesman said.

A mass vaccination campaign in western DRC in May immunised more than 200,000 people, said Heather Kerr, Save’s country director there. But it did not stop the spread. “Now we’re planning a second response with the emergency health unit. We work together with them to support the government. The plan is to vaccinate in all the provinces bordering Angola because the yellow fever originally arrived from Angola,” Kerr said by Skype from Kinshasa. Time is running out to prevent the spread of yellow fever because the rains will begin in September. Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP

“Kinshasa is such a huge city. We don’t really know how big it is. We think there are about 10 million people here. Some of the suburbs are very, very crowded. We are close to the Angolan border as well. There have already been cases in Kinshasa – not many, but a few – because of the density of the population and the ability of the mosquitoes to travel far.

“Fortunately for us, we’re in the dry season but there are still people being bitten by mosquitoes and not everybody is sleeping under a mosquito net.”

WHO said that, until now, outbreaks in central Africa had been in rural areas, not crowded urban environments, where mosquitoes thrive in standing water. Time is running out to check the spread, however, because the rains will begin in September.

The emergency vaccination campaign beginning on Wednesday was one of the largest ever attempted, WHO said.

“Working with ministries of health in the two countries, WHO is coordinating 56 global partners to vaccinate more than 14 million people against yellow fever in more than 8,000 locations,” it said in a statement. “The yellow fever outbreak has found its way to dense, urban areas and hard-to-reach border regions, making planning for the vaccination campaign especially complex.”

The decision to give people one-fifth of the normal dose of vaccine – known as fractional dosing – was taken by WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts on immunisation (Sage). There are some small studies that show it gives protection for at least a year and possibly longer.

Protecting as many people as possible is at the heart of this strategy. With a limited supply we need to use these vaccines very carefully, said William Perea, coordinator for the control of epidemic diseases unit at WHO.

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Zephany Nurse Kidnapper Jailed For 10 Years In South Africa


The Guardian


A woman in South Africa who kidnapped a newborn baby and raised her for 17 years, before a chance encounter at a local school reunited the girl with her biological family, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The kidnapping victim, who was named by her birth family as Zephany Nurse, was taken from her sleeping mother at a maternity ward at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town in 1997. Her kidnapper, now 52, who has not been named, raised the child as her own. The Nurse family had been living within a couple of miles of their kidnapped daughter, celebrating her birthday every year and never giving up hope of finding her.

The girl’s real identity was revealed by chance in February 2015 after her younger biological sister began attending the same local secondary school. Pupils were struck by the resemblance of the two students, who formed a close friendship.

According to one account, their parents then arranged to see the two sisters eating burgers together in McDonald’s. Struck too by the physical similarities, they contacted authorities. DNA tests confirmed that Zephany was their long-lost daughter, prompting the arrest of the woman who had raised her.

In handing down the lengthy jail sentence, a judge at the high court in Cape Town said the woman’s crime was premeditated and too serious not to warrant a jail term, South Africa’s News24 reported. The kidnapper was found guilty in March of kidnapping, fraud and contravening the Children’s Act. She claimed she had not been at Groote Schuur hospital on the day Zephany Nurse was kidnapped, and said she had been tricked when she was given the baby by a woman called Sylvia who had been giving her fertility treatment after she had multiple miscarriages.

State prosecutors had demanded 15 years’ imprisonment. Evidence found at the scene indicated that the woman had repeatedly entered the maternity wards of the hospital and made a series of attempts to abduct an infant before making off with Zephany.

Hlophe said the crimes the kidnapper had committed were serious, but he had taken into account her previously clean record and other mitigating circumstances in deciding the sentence, News24 reported. After the kidnapper’s arrest, Zephany was placed with her biological parents and siblings by local social services. According to some reports in local media, Zephany has opted to move back to the home where she grew up and has not formed any bond with her biological family.

The teenager issued a statement aimed at reporters earlier this year saying: “Don’t you think for once that that is my mother? Whether it is true or not is not for you to toy with.” In an impassioned plea for privacy, she added: “Have you got no shame or a bit of remorse about what I am going through? You invaded personal things about me and my loved ones. Not even half of those things are true … How would your daughter or son feel when their skin feels ripped off their face? … Appreciate the privacy you have with your family and think what I am going through, and my father and mother. I plead again: don’t hurt me no more with these lies please.” There were emotional scenes at the courthouse in Cape Town as relatives of the convicted woman briefly hurled abuse at the Nurse family and shouted that Zephany would “always belong” to them.

Morné Nurse, the girl’s biological father, welcomed the sentence, saying he was looking forward to building a relationship with his daughter. “It’s actually made me tired, it’s made me sick completely,” he told Agence France-Presse outside court. “I couldn’t sleep for nights. I couldn’t even eat properly. So the way forward is to build my relationship with my daughter, and that’s it.”


During the trial, Celeste Nurse, Zephany’s biological mother, described how, aged 18, she woke up in the maternity ward to find her three-day-old baby had vanished from her cot.


Zephyr Nurse, the abducted woman’s grandmother, said the sentence would “tell people to stop abducting and kidnapping children”.


There are frequent reports of such cases in South African media, or other crimes involving trafficking of infants and children. In May, a South African woman who tried to sell her 19-month-old son on the internet was given a five-year suspended sentence.


The woman, 20, had put the boy up for sale for 5,000 rand (£230) in an advertisement on Gumtree. A member of the public alerted the police, and the woman was arrested in an undercover operation in October. The mother said she had tried selling her baby boy after her boyfriend stopped paying childcare following paternity tests that showed he was not the child’s father.


Human trafficking carries a maximum penalty of life in prison or a fine of 100m rand.

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