August 7 – 13, 2017: Congo cracks down on social media, while Dalai Lama bails on Botswana

drcThe Democratic Republic of Congo last week ordered social media be limited after over a dozen people died in an anti-government riot.

The violence last Monday broke out when the Bundu dia Kongo (BDK) rebel group attacked the main prison in the capital Kinshasa, facing off against police and soldiers.

Later that day, the telecoms chief regulator ordered “technical measures” be taken by internet companies “to restrict to a minimum the capacity to transmit images”, reports Reuters — a move rights groups labelled an attack on freedom of expression.

“Most worryingly, it comes amid a worsening political crisis where the risk of human rights violations and abuses – and therefore the importance of social media as a documentation tool — is high,” said Amnesty International in a statement.

The restrictions were also somewhat conveniently timed to coincide with a two-day stay-away called by the opposition, who are still waiting for a date for the country’s long-overdue national vote to be set.

Communications minister Emery Okundji later said the restrictions – which would soon be eased, he claimed – were necessary “for public safety reasons” as images posted online were “distorting the truth and inciting violence”.


mozambiqueMozambique‘s president Filipe Nyusi last week traveled to the mountain hideout of Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the opposition, to discuss steps towards a lasting peace between the two sides.

Dhlakama’s Renamo party has been warring with government troops since 2013, as he presses for “greater decentralisation of the state and better integration of their people into the police and military”, reports AFP.

According to Mozambique’s news agency AIM, Renamo wants provincial leaders elected rather than appointed — a demand that would require amending the constitution.

“That in turn can only be passed with a two thirds majority in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic,” reports AIM. “To achieve the two thirds, the parliamentary groups of the ruling Frelimo Party and of Renamo must agree on the text of the amendment.”

A press statement from the presidency said that the  two leaders “discussed and agreed on the next steps in the peace process, which they hope to be completed by the end of the year” — a development that garnered praise from both the United States, the European Union, and former president Armando Guebeza.

Speaking on Wednesday in the capital Maputo, Guebeza reportedly said, “All of us have been working to and want to see peace in Mozambique. This meeting means that key steps were taken for an effective peace in our country.”


botswanaThe Dalai Lama last week announced he would not be attending an upcoming conference in Botswana, on doctor’s orders.

The Tibetan holy man’s scheduled visit this coming week had angered China, which had pressured Botswana to deny him entry — as South Africa has done several times.

But The Tibetan Post reports that on Friday the Dalai Lama issued a cancellation of his own, citing “exhaustion”.

“Although he had been eagerly looking forward to visiting Gaborone from August 15 to 20… His Holiness has reluctantly had to concede that his 82-year old body was telling him to rest,” the statement said, adding that doctors had told him “to avoid undertaking long journeys for the next few weeks”.

The Dalai Lama also thanked Botswana for its “unwavering principled stand to welcome him to their country, despite overwhelming pressure not to do so”, writes the Washington Post.

July 31 – August 6, 2017: Juju gets Zambia all hot and bothered, while Malawi wants ex-president behind bars

zambiaYou have to hand it to the South African opposition If they weren’t enough of a pain already with their points of order and protests, they’ve now managed to irritate an entire foreign power: Zambia.

First it was Mmusi Maimane, who in May was stopped from entering the country to attend a court appearance of jailed opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema.

Then, last weekend, Julius Malema called President Edgar Lungu a “coward” and likened him to apartheid leaders Hendrik Verwoerd and FW de Klerk for imposing a partial state of emergency last month.

Zambia’s response has been colourful to say the least.

Choice quotes from a statement by the ruling Patriotic Front party include:

  • “Malema is such a hypocrite who seeks to vilify Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, but still go to bed with beneficiaries of Verwoerd’s apartheid, the Democratic Alliance.”
  • “Malema’s EFF and Mmusi Maimane have one paymaster… the two are nothing but puppets of those who seek to control Zambia’s mineral rights through their stooges.”
  • “He is a political sell-out who has no right to poke his nose into Zambia’s business!”

In a separate statement, information minister Kampamba Mulenga said Malema “should realise that Zambians are politically mature and are capable of dealing with their own issues if any, and cannot stoop so low as to ask for help from political charlatans and unruly individuals”.

President Jacob Zuma, on the other hand, was warmly welcomed when he arrived in Zambia for an agricultural trade show at the weekend.

SABC reports that the two heads of state “discussed the political situation prevailing in Zambia”. What that means, though, is anybody’s guess.


malawiMalawi last week issued an arrest warrant for former president Joyce Banda after police announced they had found evidence linking her to the $32 million Cashgate corruption scandal that in 2013 saw the country cut off from foreign aid.

A police spokesperson told Bloomberg that there was “reasonable suspicion that the former president committed offences relating to abuse of office and money laundering”.

Banda, who was elected president in 2012, left Malawi shortly after losing the 2014 vote — and hasn’t been back since.

Banda’s spokesperson said “security concerns” were keeping her away. But even as he said the former stateswoman would cooperate with the investigation, Andekuche Chanthunya called the warrant a “political witch hunt“.

Speaking to Reuters, Banda said, “I will be coming back because I never did anything wrong and I am innocent.”


zimbabweZimbabwe‘s opposition parties came together last week to form a coalition ahead of next year’s election, announcing they would jointly back MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai for president.

IOL reports that seven parties — including the mothership Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) from which Tsvangirai split in 2005 — came together at a rally of “about 3000 supporters”.

“Why have we wasted our efforts for the past 10 years fighting each other when we have achieved nothing to show for it?” Tsvangirai reportedly said.

Analysts have pointed to the competing egos of Zimbabwe’s fractured opposition as one of the reasons for President Robert Mugabe’s continuing hold on the country.

After a near-ousting of Mugabe in the 2008 vote, the MDC-T lost ground in momentum in the next poll five years later.

“It is you, the people who demanded this unity,” Tsvangirai said Saturday, according to VOA. “Today we have come here to publicly testify that we heeded your call.”


drcOver 100 people were arrested in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week in protests against the ongoing delay in the country’s elections.

President Joseph Kabila’s term was set to end last year, but was postponed for what the government described as financial and logistical reasons.

An agreement reached with the opposition pushed that election deadline to the end of this year, but the electoral commission recently announced this would still not be met.

The country-wide, youth-led protests last Monday saw demonstrators in running battles with police and over 100 held, reports VOA.

According to AFP, several journalists covering the action were also detained.

Says the Committee to Protect Journalists: “Security forces released all of the journalists by the end of the day, but deleted many of the journalists’ photographs and recordings first.”

July 24 – 30, 2017: HIV breakthrough for Swaziland, while Grace pushes Mugabe for a name

swazilandSwaziland last week released remarkable findings into its fight against Aids, with new figures showing the country’s infection rate has dropped dramatically in recent years.

The number of infected adults in Swaziland went from 31 percent in 2011 to 27 percent in 2016 — still a high figure, but one which shows that the virus is spreading far more slowly through the population: 46 percent slower.

Swaziland’s health minister Velephi Okello unveiled the data at a press conference in Paris, attributing the success to the government’s commitment to get those living with HIV onto antiretroviral drugs (ARVs).

“We have more than doubled the number of people who have started on anti-retroviral treatment, and we have also almost doubled the number of men who have been circumcised in the country,” she said, according to AFP.

The magazine Science explains that the consistent use of ARVs  drives down the levels of HIV in the blood: “In response, the risk of an infected person transmitting the virus plummets.”

The room reportedly “erupted into hoots and applause” when the findings were announced.


zimbabweZimbabwe‘s Grace Mugabe last week called on her nonagenarian husband to name his successor, telling a crowd that “his word” on the matter was “final”.

The First Lady, who just turned 52, has been a visible force in Zimbabwean politics in recent years, sabotaging rivals within the ruling ZANU-PF and quickly rising in party ranks.

President Robert Mugabe has refrained from naming a successor, even as his medical trips abroad become more frequent and his public behaviour more frail.

At a rally for the party’s women’s league last week, which she heads, Grace said her husband must not be “afraid” to name names.

Quotes Deutsche Welle: “Tell us who is your choice, which horse we should back. We will rise in our numbers and openly support that horse. Why should our horse be concealed?”

And NewsDay: “Tell us who you want to lead us and we will campaign for that person. We just want your word and it’s done. You must not be scared.”

Not so, say the ZANU-PF veterans, who quickly called for the First Lady’s expulsion from the party, reports VOA.

“Mrs Mugabe must know that the final word about some of these issues cannot be determined by Mugabe,” he said the group’s secretary-general Victor Matematanda “People of Zimbabwe, you will vote for a person of your choice and in ZANU-PF the same will happen.”


tanzaniaTanzania last week announced together with Kenya the end of a tit-for-tat trade spat — but quickly failed to follow through.

The back-and-forth bans began with Kenyan restrictions in April on Tanzanian gas and wheat flour.

“Tanzania reciprocated by slapping a ban on Kenyan tyres, margarine and fermented milk,” reports The Citizen. “Tanzania also banned overland transport of maize from Zambia into Kenya, which is experiencing one of the severest shortages of the staple.”

The announcement last week of the lifting of restrictions “ended months of losses for businesses on both sides of the border”, reports Kenya’s The Standard.

It didn’t last long.

Before the week was up, Kenyan traders were already finding their products still restricted — including milk from a dairy from belonging to the country’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Reports The Standard: “It would appear Sunday’s meeting to the restrictions that have driven a wedge between the two countries, where Kenya is the bigger loser on the strength of being a bigger exporter, have not borne any fruit.”

July 17 – 23, 2017: Tanzania crackdown continues as Malawi jails former minister

tanzaniaTanzania last week arrested a leading opposition figure, days after he called President John Magufuli a “dictator”.

Tundu Lissu, chief whip of the main opposition party Chadema, called on the international community at a press conference last Monday to cut off aid to the country.

“The dictator and his government” needed to be “isolated politically, diplomatically and economically,” Lissu reportedly said, according to TRT World.

He was arrested three days later at the Julius Nyerere International Airport in the capital Dar Es Salaam.

A police spokesperson told AP Lissu was being questioned over “making anti-government speeches that could lead to unrest”.

Lissu is the second Chadema MP arrested in July alone.

Earlier this month, Halima Mdee was taken in for questioning after calling on citizens to “denounce this tendency of President John Pombe Magufuli who thinks his declarations are law”.

Insulting the president has been a criminal offence in Tanzania since 2015.

The Tanganyika Lawyers Society, of which Lissu is president, released a statement condemning the arrest of people “when they air their personal views”, reported The Citizen.

Government spokesman Hassan Abbas’ response? “The government will not accept that someone, or a group of people, abuse the freedom of expression”.


malawiFive months after he was fired over his alleged role in a $35 million maize importing scandal, Malawi‘s former agriculture minister was last week arrested and charged with corruption.

George Chaponda has since been released on bail and will appear in court next month after an inquiry found “he had flouted procedures by hiring a private broker to import the maize”, reports the Nyasa Times. “He is also accused of sourcing the grain, in contravention of ministerial rules, for personal gain.”

According to Xinhua, the maize was procured from Zambia at a time when the El Nino-induced drought had left millions of Malawians food insecure.

When investigators raided Chaponda’s home in February, reports the agency, “they found and confiscated 58,000 US dollars and 124 million Malawian Kwachas of local currency (about 171,100 dollars) in stacks of cash stashed in suitcases”.


angolaLawmakers in Angola last week greatly curtailed the powers of the executive, passing a law that limits the president’s ability to remove security chiefs from their posts.

And the opposition isn’t happy.

The law, which does not apply to the current head of state, was passed just weeks before the long-ruling Jose Eduardo dos Santos steps down — and paves the way for him to extend his hold on the country long after he leaves the job, the opposition says.

“It’s unacceptable to have this law curtails the power of future president,” Unita MP Miranda Jamba told Bloomberg.

“It means that the president will not be able to remove them from their posts,” CASE-CE MP Andre Mendes de Carvalho told AFP.

Dos Santos is not running in the August 23 poll, having just returned from his second medical visit to Europe this year.

July 10 – 16, 2017: Magufuli marches on against mines

tanzaniaTanzania‘s president John Magufuli last week left mining houses reeling after signing into law a set of bills that would radically alter the playing field.

The new laws allow the country to renegotiate all of its current mining contracts, increase royalties, and partially nationalise mining projects.

“The laws also deny the rights of mining companies to seek international arbitration and relief in the event of a dispute with the Government”, reports The West Australian.

And mining companies aren’t happy.

AngloGold Ashanti announced it would kick off arbitration proceedings to protect its assets in Tanzania — which include the company’s largest gold mine, Geita — claiming it had “no choice”.

Tanzania’s move is not without merit, though. Speaking to Business Day, CEO of the Tanzania-based mining house Kibo, Louis Coetzee, said that the investor-baiting legislation of the 1990s was out of date with an industry that had since matured, stoking “tensions between government and the industry”.

The new laws are the latest move in an ongoing battle between Magafuli and the industry.

In May, he fired his mining minister after unveiling a report claiming mining companies were understating the value of their exports and thus avoiding paying taxes.

Mineral sands exports have been banned since March.

And until things are “put in order”, Magufuli says new mining licenses will have to wait.

“We must benefit from our God-given minerals,” the president told a rally in his hometown, reports Reuters. “That is why we must safeguard our natural resource wealth to ensure we do not end up with empty mining pits.”


zambiaZambia‘s parliament last week approved and extended by three months a partial state of emergency, even as civil society warned it would be used to stifle dissent.

The emergency powers now granted are purportedly aimed at giving authorities more reach to investigate a string of fires that President Edgar Lungu has labelled as “sabotage” by “people who are hell-bent on just bringing chaos into the country”.

At a press conference last week, the police announced that they’ve now made 11 arrests in connection with a fire at Lusaka’s main City Market — and backed up Lungu’s claims.

“I wish to inform the nation that findings of the investigation taken so far by the team revealed the cause of fire was as a result of a deliberate ignition by unscrupulous people with premeditated intentions,” Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja said, according to Zambia’s Daily Mail.

“This means that the investigations have eliminated the possibility of an electrical fault or an accident as the cause of the inferno. Therefore, this incident is purely an act of arson.”

But Zambia’s Civil Society Constitution Agenda warned that the investigations may be compromised by the government’s claims, saying in a statement:

“We are left to wonder whether the investigative wings would to bold enough to give a report different from what has been already pronounced in public by government officials if they found that the cause of the fire at city market was not what these officials have said.”

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Zambia and the International Monetary Fund have long been haggling over a deal that could see the country granted a bailout package of billions. But Lungu seemed unconcerned at a recent press conference about how the IMF would react to the partial state of emergency. “If they want to go because of this, they can go,” he told reporters. In this piece, the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research argues that while Zambia may not need the IMF package, it definitely wants it — no matter what Lungu says.


drcThe opposition in the Democratic Republic of Congo expressed outrage last week after news broke that the country was unlikely to hold elections this year.

President Joseph Kabila’s term has long since expired, with the government citing funding constraints and voter registration delays as reasons for postponing last year’s vote.

After a series of violent protests, the state and opposition agreed to form a unity government to work towards holding the election this year instead.

It’s not gone well.

Kabila has never committed to a date for the vote, and last weekend the head of the country’s electoral commission warned that it would probably miss the 2017 deadline.

According to German agency DW, opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi reacted to the news by calling it “a declaration of war on the Congolese people”, while several United Nations’ Security Council members insisted the country “hold free, fair, and inclusive elections by the end of the year and without further delay”.

Said the US deputy ambassador to the UN, Michele Sison: “We are ready to take additional action to sanction those who stand in the way of DRC’s first democratic transition of power.”


botswanaAnd Botswana has been warned by China over an upcoming visit by the Dalai Lama.

The Tibetan holy man is set to meet with President Ian Khama during his time in the country next month, when he will be attending a three-day conference in the capital Gaborone.

According to AFP, the government said in a statement that Botswana “will be extending the normal courtesies for visiting dignitaries” and that “His Excellency (President Khama) will meet the Dalai Lama when he is in Botswana”.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Friday that the Dalai Lama wears “the cloak of religion” to engage in “anti-China, separatist activities”, reports Reuters: “We hope the relevant country can clearly recognise the essence of who the Dalai Lama is, earnestly respect China’s core concerns, and make the correct decision on this issue.”

July 3 – 9, 2017: Zambia’s state of almost-emergency and Malawi stampede kills 8

Zambia‘s president Edgar Lungu dominated the headlines last week after declaring a partial state of emergency.

If approved by the national assembly, Lungu will be armed with broad powers allowing authorities to impose curfews, ban meetings, censor publications and search premises without a warrant.

The declaration Wednesday came after an early-morning fire gutted over 1,300 stalls in the capital’s City Market, reported the Lusaka Timesthe latest incident over the last year that Lungu has labelled as “sabotage”.

In a speech the following day, the president said his latest move would give the police “more clout” in their investigations and insisted it was not intended to target the opposition.

If so, his timing couldn’t be worse — or raise eyebrows any higher. His main rival, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND), has been jailed since April on a traffic-related treason charge, while 48 UPND lawmakers are currently suspended for boycotting a Lungu speech earlier this year.


malawiEight people were killed in a stampede in Malawi last week when police fired teargas into a crowd of thousands gathered outside the national stadium for the country’s independence day celebrations.

“Eight people — seven children aged around eight years old, and one adult died,” police spokesman James Kadadzera told news agency AFP.

Another 62 injured were being treated in hospital.

“Gates at the 40,000-capacity stadium were supposed to open at 06:30 local time to allow free entry of people — but there was a delay of about three hours,” reported the BBC. “However, thousands had already turned up, and some tried to force their way in, prompting the police to fire tear gas.:

According to the Nyasa Times, “hundreds of people rushed at one of the stadium gates, causing some to fall and be trampled underfoot.”

The stadium’s manager told the newspaper the accident would have happened if the gates had opened on time.

President Peter Mutharika cancelled a speech he was scheduled to give at the stadium, but the planned football match went ahead.


tanzaniaTanzanian authorities last week arrested an opposition politician for insulting the president — a criminal offence in a country that is increasingly attracting attention for all the wrong reasons.

Halima Mdee of the main opposition Chadema party was jailed after after making a speech about, ahem ahem, the government’s autocratic tendencies — which have included a strong anti-LGBTI stance and the expulsion of pregnant schoolgirls.

“We should denounce this tendency of President John Pombe Magufuli who thinks his declarations are law,” she reportedly said. “If we continue to do nothing, one day he will order Tanzanians to walk barefoot or topless, because he knows he has the support of police… We must absolutely put the breaks on this president.”

Going a long way in helping prove her point, a local district commissioner the next day order Mdee be “questioned and sent to court to explain the insults she made against our president”, reports Reuters.

Insulting the president has been a criminal offence in Tanzania since 2015.

According to Reuters: “More than 10 people, including university students and a lecturer, have been charged in court over the past few months with insulting the president via social networking platform like WhatsApp… It is punishable by up to three years in jail, a fine of around $3,000 or both.”


angolaAnd Angola‘s president is back in Spain just one month after returning from an extended medical stay there.

The 74-year-old Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who has said he will not be running in next month’s election, has ruled the country since 1979.

His last trip to Spain was plagued with rumours that he had suffered a stroke abroad and it was weeks before the government admitted he had been seeking medical treatment there.

His latest trip to Barcelona, they said, was a “private visit”.

According to AFP, the presidency said in a statement, “President dos Santos left Luanda on Monday for a private visit to the Kingdom of Spain for personal business.”

They did not say when he would return.

June 26 – July, 2017: Zimbabwe jails #ThisFlag pastor again

Pastor and activist Evan Mawarire was arrested in Zimbabwe last Monday after attending a protest by medical students against rising university fees.

Mawarire’s lawyer told AFP the pastor had been charged with disorderly conduct.

He was released two days later and is expected back in court on July 19.

Mawarire rose to prominence last year after leading the #ThisFlag protests against the government — which saw him detained and subsequently flee to the US for several months.

According to Reuters, “the 40-year-old preacher is also due to stand trial in September on separate charges of plotting to overthrow the government and insulting the national flag”.

His involvement in the student protest last week came after a planned doubling in tuition fees.

Three student leaders were arrested.

Reports News24: “University authorities accused the protesters of throwing stones during the demonstration. Hundreds of medical students were ordered to leave their residences on Monday evening, and some had to sleep out in the open or take shelter at a local church… The students’ evictions came at the worst possible time, as the medical students were this week due to begin writing exams.”


tanzaniaTanzania last week confirmed its plans to forge ahead with a hydropower plant in a World Heritage site, despite years of opposition to the project.

In a statement released last week, President John Magufuli said he “wants construction of this project to start as quickly as possible and produce an abundant supply of electricity to speed up the development of the country”, reports CNBC Africa.

The 2,100-megawatt plant is set to be built along Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve in the country’s south-east, reports The Citizen.

The UN’s cultural arm UNESCO has repeatedly called for the project to be cancelled, warning it could harm the game reserve.

But it’s a project the government considers vital to development.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, just “2% of rural people and 39% of urban people have access to electricity” in Tanzania: “The current energy demand and supply balance reflects the country’s low level of industrialization and development.”

Magufuli said in his statement that experts from Ethiopia were visiting Tanzania to share their expertise on hydropower projects, reports AFP.


malawiMalawi last week became the first country in the world to open a humanitarian drone corridor after a successful test-run last year using drones to deliver blood samples for HIV testing.

Unicef says the corridor at Kasungu, some two hours from the capital Lilongwe, will look to generate aerial images for monitoring crises, to deliver supplies like vaccines and medicine, and to extend Wi-Fi signals in cut-off areas.

“Malawi has limited road access to rural areas even at the best of times, and after a flash flood earth roads can turn to rivers, completely cutting off affected communities,” the agency said in a statement. “With UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) we can easily fly over the affected area and see clearly what the impact has been on the ground. This is cheaper and better resolution than satellite images.”

According to Mail & Guardian, officials in Malawi had some convincing to do to sell residents on the idea of the corridor.

“Before we did the sensitisation people thought we were introducing satanism,” one official told the paper. “After we did the sensitisation, they said it’s for the common good.”