Category Archives: Madagascar

May 1 – 7, 2017: ‘Beginning of peace’ in Mozambique

mozambiqueAfter three years of sporadic violence that left an unknown number dead and thousands fleeing, Mozambique‘s ever-warring political parties are finally calling it.

Ruling party Frelimo and the main opposition/sometime militant group Renamo have a long, messy history. As in 15 years and 1 million bodies of civil war. But peace only held for so long, with Renamo turning violent circa 2013 in their accusations of government corruption.

A disputed 2014 Frelimo election win, an opposition mountain hide-out and rounds upon rounds of circular peace talks later, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama last week announced “an indefinite truce”.

“It is not the end of the war, but it is the beginning of the end,” Dhlakama said, according to AFP.

The truce comes just as the latest ceasefire was due to expire.

But Dhlakama said this would be a ceasefire “without a deadline”, reported Reuters.

Cynics would be forgiven for their skepticism.


tanzaniaA bus crash in Tanzania last week killed 35 people — 32 of them schoolchildren on a trip to write mock high school entrance tests, reports AFP.

The bus plunged into a gorge in wet weather, also killing the driver and two teachers.

Reports AP: “Children’s bodies were laid out along the paved road after being pulled from the wreckage, their faces covered. They appeared to be in school uniforms.”

Early investigations are pinning the accident on the driver’s speeding; Tanzania’s Daily News also reports that the bus had been stopped by police earlier in the journey for overloading and that “having been delayed, the bus was left behind by other school buses, prompting the driver to speed up to reach Karatu on time.”

“I cannot speak further,” the school’s principal Innocent Mushi told the Daily News. “My heart is heavy. This is the worst thing to have ever happened to my life.”


swazilandBreathe a sigh of relief, South Africa. We are no longer the most unequal society in the world.

An Oxfam report released last week passed that unenviable crown on to Swaziland — though as an absolute monarchy, they do dig crowns.

“Its government has failed to put measures in place to tackle inequality, with poor scores for social spending and progressive taxation, and a poor record on labour rights,” says Oxfam.

Don’t feel too smug, though. South Africa placed third in the list, just behind Nigeria. And the report as a whole is pretty damning of the continent’s failure to capitalise on their boom years to eradicate inequality.

Says Oxfam, “African governments, donor governments and multilateral institutions providing advice and finance had opportunities to ensure that the last decade of growth was more equal” — and they didn’t.

“In 2017, growth across many countries in sub-Saharan Africa is forecast by the IMF at its lowest level in more than 20 years, especially for those reliant on high commodity prices. Just as African countries had choices during the boom years, the choices they make in the years ahead will determine whether this economic outlook spells disaster for poverty reduction and inequality. This could be an opportunity born of the necessity to rethink the commodity-heavy shape of growth for some, for oil-importing countries to take advantage of low prices, and for all to invest in a more mixed job-creating economy that works for everyone.”


madagascarParts of Madagascar were in March hit by a tropical cyclone that left at least 50 dead, nearly 200 wounded, and 100,000 displaced by floods.

The real tragedy, though?

Ice cream prices in the United States are soaring.

According to a Boston Globe report, Cyclone Enawo wreaked vanilla crops, one of the Indian Ocean island’s main exports. And now ice cream shops are feeling the pinch,

“Aaron Cohen, the owner of Gracie’s Ice Cream in Somerville, used to buy vacuum-packed bags of beans for his vanilla ice cream at a rate of $72 a pound. He says that those same packs would now cost him $320, and that’s led him to scramble for alternatives.”

Parlours now say they have to pass that cost on to their customers, with one shop telling CBS last week that prices for an individual cone could increase from”25 to 50 cents”.

What’s the word I’m looking for here? Ah, yes. Shem.

You can read the United Nations’ situation report on the real impacts of Cyclone Enawo here. And then you can read Malagasy photographer Rijasolo’s account of photographing the labour-intensive vanilla industry here, and decide if it’s fair for ice cream shops to feel testy about prices when workers on the ground are earning $1.50 a day.


Recommended reading:

  • This intense New York Times read on Chinese interests in Africa, where quietly-getting-on-with-things Namibia is the staging ground for some of the ‘new colonist’s’ biggest projects: “Just north of Swakopmund, a Chinese telemetry station sprouts from the desert floor… in Walvis Bay, a state-owned Chinese company is building an artificial peninsula the size of 40 baseball fields as part of a vast port expansion. Other Chinese projects nearby include new highways, a shopping mall, a granite factory and a $400 million fuel depot…”
  • This Southern Times article on electioneering ahead of Lesotho‘s vote next month — if only for the mad swirl of acronyms fighting it out for ultimate alphabetical dominance. A preview? “The DC, LCD and PFD pact will see the DC contesting in 54 of the tiny kingdom’s 80 constituencies while the LCD will vie for 25 constituencies, while the PFD will be helped to wrestle its Qalo constituency stronghold from the opposition ABC.” Um. Huh?
  • And this quick Bloomberg read on the DRC‘s contracting of an Israeli firm to handle the PR mess that is their non-existent election.
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October 13 – 19, 2014

madagascarIt was news nobody saw coming. Last Monday morning, and totally unexpectedly, former president Marc Ravalomanana announced he’d returned to Madagascar after five years living in exile in South Africa.

He was quickly arrested and is reportedly being held at an unknown location.

“They were heavily armed with automatic rifles and were wearing balaclavas to disguise their identities,” Ravalomanana’s son reportedly said in a statement. “They did not say what they were charging him with or where they were taking him.”

Ravalomanana’s wife has now called on her country to “rise up” against his detention, reports AFP.

But to understand all this, we need to back up to early 2009, when anti-government protests were shaking the capital, Antananarivo. The strikes were initiated by Andry Rajoelina, a young media tycoon – and mayor of Antananarivo – who had a problem with Ravalomanana’s politics and plans, calling him a dictator. When the president shut down one of his TV stations, Rajoelina called people to the streets. The situation fell rapidly to pieces. Stores were looted. Government TV stations were burned. People died. A week into the unrest, Rajoelina declared himself ruler of Madagascar. A week after that, the protesters marched on the presidential palace. Police opened fire – with live ammunition. Dozens were killed. A month later, another presidential palace was stormed – this time by the military – and the coup was complete.

Since then, Ravalomanana’s been in South Africa and, in his absence, has been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for ordering the shooting of the protesters.

Now Madagascar’s only just stabilised after all this. It held democratic elections last year and is slowly winning back the favour of the investors and international community who turned their backs on the country. And now – Ravalomanana.

The AU’s condemned his return, calling it an “unnecessary provocation”, reports AFP.

And this piece from IOL’s foreign editor Peter Fabricius raises some fascinating questions about just how Ravalomanana even left South Africa:

“His passport is being held by South African authorities… So it seems he did not pass through any immigration. He was also supposed to be under surveillance by South African intelligence. But he somehow gave them the slip, in circumstances which have aroused some suspicion of complicity by the authorities, which they deny. A private intelligence source said he travelled to Pietermaritzburg to visit his son at school there; drove to Durban’s King Shaka airport; flew to Lanseria airport, and from there to Skukuza airport in Kruger National Park. After that a private charter ferried him to a disused military airstrip south of Madagascar’s capital Antananarivo.”

It’s a great piece and is well worth the long read.


lesotho

It finally happened. Four months after prime minister Thomas Thabane suspended parliament to avoid a vote of no confidence that would have seen him ousted – and after twice reneging on regional agreements to reconvene it – Lesotho‘s parliament was reopened on Friday.

One opposition parliamentarian told AFP: “Democracy begins again… There was no longer democracy in this country but now we can get back to representing our people.”

The agreement to (finally and actually) open parliament’s doors was announced by South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa last month after weeks of acting as intermediary between the rival factions in Lesotho’s hung government .

IOL correspondent Basildon Peta gives a helluva interesting behind-the-scenes look at how Friday’s outcome was achieved:

“On his first visit he faced a barrage of criticism from all parties he was meant to reconcile… They suggested Ramaphosa was ignorant of the workings of a Westminister-type parliamentary democracy in which no confidence motions are routine.”

Parliament will remain open for only a short while before dissolving for early elections in February next year, which are hoped will lift Lesotho out of its political deadlock.


drcOver twenty people were killed last week when a rebel group reportedly conducted raids on the north-east DRC town of Beni.

VOA quotes an army spokesman as saying that the fighters snuck into homes at night and “people were killed with knives and machetes.”

AFP reports that most of the victims were women and children, “hacked and clubbed to death”.

The Allied Democratic Forces and the National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF-NALU) has been blamed for the attack, a rebel group pushed out of Uganda by that county’s army and a persistent threat to Congolese towns in the region for years. In December last year, the same group was blamed for another attack in the region that left 40 dead.

The UN representative in the country Martin Kobler called for “decisive joint military actions” from UN and Congolese forces to bring the group to justice.


mozambique

For all the months of conflict and negotiation and peace treaties that preceded them, Mozambique pulled off relatively peaceful elections last Wednesday with the tally so far pointing to ruling party Frelimo staying in power.

SADC and AU observers seem satisfied that the process was generally “free, fair, and credible”.

But the opposition is having none of it, and started disputing the results before they were even counted.

On election day, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) alleged it had caught Frelimo members stuffing ballot boxes.

By Friday, with 25 percent of the vote in and Frelimo way ahead, sometime-rebel-group-but-currently-political-party Renamo had already declared: “We don’t accept the results. The results should be annulled and new elections held.

Then on Saturday came local media reports claiming Renamo supporters had physically destroyed 44 polling stations on elections day – affecting thousands of voters.

With votes still being counted and Frelimo still in the lead, Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama reiterated on Sunday that he was the real winner of the elections, while MDM’s Daviz Simango said, “No conscious citizen in the world can state that the Mozambican elections were free and fair.

Meanwhile, UN head Ban Ki-moon, always full of the lolz and the practical advice, has asked everybody to “continue working together”. Okay, Mr Ban, but only ‘cos you asked nicely.

Here’s a quick read on the three men vying to be president. (Spoiler alert: It’ll be Nyusi.)


namibia

Namibia confirmed last week that it has started dehorning rhinos in the fight against poaching. This comes after the country lost a record-breaking number this year (brace yourself, South Africans): 14.

Over a third of the world’s black rhino population is based in Namibia, reports Bloomberg, and about 500 white rhinos. And 14 poached animals may seem paltry compared to the hundreds South Africa clocks up in poached carcasses each year. But for a country that lost only ten rhinos over a period of ten years, 14 so far this year is quite a rise.

“It is a worrying situation that could rapidly escalate if counter-measures are not effectively put in place,” head of the WWF in Namibia Chris Weaver told Vice News.

Namibia’s deputy environment and tourism minister Pohamba Shifeta told the Namibian Sun “because rhino horn grows back, the ministry will assess the situation in a few years and decide whether or not to dehorn the rhinos again”.


swaziland

Just months after the country lost a crucial trade deal with the United States for failing to protect labour rights, King Mswati III has shut down all Swaziland‘s labour organisations. And it’s not just the unions affected. According to IOL, the move also hits the Federation of Swaziland Business Community and the Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce – which in turn means government organs like the Wages Council, or Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration Commission can’t function.

The government’s pinning the decision on a piece of legislation called the Industrial Relations Act, passed in 2000 but which they’ve now decided 14 years on doesn’t make provisions for unions or federations to exist.

Clarifying the issue for the media, labour and social security minister Winnie Magagula offered the explanation that while trade unions and business federations have not been banned, they are technically illegal – and will remain illegal until an upcomig amendment to the Act is passed.

A union protest planned for Friday was banned by the cops, and then later called off by the unions themselves.

“To be specific, we want to prepare for the war that has been declared against us and our members,” one union boss told the Times of Swaziland. “However, this does not mean that the march will be violent. We will stick to the plan of having a peaceful march but we will be prepared for anything, including war.”


angola

In the same week that Angola was elected to serve for two years on the Security Council, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted the country could become Africa’s biggest oil producer from 2016. It’s a shift that will be down not so much to Angola’s increasing production as to the growing instability in the continent’s current top oil producer, Nigeria.

“The IEA estimated that Nigeria currently loses 150 000 barrels a day to oil theft, the equivalent of $5 billion a year,” reports the Wall Street Journal. “On top of that, regulatory uncertainty… has led to delays in investment decisions.”

The IEA report said 30 percent of oil and gas discoveries around the world in the last five years had been made in Africa – but warned that not much of this wealth was making its way to the people of the continent. (For an Angola-specific picture of this, read this AfricaReport article.)

“Africa has long been plagued by the resource curse, where abundant oil, gas and minerals in places like Equatorial Guinea or the Republic of Congo have made a select few rich, led to widespread corruption and left the majority of citizens poor,” reported Fortune. “The energy resources have also sparked conflict in countries such as Sudan and Nigeria, and have contributed to years of coups and political unrest. That trend is set to continue… unless countries tackle the range of problems that hinder the energy sector, from widespread oil theft… to electricity tariffs across the region, which are among the highest in the world.”


zimbabwe

And the Amazing Grace Mugabe Show dominated Zimbabwe‘s news last week, with the First Lady delivering a Subtweet Speech of note against her husband’s deputy and one of the top contenders vying to inherit his presidential throne, deputy president Joice Mujuru.

Quotable Quotes courtesy this New Zimbabwe report:

  • “Those positions which you hold were given to you and you can be removed. It is possible.”
  • “You say when Mugabe is gone you will take over his estate, come and take it today. What is stopping you from doing so since you use this road when you go to your home and the gates are open?”
  • “You lead factions, you extort companies and you are involved in illicit diamond deals, so you cannot say you are not corrupt.”

And my favourite, if only for the irony of it all: “A very senior leader wasting time spreading malicious gossip about the First Lady instead of working to address the country’s problems. You should be ashamed of yourself!

I would say this means Dr Mugabe’s sided with the succession race’s other top contender, justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. But given that she’s announced her own intention to vie for the post, all bets are off.


October 6 – 12, 2014

malawiMalawi last week sentenced a government official to three years in jail for her part in the Cashgate scandal – the first public servant jailed out of about 50 arrested for their magical abilities to transform public funds into giant piles of cash in their pockets and car boots between 2009 and 2013.

About $30 million worth of it.

According to AFP, the first Cashgate convict is Treza Namathanga Senzani, “the former principal secretary in the tourism ministry, [who] pleaded guilty to stealing $150 000 from state coffers”.

Senzani was arrested last year when she issued two government cheques to her private company, “which according to police never had the provision of goods or services to the government,” reports Malawi24.

And the judge was hardcore on this: no “suspended sentence because you’re a first-time offender” cushion. Instead, Senzani got three years for money laundering and nine months for theft, to be served concurrently. (Not that all Malawians think this was harsh enough.)

As the judge noted in this AFP report, “It was an illegal act that had an impact on the economy.”

A big impact. In the wake of Cashgate, foreign donors announced they would no longer be gracing Malawi with their dollars. To put this in context, the approximately $150 million Malawi received in foreign aid before Cashgate made up a sizeable 40 PERCENT of the national budget.

Senzani’s jailing could be the first step in bringing those donors back.

Last week, Germany said it would fund a $25 million audit into just what happened to all the money – but warned it wouldn’t be signing cheques until the loopholes that allowed Cashgate to happen in the first place were sealed.


zimbabweTechnically, she’s only in the running to lead Zanu-PF’s Women’s League.

But Zimbabwean First Lady Grace Mugabe made media waves last week as she travelled around the country on her “Meet the People Tour”.

And Grace – now commonly referred to in the state-owned media as “Dr Mugabe”, what with her being a PhD-prodigy and all – is making her ambitions known. Women’s League? Psh.

“You would see me quiet, a young girl, what did you think I was doing? I was learning,” she said at a rally last week, reports Zimbabwean paper NewsDay. “So what is shocking you today? You made me what I am, I was copying from you. You are not supposed to be shocked, I am seeing a higher post.”

Honestly, though, that’s mild compared to everything else Grace told us about herself last week, like:

  • that she’s all about clean governance
    White people came to me with $10 million to stop the land reform programme. I said to them don’t ever come back to me. I chucked them out of my office and almost spat at their faces. They thought I was a soft target on the programme.”
  • that she’s an avid agriculturalist
    “Nobody will remove me from the farm which I took. Blood will be spilt if anyone attempts to remove me from that farm . . . I took that farm personally because even after I told ministers and government officials that I wanted a farm, they did not allocate me land and instead told me they thought I was joking.”
  • but nobody buys her yoghurt
    “I manufacture yoghurt but no one buys it… You can’t even find a person who can buy a packet of milk.”
  • that she’s kind of a racist
    “A Zimbabwean lady got married to a Chinese national and they had a child. A few weeks later, the child died and the aunt who was mourning kept saying she knew that the child was going to die within a very short period. After some interrogations the aunt said the death of the child was obvious because Chinese products were not durable.”
  • and that she’s basically Lord Varys
    “In fact my spies are too many, even a person seated next you might be my spy so be careful, I know what you are doing.”

grace-varys


mozambiqueIt’s election time in Mozambique on Wednesday, and the news is all about Afonso Dhlakama, leader of the sometime-rebel-but-currently-respectable-opposition-party Renamo. Up until a month or two ago, Dhlakama was still living in the bush, insistent the ruling Frelimo was out to get him and running intermittent skirmishes with government troops.

Now he’s running the show, speaking in front of crowds of thousands. Just read some of the descriptions from this AFP report:

  • “Footage broadcast on national television showed capacity crowds in the coal-rich Tete province where people crowded onto rooftops to see Dhlakama.”
  • “Thousands packed the airport of the second largest city of Beira on Sunday, broke through security cordons and streamed onto the tarmac when his plane landed.”
  • “ ‘I personally thought he was marginalised,’ said Antonio Francisco, a researcher at Mozambique’s Institute for Social and Economic Studies. But ‘he has resuscitated himself politically’ and his campaign is like an ’emotional tsunami’.”

According to the Africa Elections Project, though, the crowds won’t matter: Frelimo is still expected to win.

Mauritius, meanwhile, dissolved its Parliament last week in the run-up to an election to change all elections, reports AFP. At the moment, Mauritians vote for a party, just like in South Africa, and Parliament then decides who will be president. But the Prime Minister’s Labour Party and the opposition Movement Militant Mauricien (MMM) have teamed up with the goal of introducing a bill that would allow for separate presidential elections, like in America.

And two weeks before Botswana goes to the polls, president Ian Khama predicted his ruling Botswana Democratic Party will (again) win by a comfortable margin.


Ten-year-old me is just dying to bring you the latest out of Madagascar, where BABY SPICE IS DOING SUPER IMPORTANT HUMANITARIAN STUFF for Unicef.

The organisation is trying to raise awareness about maternal and newborn tetanus. And to show just how important it is, they brought on Emma Bunton: a woman best known for wearing her hair in pigtails in the late 1990s. (Though she seems to have done away with that look now – check these pics on the Telegraph’s website: angelic humanitarian profile pics for daaays.)

Oh, gods - "Baby Spice meets Mother Theresa" in the top right is just too fantastic.

Oh, gods – “Baby Spice meets Mother Theresa” on the top right. I just can’t.

Look, I’m not judging because, more importantly, Bunton’s using her new global platform to – totally innocently and not at all Publicity Stuntishly – drop hints about a Spice Girls Reunion.

Now that’s news I want to hear.


September 1 – 7, 2014

lesothoIt’s been over a week since an apparent coup attempt woke the world up to the existence of Lesotho, and by now the headlines have died well down. But they shouldn’t have.

Since then, the fired military chief Tlali Kamoli fingered as behind those early Saturday morning gunshots when the Lesotho Defence Force surrounded police headquarters in Maseru and sent Prime Minister Thomas Thabane scuttling across the border into South Africa – well, he’s seized a loot of weapons and made off into the mountains.

His replacement and the new army boss Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao is now saying the only option is “military action” against Kamoli.

How they plan on doing that I’m not too sure because apart from depleting the country’s armouries, Kamoli also reportedly has control over “Lesotho’s elite special forces unit of around 40 highly-trained troops, as well as the military’s intelligence division”.

Meanwhile, an agreement reached earlier in the week for Thabane to reinstate the Parliament he suspended in June is already in jeopardy. Instead, Thabane’s now gone and told the AFP, “The situation in the country is not stable, how do we re-open parliament under these conditions?” Never mind that his suspending Parliament is what precipitated the crisis in the first place.

Not that anybody should be too surprised. SADC got Thabane to agree to open Parliament two months ago, and he never followed through on it then, either. Nor does it deal with a general gone rogue.

As this Lesotho Times editorial notes: “The lame SADC brokered agreement… does not resolve the core of the crisis here. We have any army commander who has mobilised the army to fight if he is fired. We have an army commander who has no respect for the rule of law as evidenced by many of his recent actions, not least his refusal to handover suspects implicated in the attempted murders of innocent people. We have an army commander prepared to kill anyone who disagrees with him… The appropriate way for SADC to deal with the crisis here would have been to at least authorise a peacekeeping force to, among other things, facilitate the return of police officers to their stations and ensure they resume operations, to guarantee the security of all those vulnerable to Lt General Kamoli, and to protect ordinary citizens should he unleash his army for yet another round of bloodshed.”

This 702 podcast gives a great update on the situation from the AFP’s Andrew Beatty:


mozambiqueLeader of Mozambique‘s sometime-opposition-group-sometime-waging-open-war Renamo party Afonso Dhlakama has come out of hiding ahead of the country’s general elections next month, when he will be one of three candidates running for president.

Dhlakama, who has been hiding in the bush since 2012, reportedly arrived in Maputo on Thursday.

According to AFP, he told a large crowd of “over a thousand screaming followers”: “I want to thank you for coming here. On October 15, I want this same crowd. I want you all to vote Afonso Dhlakama, number one and number 2 Renamo!”

It’s been a long process getting here: just a few months ago Renamo fighters were still clashing with government troops, while Dhlakama insisted the Frelimo government was trying to have him killed. After a few months of back and forth negotiations, the parties reached a peace deal last week. Dhlakama and his rival, president Armando Guebeza, both signed that deal Thursday.


madagascarThousands upon many horrifying thousands of locusts descended on Madagascar’s capital city of Antananarivo last week. Hilariously, NPR describes them as “the insects of biblical fame that gobble up crops and ravage landscapes”, as if they’re loveable TV characters from an 80s sitcom you used to watch who just happen to wreak havoc while “gobbling” up your livelihood.

I love how the Malagasy in the video seem so supremely chill about the fact that MILLIONS OF GIGANTIC FLYING INSECTS are, you know, EVERYWHERE, while I’m dying on the other side of my computer screen just looking at them. Compare that to the opening sentence of this piece out of the US on the swarm: “Is this the end of days?

So where do they all come from? Here’s an explanation from a Princeton biologist, as interviewed by NPR: “Locusts don’t like being together. At low density they are quite happy with a solitary lifestyle. When resources are abundant, their populations can grow, and then they are forced to come together as they deplete those resources. So, say, during a drought, they all aggregate together to feed. And that closeness changes their behavior. As they begin bumping into each other, they actually begin to cannibalize each other. Individuals are both trying to eat each other and avoid being eaten. So they form rolling bands that march across the landscape, eating.”


drcThe DRC‘s death toll from Ebola has risen to 31 since it surfaced last month. The outbreak is separate to that currently spreading across West Africa and is reportedly a routine occurrence for the country – this is Ebola Outbreak #7, by the government’s count. In an interview with AFP, the World Health Organisation said there were 53 more suspected cases, while nearly 200 people are under medical watch after coming into contact with the infected.

For now, the disease appears to be contained in a isolated part of the country called Boende, a good 800km away from the capital of Kinshasa, good for keeping all in check – but a mission for health workers attempting to provide care.

“Boende is so isolated that the risk that the highly contagious disease will spread is low, unlike the situation in west Africa, where a raging epidemic has claimed more than 1,500 lives this year, according to the WHO,” wrote AFP in another report. “Yet Boende’s very location in the heart of dense equatorial forest is an obstacle to health workers who need swiftly to quarantine fever victims showing early symptoms like blinding headaches, muscle pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.”


Swaziland‘s King Mswati III has married his fourteenth wife. Queen LaFogiyane was chosen by Africa’s last absolute monarch at last year’s annual reed dance – which was on again last week (one line from this International Business Times piece about the festival was gobsmackingly archaic: “According to reports, the women were topless and wore nothing more than beaded belts, which covered only their private parts while fully exposing their buttocks.”)

swaziland

Boobs and butts fascination aside, more interesting is what South Africa’s own Zulu king Goodwill Zwelethini said while in Swaziland last week.

According to IOL, Zwelethini “spoke strongly in support of Mswati’s absolute monarchy and condemned South Africa’s labour union activities.”

“In a speech broadcast live on the country’s only TV station, which is run by the government, Zwelithini warned that Swazis would destroy their country if they followed South Africa’s example: ‘Do not burn your country, because investors will run away if you do so. Strike actions do not bring money into a household. Strikes bring hunger and suffering. I have seen this happening in my country.’”

Ja, bro. It’s tough living in a constitutional democracy bound by human rights, eh?


And a 78-carat diamond has gone missing in Namibia after a mining strike in August. The Namibia Diamond Trading Co. has reportedly opened a case with the police, but that feels like small comfort. According to Bloomberg, the value of the diamond depends on its quality and size but that another 78-carat diamond from Canada sold for a chill $6 million in 2011. Ouch.


June 30 – July 6, 2014

zambiaAfter weeks of speculation about his health, a newspaper in Israel has reported that Zambian President Michael Sata has been discharged from a hospital there. The paper said he was also “not in critical condition” while being treated. His youngest son, meanwhile, has reportedly left his school in Cape Town to visit Sata at some unknown destination – presumably Israel.

Rumours have been swirling around the state of Sata’s health, much of it caused by the government’s total secrecy on the subject. In a leeeengthy open letter in Zambian newspapers, president of the country’s Heritage Party Brigadier General Godfrey Miyanda decried the current confusion: “The Constitution of Zambia is clear and predictable in guiding what should happen when the President is incapacitated or is suspected to be incapacitated. However the present inaction is either due to lack of knowledge or stage fright by those who ought to have acted. In this regard the Cabinet must surely take full blame.”

It’s enough for Zambia Watchdog to put out a report explaining what happened when Malawi’s former president Bingu wa Mutharika died.
“While Zambians pray for the safe recovery of the head of state, many are wondering what would happen in the unfortunate event that he is incapacitated or even passes away while in office,” it reads. “Would the constitutional process for the transfer of power be correctly observed? Would the military intervene to the benefit of certain parties, or would competing factions of the ruling party try to break the rules to grab power?”


drcUS Vice President Jo Biden’s wife, Dr Jill Biden, spent some time in the DRC last week to “highlight the importance of girls’ education and women’s participation in government, the economy, and civil society in accelerating economic development, improving health and educational outcomes, strengthening democratic governance, and fostering peace and security”. That’s a lot to fit into two to three days, including a little Fourth of July soiree – but no doubt all DRC’s troubles are over now.

Oh no, wait, they’re not.

State-owned metals and mining company Gécamines needs to lay off a whopping 6000 employees. Workers at the mine recently went on strike after wages went unpaid for three months because of company cash flow problems. In truth, the company cannot actually afford its staff. And therein lies a bit of a conundrum: because while Gécamines says worker numbers are swollen and unaffordable and need a serious trimming of 6000 jobs, it also can’t afford to pay out 6000 retrenchment packages. That will cost US$ 160 million, money which the company apparently doesn’t have.

Of course, the upside of all this is knowing that unions are apparently going strong in the DRC.


swazilandA week after being cut from a lucrative trade deal with the US, Swaziland‘s government was reportedly nowhere to be seen at the US ambassador Makila James’ Fourth of July bash. Given that the country was stripped of its AGOA status for failing to protect workers’ rights and basic freedoms, it should have come as no surprise that these would get a mention in James’ speech. But boy, did she give a speech.

“After years of raising US Government concerns about the lack of respect for internationally recognised worker and fundamental human rights – particularly freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – the Swazi Government chose not to meet any of the five benchmarks which were given to them by the United States Government as a way to demonstrate measurable progress on these critical issues. As a result, the country cannot participate in this important programme beginning next year,” she said, according to the Swazi Observer.

This all in the same week that journalist Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko were in court for writing articles critical of the country’s judiciary – which she mentioned as well: “This case compels all of us to consider what are the consequences for Swaziland, or any country, if no one is allowed to question the actions of the judiciary? What other mechanism exists to keep its power in check? If the actions of the judiciary are in accordance with the law, then surely they will stand up to scrutiny. And if they are not, then they deserve to be exposed for what they really are.” That quote from this article – which also questions if James crossed a diplomatic line with her comments.

Because shooting the messenger is working out so well for you, hey?


malawiMuslim traditional leaders in Malawi have urged for condoms to be banned for fuelling the HIV/Aids pandemic. They’re apparently grand with condoms being used IN marriage, but not OUTSIDE it. This explanation just kills me: “Unmarried people are having sex for fun because there are condoms. But if you observe in Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia where condoms are banned, the HIV and AIDS prevalence rate is very low. People are using condoms here, when they sleep with strangers, but when they get to know each other, they stop using them… If these were banned, people could be afraid to be promiscuous, because they would doubt each other’s statuses.” The country’s local Catholic leaders are apparently totes keen for this idea, too.

Wow. Just… wow.


madagascarMadagascar‘s president Hery Rajaonarimampianina met with Catholic pope Francis last week, basically to chat about how great the church is, according to this piece. Presumably, Rajaonarimampianina also asked for hellfire and damnation to be wrought unto those grafting sonsabitches who made off with 40 percent of the country’s budget.

mozambiqueSomewhat predictably, just as talks resumed in Mozambique between the government and opposition party/rebel group Renamo, there were two fresh attacks that left two people wounded. The talks centre around whether or not foreign observers should be allowed to observe a cessation to hostilities in the country, and they’ve been on again-off again for weeks now.

In Tanzania, the government is frustrate that efforts to curb the sale of second-hand underwear – banned last year – is being scuppered by customers. The country’s Bureau of Standards said it would “intensify surveillance as well as education programmes to the public on the effects of wearing second-hand underwear”.

namibiaAnd Namibia has turned down a request from the Security Council to send troops to the troubled Central African Republic. According to the New Era, the country’s defence minister Nahas Angula said last week the country did not have the capacity to support peace enforcement missions, which involve military intervention.


 

June 2 – 8, 2014

swazilandInternational support is growing for two men imprisoned in Swaziland these last three months for a series of articles criticising the judiciary.
Human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and The Nation editor-in-chief Bheki Makhubu were arrested in March.
Just last week, in a separate incident, Makhubu was found guilty of “scandalising the court” for an article in which he compared the Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi’s attitude towards the Constitution as that of a “high school punk”. For that, he got the choice between a R200 000 fine or two years in jail.

The current batch of articles that landed the pair behind bars are well worth a read if you’re unfamiliar with the Swazi political climate.
In “The Chief Justice Should do the Right Thing and Step Aside”, Maseko slams the reverence held for Ramodibedi in Swaziland while he was (*cough cough*) facing impeachment in Lesotho. The other criticised the arrest of Bhantshana Gwebu, a government vehicle inspector who was charged after fining a judge for misusing an official vehicle.

Last week, Makhubu called the proceedings a “kangaroo court”, while Maseko said he had come to the realization that the State’s only intention was to put him behind bars.
The US State Department put out a statement urging the Swazi judiciary to uphold the law, while Nobel Prize-winner Desmond Tutu put his signature to an international petition ordering the release of political prisoners.

Who to follow:
The Makhubu-Maseko case is back in court on Tuesday and there are some choice quotes coming out of it, including Makhubu declaring that “an environment that produces the Mark Zuckerbergs of life is one that allows free thinking”.
Mary Pais da Silva (@Pais_Mary), human rights activist Velaphi Mamba (@BlackMambaV) and journalist Welcome Dlamini (@WelcomeDlamini1 – who’s also totally rocking a profile picture of himself with South African public protector Thuli Madonsela) have been live-tweeting from court.

Recommended reading:

  • For more background, the team over at the Southern Africa Litigation Centre have put together a good timeline (though it seems to stop in April).
  • Maseko’s 27-page statement on his arrest can be found here.

Malawi’s new president Peter Mutharika and his ousted opponent Joyce Banda managed to throw a few last barbs after a fraught election. At his inauguration, Mutharika got all uppity when Banda didn’t pitch for the ceremony, though she said she wasn’t even invited, and besides, he stole her presidential ride.

peter“I regret that the former president has declined to come and hand over power to me. I was looking forward to shaking her hand. I have to come to her with an olive branch in my hand. Don’t let it drop.”

– Peter Mutharika

joyce“The day before the swearing-in ceremony, all the official vehicles were withdrawn. But it is not that she has not attended out of malice, she issued a press statement congratulating him… That alone is enough.”

– Joyce Banda’s spokesperson, Tusekele Mwanyongo

You can read Mutharika’s full inauguration speech here.

Of course, the spectre of the stuff-up that was the elections is still hanging in the air. As Edward Chileka noted in this piece, “For the sake of future elections and future generations, we must interrogate into the just ended electoral process so that we learn what went wrong and right. Did the will of the people prevail?”

Meanwhile, of the 457 councillors voted in only 56 were women.


mozambiqueWe reported that first attack in our update last week and now it’s official: Mozambique opposition party/rebel group Renamo has called off a ceasefire with government forces that has existed since May, after a recent verbal flare-up in hostilities.  They’ve spent the week attacking a military convoy that they say was sent to kill their leader-in-hiding, Afonso Dhlakama.  An ambush on a stretch of highway on Tuesday killed three.

Of course, it was the victims’ own fault – Renamo spokesman Antonio Muchanga said people really shouldn’t be using the roads at the moment because of the conflict: “As from this moment Renamo will not be responsible for what happens on that stretch of road. So we draw the attention of the users of the road to take care in circulating in that region.”

Yes, COMMUTERS: stop driving where we’re warring.


madagascarMadagascar just cannot seem to catch a break environmentally.
First, we had LOCUSTOCALYPSE.
Then, we had TOADOCALYPSE.
And now, we have these newly discovered and really unnecessarily large millipedes. They don’t seem to be planning on taking over the island like everything else: they’re just endangered before we’ve even had a chance to be sufficiently grossed out by them.

UN envoys seem alarmed that DRC president Joseph Kabila hasn’t named a date for the country’s presidential elections – which are supposed to happen before the end of 2016. Could he be seeking a third term?

zambiaIn the same week that Zambia denied reports that president Michael Sata’s health was deteriorating, it’s ordered its diplomats abroad to stop reading online news. Seriously. Instead, they should get all their info by streaming the state-owned Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) because the international media is spreading evil “falsehoods” about the country.

President Robert Mugabe was presented with two awards this week by the European Council on Tourism and Trade for Zimbabwe just being so awesome a tourist destination. (Key paragraph in this story: “The ECCT is not affiliated to the EU, which is a political and economic bloc of mostly Western European countries that have imposed illegal sanctions on Zimbabwe in response to Harare’s revolutionary land reform programme.”)

namibiaNamibian activist Chief Kuaima Riruako passed away at the age of 79. He’ll be remembered for his long campaign to hold the German government to account for its genocide against the Herero people, who rose up in revolt against their colonisers in the early 1900s. Germany apologised in 2004, but has yet submit to calls for financial compensation.

May 26 – June 1, 2014

mozambiqueGunmen from opposition party/rebel movement Renamo attacked a military convoy in Mozambique this week, the culmination of a back and forth between the group and government after Renamo’s leader Afonso Dhlakama announced his intention to run for president in the October elections.
The attack happened in Gorongosa, where Dhlakama has been in hiding since last year.
Renamo had warned this would happen: it said earlier in the week that there were plots to assassinate Dhlakama , though the government said it would have done that long ago if it wanted to.
Renamo-related violence has reportedly cost Mozambique $10 million in tourism – and that just between November last year and January.
“Eighty per cent of the foreigners travelling into Mozambique for leisure by car knew of the conflict with Renamo, and fifty per cent of them cancelled,” said researcher Ema Batey.
The group is in a deadlock with ruling party Frelimo over Renamo’s disarmament but this week residents in the Mabalane region urged the government to keep the communication channels with Renamo open.
Thirty political parties have registered for the October 15 elections.

Recommended reading:

  • Mozambican elections: what to make of Dhlakama’s intention to run for president from the Institute of Security Studies.
    “It is therefore vital that the Frelimo government and Renamo continue negotiations with a sincere resolve to reach agreement on fundamental outstanding issues – particularly a ceasefire and the disarmament of Renamo insurgents – to create conducive conditions for peaceful elections,” write researchers Gwinyayi Dzinesa and Paulo Wache.

madagascarIn what one UK newspaper genuinely called TOADOCALYPSE NOW, scientists are warning of an ecological disaster in Madagascar with the pending invasion by Asian common toads.
“Native animals that try to eat this toad could find themselves ingesting their last meal,” said the National Geographic.
(NOTE: TOADOCALYPSE is not to be confused with LOCUSTOCALYPSE, the ongoing locust plague in the country we mentioned last week. Here are some pics of millions of locusts eating crops.)

More immediately, the US has lifted its aid restrictions on Madagascar now that the country’s stabilised after the 2009 coup that ousted president Marc Ravalomanana and put Andry Rajoelina in his place. In the same week, the European Union announced it was resuming “development cooperation” with Madagascar, which is really just a fancy way of saying “aid”.

Recommended reading:

  • Madagascar: The puppet cuts his strings by the ever excellent Peter Fabricius, examining how newly-elected Malagasy president Hery Rajaonarimampianina surprised everybody by turning on Rajoelina and beginning the process of fixing the country post-coup – and the challenges still ahead.
  • When the aid dries up by Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting grantees Aaron Ross and Rijasolo gives a great look into what the last few years have been like for Madagascar without the support of foreign aid.

This time last week, Malawi‘s elections were lying on the operating table, guts exposed. Today, they have a new president. So how do you go from constitutional blundering to presidential inauguration in a week?

  • First, the Malawi Election Commission (MEC) announced a recount. Hurrah!
  • Then they said the recount could take up to two months. Less hurrah.
  • Breathing down their necks was the High Court, who said the MEC was in contempt of court for not releasing the results.
  • The Malawi Defence Force, meanwhile, put out a press release saying it had no intention of taking over the government. Who’s asking, we wonder?
  • Then a protester was killed in a violent demonstration.
  • Aaaand yet SADC observers released a statement hailing Malawians for “maintaining peace”.
  • They were upstaged by MEC chairperson Maxon Mbandera who said, despite all this, the elections were free and fair.
  • Meanwhile, because of court delays, the MEC was forced to release the votes on Friday – sans recount.
  • And so, Peter Mutharika of the Democratic Progressive Party was named the winner, with just over 36 percent of the vote. He was sworn in as president on Saturday.

Voila.


drc

East African countries have called for an end to the plunder of the DRC‘s resources, which they say is not the cause but the consequence of the ongoing conflict in that country.
In the same week, the US state department put out a statement calling for “continued due diligence” from companies in keeping conflict minerals (like gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum) out of their supply chains: “Developing a legitimate mining industry is critical to building an economic foundation for a sustainable peace in the eastern DRC and the African Great Lakes region, which is an essential component of U.S. policy in the region.”

Recommended reading:

  • All that Glitters is Not Gold: Dubai, Congo and the Illicit Trade of Conflict Minerals, a report by Partnership Canada Africa (PAC), looking at the illicit trade in gold and diamonds, from Congo mines to Dubai souks. Why Dubai?
    “In 2013, 40% of the world’s gold trade, worth an estimated $75 billion, passed through Dubai, a 12-fold increase in value over a decade previous. In 2013, over 15% of the world’s rough diamonds, worth $12.4 billion, were traded through the Emirate, compared with $690 million in 2003.5 Part of this increase is due to rising flows of Congolese gold and diamonds making their way into the Dubai market.”
  • Intel Stiff-Armed Pursuing African-Mine Conflict Minerals from Bloomberg looks at the efforts by by one company, Intel, in keeping conflict minerals out of their chips.
  • Minerals aside, conflict can be profitable in other ways: an interesting article by Beeld newspaper in South Africa reported that sending South African troops to the DRC is earning the country big bucks: R100 million is expected to be paid out to Treasury this year by the UN.

swazilandBheki Makhubu, editor of Swaziland publication The Nation, received a suspended sentence of two years’ imprisonment or a $20 000 fine this week for articles published four years ago about the country’s Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi.
What exactly could Makhubu have said to deserve such a sentence? Well, he compared Ramodibedi to a “high school punk” , which is apparently called “scandalising the court”, though which I thought meant the judge was running around drawing penises on bus seats.
The sentence is suspended for three months on condition Makhubu doesn’t scandalise the court any further – but he’s already facing another set of contempt of court charges with fellow journalist Thulani Maseko for a completely different set of articles about the thin-skinned Ramodibedi.
That’s all also completely separate from three judges Ramodibedi allegedly wanted arrested for being critical of his iron-gaveled rule . It seems the arrest warrants were prepared but never executed, and the reports are being dismissed as “nonsense”, clearly the kind of thing journalists would invent for the fun of scandalising the court.


One billion dollars could soon be coming Angola‘s way courtesy of the World Bank, to support the country’s 2013-2017 National Development Plan, particularly in the fields of education, health and agriculture.
Which is just as well: the province of Huambo, with a population of 2.7 million, currently has only one doctor for every 16 000 people.
In 2009, the country overall had a density of 0.166 doctors for every 1000 patients (or 1 doctor to every 6000 patients), but the health department’s goal is 1:5000.
In the same year, South Africa had 0.224 doctors for every 1000 patients (or 1 doctor for every 4500 patients).


botswanaAids advocacy NGO Bonela said it would challenge the Botswana government over its alleged decision to inhibit the LGBTI community from donating blood. The health ministry has denied the allegations.
Although homosexuality itself isn’t technically illegal in Botswana, the country does have laws against “indecent practices” and “unnatural offences”, worded in the law as either having or allowing somebody else to have “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature”.

zambiaAcross the border in Zambia, Amnesty International has condemned the prolonged imprisonment of two men accused of having this sex “against the natural order” after the magistrate put off delivering his verdict.
“The wheels of justice have been turning very slowly for these two men,” said researcher Simeon Mawanza. “Their incarceration in the first place, and inexcusable delays in proceedings, reflect very badly on the justice system in Zambia.”


And a Zimbabwe prisons official told a parliamentary committee this week that the department was struggling to provide food and water to 18 000 prisoners.
“Inmates are entitled to clean water and proper sanitation, unfortunately the prevailing situation is pathetic,” said deputy commissioner of prisons Aggrey Huggins Machingauta. “It is by the grace of God that to date we have not encountered any serious outbreaks of water borne diseases.”
This in spite of President Robert Mugabe granting amnesty to 2000 prisoners to relieve overcrowding. The prisons need $21 million to feed inmates – but were allocated only $2.5 million in the 2014 national budget.