Category Archives: Namibia

April 10 – 17, 2017: In Zambia, bad driving equals treason

zambiaIt started on April 8.

Zambia‘s president Edgar Lungu and his forever-rival Hakainde Hichilema — who faced off in an extremely close presidential race last year — were both traveling in separate convoys to an event.

Whether by design or sheer logistic stupidity, they ended up very briefly sharing the same stretch of tarmac as one convoy overtook the other.

It should have ended with an expletive, maybe an irritated honk and something muttered about “opposition drivers”.

It didn’t.

The next day, the presidency and Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front party began stirring. Hichilema wilfully endangered the president’s life, they said. Hichilema was disrespectful, they said. The president’s life was at stake, they said.

By Wednesday, Hichilema was behind bars and facing charges of treason.

AFP reporters witnessed as “more than 100 armed police surrounded Hichilema’s house outside Lusaka overnight, and tear gas was fired before a raid when he was taken into custody”.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Hichilema said, “They broke into the house, they broke the doors down, everything, they beat my workers… It was extremely brutal.”

The charges have been condemned by rights groups and some traditional leaders, but the opposition leader remains jailed and reportedly with limited access to his lawyer and doctors, claims the police deny.

Meanwhile, Zambians are now watching their words online after a politician was slammed with a libel charge for criticising the police’s handling of the matter. The atmosphere of intimidation and violence, which defined last year’s election season, is totally out of character for the country. “International observers said the election was marred by restrictions on opposition campaigning, voter intimidation and biased state media,” writes AFP.

“For a while, Zambia had been a beacon for human rights experts,” Human Rights Watch’s southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga told VOA. “In recent months, this has not been the case.”


This blog’s primary goal is to expose South Africans to news from their region, which as a general rule is poorly covered by the media here. But two pieces of SADC news did make it into the South African press last week — albeit in a rather lording “look at these Africans” kind of way. Let’s take a closer look.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 7.33.41 AM

Zimbabwe moseyed on into SA headlines last week when the country’s education ministry told The Sunday Mail that schools should accept goods or services in lieu of cash when it comes to settling fees.

“The ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango added: ‘Schools should not turn away pupils for not paying tuition fees. Instead, parents of the concerned children can pay the fees using livestock. That is mostly for rural areas, but parents in towns and cities can pay through other means; for instance, doing certain work for the school.'”

Cue the hilarity.

But suggestions like this are coming at a time when getting your hands on actual physical cash in Zimbabwe involves queueing outside banks for hours — and even then only coming away with a token amount, if anything at all.

“Frustrated Zimbabweans queue, sometimes for several days in a row, to be able to access their salaries,” reported News24. “At times bank clients are only allowed to take out $60 at a time — and it’s almost certain that there won’t be a ‘real’ US dollar note in the mix.”

The “bond notes” introduced last year were supposed to be the fix to this problem, but they too quickly seem to vanish from circulation as the government accuses citizens and business of hoarding.

And it’s not just schools looking for alternative options.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has tabled a bill that would see banks accept yes, among other things, cows as collateral for bank loans. Which, as you can tell from that “financial dark ages” headline, has been greeted with all kinds of measured response here in South Africa.

But there is more to the Movable Property Security Interests Bill:

“The movable property or asset will include any tangible property such as motor vehicle, jewellery, equipment and machinery, household goods and livestock among others… including services, intellectual property, and negotiable instruments such as banknotes and bills of exchange… The Bill is meant to facilitate increased access of credit to micro, small and medium enterprises and communal farmers…”

Which doesn’t sound utterly ridiculous all.

As Tim Worstall writes for Forbes: “There are cattle ranchers all over the world who use the value of their stock as collateral with the bank… the basic concept isn’t really all that odd.”

And in the Financial Times: “In other parts of Africa, including Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, livestock is frequently used as collateral. That can be a way of enabling people normally excluded from the banking sector to access loans without paying exorbitant interest rates.”

The difference, both reports note, is that this move comes not at a time of empowerment, but desperation.

“Zimbabwe is slowly being squeezed by a credit crunch largely of its own making… The desperate shortage of cash has obliged it to try various wheezes to spirit credit out of thin air…”

I would expect more wheezes are yet to come.


Namibia also forced its way into the South African consciousness this week with this headline:

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 7.34.02 AM

(The comments on that article do not make for nation-building reading, so just don’t.)

President Hage Geingob delivered his State of the Nation address last week, and said a long-time-coming empowerment bill would soon be tabled.

And it’s this clause of the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) that’s causing all the fuss:

23. (1) Any private sector enterprise that is established after the commencement of this Act may commence business only when such enterprise has secured 25 per cent ownership by a racially disadvantaged person or persons or such higher percentage as may be determined by Minister by notice in the Gazette.

I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised that the one time South Africa takes notice of its neighbour is over an economic transformation debate.

But by all accounts the conversation is just as fraught across the border as it is here.

Reports Reuters: “Last year, rating agency Fitch cited the empowerment plan as one of the reasons it had downgraded Namibia’s economic outlook from stable to negative, saying the policy would scare away investors who might not be willing to cede stakes in their companies… The Construction Industries Federation (CIF), the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Namibian Employers Federation have all expressed concern about the empowerment plan.”

Some have said the bill will benefit the black elite instead of the poor, and in a debate last November, Namibia’s former prime minister Nahas Angula said, “I won’t mention their names but there are some black people who made a fortune…. and it is not fair on white people alone to give up 25 percent of their businesses.”

In the same debate, an advisor to the president said there was a chance the contentious 25 percent clause may be revised.

But in his address last week, Geingob stressed that income inequality would go nowhere without a helping hand:

“The majority of Namibians remain structurally excluded from meaningful participation in the economy… Without deliberate policies, the economy on its own will not be able to correct for structural imbalances. This underscores the notion by Joseph Stiglitz that inequality is a choice. This is not our choice and we require the support of all Namibians to fix the obvious, and dangerous, flaws in our social structure.”


tanzaniaAnd finally, out of Tanzania — a new dino fossil, or rather that of a much older relative. A good 12 million years older.

According to a paper published in Nature last week, Teleocrater rhadinus was found in Tanzania’s 245 million-year-old Manda Beds formation. The creature is two to three meters long and looks something like a velociraptor crossed with a monitor lizard.

Reports Forbes: “Birds and crocodilians are each others closest living relatives, united in a group called Archosauria. From there, archosaurs diverge into two separate lineages: crocodile-line and bird-line archosaurs. Dinosaurs and modern birds are on the bird line, along with the flying reptiles, the pterosaurs.”

Teleocrater rhadinus is firmly on the line that that led to dinosaurs and birds, but what is interesting is how it shared characteristics of both lines.

“While the ankle is crocodile-like, the skull fragments recovered show it possessed extensive jaw musculature—a much more dinosaur-like trait,” writes Forbes.

It also had “a number of markers that identified it as a bird-lineage archosaur, such as a telltale depression on top of the head,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “It also had a muscle scar high on the thigh bone — a characteristic you see even in chicken legs today.”

If you want to read more about the long history of this find — fossils found some 80 years ago and sitting forgotten in drawers — I highly recommend both of those (illustrated) stories from Forbes and the LA Times.


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.


September 29 – October 5, 2014

lesothoElections will be held two years early in Lesotho as the country heads to the polls to resolve its ongoing political crisis.

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane suspended Parliament in June to block a vote of no confidence after losing the support of his deputy Mothetjoa Metsing, leader of one of the main partners in his coalition government.

Now, it seems South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has helped negotiate a way out of the conflict with a plan unveiled last week.

According to the Maseru Facilitation Declaration, the rival factions have committed to the reopening of Parliament on October 17, when only election plans will be discussed nobody will sneakily try to oust Thabane. It will then be dissolved in early December for the parties to begin campaigning. And in late February next year, the country will vote.

But will this be enough?

As journalist and activist Levi Kabwato notes in this piece, it’s unlikely any party will earn the necessary 61 percent for an outright majority – which will leave the country with a fragile, hung Parliament all over again.

“The pitfall of this, therefore, is that in March or April 2015, Lesotho may actually be back where it is now, plunged deep in a continuation of the current political crisis. So, should Ramaphosa be patting himself on the back after all?”

Meanwhile, the country’s security situation was only vaguely addressed at the announcement. The failed-quasi-‘coup’ at the end of August was heralded by an army attack on police headquarters – and last Tuesday, just TWO DAYS before the elections announcement, there was another shoot-out between the army and the police.

How will conflict between the army and the police force be resolved? And while we’re on that, just who is in charge of the army – Thabane’s appointee Maaparankoe Mahao or former chief Tlali Kamoli, accused of escaping for the hills with looted weaponry after the non-coup?

Ramaphosa will reportedly meet with Kamoli in the coming week.


swazilandA woman made homeless during a series of forced evictions attempted public suicide in Swaziland last week. This after she and 15 other families were thrown off land where the government is building Biotechnology Park, a 158-hectare project partially funded by Taiwan, to serve as an innovation hub in the country – specifically for food production.

But according to the South African Litigation Centre, the evictions were illegal.

“On 8 September 2014 this interim order [to evict the residents] was made final and the residents immediately lodged an appeal to the order,” writes SALC lawyer Caroline James. “Appeals to eviction orders ordinarily stay the execution of the orders, and so this should have prohibited the government officials from evicting any person named in the eviction order.”

It didn’t.

The woman, whose family of ten is now homeless, was restrained before she could harm herself, reports the Times of Swaziland: “She was heard screaming: “Ngingamane ngife (it’s better to die).”


Southern Africa performed best in the newly released Ibrahim Index of African Governance – with Lesotho, South Africa, the Seychelles and Namibia all in the top ten (Zimbabwe drags us down considerably at #46).

The rankings are determined by four categories: Safety & Rule of Law, Participation & Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development. And in fact it was SADC island state Mauritius that took the top spot, with a score of 81.7 out of 100.

botswanaAn interesting country to look at, though, is Botswana, coming it at #3.

It comes out tops specifically in the Safety & Rule of Law category and, as this piece notes, is “one of few African countries to transform its mineral wealth into political stability and widespread gains for its citizens”.

But as Africa analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran writes in this piece (that’s *well* worth reading in its entirety), an investor-friendly image internationally does not necessarily translate to squeaky clean behaviour back home.

She writes that civil society organisations dispute the rankings “because the Botswana government was increasingly restricting basic freedoms of expression and was unwilling to engage civil society organisations in the country”.

“In the latest attack on the media in Botswana, the Sunday Standard editor Outsa Mokone was arrested last month and charged with sedition following an article in the newspaper about [president Ian] Khama’s alleged involvement in a car crash.”

The journalist who wrote that article is now living in exile after receiving information his life was in danger, telling the Daily Maverick‘s Simon Allison: “The intimidation of journalists hasn’t been in the form of physical harassment before, it has always been in the form of using the legal system to silence us. But now it has taken a new form. It’s now getting into physical threats, threats of harm. Right now we have an administration in Botswana that is inward-looking, intolerant to dissent and divergent views.”

As this editorial on Mmegi Online noted: “Lack of progressive legislations such as freedom of information law, declaration of assets and liabilities laws, State political party funding, and many other laws is a clear sign of deficiency in our democratic setup. Further, lack of accountability by those in power; recent attack on the independent press, and abuse of State resources by the ruling party at the disadvantage of their opponents is a worrying development.”

And all of this in the weeks leading up to the country’s elections at the end of the month? Interesting times.


tanzania

Tanzania approved a new draft constitution last week, passed without the input of opposition parties who are already voicing their dissent.

There’s some good and some bad to the new constitution. The gender gap will be narrowed, but birthright citizenship will also go out the window.

But according to Reuters, civil society and opposition politicians “say the version passed on Thursday is too limited and does not establish a federal system that many wanted”. They’ve called for nationwide protests.

According to VOA, “Critics say the government appears to be rushing to complete the new constitution. They contend the draft constitution is unlikely to lead to a governing document that represents the will of the people.”

And the local Guardian quoted a professor involved in the original drafting of the constitution as saying that the version passed last week was quite different to what they’d intended.

“I fear this passed draft constitution cannot lead to a good governing document that represents the will of the people… The proposed constitution is contrary to the targets that we set for ourselves, to get a good constitution.”


mozambiqueCivil society groups in Mozambique warned last week about the possibility of violence when the elections results are announced later this month.

The country goes to the polls on October 15. A SADC observer mission was deployed there last week and campaigning is well under way.

But civil society is warning police to be on guard and unbiased in the coming weeks, after supporters of the ruling party Frelimo attacked the motorcade of another party’s presidential candidate two weeks ago. When his supporters protested in turn, they were violently dispersed by police.

Meanwhile, leader of opposition party Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, was wooing potential voters last week with a speech that kind of terrifies: “When I try to serve you, along comes a little machine and provokes me. When I am President, nobody will provoke me and even if they do, nothing will happen to me because I will have all the laws and everything else under control.”

Meanwhile, Namibia announced last week that it will hold parliamentary and presidential elections on November 28. Namibians overseas will vote on November 14.


And Amal Alamuddin and George Clooney are reportedly/allegedly/gossipingly honeymooning in the Seychelles. If that’s not news, I don’t know what is.


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.


August 25 – 31, 2014

lesothoUsually, when I get that little Google Alerts email in my inbox letting me know Lesotho‘s been in the news, it has to do with their football team.

Not so this week, with the Mountain Kingdom making its way into world headlines for a maybe-it-was-maybe-it-wasn’t coup on Saturday morning.

If you missed it, here’s a quick summary: Maseru residents woke early Saturday to the sound of gunfire in the capital after the army surrounded police headquarters. Radio stations were jammed (except for the Catholic channel, which apparently carried on with a broadcast about marriage). Prime Minister Thomas Thabane spoke out from South Africa – to which he’d escaped in the early hours of the morning on a tip-off – crying coup. The military denied it, saying sure, they’d surrounded police HQ and fired shots, but that was all part of disarming the cops who wanted to give weapons to allegedly rabble-rousing youths who were planning on disrupting an anti-Thabane protest march scheduled for Monday.

This is still an unfolding story, so the gaps in the story are continually being filled – little details like Thabane wanting to fire the army chief on Friday, just the day before the Could-Be-Coup, and an assassination attempt on the man who would be his replacement (!!).

But this is also a story that goes months back, maybe even years. See, Lesotho’s 2012 elections resulted in a hung parliament that led to a coalition between three parties (NOTE: there are so many different political parties involved in this fracas that I’m not even going to begin saying which is which here). It’s the tensions in this coalition that are behind the weekend’s events. Thabane’s coalition partners aren’t thrilled with his leadership and an attempt to introduce a motion of no confidence in him earlier this year was thoroughly swatted aside when he simply suspended Parliament for nine months instead. And that’s what that aforementioned anti-Thabane protest march was all about: forcing him to reopen Parliament.

Recommended reading:

  • The best resource to keep up-to-date with this has to be the Lesotho Times – I cannot recommend their coverage enough: it’s rolling and nuanced and thoroughly up-to-date for the reader who wants to really know the nitty-gritty of this tale. You can follow their reports months back.
  • For a quick Dummies’ Guide for the background to all this, I put out a Special Edition SADC Wrap over the weekend that explains it all in basic, tongue-in-cheek detail (I also did a more serious piece for Al Jazeera on the same topic for people who don’t want to deal with my sense of humour).
  • This remarkable piece on IOL also gives a brilliant explanation of how we got to this point (my name is on this piece, too, but really I contributed the bare minimum – all credit has to go to IOL foreign editor Peter Fabricius and our Lesotho correspondent Basildon Peta, who just overflow with experience and knowledge).
  • SABC also a correspondent in Maseru in the form of Nthakoane Ngatane – she’s been tweeting and blogging updates on the Parliamentary crisis for months and is absolutely worth the follow.

zambiaZambian president Michael Sata is apparently still alive after months of speculation about his absence on any public platform, apparently due to his ill health. It’s led to discussions about who would succeed Sata should he die – the deputy Guy Scott? The justice minister Wynter Kabimba? The finance minister Alexander Chikwanda?

Well, Sata threw a spanner into the works like a grumpy old man screaming “I’m not dead yet!” by firing Kabimba, thought by some (mainly himself, it seems) as the favourite in the race.

Recommended reading:

  • Zambia Reports is an excellent resource for anybody interested in the country’s news, and this specific piece claims to give some insider info on what Sata said to Kabimba after the firing: “You know the answers to all your questions. You think I am foolish, I have been watching you from time back, I have seen what kind of an element you are, you and your friends, I shall fix all of you one by one. I know you wanted me dead while you acted illegally as president so you could take over but God didn’t allow you.” Joh.
  • It’s another Peter Fabricius punt, but this great piece of his on the ISS website (published just before Sata was fired) is a very good read for anybody wanting to understand the succession battle that’s been playing out over the last few months: “The divisions between the factions are evidently deepened by personal, tribal and ideological animosities… Because of the ideological differences between the rival factions jostling to succeed Sata, the succession struggle could, in theory, have significant implications for investors and the economy.”

swazilandA Twitter account inspired by Wikileaks is exposing the high life of Swaziland‘s monarchy. Swazi Leaks has been tweeting pictures of police beating protesters and, more tellingly, pictures of King Mswati III’s children living it up abroad. “The king has an annual household budget of around $60 million (45 million euros) in a country where about 60 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day,” writes Neo Maditla for AFP. The country is routinely lambasted for labour and human rights abuses. Political parties are banned and a number of journalists and activists are currently behind bars.

malawiMalawi ministers last week requested a 600 percent increase in their salaries. President Peter Mutharika quickly nipped that in the bud. According to the Nyasa Times, the president’s spokesman said Mutharika “finds it unethical to raise ministers’ salaries when the cost of living is not only high for them, but for every Malawian”. The ministers were asking for K3.5 million (that’s Malawian kwachas, by the way), about $8800 or nearly R95 000. Yes, ridiculous. But also keep in mind that these guys currently only earn K600 000 – that’s just over $1500 or R16 000 a month. (Somebody tell the Generations actors.)

drcThe DRC confirmed two Ebola cases last week, but said they were unrelated to the current epidemic in West Africa that has so far killed over 1500. According to reports, a quarantine was quickly imposed – this is the DRC’s seventh Ebola outbreak, so by now they should know what they’re doing. In fact, two weeks ago they even offered their assistance to the West African countries currently battling the disease. But even this isolated case in the DRC is already having knock-on effects: according to reports coming out of Zambia, a group of truckers coming through the country from the DRC are stuck on the border between Zambia and Botswana. This after Botswana imposed travel restrictions on anyone coming in from Ebola-affected countries.

namibiaAnd a protest in Namibia turned violent last week, ending in the shooting of a 26-year-old woman, Frieda Ndatipo. She was part of a crowd of “struggle kids” – children of fighters killed in Namibia’s battle for independence – protesting for jobs outside the headquarters of the ruling party. “The shoot-out erupted after the seemingly peaceful crowd of demonstrators allegedly opened fire on the policemen, who were in the process of searching the group for weapons,” reported local newspaper The Namibian. The protesters also reportedly “had stones and sticks on them when they were searched”, according to police. The struggle kids deny this. You can read the interview The Namibian did with Ndatipo’s family and friends here: “But how do you shoot somebody who is running away and who is posing no threat to you? I really don’t understand this. Someone must explain this to me. These children are campaigning for their rights. Their parents died for this country.”


 

July 28 – August 3

One of the great things about having your own blog is you’re guaranteed your editor will approve your leave requests. Thanks, Self! But after a three-week break, we’re back – enjoy! mozambique

And just in time, too. For weeks, we’ve been reading reports of violent clashes between government troops and rebel fighters in Mozambique.

Well, last week, sanity prevailed and the government and opposition party/rebel group Renamo signed an agreement to put the weapons down.

Bloomberg reports this is a “total agreement”, quoting agriculture minister Jose Pacheco saying that “no one will be hunted or prosecuted for their role in the violence”. Hm. Wonder how the families of the eight civilians killed in the clashes feel about that.

Meanwhile, the ruling party’s presidential candidate Filipe Nyussi spent some time last week hanging out with Uncle Bob across the border. Robert Mugabe, who celebrated another year in power after the anniversary of his big win in Zimbabwe‘s elections last year, threw his weight behind the ruling Frelimo party, saying, “Zanu-PF and Frelimo are one, so their candidate is our candidate.”


Gomolemo Motswalwedi, 44, allegedly killed last week in a car accident. Photo: Sunday Standard

Gomolemo Motswaledi, 44.     Photo: Sunday Standard

Botswana opposition politician Gomolemo Motswaledi was killed in a car accident last Wednesday. Motswaledi, 44, was president of the Botswana Movement for Democracy (BMD), a party born of a split from President Ian Khama’s ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP). He was set to run as the candidate for deputy president for an umbrella group of opposition parties in the country’s October elections.

A reportedly shocked Khama called his rival “young and full of promise”. But the conspiracy theories came out quickly.

The Voice reported Motswaledi was travelling from South Africa to Gaborone for a meeting at the time of the accident – and that local police were “clueless to what could have caused the fatal accident”. That report also includes claims from alleged eyewitnesses who say they saw “a suspicious looking man wearing a balaclava and a Pringle sweater at the scene before the arrival of the police”.

They also have another article listing the conspiracy theories, including, “He was bewitched by political rivals with strong witchcraft from Delta Marine Spirits.” (But seriously, give it a read.)

Yesterday, the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) called for an independent inquiry into Motswaledi’s death, saying, “As UDC we are aware that political assassinations are common towards elections. We must exhaust all avenues in our quest to determine what could have caused the death of this valiant man.”


lesothoOur own President Jacob Zuma headed to Maseru last week to meet with leaders in the political deadlock that has left Lesotho‘s parliament suspended until February next year.

You’ll remember in June everybody went into a tizzy at the idea that our little landlocked neighbour was having another coup. It wasn’t – but it still ain’t looking great, with the ruling coalition splitting apart at the seams.

The excellent Nthakoana Ngatane blogged about Zuma’s visit, where he said, “We are the only neighbour and if the situation is not stable in Lesotho we feel it, so that’s why the concern.” And apparently, King Letsie is also really quite concerned about the whole thing. (If you’re at all interested in keeping up with politics from the Mountain Kingdom, you should be following Ngatane on Twitter – @nthakoana.)

But if you really want to understand just why South Africa’s “feeling it”, this paragraph from a Business Day piece cuts to the core of the issue: “Lesotho’s political instability comes at a critical time for the water security of the Vaal River supply area, Gauteng and surrounds, which supports a substantial proportion of South Africa’s economy… Although Lesotho’s politicians had initially pressed for an early start, the imminence of the project has seen Lesotho’s politics heat up. The formal issue is whether Lesotho is getting a fair deal from the project, but more important is the informal issue, the political economy of who in Lesotho will get the benefits.”


namibiaNamibia had its own little Ebola scare last week – always fun, considering the highly contagious disease has killed over 800 people across West Africa so far.

According to The Namibian, over 100 passengers of one particular flight (coming in from Joburg, by the way) were held in quarantine for four hours at Hosea Kutako International Airport on Friday morning, on suspicion that one passenger was displaying symptoms.

‘Course, it was all a false alarm, as evidenced by this amazing explanation of what was actually wrong: “The suspected passenger had an allergic reaction after eating food that contained fish. He is, however, clear now.”

Magic.

(This Vice piece from last week is a great CTFD article, with some cutting words for Western media at the end, too, if you’re into that.)


zambiaNow this is pretty cool: Zambians can now get free Internet with a new app called Internet.org. It doesn’t open up The Whole Internet, just certain sites like AccuWeather and Google, but also some local Zambian news and jobs pages.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said of the app, “Soon, everyone will be able to use the internet for free to find jobs, get help with reproductive health and other aspects of health, and use tools like Facebook to stay connected with the people they love.”


A week after he and journalist Bheki Makhubu were jailed for writing articles critical of Swaziland‘s judiciary (full background here), human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko wrote an open letter to US President Barack Obama.

Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.

Swazi human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.

Writing from what he describes as his “lousy, lonely and uncomfortable jail cell” in Sidvwashini prison in Mbabane, Maseko implores Obama to instigate sanctions against Swaziland’s King Mswati III.

You can read the full letter here – and it’s really an excellent summary of Swaziland’s undemocratic woes, for those new to the issue.

And yeah, I’ll admit to getting a little journo-tearful at some of Maseko’s words.

“This oppression in Swaziland must be overthrown,” he writes. “With ‘hope’ as you say, Yes We Can.”

#FreeTheNation


 

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.