Category Archives: Zimbabwe

August 21 – 27, 2017: Angola votes in no-surprise poll, while Namibia’s sanctioned over DPK ties

angolaAngola last week headed to the polls in a vote set to deliver the country’s first new president in nearly 40 years.

The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) was always expected to dominate the election and, as Angolans voted Wednesday, they did just that, snaring a 61 percent victory according to preliminary results.

But with President Jose Eduardo dos Santos set to step down, the predictable outcome still means a fresh face at the helm of the country.

Or does it?

Defence minister Joao Lourenço campaigned on a winning platform of corruption busting and economy boosting in a country badly hit by weak oil prices. Reports Bloomberg: “The Angolan economy, sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest, has been crippled by oil prices that have halved since mid-2014 and led to zero growth for 2016, an inflation rate of 30 percent and a shortage of dollars. Angola depends on oil for more than 90 percent of its export earnings.”

But just how much can Lourenço achieve?

Journalist and activist Rafael Marques told the Financial Times: “Lourenço won’t control anything. He can’t touch Sonangol (the state-owned oil company, headed by the president’s daughter), the state diamond company, the sovereign fund, the military or the police.”

And BBC’s Mary Harper writes: “The outgoing President dos Santos is still the head of the MPLA… He will remain powerful, and he will remain in the shadows.”

Just last month, lawmakers greatly curtailed the powers of the executive by passing a law that limits the president’s ability to remove security chiefs from their posts, which will allow Dos Santos’ to extend his hold on the country through his appointees long after Lourenço is sworn in.

Still, The New Guy is optimistic.

“I think I will have all the power,” Reuters quotes Lourenço as telling the press last week. “I only wouldn’t have all the power if there were two presidents of the country, which is not the case.”

All protocol observed, the electoral commission has already declared the vote “an example of how democratic elections should be carried out”, even as the opposition told RFI they disputed the numbers. Final figures will be out next week.


zimbabweAn ongoing cash crunch in Zimbabwe has led to a shortage in anti-retroviral drugs in a development activists say risks reversing the advances the country has made against HIV.

The state-owned The Herald newspaper last week reported that people living with HIV were receiving just a week’s worth of abacavir, a second-line drug for patients who “have failed or reacted to the first-line drugs”.

NewsDay reports that about a third of Zimbabwe’s estimated one million ARV-users are on the effected second-line treatment, which is normally distributed in three-month batches.

“Limited availability of ARVs impedes patient initiation, adherence and poses a major barrier to win in the HIV response as a country,” one activist told the paper. “If the current situation is not addressed urgently, the country will end up losing some of the gains recorded over the past years.

The head of Zimbabwe’s National Aids Council (NAC), Raymond Yeyeko, told The Herald the shortages were due to “liquidity challenges”, saying suppliers “require hard currency to facilitate the process”.

“We have not made any procurement since the beginning of the year because we do not have the foreign currency to do so,” he said.

Health secretary Dr Gerald Gwinji later told The Herald the country was shortly expecting a delivery of the drug.


namibiaAnd Japan last week approved sanctions against Namibia for the country’s ties to North Korea, whose stand-off with the United States has escalated rapidly in recent weeks.

“Tokyo identified four Chinese companies and two Namibian firms, as well as one Chinese individual and one North Korean individual as targets for sanctions,” reports the Japan Times. “While Beijing is widely considered to have significant influence over Pyongyang, Namibia has been deepening relations with North Korea in recent years, a source close to the matter said.”

Namibia has been repeatedly warned for side-stepping United Nations’ sanctions against North Korea, a country which to the southern African nation has been “a longtime ally, a partner in development and an affordable contractor”, reported the Washington Post last month.

Last year, the government admitted to “several military co-operation agreements with North Korea” including a munitions factory, reports Mail & Guardian, but has claimed all these were completed before the UN Security Council took steps to ban military cooperation with Pyongyang.

 

Advertisements

August 14 – 20, 2017: HH walks free – and so does Grace

zambiaAfter over 120 days behind bars, Zambian opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema was last week released and the treason charges against him dropped.

The United Party for National Development leader — commonly known as “HH” — was arrested in early April following a traffic altercation with President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade, sparking widespread criticism of the ruling Patriotic Front party, which said Hichilema had knowingly put the president’s life in danger.

After months of court delays, the businessman-turned-politician pleaded not guilty to the charges on Monday — but the state immediately withdrew them at his next court appearance just two days later after a deal was brokered by the country’s church leaders and Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland.

Addressing hundreds of celebrating supporters after his release, Hichilema said he was committed to dialogue, but said he would not rest until fellow UPND members behind bars were also freed.


zimbabweZimbabwe‘s first lady is safely back home after an alleged assault on a South African woman brought the two countries to the edge of a diplomatic crisis.

Grace Mugabe, who was reportedly in the country on a medical visit, is alleged to have beaten Gabriella Engels with a power cord in a Johannesburg hotel room last weekend, where two of the Mugabe sons have been staying.

South Africa put on a public show of retribution, announcing Grace would be charged with assault and issuing an alert at the country’s borders to stop her from fleeing.

Behind the scenes — after allegedly trying to bribe Engels to drop the matter — Grace was quietly granted diplomatic immunity, a development the government held out on announcing until the first lady was long gone.

Reports Daily Maverick: “Officials said Police Minister Fikile Mbalula wanted to charge her but International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane feared this would seriously damage South Africa’s relations with Zimbabwe… the official decision to grant her diplomatic immunity would only be made after she had safely left the country. That would forestall any legal challenges being launched against the immunity.”


tanzaniaProminent elephant conservationist Wayne Lotter was last week murdered in Tanzania.

News24 reports that Lotter, a South African, “was presumably shot dead by poachers” Wednesday night in the capital, Dar es Salaam.

Lotter’s Pams Foundation helped fund anti-poaching activities in the southern African nation, which has TimesLive reports has lost over 66,000 elephants in just ten years.

World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall called Lotter one of her heroes, adding there was “no doubt” that his work “made a big difference in the fight to save Tanzania’s elephants from the illegal ivory trade”.

“If this cowardly shooting was an attempt to bring the work of the Pams Foundation to an end, it will fail,” she said.


drcSome 200 people are presumed dead after a landslide last Wednesday in the Democratic Republic of Congo buried several villages.

Over 50 bodies had been recovered by the weekend, reports the New York Times, but the mountainous geography of the area in the north-east of the country and a lack of land-moving equipment have hampered rescue efforts.

A local official from the region told Xinhua news agency that there was “no longer any possibility of finding survivors trapped under the rubble”.

Speaking to Reuters, the deputy-governor of the affected province Pacific Keta said, “There are many people submerged whom we were unable to save”.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

It didn’t last long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three student leaders were arrested.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

June 5 – 11, 2017: Mosisili out, Hichilema shuffled, and Zim birds banned

lesothoLesotho‘s Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili last week conceded defeat after his rival Tom Thabane came out on top of a snap poll at the weekend.

“We intend to form a government of all Basotho without any form of discrimination, a government that is committed to the rule of law, reunification of the nation, good governance, rebuilding and strengthening of the of the pillars of democracy and abhors corruption in all its forms,” Thabane said in a celebratory press conference, reports the Lesotho Times.

Whether the election will mean an end to Lesotho’s ongoing political crisis remains to be seen.

Up until a few months ago, Thabane was living in exile in South Africa, alleging an army plot to assassinate him. That army has gone nowhere.

Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC) is also dependent on a coalition with three smaller parties to rule, a tenuous position given the election was called because Mosisili’s own ruling coalition collapsed — a coalition that in itself rose up after Thabane’s first go-round as prime minister from 2012 to 2014 came to an end after his then-alliance partners turned on him.

Political and security reforms are vital to avoid a re-repeat of history, observers said.


zambiaZambia‘s main opposition party says the government acted unconstitutionally last week when its jailed leader Hakainde Hichilema was moved to a maximum security prison some 150 kilometres outside the capital Lusaka.

The leader of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) faces treason charges after his motorcade allegedly failed to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s as the two headed to an event two months back.

He’ll be back in court this week after a failed attempt to have the charges thrown out.

On Friday, he was moved out of the Lusaka Central Correctional Facility for Mukobeko Maximum Prison.

According to Zambia’s Daily Mail: “A senior government official who asked not to be identified said Hichilema’s transfer was not peculiar because the Zambia Correctional Service can move any person in its custody to any designated facility for various reasons.”

But the UPND claimed in a statement Hichilema was “manhandled” during the transfer and “denied access to his legal representatives”.

“Among the rights of the accused persons is the right to unhindered visitation by their family members and to legal representation,” the party said, adding that the move was thus “unconstitutional”.


zimbabweSouth Africa, Mozambique and Botswana last week banned poultry imports from Zimbabwe after an outbreak of bird flu.

The virus killed 7,000 birds at one of the country’s biggest poultry producers, with a flock of 140,000 then culled to stop the spread, reports the Financial Gazette.

The farm has now been quarantined.

The South African Poultry Association said 140 million chickens would be at risk if the virus jumped the border, reports The Citizen.

But Zimbabwe says it’s not fazed by the bans – according to their own poultry association, they barely even export to South Africa or Botswana anyway.

May 29 – June 4, 2017: Lesotho votes and Dos Santos returns

lesothoFor the third time in five years, Lesotho headed to the polls on Saturday to pick a new government after Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s ruling coalition collapsed.

His chief rival, former Prime Minister Tom Thabane, had no reservations about the outcome.

“We are going to win this election, if it is free and fair,” he told AFP.

Even so, Thabane’s likely to rely on the same web of delicate alliances that brought Mosisili to power in 2015 — despite his Democratic Congress winning fewer seats than Thabane’s All Basotho Congress.

“A coalition is the most likely outcome, but it is unlikely to be a successful one,” analyst Charles Fogelman told AFP. “Both of the previous coalitions have collapsed under the weight of succession and power battles, and it is hard to imagine future coalitions not doing the same.”

The election marks the latest event in the rollercoaster ride that is Lesotho politics, set off by a 2014 army-led quasi-coup that sent then-Prime Minister Thabane fleeing across the border into South Africa.

How the army will react to the results of Saturday’s poll is anybody’s guess.

“The prospect of a Thabane victory is extremely worrying to partisan pro-Mosisili army officers who have several skeletons in the cupboard which could come clattering out,” writes Peter Fabricius for the Institute for Security Studies.

On election day, a handful of soldiers loitered outside polling stations in the capital Maseru, fully armed.

“Why would there be soldiers in a peaceful exercise of democratic rights? There has not been a security concern,” an opposition spokesman told VOA. “Why are they fully armed? So the first impression is that they are there to intimidate.”


drcThe Democratic Republic of Congo‘s government last week okayed the use of an experimental Ebola vaccine as it fights its eighth outbreak of the disease.

The vaccine is called rVSV-ZEBOV and, reports Nature, it was developed using a strain of the virus that hit the country in 1995: “This is nearly identical to the strain circulating in the country now. The protein triggers a person’s immune system to produce antibodies that fight the virus.”

If deployed, the plan would be to vaccinate the high-risk healthcare workers dealing with suspected Ebola cases.

But the same isolation of the affected community that has in the past helped contain the country’s Ebola scares provides quite an obstacle to actually deploying the vaccine. The affected region doesn’t have tarred roads or electricity — quite the hurdle for a vaccine that needs to be stored at -80°C.

But it’s a stumbling block that may never need be overcome. At least for now.

Health minister Olly Ilunga Kalenga said last week the outbreak was now under control, with no new cases reported in 21 days. The last confirmed case was reported on May 11 — the same day the World Health Organisation was first notified of the outbreak. Says the latest WHO report:

“As of 1 June, 72 contacts remain under follow up for signs and symptoms of Ebola. Modelling suggests the risk of further cases is currently low but not negligible, and decreases with each day without new confirmed/probable cases.”

Recommended Reading: 
This fascinating piece from Science on the researchers searching for the origins of the Ebola virus — and where hides between outbreaks: “The virus’s natural history is a mystery, says virologist Vincent Munster, sitting outside his tent in the darkening jungle. ‘We know everything about its replication cycle but fricking nothing about where it comes from and how it causes outbreaks.'”


angolaAngola‘s president Jose Eduardo Dos Santos last week returned home after nearly a month abroad, an absence that sparked reports of his suffering stroke or dying, while his daughter Isabel took furiously to social media insisting he was very much alive.

The government has confirmed, however, that the 74-year-old president was in fact seeking medical treatment while in Spain.

“You know that there are moments in everyone’s lives when we don’t feel well. But he is fine. He is in Spain but when he is better he will return,” foreign minister Georges Chikoti told RFI. “President Dos Santos has regular checkups in Spain so it is perfectly normal for him to be there.”


zimbabweAnd Robert Mugabe kicked off his election campaign last week, wooing youth at a soccer stadium south of Harare one year before Zimbabwe heads to the polls.

“Two hundred buses and trucks have been laid on to bring supporters to the venue,” reported News24. “Youths, women and war veterans are understood to have been invited.”

To say he received a warm reception would be something of an understatement.

Addressing the crowd of thousands, the leader of ZANU-PF’s youth wing Kudzanayi Chipanga called Mugabe an “angel” who was “representing God here on Earth”.

“Mugabe, his wife Grace and Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa nodded in disbelief,” reported NewsDay.

Chipanga continued: “I promise you, people, that when we go to heaven don’t be surprised to see Robert Gabriel Mugabe standing beside God vetting people into heaven.”