Category Archives: Zimbabwe

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.”


April 24 – 30, 2017: Malawi fights child marriage

 malawiMalawi’s president Peter Mutharika last week signed a key amendment to the country’s constitution that officially makes child marriage illegal.

This has been a long-fought battle in a country which has among the highest rates of child marriage in the world

Malawi had previously adjusted its marriage laws to set the age of marriage at 18 and above. But the Constitution still allowed children between the ages of 15 and 18 to marry with parental consent, leaving all kinds of legal loopholes in its wake, as the Human Rights Watch video below (slightly dated but such an informative watch) makes clear.

This latest amendment removes all ambiguity from the question: constitutionally, the legal age for marriage in Malawi is now 18 or older.

But laws alone won’t solve the problem.

“Child rights advocates say enforcing the law will be difficult unless the government also addresses the poverty that drives families to marry off their young daughters,” reports VOA. “Some families cannot afford school fees for girls, or simply have too many mouths to feed.”

Recommended reading:
This great Al Jazeera profile on Theresa Kachindamoto, a Malawian chief who had hundreds of child marriages in her district annulled: “When she learned that child marriages were still taking place in some areas, she fired four male chiefs responsible for these areas. They returned months later to tell her that all marriages had been undone. After sending people to verify this, she hired the chiefs back.”


zimbabweMonths after Zimbabwe introduced custom bond notes as a way out of the country’s continuing cash crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not convinced.

Speaking at a briefing in Washington at the weekend, the organisation’s Africa director Abebe Aemro Selassie said, “We think that going down this one (bond) note route, in and of itself, will not address the challenges that the country has.”

Zimbabweans themselves are likely to agree. The temporary relief the bond notes provided when first introduced has vanished and Zimbabweans still spend their days queuing to access limited funds. Like the dollars before them, the bond notes are also becoming scarce, reports News24.

Now, the country’s Reserve Bank governor John Mangudya has decided no more bond notes will be issued.

“The fundamental problem of this economy is not about currency but localised production, stimulating exports and discouraging imports of finished products at all cost,” the central bank chief told the Sunday Mail.

The IMF tends to agree.

“It’s very important to have a more comprehensive policy package which also addresses a lot of the fiscal challenges that the country faces, a lot of the structural reforms that have to be done,” said Selassie.


tanzaniaTanzania this week fired nearly 10,000 civil servants who faked their qualifications — including, amazingly and ironically, “the head of the government’s anti-corruption body, the tax chief, a senior rail official and head of the port authority”, reports The Guardian.

According to AFP, president John Magufuli said the “9,932 employees recruited on the basis of false diplomas will not receive their salary for this month of April and have to leave their positions immediately”.

Seemingly on a roll, Magufuli then also fired and deported the head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the country, Awa Dabo.

The government attributed her dismissal to her “poor relations with her work colleagues”.

But many others are tying it to her criticism of the disputed 2015 vote in Tanzania’s island sibling, Zanzibar. The results were annulled after the opposition declared victory. And when the vote was held a second time around in March 2016, furious opposition parties boycotted — and the ruling party won.

Criticism from Dabo could have impacted funding for Tanzania. Reports the BBC: “Zanzibar’s controversial election re-run in March 2016 prompted a US government aid agency to withdraw nearly half a billion dollars of funding from Tanzania… Speaking on condition of anonymity, a UNDP official said that Ms Dabo had been deported on the same day the government issued the order, under a security escort.”


zambiaAnd finally, opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema is still behind bars in Zambia after his treasonous traffic run-in with president Edgar Lungu.

HH appeared in court this week hoping to have the widely derided charges against him thrown out. No such luck. Al Jazeera reports that “magistrate Greenwell Malumani said he did not have the power to dismiss the charges, which can only be handled by the High Court”.

Hichilema and his co-accused are back in court this Thursday, for a preliminary inquiry to allow the court “to sample the evidence in the matter in order to ascertain the validity of the charge”, reports ZNBC.

Meanwhile, and seemingly without a hint of irony, Lungu told young Zambians at the weekend not to “retaliate” when provoked by opposition, reports the Lusaka Times.

“You are all aware of the provocation we are facing as a party, please don’t retaliate… You should not fall prey to any political provocation because you have a critical role in promoting unity, love and peace.”


Recommended reading:

  • This AFP piece on the impact China’s demand for wooden furniture is having on Mozambique‘s forests: “The work of policing the sprawling country’s vast forests is ‘complicated’… ‘We don’t have sufficient means, we don’t have enough personnel… It’s like we have our limbs cut off.'”
  • This great NewsDeeply read out of Angola, where lawmakers are pushing to ban abortion entirely — “with no exceptions for rape, fetus malformation, or when the mother’s life is in danger”.
  • And this Guardian profile on Rodrigue Katembo, a child soldier-cum-ranger who risks his life daily protecting the DRC‘s national parks: “When we see how many [groups] are trying to destroy our protected areas, we cannot stop now. If I left, that would feel like a betrayal to the protections the wildlife and national parks deserve.”

April 17 – 23, 2017: Tens of thousands flee DRC fighting

drcWe start off this week’s edition in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where ongoing fighting between the army and a group called the Kamuina Nsapu militia has seen 11,000 people flee across the border into Angola.

The conflict is centred around the Kasai region — made up of five provinces — which borders Angola’s north-east corner.

Some 9,000 of those refugees arrived just in April, said the United Nations’ refugee agency last week.

The UN also revealed it had uncovered 17 new mass graves, including the bodies of dozens of children. This brings the total number of graves discovered to 40, with an estimated 400 dead, reports Al Jazeera.

In addition to the 11,000 refugees, over a million people have been displaced within the DRC by the fighting. An estimated 62,000 of those were reported just last week, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

President Joseph Kabila, meanwhile, distracted by his fight to extend his long-since-expired presidency, is providing little leadership on the issue.

“The Kasai region… is one of the DRC’s poorest, and usually far off the radar of politicians and diplomats in the distant capital, Kinshasa,” writes Hans Hoebeke in this Crisis Group piece. “This insurgency has its origins in local tensions in Kasai-Central province. However, it has quickly tapped into the long-running political and socio-economic frustration in the Kasai provinces, and is also tied to national politics. The national and provincial governments’ legitimacy in the region is particularly weak.”

That piece is slightly dated, but I highly recommend it for insights into what (and who) Kamuina Nsapu is. It’s a long backstory full of pricked pride, urban vs rural tensions, and an assassination, but well worth the read if you want to understand this issue beyond just “DRC Gone Mad: The Sequel”.

As so quickly happens in all conflicts, there are no innocents left. Kamuina Nsapu is recruiting child soldiers, while the armed forces are mowing them down.


zimbabweZimbabwe last week celebrated the 37th anniversary of its independence from the United Kingdom.

Depending on which article you read, President Robert Mugabe was either paranoid (“I wish to urge you to remain vigilant… the enemy is ever ready to pounce”), celebratory (“now we enjoy the fruits of our independence and we can now call ourselves the masters of our own destiny”), or bizarrely conciliatory, making what EWN called “a rare call for unity and tolerance of political differences”.

“He called for Zimbabweans to respect each other,” EWN continued, adding Mugabe “told tens of thousands gathered in Harare… that people have a right to belong to a party of their choice”.

How that call for unity is expressing itself, though, may not be to the 93-year-old’s liking.

As the ruling ZANU-PF party is riven by infighting, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai spent last week forging alliances with smaller parties — including that of Joice Mujuru, the once-upon-a-time heir to Mugabe’s throne who was ousted from Zanu-PF in 2014 after a concerted and vicious campaign by the president’s wife, Grace.

But in such a deal, who would be king?

“Any opposition bloc would first have to overcome fierce rivalries within their various camps, and then hold together in an intense and often violent political landscape dominated by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party,” surmised News24.

Anything less than unity would mean near-inevitable victory for Mugabe.”


swazilandSwaziland‘s King Mswati III caused a tizz last week when he spoke out against divorce.

For all we know, the monarch was simply playing to the crowd of gathered pastors at an Easter event when he said, according to the Times of Swaziland, “In our culture, once you marry someone, there is no turning back.”

But in a country where the king rules by decree, it was interpreted — and widely reported — as a “ban” on divorce.

“It is not necessarily a decree,” the Swaziland Solidarity Network’s Lucky Lukhele told eNCA. “However, given the vast powers that the king has it may sound as it is. Remember that he’s also a chairperson of the judiciary commission…”

The royal house has since denied those reports and said the king was just talking “about issues of national interest for families especially, and for the strengthening of Swazi culture”.

Whatever Mswati may have meant, marriage laws in Swaziland are a problem — particularly for women. Consider this explanation from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre on why they’re challenging the country’s Marriage Act:

“Under the common law marital power, a married woman cannot conclude contracts without her husband’s permission, she cannot represent herself in civil suits, and she cannot administer property. This restriction on the right to conclude contracts includes restrictions on the ability to access bank loans, mortgages, and financial credit generally. Common law marital power therefore relegates married women to the legal status of minors under the guardianship of their husbands.”

A new marriage bill has been drafted. But don’t hold your breath. Swaziland’s sexual offences bill has still not been enacted 8 years after it was developed, says Human Rights Watch. And another bill on women and girls’ protection — also not yet enacted — does not take into account marital rape.


zambiaFollowing up on last week’s lead, Zambian opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema remains behind bars on treason charges after his convoy failed to give way to that of President Edgar Lungu as both long-time rivals headed to an event a couple weeks back.

Hichilema appeared in court on Wednesday when his lawyers argued that the treason charge should be thrown out.

AFP quotes court documents saying that Hichilema “on unknown dates but between 10 October 2016 and 8 April 2017 and whilst acting together with other persons unknown did endeavour to overthrow by unlawful means the government of Edgar Lungu”.

The matter was postponed to later this week.

Until then, an increasingly autocratic Lungu — who narrowly beat Hichilema in last year’s presidential vote — has instructed his cabinet and members of tge ruling Patriotic Front party to shut it.

“President Lungu said that only Minister of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba will handle issues that are of interest to diplomats accredited to Zambia,” reports ZNBC. “He says it is important to restrict the number of people commenting on the issue because it is a judicial case which should be left entirely to the judiciary.”


angolaAnd in Angola, seven activists were arrested last week for protesting for transparent elections, reports AFP.

The country is set to head to the polls later this year, an auspicious event if only because long-ruling President Eduardo dos Santos has said he will not run for the post he’s held since 1979.

Of course, until that actually happens, it remains the dissent-crushing Angola we’ve come to know and love. Which includes sentencing people to 45 days behind bars “for the offences of rebellion and association with criminals”.

Fun.

 

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.