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.

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

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‚Äôs 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¬įC.

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‚Äôs lives when we don‚Äôt feel well. But he is fine. He is in Spain but when he is better he will return,‚Ä̬†foreign minister Georges Chikoti told RFI. ‚ÄúPresident Dos Santos has regular checkups in Spain so it is perfectly normal for him to be there.‚ÄĚ

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‚Äôt be surprised to see Robert Gabriel Mugabe standing beside God vetting people into heaven.”

May 22 – 28: On Maimanes and mining ministers

zambiaThe ongoing concerns around¬†Zambia‘s democratic integrity forced their way into South African headlines last week when Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane was refused entry to the country to attend the treason trial of his Zambian counterpart.

Hakainde Hichilema, 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 last month.

There’s no love lost between Hichilema and Lungu. The pair faced off in a hotly contested and sometimes violent presidential race last year. Hichilema later unsuccessfully challenged Lungu’s win in the courts.

With bail not an option for prisoners charged with treason, Hichilema has now been in jail for over 40 days, his case postponed several times over.

Never one to waste a PR opportunity, Maimane embraced continental¬†brotherhood¬†just in time for¬†Africa Day, saying in a statement: “We will stand up for democracy and the rule of law on the African continent and we will be there in person to show our support for Mr Hichilema. We also call on the Zambian government to drop these trumped up charges against the Leader of the Opposition, and release him from prison.”

But¬†Maimane never made it off the plane¬†and back home Zambia’s High Commissioner defended the incident, saying Maimane had threatened to “pressure our courts of law in Zambia”.

Meanwhile, back in Zambia, Hichilema’s trial was once again postponed. He’ll be back in court June 12.

tanzaniaTanzania‘s president John Magufuli last week fired his mining minister after unveiling¬†a report claiming mining company’s were understating the value of their exports and thus avoiding paying taxes.

AFP reports that both Sospeter Muhongo, who is “a friend and ally of the president”, and¬†Dominic Rwekaza, head of the country’s minerals audit agency, were axed.

Magufuli said of the fired Muhongo: “The minister is my friend and I like him very much but I will not forgive him for this.”

“The probe team has also recommended that the government reinforces the ban on mineral sand exports until the right royalties are paid to the State, while investigations and legal steps are taken against employees involved,” reported Tanzania Daily News.

Magufuli banned mineral sands exports in March.

One company particularly hurt by the report is Canadian mining firm Acacia — its stocks dropped some 14 percent on the London Stock Exchange last week, reports CNBC, and it’s losing a reported $1 million a day because of the ban.

The company refutes the report’s findings, saying in a statement of the claim¬†that two of their Tanzanian gold mines produce some 1.5 million oz of gold annually:

‚ÄúThis would mean they are the two largest gold producers in the world; that Acacia is the world‚Äôs third largest gold producer, and that Acacia produces more gold from just three mines than companies like AngloGold Ashanti produce from 19 mines, Goldcorp from 11 mines, and Kinross from its nine mines…¬†In conclusion, we do not understand the findings of the Committee and believe that they contain significant discrepancies compared to all previous data analysed.”

drcA study released last week by the Norwegian Refugee Council found that over 900,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo fled their homes last year because of conflict — a figure that topped displacement numbers in both Syria and Iraq.

Alexandra Black from the NRC’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) told RFI that researchers were surprised by the results: “We’ve been monitoring Syria, Iraq and Yemen and they’ve been consistently having very high numbers of internal displacements every year. So when the DRC came up, we were taken by surprise and, at the same time, we aren’t really surprised because this is really a protracted crisis, one that’s been largely ignored, the underlined drivers have not been addressed.”

To blame are ongoing conflicts in North and South Kivu, and a new outbreak of violence in the Kasai provinces that in just the last few months has sent 20,000 refugees across the border into Angola.

In fact, sub-Saharan Africa as a whole was worse¬†off than the Middle East. Says the report: “Of the 6.9 million new internal displacements by conflict in 2016, 2.6 million took place in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 2.1 million in the Middle East and North Africa.”

You can read the full report here.

lesothoAnd finally SADC has warned Lesotho that it will take action if anyone fails to accept the results of the upcoming vote.

The country will go to the polls for the third time in five years this Saturday after a bumpy few years set off by an alleged coup attempt in 2014.

The latest round of polling comes after the ruling coalition collapsed and Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili called for an early election to dodge a no-confidence vote in parliament.

“The stakes are very high in these elections… it will be the most competitive election ever in my view,” political scientist Dr Motlamelle Kapa¬†told the SABC.

Mosisili’s Democratic Congress party took its time but has finally signed a¬†pledge to accept the outcome of the June 3 vote. The army has likewise assured everybody its not planning another coup if the election doesn’t go Mosisili’s way, reports the Lesotho Times.

Launching the SADC observer mission last week, Tanzanian foreign minister Augustine Mahiga said, “After three elections in five years, the fatigued voters deserve a different and durable outcome.”

May 15 – 21: Ebola in the DRC… again

drcRepresentatives from the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week traveled to a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess an ebola outbreak that has so far killed three people.

Twenty-one suspected cases of the disease had been identified as of May 16¬†after a 45-year-old man caught a taxi to a hospital — but was dead on arrival.

“The driver also fell ill and later died,” the WHO reported. “A third person who cared for the first case also became ill and has subsequently died.”

The outbreak made world news earlier this month when first reported, no doubt fuelled by memories of the 2014 West Africa epidemic that left thousands dead.

But this is not the DRC’s first rumble with the disease. Try eighth.

According to the WHO, ebola outbreaks in the DRC were recorded in the seventies, nineties, late 2000s and 2014. The deadliest of these was the 1976 outbreak of what was then called ‘Zaire virus’, killing some 280 people.¬†Affected areas in the most recent outbreak in 2014 — which was unrelated to the epidemic ravaging West Africa at the time — were quickly quarantined¬†and deaths limited to 49.

AFP reports that doctors are hoping the remoteness of the¬†most recent cases in a northern province¬†of the DRC called Bas-Uele “could help limit [the disease’s] spread”.

zambiaZambian opposition politician Hakainde Hichilema was last week acquitted of insulting police officers when he was arrested at his home last month following an allegedly treasonous traffic altercation with President Edgar Lungu.

According to Zambia’s Daily Mail, Magistrate Greenwell Malumani slammed the prosecution and police for failing to provide any evidence of Hakainde’s insulting behaviour:

“Magistrate Malumani said the behaviour of the police in the matter was undesirable, adding that from the submissions made, it is clear that no investigations were conducted despite the country having a fully-fledged legal system. He said that the evidence showed that all the four state witnesses exhibited serious contradictions and lack of professionalism, stating that their aim was to destroy evidence in the matter.”

The treason charges, however, remain and Hichilema will be back in court this week when Magistrate David Samusamba will decide whether¬†to dismiss the¬†case¬†— or refer it to the High Court.

The opposition leader was arrested last month after his motorcade allegedly failed to give way to President Lungu’s as they both headed to the same event.

Angola‘s first daughter Isabel dos Santos took to Instagram last week to shut down the #fakenews rumours surrounding the health of her father, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos.

“Someone has gone so low as to invent information about the death of a man in order to create confusion and turmoil in Angolan politics,” the state-owned oil company chair¬†and living Ivanka warning sticker¬†wrote.

“Opportunists and creators of false news,” she added — before hashtagging Rafael Marques, a¬†celebrated investigative journalist.

This after Marques reported on his independent Maka Angola site last week¬†that the president — who has been out of the country since the beginning of May — suffered a stroke.

Now, opposition parties are demanding answers.

“The health of the President is a matter of concern to everyone, but the problem is that everything about the health of the President is top secret,‚ÄĚ UNITA MP Raul Danda¬†told Reuters.

‚ÄúThere are many rumours about the health of the president and there is a need to officially provide clarification about what is happening,‚ÄĚ added the party’s Alcides Sakala, reported Bloomberg.¬†‚ÄúWhile this is a society that is very fertile when it comes to rumours, there is no official information available about the president‚Äôs health.‚ÄĚ

Recommended Reading:

  • The ruling MPLA party is expected to win the upcoming August vote in Angola, but President Dos Santos has indicated he will be stepping down. Get to know his successor and current defence minister Joao Louren√ßo in this Africa Report piece: “Louren√ßo is set to inherit a tangled web of patronage and a failing economy, and that leaves him little capacity to quench powerful thirsts.”
  • Lesotho‘s third election in five years is just weeks away after yet another coalition collapsed under the sheer weight of political party acronyms. “While party rallies still attract large crowds at weekends ahead of the vote, most Basotho voters do not believe that politics at the national level will solve their everyday problems. So where does Lesotho go from here? What can Basotho do?” asks this Daily Maverick read.
  • With an audit report released and the IMF seemingly appeased, Mozambique appears to have finally pulled itself from the muck and mire of its¬†undisclosed debt scandal — politically speaking that is. This IRIN article looks at how ordinary Mozambicans were affected by the fallout: “The once-stable local currency, the meticais, crashed. Steep price rises quickly followed, while interest rates tripled in order to brace the currency as it threatened to go into freefall, further squeezing economic growth. In March 2017, the inflation rate was 21.57 percent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynics would be forgiven for their skepticism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real tragedy, though?

Ice cream prices in the United States are soaring.

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

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

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

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

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

Recommended reading:

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

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‚Äôs 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.

‚ÄúYou are all aware of the provocation we are facing as a party, please don‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äô 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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”.



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, ‚ÄúThey broke into the house, they broke the doors down, everything, they beat my workers… It was extremely brutal.‚ÄĚ

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,‚Ä̬†Human Rights Watch‚Äôs southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga told VOA.¬†‚ÄúIn recent months, this has not been the case.‚ÄĚ

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.

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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‚Äôs 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:

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(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, ‚ÄúI won‚Äôt mention their names but there are some black people who made a fortune‚Ķ. 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‚ÄĒa 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 ‚ÄĒ 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.