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African News

Boko Haram Video Claims To Show Missing Nigerian School Girls

Reuters

 

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has published a video apparently showing recent footage of dozens of school girls kidnapped two years ago, and saying some of them have been killed in air strikes.

Dozens of the girls who were abducted in the town of Chibok in 2014 managed to flee to safety in the initial melee, but more than 200 are still missing.

Nigerian authorities said in May that one of the missing girls had been found and President Muhammadu Buhari vowed to rescue the others.

In the video published on social media, which was seen by Reuters on Sunday, a masked man stands behind dozens of girls, one of them identified as Maina Yakubu, who tells him she is from Chibok. She is veiled in the video. “What I want to tell my parents and the federal government is that the federal government should please release Boko Haram members in custody of security agents so we too can be released,” she said. “Military jets have killed some of the girls,” she said. The fighter also said some girls had been killed by air strikes. At the end of the video unidentified bodies could be seen on the ground. The was no immediate comment from the Nigerian army. Boko Haram, which last year pledged loyalty to the militant group Islamic State, has kidnapped hundreds of men, women and children in their campaign to carve out an Islamist caliphate.

Under Buhari’s command and aided by Nigeria’s neighbors, the army has recaptured most territory once lost to Boko Haram, but the group still regularly stages suicide bombings.

Boko Haram has apparently split with Islamic State naming Abu Musab al-Barnawi two weeks ago as the group’s leader for West Africa in a two-page interview in its weekly magazine.

But the previous figurehead Abubakar Shekau appears to have rejected the new role in another video published after Barnawi’s appointment.

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Zambia’s Lungu Ahead In Early Vote Count, Opposition Cries Foul

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Reuters

 

President Edgar Lungu was ahead of his main rival on Saturday in early counting from Zambia’s presidential election, but the main opposition said its count showed their candidate ahead and the vote may have been rigged.

Lungu faces a stiff challenge from United Party for National Development (UPND) leader Hakainde Hichilema, who accuses him of failing to steer the economy out of its slump after Africa’s second-largest copper producer was hit by weak commodity prices.

He led with 262,149 votes against Hichilema’s 243,794 after 29 of the country’s 156 constituencies in Thursday’s voting had been collated, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) told a news conference also attended by political parties.

Early results announced on Saturday from only eight constituencies had put Hichilema ahead.

In a statement, the UPND said data from its own parallel counting system showed Hichilema beating Lungu “with a clear margin”, based on about 80 percent of votes counted.

Electoral officials have warned political parties against making such statements, but all parties have access to the raw voting data and may add up the results faster than the national commission.

The ECZ had hoped to have final results from the elections - in which Zambians also chose members of parliament, mayors and local councillors and decided on proposed constitutional changes - by early Sunday. Results were now expected later, officials said, without giving a time frame. The commission had earlier rejected UPND charges that some officials were working to manipulate results to the advantage of Lungu’s Patriotic Front. It said police were still investigating a report that an ECZ official had given his identity card on Friday to a man who could then enter the commission’s computer room and tamper with the results. The UPND renewed its calls for the commission to remove some officials from the election process to preserve its credibility. “There is a syndicate in this institution and the syndicate is colluding to steal the election,” UPND lawyer Martha Mushipe said. The ECZ has also defended the relatively slow pace in announcing election results, saying audits were taking longer than expected due to a large voter turnout.

As of Saturday’s count, turnout was at 56.72 percent, far above the 32 percent recorded early last year when Lungu narrowly won an election to fill the vacancy left by the death of then president Michael Sata. If no candidate manages to win more than 50 percent this time, Zambia will have to hold a second round of elections.

Campaigning for this week’s vote centered on the economy, after months of rising unemployment, mine closures, power shortages and soaring food prices.

Supporters of the two main parties clashed in what is generally one of the continent’s most stable democracies.

With emotions running high as parties awaited results, the ECZ would need to clearly demonstrate it was acting to resolve complaints to retain the confidence of the electorate, political analyst Lee Habasonda of the University of Zambia said.

“People are giving them the benefit of doubt at this particular time, they have not lost confidence in them yet but yes, there are certain questions being raised about their performance,” he told Reuters. Hichilema says the president has mismanaged the economy but Lungu, whose government has been negotiating a financial support package with the International Monetary Fund, blames weak growth on plunging commodity prices.

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PLP Leader: Allegation Of CIA Connection Designed To Silence Me

By Dach Agoth Mayen

Peter Mayen Majoongdit

The Chairman of People’s Liberal Party (PLP) Peter Mayen Majoongdit has denied links with any foreign intelligence with intention to destabilize the country.

Majongdit was reacting to story published on Wednesday by Dawn newspaper alleging his connection with the American Central intelligence Agency (CIA) with intention to overthrow the government.

“Basically I am denying all the allegations labeled against me whatsoever the case may be. I have no link with any external body; I have no link with CIA. I am a politician with a political ideology which I believe in” Mayen told The Nation Mirror yesterday.  The opposition leader said he will never be part of any military that takes over the government and that he believes in democracy with its principle.

Mayen affirmed that he is an opposition politician but that his opposition is people centered which speaks and advocate for issues affecting the people such as nepotism, tribalism, corruption and sectarianism. He added that such allegations were actually meant or designed to silence him from the 2018 elections. He said he has no intention whatsoever to engage with anybody whose agenda is violence, but stressed that South Sudan is not an island but part of the global community which has to believe in peace with their neighbors and international community. He added that the country’s foreign policy should be based on mutual interest of two countries, noting that he has nothing with American people or any other people working against the government and people.

“I am going to aspire for the country’s leadership and therefore my aspiration to the country’s leadership don’t believe that I will come through a military means but I believe as long as I continue as people’s centered opposition my people of South Sudan will set me to power and there is no question about that” he stressed. He wondered the intention of those who designed the alleged documents and urged them to stop such baseless and unfounded allegations and that it will never help anybody.

Mayen described himself as person who has no privacy, noting that whatever he says in the public is the same. “I am always simple where I am found and I have no such kind of intention” he said. The Dawn Newspaper published series of documents on Wednesday purportedly from CIA exposing alleged deals to destabilize the government with the intention to change the regime. In response, the US government described the published documents as “fabricated” and that the whole information was false. “No editor or journalist at The Dawn sought U.S. Embassy views prior to publication and when the U.S. Embassy sought to correct the record July 27, the editor declined to speak with us” US Embassy said in a statement.

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The Africans Buying Sunshine With Their Phones

The Guardian

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Julie Njeri did not believe her son when he declared he no longer needed spectacles to read his books and complete his homework. She took him to the doctor and was told young Peter Mwangi no longer suffered the sharp irritation and redness in his eyes that had resulted in him being given glasses. Peter’s mum exclaimed: “It’s a miracle!”

The explanation was somewhat more tangible. In late 2013, Julie and her husband bought an M-Kopa solar power kit – something 4,000 east Africans now do every week.

The $200 (£150) device comes with two LED bulbs, an LED flashlight, a rechargeable battery, adaptors for charging phones, and it is all charged by a small solar panel that is propped on the roof.

More than 300,000 families in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania who are not connected to the electricity grid have purchased the unit which is linked to the mobile money transfer system M-Pesa.

After paying a deposit of $35 or $25, depending on their M-Pesa credit history, customers are then able to settle the balance through daily mobile phone payments of 50 cents for a year until they own the device outright.

It has brought clean energy to many homes and powers thousands of businesses ranging from small greengrocers in heavily populated low-income settlements to restaurants that can now stay open longer. More importantly, children like Peter no longer have to use kerosene-powered paraffin lamps to do their studies in dimly lit houses, and their parents enjoy saving the money that was spent on unclean sources of energy.

Chad Larson, one of the co-founders of M-Kopa, said the idea sprung from a talk that the Vodafone executive Nick Hughes gave at Oxford’s business school in 2007. Hughes, who is credited with the early research work that led to the introduction of M-Pesa in Kenya, told the audience that mobile phones could replace banks in much of the developing world. Control unit fixed to a mud wall in a home powered by M-Kopa solar technology in a village in Kenya

“The light bulb went on as we listened to Nick explain how mobile phones had an almost insurmountable advantage over banks,” said Larson. “The sim in the mobile was basically like an ID card and mobiles were much easier to access than opening a bank account, a process that had far more formidable barriers to entry.” A few years after finishing his studies, Larson and a fellow student, Jesse Moore, quit their jobs and moved to Nairobi with Hughes to join the mobile revolution that was taking hold in east Africa. After dabbling in a number of ventures including a mobile savings account product and a medical helpline where patients could consult doctors via mobile phone, they turned their attention to solar. Although it has a heavy tech component, M-Kopa is at root a finance business. Kopa means borrow in Swahili and the rapid takeup of the loan product rested on the phenomenal success of the M-Pesa platform run by the Kenyan technology company Safaricom, part-owned by Vodafone. M-Pesa, through which customers settle their payments, serves as a virtual wallet on mobile phones into which subscribers deposit cash at an M-Pesa agent. They can then use it to pay bills or transfer the money to another customer. Kenya now has more mobile money accounts than any other country, 31.6m in a nation with a population of 44 million. Eight out of 10 Kenyans operate a bank or mobile account, up from 26.1% in 2009.

Companies such as M-Kopa are riding that wave. It had projected it would be selling 1,000 units a week within two years, but it met that target in half the time and its 1,000-strong sales force in the three east African countries shifts 4,000 units a week. It hopes to have sold 1m units by the end of 2017. Investors have piled in – a recent $19m investment round was joined by a number of big names including Generation Investment Management, a fund co-founded by the former US vice-president Al Gore, Virgin’s Richard Branson and the AOL co-founder Steve Case.

Larson says the firm plans to expand to up to 15 countries in Africa and Asia in the next five years, tracking the development of mobile money, but says there is still considerable growth potential in east Africa.

M-Kopa’s most potent advertising appears to be the word-of-mouth testimonials of neighbours revealing how they have cut back on expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps thanks to the solar device. 

This was underlined during a recent trip accompanying a sales team to install a unit at a home in the peri-urban farming settlement of Juja, 30 miles (50km) from Nairobi.

Mary Wanjiku, 23, opened her gate to reveal a typical smallholder farming household including a couple of lively chickens, three goats and a sleepy guard dog lying next to its scrawny brown puppy.

Why was she buying the device? Her motivations were strikingly similar to those of Julie Njeri, who lives across the ridge in the Kamiti neighbourhood.

“I am tired of walking long distances to charge my phone and I heard from others that this will help me save on the amount of money I spend on kerosene,” she said. “But the most important thing is that my daughter and son will be able to do their homework under these lights instead of waking up at 5am to study using sunlight.”

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Congo Opposition Leader Tshisekedi Returns To Rapturous Welcome

Reuters

 

Hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of the Congolese capital Kinshasa on Wednesday to welcome home opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi after a nearly two-year stay overseas for medical treatment.

Tshisekedi’s return to delirious crowds flashing victory signs comes at a crucial moment in Democratic Republic of Congo, as a near-certain delay to a presidential election slated for November risks triggering violence in the chronically unstable central African nation.

President Joseph Kabila, in power since 2001, is required by term limits to step down this year, but opponents accuse him of delaying the Nov. 27 poll to cling to power. The government says logistical and budgetary constraints make it unrealistic to hold the election on time.

Kabila’s opponents hope that Tshisekedi’s return can rally people to the streets after opposition protests over the last year failed to attract large turnouts.

Some supporters carried banners with Tshisekedi’s picture calling him president of the republic. “He is the hope of all people,” said Eric Ilunga, a 31-year-old businessman who awaited Tshisekedi’s arrival outside Kinshasa’s main airport.

The 83-year-old politician, who left Congo in August 2014 for unspecified medical treatment in Brussels, has been visibly frail in public appearances over the last two years and leaned on his son as he slowly descended the stairs of a private plane.

A girl in a white dress greeted him with a bouquet of flowers while police linked arms outside the airport to keep the crowd from rushing in. People looked on from rooftops and along the highway on the 17 km (11 mile) journey to his home.

Tshisekedi, who formed Congo’s first organized opposition platform, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), under longtime autocrat Mobutu Sese Seko in 1982, was runner-up in Kabila’s 2011 re-election, a vote observers said was marred by massive fraud.

He is scheduled to speak at an opposition rally on Sunday. Allies had said he would lead the opposition in a national dialogue called for by Kabila expected to begin next month.

On Sunday, however, Tshisekedi said the UDPS and allied parties would not participate in a dialogue led by the African Union’s designated facilitator, former Togolese prime minister Edem Kodjo, whom they accuse of bias. Though other opposition leaders have gained prominence during Tshisekedi’s time abroad, he remains by far the most popular opposition figure despite concerns over his health. “The return of Tshisekedi represents the beginning of the departure of Kabila,” said Martin Fayulu, another opposition leader.

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EU court upholds sanctions on Zimbabwe ex-attorney general

Reuters

 

The European Union’s top court on Thursday dismissed an appeal by Zimbabwe’s former attorney general and others against an EU-wide travel ban and asset freeze imposed for human rights infringements.

The European Union began restrictive measures against certain people and entities in Zimbabwe in 2002. Johannes Tomana, then attorney general, and 120 other people and companies were placed on the list in 2012.

The 28 EU member states said the reason for Tomana’s inclusion was that he had engaged in activities that “seriously undermine democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law”. Tomana and the others applied to the EU’s courts to have their listing annulled.

The General Court, the EU’s second highest court, dismissed their case in 2015, prompting their appeal to the European Court of Justice.

Tomana and the others argued that the EU was wrong to place people on the list as members of the government or “associates” simply because they had been state employees.

They alleged the listing was based on presumptions rather than facts and that the measures were disproportionate. The Court of Justice said that those who held senior posts, such as in the military or police, must be regarded as associates of the government unless they demonstrated a rejection of the government’s practices.

Zimbabwe, led by 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe, has been subject to a series of restrictions, including an arms embargo and economic sanctions, imposed by the European Union and the United States.

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Victims are shot in the middle of the night, and every morning Burundi wakes to bodies on its streets

 

MgAfrica.com

DAWN in Bujumbura, and bodies line the streets. Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza succeeded in his return to power, but the violence that accompanied his controversial election has not stopped.

Who carries out the killings on the streets of the capital—assassinations or reprisal raids—is not known, and both sides blame the other.

Some say it is the opposition being killed, others say the attacks are to scare off pro-government supporters.

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“We discover corpses almost every day on the street in Bujumbura, sometimes with traces of extreme violence,” said Carina Tertsakian from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The corpses are often found in the same position - the arms bound tight behind the back, the limbs twisted in death.

“The Burundian authorities have the duty to investigate and punish those responsible,” Tertsakian said, adding that while the police say they are “investigating” the killings, they do not release their findings.

Police sources and witnesses give more details however, describing how the victims are shot in the middle of the night, when most people are too terrified to venture outside, locking themselves indoors.

Nkurunziza won a highly controversial third term in July in polls boycotted by the opposition and denounced by the United Nations as neither free nor fair.

His re-election bid sparked an attempted coup by rebel generals and months of civil unrest led by opposition groups, who condemned it as unconstitutional.

‘Spiralling tit-for-tat violence’ 

The bodies found in the morning are either bundled into ditches or on the roadside, as though thrown out of a passing vehicle.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein this week warned that Burundi risked sliding back into civil war after a dramatic rise in killings, arrests and detentions.

“Almost every day, dead bodies are found lying on the streets of some of Bujumbura’s neighbourhoods,” Zeid said in a statement.

“In many cases, the victims appear to have been killed by a bullet fired at close range. The bodies sometimes show signs of torture and are typically found with their hands tied behind their backs.”

Since April, Zeid’s office said it had registered 134 killings, more than 90 cases of torture and hundreds of cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, including 704 arrests this month alone.

Burundi’s 1993-2006 civil war left at least 300,000 people dead and sporadic violence has continued since, with fears mounting of renewed conflict that could have ripple effects throughout the region.

Zeid stressed that because such serious crimes are going unpunished, “more people are looking to take the law into their own hands.”

“There is an increasing risk that spiralling tit-for-tat violence will plunge the country back into its bloody past,” he warned.

Burundi’s constitution only allows a president to be elected twice—for a total of 10 years in power.

But Nkurunziza argued ahead of the poll that he had only been directly elected by the people once. In power since 2005, when he was selected by parliament, he was first re-elected in 2010.

Critics say his third-term went against a peace deal that helped end the war.

Opposition leaders say supporters take photographs of those killed, then circulating them via social media, in a bid to “identify victims - and to warn people to avoid a certain area,” they told AFP, asking not to be named.

“They are often opposition activists or people who participated in protests against the third term,” according to the same sources.

‘Machiavellian plan’ 

Residents of opposition stronghold neighbourhoods blame Burundi’s widely feared National Intelligence Agency (SNR), who relish a reputation for extreme brutality.

“The bodies are left in these areas… to create terror amongst those who oppose the authorities,” said a human rights activist, on condition of anonymity.

In turn, the government blames the opposition for the killings, accusing them of a “Machiavellian plan” of eliminating those who support the authorities, while at the same time trying to pin the executions on the government, said Willy Nyamitwe, chief of presidential communications.

The executions are intended to “punish those they call ‘traitors’, to frighten so that others do not follow,” Nyamitwe said.

Such claims are rejected by the opposition.

“Most of the bodies are identified as those of opposition activists and civil society, who were key in the protests against the third term,” said Leonard Nyangoma, chairman of Cnared, the anti-third term coalition.

“They arrest you, torture you, kill you - then say you committed suicide,” he added.

Amid swirling rumours, claims and counter-claims, exactly who is behind the murky murders is unclear, not least because independent journalists and rights groups have been forced to flee.

“It is a disaster,” HRW’s Tertsakian said. “All that was built up in terms of human rights since the end of civil war is being destroyed.”

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Mugabe's wife blows $3m in two months from charity account; ‘prophet’ buys her book for $50,000

MgAfrica.com

ZIMBABWE First Lady Grace Mugabe has blown about US$3 million from her charity account in just under two months in a hectic spending spree, the Zimbabwe Independent has reported.

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Statements from her CBZ Bank account number 01124193480011, which was used to source funds for her 50th birthday fundraising dinner held on July 25, show that as of August 1 she had a healthy balance of $2,554,029 out of the $3 million she had raised using her influence as First Lady.

However, the account was stripped of its fat balance through a frantic splurge with a series of withdrawals and transactions which left it with just $35,207 as of Thursday.

Most of the money, $1,750,000 was moved from the account to the Grace Mugabe Children Foundation fund on August 12.

Prior to the major transfer, US$250,000 was withdrawn from the account on July 28, while between July 28 and August 12 a series of transactions and withdrawals were also made.

The $250,000 withdrawn on July 28 was probably the money given to charity organisations by the First Lady at a function held at her orphanage in Mazowe on July 29, although those close to her say some of the money was spent on luxuries.

Mrs Mugabe donated a total of $250,000 to 50 charity organisations countrywide with each organisation receiving $5,000 in cash.

The First Lady raised the cash to support her charity work in the run-up to and during the opulent dinner held at her Blue Roof mansion in Borrowdale Brooke.

Obiang’s envelope

Records made available by the organising committee show that there have been a series of deposits and withdrawals from the account since money started flowing in on July 1. The committee was made up of mostly close relatives and the First Family’s trusted friends and not members of charitable organisations.

The Amai Dr Grace Mugabe@50 organising committee, which put together the fundraising dinner, told delegates to donate in cash or kind to charities in which Grace is patron.

In addition to the money in the account, the First Lady also raised cash during the fundraising dinner.

Prophetic Healing and Deliverance Ministries founder Prophet Walter Magaya, for instance, bought a book chronicling the First Lady’s life in pictures for a whopping US$50,000 after he outbid other potential buyers.

Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo reportedly also sent cash with his daughter.

Ahead of the fundraising dinner, broke state-owned enterprises and parastatals, which are struggling to pay workers, were asked to support the event.

That the First Lady was able to raise more than US$3 million in less than a month, in a struggling economy characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, and massive company closures proves how powerful she has become.

Immense wealth

Grace is building an empire in Mazowe where she has seized farms from farmers, companies and villagers to secure land to construct an orphanage, school, dairy and a mansion.

She is set to expand her vast empire amid reports she is planning to build a hotel at Manzou Farm in Mazowe, where she also intends to set up a private game park at the expense of villagers who have been living there since 2000.

According to reliable family sources, Grace, whose new imposing mansion at nearby Mapfeni Farm is all but complete, would engage Chinese contractors to build the hotel. The Chinese have been the major contractors of most of Grace’s properties, including the Amai Mugabe Junior School.

If plans to construct the hotel succeed, it would add to her empire which includes large tracts of land and a very advanced dairy, Gushungo Holdings, which trades as Alpha Omega Dairy (Pvt) Ltd.

The Mugabe family has an imposing mansion, commonly referred to as the “Blue Roof”, in the upmarket Borrowdale Brooke in Harare. In addition, they own multiple farms — as many as 15 — some of which were grabbed from prominent individuals and companies. It also reportedly has overseas properties which include a hotly-disputed £4 million Hong Kong villa.

-First published in The Independent.

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Togo: Dances, trances, the story of angry gods, and a mysterious sacred stone

MgAfrica.com

The "taking of the sacred stone" ceremony was started in 1663 by settlers from the Gold Coast - modern-day Ghana - and has now taken place 353 times.

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 Both women and men turn out bare-chest for the voodoo ceremony on September 10, 2015 in Glidji Kpodji, 50 kms from Lome. Thousands of followers of voodoo from Togo, Benin, Ghana, Ivory coast and Nigeria take part in the annual event.

BARE-CHESTED and with leaves wrapped around their necks, a small group of voodoo worshippers emerges from a dense forest in southern Togo.

The oldest among them, a man in his sixties with decorative beads around his neck, carefully holds up a blue stone and closes his eyes.

“We started the ceremonies six months ago,” says Nii Mantche, the high priest of the sacred forest, from his position on a wooden stool.

“Today is the climax—the release of the sacred stone. I am the only person to take out this stone from the depths of this forest.”

Voodoo has a special place in the life of the people of Togo.

The nature-based belief system emerged at the end of the 16th century in the town of Tado on the Mono river, which separates the country from Benin to the east.

Followers worship a single god, the Mahu or Segbo-Lissa, through more than 200 deities who are represented mostly by clods of earth.

The tiny West African nation may have only seven million people but 51%  practise voodoo, which has multiple forms —more than those who follow Christianity and Islam combined.

In the south, voodoo shrines dot the countryside where most Togolese live, guarded by high priests and priestesses.

In Lome, the fetish market is renowned across west Africa and is home to traditional healers using objects from skulls and dried animal skins to bones, features and statues to treat ailments.

 

 Voodoo new year

For the Guin people of Aneho, Togo’s second city some 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the capital, Lome, the annual Epe-Ekpe or Ekpessosso festival in September marks the start of the new year.

The traditional “taking of the sacred stone” ceremony was started in 1663 by settlers from the former Gold Coast—modern-day Ghana—and has now taken place 353 times.

It includes a major rite in all voodoo places of worship to beg the gods for forgiveness.

The colour of the sacred stone is believed to indicate what the future holds for the coming 12 months.

Last year, the stone was white, which with blue indicates good fortune. Red signals danger, according to followers.

About 100 metres (yards) away from the high priest of the sacred forest, thousands of pilgrims gathered in the public square to sing, dance and recite incantations.

“Helu-lo, helu-lo,” they sang in the local Mina language— “misfortune to bad spirits”.

In the centre of the circle, high priestesses turned westwards, raised their arms and cried in turn: “Obe, abeba, obe abeba (all the gods join us).”

Some followers, wearing cloth wrappers up to their chests and long multi-coloured beads around their necks and arms, began dancing joyfully.

“We are invoking all the divinities of the Guin people so they protect our sacred stone that has just come out from the forest,” explained one voodoo priestess.

‘The gods are angry’

The mystical stone was passed around the public square under the watchful gaze of voodoo elders and about a dozen police officers.

Female followers fell into a trance as the singing and dancing erupted around them.

“The stone is turquoise blue,” a dignitary declared into a microphone.

But he warned: “The gods are angry with the priests and traditional Guin chiefs. They are calling for unity and reconciliation.”

In the run-up to the ceremony, Guin priests were unable to agree on how the ceremonies would proceed and the Togolese authorities had to step in to mediate.

“The message announced by the stone is clear,” said Guin elder Togbe Kombete.

“We have offended our ancestors with our little squabbles. We must sit down quickly around a table and talk so we no longer have these small problems.”

 

The Epe-Ekpe festival attracts pilgrims from across Togo to worship, sing, offer sacrifices and seek blessings.

Increasingly, followers from Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria come to worship, and it has become a tourist attraction for many Western visitors.

“Every year our brothers and sisters have to respond to the call of the deities,” said Lankpan Vaudoussoto Agbografo, a high priestess.

“We pray and make offerings. I’ve been to this ceremony for the last 28 years and my wishes are always granted,” she added.

Aya Ayayi Freeman, from Nigeria, has come to Glidji-Kpodji since he was a boy.

“It’s the tradition that our ancestors left us and I will never abandon it. This sacred stone is my spirit.”

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Heroic Kenyan woman gives victims of child sex abuse, many hurt by the people they trusted most, a reason to smile again

IRENE* lies down on the small mattress, tucked away behind a make-shift sheet hung up to give her some privacy. Next to her sleeps her five-day-old baby. It is a sweet scene, but sadly, it masks a tragic past. Irene is just 14 years old, and the father of her child is her uncle. She comes from a village almost 300 kilometres away from Nairobi, having been sent into the bustling capital city by her parents, who believed that her uncle would help her go to a good school. 

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But when she arrived, her uncle took her for an HIV test which was confusing—she didn’t understand why they were doing it. When the results came back, and he discovered she didn’t have HIV, the rape began. He sexually abused her for five months before kicking her out into the streets. Not knowing what to do, she  began walking to her rural home - a journey that can take by car takes six hours. Fortunately, she was found by a pastor while on her journey, and who introduced her to a woman that knew of a small centre in Nairobi that helped children that had been sexually abused. 

That evening, she was taken to the Mary Faith Children’s Centre, and then to the national Kenyatta hospital the day after, where they discovered she was almost five months pregnant.

At first sight, the little children’s home tucked away in the dusty back streets of Nairobi looks like many others. The centre currently has 37 children of all ages who, looking at them playing, you would find it hard to believe that, except for 10 of them, they are all survivors of severe domestic and sexual abuse. Irene is not alone in her predicament— there are also seven other young girls who live here with their babies. 

Mary Njeri Daniel is the heroic matriarch behind the centre. She has dedicated the past 11 years to children like these. Having been abused by the people closest to them, they are unable to go home and, like in the case with Irene, Mary takes them in.

But she doesn’t stop there. Mary is a force to be reckoned with. Having volunteered in the Kenyan government’s Department of Children’s Services, she knows the system, and the types of cases to expect. She intends on bring the perpetrators of child violence to justice. She is well known by police stations and officers across the city, regularly getting phone calls regarding suspected cases of child abuse. Once she takes them in and opens a case file, Mary will fight for the rights of the child and for justice. To date, she has worked on 58 cases, and has never lost a single one. She says this is “because I work on it very much to make sure it doesn’t get lost”. She has also never hired a lawyer. 

It’s not easy though, particularly considering the immense trauma the child has faced. One of the smallest boys in the playground was particularly shy but still affectionate. His name is Moses and he is just four years old. His school uniform hides a terrible secret, which is a shocking amount of scarring across his torso, arms and legs. He is one of the newer children in the centre, brought in about six months ago, after his neighbours heard screaming coming from his house. 

 

It turned out his father had been sexually abusing the little boy, and particular time he threw scalding water over his little body. Moses managed to survive the burns, but he is still too traumatised to talk about what had happened. Mary worries that he will not be able to speak even a few words in court that might support the case against his father.

At times like this, the case will rely on the doctor reports which confirm that sexual penetration has occurred, or on the services of counsellors who volunteer at the centre.

Stigma

Aside from justice, Mary also ensures that the children are all getting an education. Recognising the psychological trauma the children have borne and the stigma that the girls who are pregnant face in regular schools, Mary started her own school in 2005. Today, 37 children attend her modest school, which educates the younger children.. The school barely keeps going, kept afloat by donations, and struggling to pay its teachers, who are already on meagre pay. She says she is currently trying to find enough money to send three girls to high school next year, at a cost of 33,500ksh ($318) for the entire year. 

To date Mary has helped 256 children. Most of her cases have echoes similar to Irene’s: absent parents, a long way from home, young and vulnerable. 

Sexual abuse against minors is unfortunately common. It transcends nationalities, races and state lines. Worldwide, 40-47% of sexual assaults are perpetrated against girls aged 15 or younger. In the cases that Mary is dealing with, again like many other parts of the world, nearly all of the atrocities were carried out by a relative. Only a couple of them weren’t and those were situations where the children were working as maids. 

What is also disturbing is how widespread child abuse is in the country. A 2010 survey on sexual violence against children found that before the age of 18 during childhood, 32% of females and 18% of males experienced sexual violence. 

What is encouraging is not only that individuals like Mary exist - willing to give up everything to support these vulnerable children, but that, surprisingly, she also has faith in the country’s judicial system which - in the cases she’s worked on at least - has ensured that these perpetrators of violence are brought to justice. 

*Not he real name. All names of children have been changed in this article to protect their identity 

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Back from the brink: Burkina Faso cheer as president to return after isolated coup leaders sign deal

 MgAfrica.com

BURKINA Faso coup leaders agreed to return to their barracks and said they would restore the deposed president to power, signing a deal with the army that apparently defuses a tense standoff sparked by last week’s putsch.

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The breakthrough came late Tuesday after marathon talks in Nigeria’s Abuja, where west African heads of state had sought to break the impasse fuelled by angry threats on both sides.

The deal was signed a day after troops entered Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou, turning up the pressure on the elite presidential guards (RSP) who staged the coup.

Under its terms, the RSP agreed to stand down from the positions they had taken up in Ouagadougou, while the army also agreed to withdraw its troops and guarantee the safety of the RSP members as well as their families.

 The deal was presented to the Mogho Naba, “king” of Burkina Faso’s leading Mossi tribe, in front of the media early Wednesday.

 

Burkina Faso plunged into crisis last Wednesday when the powerful RSP detained the interim leaders who had been running the country since a popular uprising deposed iron-fisted president Blaise Compaore last October.

The elite unit of 1,300 men loyal to Compaore officially declared a coup Thursday and installed rebel leader General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore’s former chief of staff, as the country’s new leader.

The breakthrough came as Diendere told AFP that interim president Michel Kafando, who had been seized by presidential guards but later released, would be returned to office on Wednesday.

The return of “Kafando is already a done deal. The (African) heads of state arrive tomorrow to put him back in office,” Diendere said late Tuesday.

Earlier, West African leaders from ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) had announced they would return to Ouagadougou to “restore” Kafando to power.

The putsch came just weeks ahead of an election planned for October 11, with at least 10 people killed and more than 100 injured in the resulting unrest.

A round of talks mediated by Senegalese President Macky Sall focused on returning power to the interim government while granting the putschists an amnesty in return.

But the proposal was met with widespread scepticism before any final draft even saw the light.

Speaking to France’s RFI radio, Kafando had warned he had “serious reservations” about the proposal, adding that he had not been invited to the talks in the Nigerian capital.

Residents too were furious at the suggestion of an amnesty for the coup ringleaders.

It was unclear early Wednesday if the amnesty had made it into the deal signed between the coup leaders and the army.

On Tuesday, Burkina Faso’s military had warned coup leader Diendere it has the means to attack his elite forces.

“The national armed forces who arrived yesterday in Ouagadougou could have attacked the… RSP from the moment they entered, and they have the capacity and the means to do so,” the army chiefs said in a statement.

Diendere had hit back, saying his men would defend themselves if the army attacked them.

“We do not want to fight but ultimately we will defend ourselves,” Diendere had warned.

“We do not want to shed any blood to stay in power. There is no point in spilling blood or causing massacres.”

On Monday night, cheering crowds greeted the regular army units as they marched to the capital to put pressure on Diendere to surrender.

The show of strength was the first public stance by the 11,000-strong army since the coup.

ECOWAS commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo said Tuesday that military and humanitarian observers from member states would be sent to Burkina Faso “to monitor respect for human rights”.

The coup sparked global condemnation, with former colonial power France urging the leaders to surrender.

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Detained for a dream: Inhumane treatment in Malawi's prisons

MgAfrica.com

“We are 204 in this cell,” says Thomas, a Malawian inmate, pointing to the number written on a blackboard in the 60m2 cell – about the size of five parking bays. Fellow inmate Abeba is in his thirties and comes from Durame, an impoverished town in one of Ethiopia’s rural areas. “We are not criminals! But now, in prison, we are not human anymore,” he says.

malawi prison_title

It’s the terrible conditions, health impacts and isolation that chip away at them. The worst is at night. The heat emanating from dozens upon dozens of bodies inside the small cell is so stifling it’s palpable. The men are squeezed together on the bare cement floor, with an area of less than 0.5m2 for each person. Packed tightly, the inmates sit up in rows when it is time to sleep, their heads lolling on their knees. Many have developed severe pressure sores.

This is the harsh human reality of overcrowding in Maula, which was originally built to accommodate 800 prisoners. Today, Maula is bursting at the seams with 2 650 inmates – more than three times the prison’s capacity. Mixed in among this desperate population are the most vulnerable: 270 undocumented migrants who were arrested en route during their long journeys to South Africa.  As of July 21 the majority of these detainees – 232 – were Ethiopians. A further 95 Ethiopian migrants are also being detained in other prisons in two other prisons in the country.

The migrants in Maula tell me they were all driven by desperation to survive and search for work opportunities. These men are all detained on charges of illegal entry in Malawi, and most have been sentenced to three months’ detention. But the reality is that they have been locked away for far longer.

While the law requires they be deported back to their countries of origin after detention, bureaucratic delays impede any way forward, and they are expected to cover their own expenses for repatriation. Most do not have the money to do this.

Three young men are grading beans outside their cell. “You see? These are not good. They are uncooked and rotten,” says one of the men. “We eat them like that,” another inmate adds. Prisoners in Maula get food only once a day. They usually eat a plate of nsima – ground maize that fills the stomach but doesn’t provide many nutrients. Beans are an occasional treat. Nutrition among the inmates is so poor MSF had to treat 18 men suffering from malnutrition, since inmates receive an inadequate supply of food in terms of quantity and nutritional value.

MSF medical teams working in the prison’s clinic have observed the inmates’ poor health condition due to their long and difficult journeys and detention conditions. Aside from malnutrition many suffer from pneumonia, severe malaria and sexually transmitted infections. Recently a group of Ethiopians went on a week-long hunger strike in protest of the conditions under which they are living. 

Given migration patterns in southern Africa, the issue of undocumented migrants transiting through Malawi will likely increase over time. The situation for these migrants is becoming a humanitarian concern.

Emmanuel, another Ethiopian inmate, pulls out his torn wallet. He opens it and shows me the transparent sleeve inside. Instead of pictures, it holds his talisman: a piece of paper with three phone numbers on it. “These are my friends in South Africa,” he says.

In the courtyard of the prison Abeba gazes at the other inmates playing football. I ask him if he wants to go back to his country. He turns his head towards me, with a serious smile, too mature for his age: “We can’t go back. If we go back to Ethiopia, what could we do there? We can’t work anymore. We have become too sick for any kind of work.”

A young boy leaning on a wall turns to me: “My dream is to reach South Africa; this is what I have worked towards for years. I knew it would be difficult, but I never thought I’d end up here. I thought Africans were all brothers. But here … here it seems different.” He stares at me – as if questioning for the first time what he had always thought to be true.

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South African teacher killed for resisting witchcraft is beatified; Pope pays tribute to Daswa in Rome prayers

MgAfrica.com

SOUTH African school teacher Benedict Daswa, who was bludgeoned to death for resisting witchcraft, was beatified on Sunday, becoming the first person from the southern African region to undergo the key step toward sainthood.

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He was proclaimed “blessed” in an apostolic letter read on behalf of Pope Francis by Italian Cardinal Angelo Amato to some 30,000 people during mass in Tshitanini village, not far from Daswa’s house in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province.

“We grant that the venerable servant of God, Tshimangadzo Samuel Bendict Daswa, layman and family man,... a zealous catechist, all-round educator who gave heroic witness to the gospel, even to the shedding of blood, from now on will be called ‘Blessed’,” said Amato.

The crowd applauded wildly and some blew traditional horns.

Daswa was beaten to death 25 years ago by fellow villagers after he refused to pay a sorcerer who promised to end destructive storms hammering the region.

First stoned by his assailants, Daswa ran to safety in a hut before being found by the mob and beaten dead with a stick.

His murderers then poured boiling water in his ears and nostrils—and all that happened on February 2, 1990 the day the apartheid regime announced it would release anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela.

“While his executioners were killing him, Benedict was on his knees praying. He prayed until the last minute of his life,” according to Daswa’s biography read during ceremony.

Virtually unknown when he died, Daswa’s fame grew throughout South Africa’s Catholic community, with villagers starting to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Following the beatification, his feasts shall be celebrated each year on February 1.

Around eight percent of South Africa’s population is Catholic.

“Ultimate price of martyrdom”

Pope Francis, who announced in January that Daswa would be beatified, paid tribute in his regular Sunday address to the faithful in St Peter’s square.

“Today in South Africa, Samuel Benedict Daswa, a father killed in 1990 barely 25 years ago for his faith in the gospel, has been beatified,” the Argentinian pontiff said in Italian.

“In his life he always showed great consistency, courageously defending Christian views and rejecting worldly and pagan customs.”

South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa also attended the beatification ceremony, which came after a night vigil staged by hundreds.

Traditional performers from the local Venda people dressed in colourful striped outfits sang and danced ahead of the mass.

“It is a unique moment, I feel overwhelmed,” said Tsholanang Koketso, 23, who travelled from the Limpopo provincial capital Polokwane to attend the mass.

“We always hear about saints in other countries but now we (will) have one in South Africa. It’s very nice.”

Father John Finn, who buried Daswa, described him as “a man of incredible generosity.”

“He was always bringing people to hospitals, taking care of children and elders. He had a great value for education.”

The beatification comes less than three months ahead of Pope Francis’s first visit to Africa in a push to connect with the burgeoning Catholic population across the continent.

The Pontiff will be travelling to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic late in November.

In Uganda, Francis will commemorate the canonisation by pope Paul VI in 1964 of the first African saints—22 young people killed in 1878 on the orders of the local ruler because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.

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Fed up Tunisians go online to fight trash, rudeness: Democracy is making a mess

MgAfrica.com

RUBBISH clutters the streets, drivers cheerfully burn red lights and coffee shops rudely spill out onto the pavement.

When Tunisians overthrew a 23-year-old dictatorship more than four years ago, many hoped it would mean a better society and improved public services.

tunis

Today, Tunisia has democracy, but rubbish collection is irregular, a pothole in the motorway can remain unfilled for months and it has become increasingly common to see people throwing dirty tissues and empty soda cans out of car windows.

“It’s a complete mess,” says Tunis resident Adel as he narrowly escapes a car hurtling down a tramway track.

Fed up with their surroundings deteriorating, Tunisians have taken to social media to try to change behaviour and pressure local authorities into doing something.

A flurry of civil society initiatives have emerged to counter what local newspaper La Presse calls “general sloppiness” and the “unbearable trivialisation of the presence of rubbish”.

Most are groups and events on Facebook with names such as “I keep my street clean” or “Tunisia’s Green Brigade”.

One enterprising Tunisian has even released a mobile phone app that allows residents to photograph and report problems directly to local authorities.

In August, Zied Mallouli, a teacher from Tunisia’s second city Sfax, launched a group using the hashtag “#Sayeb_Trottoir” (”#Get_off_the_pavement”) to call on the authorities to intervene.

“It drives me crazy!”

“It drives me crazy!” he tells AFP, speaking of the shops, cafes and restaurants that overflow onto the pavement and cars that park in space intended for pedestrians.

At his own initiative, Mallouli toured several Tunisian cities to take photos of such transgressions and denounce them on Facebook. Soon thousands had joined his group and images poured in from across the country.

“It’s as if people had been waiting for it,” he says.

“I’d like the authorities to get their act together, to do their work. I just want to be able to walk on the pavement.”

Another Tunisian, Raafet Limam, was also thinking of how Tunisians could communicate with the authorities about such issues when he created Plan125, a mobile app with a Facebook page that has some 40,000 members.

With it, users can post photos of their frustrations like street lights shining during the day or beaches overrun with empty plastic bottles.

The app then aims to provide local officials with a username and password so that they can keep track of problems in their region, fix them and publicise their efforts.

“With just a few clicks, you can see what problems exist in what region,” Limam says.

“New technologies have made it all easier. Instead of writing up a complaint and then trying to find out who to hand it to, and in what street,” a photo does it, he explains.

“Making a difference”

Of course, officials will need to welcome the idea.

Among those that Plan125 has contacted, several have shown enthusiasm at the initiative, he says. Others have been more cautious, even resistant to using new technologies.

But Limam says he is confident the app will catch on.

Civil society initiatives such as his have already made a small difference.

To the great joy of online activists, the Tunis municipality recently announced it had seized the tables and chairs of 12 establishments that had illegally occupied the pavement after “working with the #Get_off_the_pavement campaign”.

Maher Zaher, deputy head of the La Marsa municipality near Tunis, says that local councils—replaced after the revolution by “special delegations” until local elections are held—don’t have the means they did before.

The municipal police, for example, are now linked to the interior ministry so more difficult to mobilise.

Tunisia is still undergoing a difficult transition after the overthrow of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 in a revolution that marked the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Most of all, Zaher says that he hopes Tunisians will become more aware of their actions.

“If everyone who goes swimming starts to throw rubbish… there simply isn’t a cleaning company to pick it up.”

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Bribes, debt, $100bn lost: Nigeria can’t keep the lights on and Buhari calls it ‘national shame’

FIVE minutes into Frank Edozie’s presentation on the challenges facing Nigeria’s power industry, the electricity cut out in the Jasmine Hall at the upmarket Eko Hotel in Lagos.

“Very timely,” Edozie, a former power ministry adviser and a senior consultant to the U.K.-funded Nigerian Infrastructure Advisory Facility, said over the low muttering and laughter of an audience of more than 100 people. “We probably ran out of gas.”

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There’s no end in sight to the daily blackouts that the government says are costing Africa’s largest economy about $100 billion a year in missed potential and that President Muhammadu Buhari calls a “national shame.”

Gas shortages, pipeline vandalism, inadequate funding, unprofitable prices and corruption mean fixing the electricity cuts two years after a partial sale of state power companies to private investors won’t be easy.

Generated output has never risen above 5,000 megawatts, which is about a third of peak demand, and if it did the state- owned transmission system can’t deliver any more than that before it starts breaking down.

Outdone by South Africa

South Africa, with a less than a third of Nigeria’s population of about 180 million, has nine times more installed capacity and it too is grappling with blackouts.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil producer, ranked the worst of 189 countries after Bangladesh and Madagascar on the ease of getting electricity connected to businesses, costing almost 7% of lost sales each month, according to a 2015 World Bank Doing Business report.

The power bottleneck comes on top of the slump in oil prices and currency that are threatening Nigeria’s role as a destination for investors. Economic growth slowed to 2.4% on an annual basis in the second quarter from 6.5% a year earlier.

About two-thirds of Nigeria’s people have no access to electricity, and at the current plant commissioning rate, supply will barely meet 9,500 megawatts by 2020, according to a 2014 World Bank project document. 

Demand is expected to increase 10% each year. Buhari’s party promised before he won power in March’s election to generate 40,000 megawatts within four to eight years.

For years the industry’s poor performance has spawned jokes about the former state electricity company’s name. Nigerians called the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) “Never Expect Power Always,” and when its name was changed to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) a decade ago, they mocked it as the “Problem Has Changed Name.”

Hopes dashed

Hopes that the power situation would improve after former President Goodluck Jonathan partially sold off 15 state generation and distribution companies for more than $3 billion to private investors two years ago have been dashed.

The buyers included locally owned companies such as Forte Oil Plc, Sahara Group and Transnational Corp. of Nigeria Plc, along with foreign technical partners such as Korea Electric Power Corp.

They found the companies they bought weren’t financially viable, and the distribution firms mounted with debt started hemorrhaging cash.

Last year, “the financial flows in the sector came close to collapse,’’ the U.K.’s Department for International Development said in a December 2014 report.

“There wasn’t much due diligence done,” because strikes during the sale period blocked access to the utilities, said Dolapo Kukoyi, a partner at Lagos-based Detail Commercial Solicitors, which advised investors looking to buy the distribution companies. “People basically bought blind—this was across the board.”

Bailout package

Nigeria’s central bank designed a 213 billion-naira ($1.1 billion) bailout package to cover revenue shortfalls and help the companies meet debt-service obligations on bank loans of almost 500 billion naira.

The power industry still requires as much as $20 billion of investment in the next six years, according to Benjamin Dikki, the director-general of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, which led the sales.

Even after the sales, bribery of power officials by some diesel generator and fuel suppliers to organise household and business blackouts in order to boost sales is continuing. Diesel generation costs 30 cents to 50 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with the average grid tariff of 13 cents, according to the World Bank.

“Criminality is still there,” said Bokar Toure, a senior energy economist in Abuja, the capital, for the African Development Bank (AfDB), which has lent and provided guarantees to Nigeria’s power industry. “Just because it has been handed to a private company doesn’t mean it’s going to end.”

The generation companies have battled with chronic gas shortages used by 70% of the plants, despite Nigeria holding Africa’s biggest reserves of more than 180 trillion cubic feet.

From December to June, rampant pipeline attacks reached levels last recorded at the peak of a 2006 to 2009 militant insurgency in the oil producing Niger River. They’ve slowed since then.

Tariff cuts

Government-set tariffs have also hampered the distribution companies. Just before the elections, the regulator banned them from charging consumers for losses caused by billing mistakes, effectively cutting the tariff by more than half in some areas. This caused most of the distribution utilities to declare force majeure, claiming they couldn’t pay for their power supply.

Up the chain, generating companies say they haven’t received payments from the state-owned Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading Plc, which acts as a middle man between them and the distribution companies.

And because the distribution utilities haven’t paid about 20 billion naira owed since February, payments to the power plants have slowed, said Rumundaka Wonodi, chief executive officer of NBET in Abuja.

No minister

While NBET has enough cash to make the market payments for five months, the money is there to cover breakdowns and the company doesn’t want to deplete the funds without the agreement of the power minister, Wonodi said. Problem is, Buhari hasn’t filled that position more than three months after taking office.

“We cannot prop up everyone,” Wonodi said in an interview.

The generation companies are also feeling the pinch. The 30-year-old Egbin plant in Lagos, which is owned by Sahara and Korea Electricity, is owed almost 44 billion naira for December to June, along with 22 billion naira of past debt costs.

“We’ve never broken even in 2 1/2 years,” Egbin Chief Executive Office Dallas Peavey Jr. said in an interview at the plant. “If it wasn’t for Sahara to be quite honest we would have shut down about three months ago.’’

The national grid is another bottleneck. It needs about $40 million a year just for maintenance, compared with the $1 million now allocated by the government, Peavey said.

Nigeria’s aggregate technical, commercial and collection losses are 35% of total generation, according to the World Bank.

Buhari said last month that he recognised that transmission was a greater problem than generation and his administration was taking action to boost supply.

“We’re at the end of our rope,” Peavey said. “We keep urging them to make concrete permanent steps because without that, quite honestly, we’re going to shut down.”

—With assistance from Paul Wallace in Lagos • Bloomberg

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Bashir's star rises higher as shakes hands on stronger ties with S. Africa’s Zuma in China; plans US visit

MgAfrica.com

It's proving a bumper year for the formerly ostracised leader—reelection, friends in high places, lots of travel…will it end with a seat at the UN?

SUDAN president Omar al-Bashir, whose indictment by the International Criminal Court has for years seen him internationally shunned, would be forgiven for pinching himself over how unpredictably the year has turned out so far.

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A day after South Africa’s main party failed in a bid to impeach president Jacob Zuma over his government’s handling of Bashir’s controversial visit to the country, the two countries have agreed a raft of deals in an effort to strengthen bilateral ties—with the setting seeming particularly fitting.

The Democratic Alliance Tuesday failed in its attempt to impeach Zuma after it failed to garner the requisite support, and on Thursday South Africa’s presidency released a statement confirming that the two leaders had met in Beijing in an effort to strengthen ties between the two countries.

“President Jacob Zuma has today met with President Omer Al-Bashir of the Republic of the Sudan to discuss strengthening relations between South Africa and Sudan, on the margins of the 70th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese Peoples’ War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, taking place in Beijing, in The Peoples’ Republic China. 

“South Africa and Sudan enjoy warm bilateral relations. Sixteen bilateral agreements have been concluded between the two countries to date,” said the statement.

Official engagements between the two countries began in February, but have now been elevated to a ministerial level.

“South Africa seeks to further strengthen cooperation with Sudan in the fields of agriculture, agro-processing, science and technology, energy, infrastructure development, mining and retail.”

Bashir’s visit to South Africa for an African Union summit in June left the country tied in legal and political knots, before he strolled out, mid-hearing as a court deliberated on his presence in the country. It eventually issued an order for his arrest.

Pretoria said Bashir was there on the invite of the AU. 

But South Africa has this year further allied itself to the position of the AU, which has asked members not to honour the ICC’s indictment of Bashir, as political and business interests on the wider continent have weighed in heavily.

Pro-African leanings

Earlier this week political analyst Somadoda Fikeni told our sister publication Mail & Guardian that, “Once you raise the Omar al-Bashir issue, the African and Pan African issue stands up.”

But even during the impeachment debate the pro-African leaning was evident. United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the DA was welcome go ahead with its motion without his party’s support. “We are not supporting the DA. The UN and others are out of order,” he said.

Holomisa said the motion to impeach Zuma was just a “hullabaloo” and unnecessary “noise”.

“We are clear from the word go that the United Nations Security Council recommended that Bashir be arrested and prosecuted in the ICC … We said why don’t you arrest Bashir in Darfur where the UN security forces are in Sudan protecting Bashir and his government?”

Chinese president Xi Jinping welcomes Omar al-Bashir to Beijing this week.

Early in August, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema applauded Zuma for protecting Bashir: “Mr President, on Bashir I am happy you did not arrest him. We were not going to agree on the arrest of an African leader in South Africa, to polarise Africa and make South Africa the enemy of the whole of Africa,” he said.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane said of Bashir: “He joins the ranks of genocidal dictators from across the globe – Hilter of Germany, Pol Pot of Cambodia, Stalin of the Soviet Union and Chairman Mao of the People’s Republic of China. These are the big men of our times. And, like all bullies, they are broken men. Broken men presiding over broken societies.”

Bashir is wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC, which links him to the Darfur conflict, in which the United Nations says some 300,000 people have been killed and another 2.5 million forced to flee their homes.

Take stock

Now having brought regional giant South Africa onside—its Cabinet has subsequently announced that it would review the country’s participation in the ICC—Bashir can now look to take stock of a good past few months for him.

He was in April re-elected with 94.5% of the vote, a ballot boycotted by the main opposition but which enabled him to extend his quarter-century rule over the North African nation.

The US, UK and Norway last week criticised the vote, saying Sudan’s government had failed to “create a free, fair and conducive elections environment.” 

But the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a bloc of East African and Horn of Africa nations, said that polling was “conducted in uniformity with international benchmarks for free, fair and credible elections.” 

Far from the warrant hindering his movements, Bashir in July travelled to Mauritania, which has not signed the Rome Statute of the ICC, to attend an environmental meeting.

He was also set to travel to Uganda in August for talks on the South Sudan conflict but did not turn up. His would-be host, Yoweri Museveni, with whom he has had a few spars over the years, had said he had no intention of arresting him. 

Bashir a few days later travelled to Juba where he agreed with president Salva Kiir to resolve outstanding issues between the former civil-war foes—a meeting welcomed by the AU and UN.

In China, President Xi Jinping this week warmly welcomed him as an “old friend of the Chinese people”, stressing that China has long been the African country’s biggest trade partner and largest investor.

China’s foreign ministry defended itself against accusations that inviting an indicted war criminal to a parade billed as a celebration of peace was contradictory.

‘Not a signatory’

“China is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing even as the US expressed concern over Bashir’s presence, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: “We oppose invitations, facilitation or support for travel by persons subject to outstanding ICC warrants.”

The US however looks set to prove the next theatre as Bashir renews hostilities ahead of the annual United Nations General Assembly, which starts in just over a week. 

UN territory is considered extra-national, in that it is exempt from the jurisdiction of municipal domestic law. This means that the US law enforcement authorities do not have the right to enter its territory at will to arrest Bashir, even if on American soil. Indeed, under the UN Headquarters Agreement, the US is obliged to facilitate Bashir’s trip.

But in 2013, his well-publicised bid to travel to New York failed after Washington cleverly failed to respond to his visa application on time. 

This time the stakes are higher—the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to be approved by the heads of states. He has already applied for a visa, but the US is already batting back: “Such a trip would be deplorable, cynical and hugely inappropriate,” US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said.

While Bashir would definitely love to be there, it would still be the greatest coup if he managed to find himself in the assembly hall in New York. He could then feasibly congratulate himself on a really good year.

But one suspects there will be late twists.

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He's all we've ever known! A new ranking for long-serving African leaders, relative to age of country population

MgAfrica.com

In Angola and Zimbabwe, 80% of population born with the current leader in power; in relative terms, Burundi's Nkurunziza beats Algeria's Bouteflika

AFRICA has at least fifteen presidents who have served longer than a decade in office, and out of the top ten longest-serving leaders globally, African countries take up six slots. 

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Still, the stereotype of the long-serving African despot who will do anything to cling to office is not entirely true; the continent has seen at least 19 peaceful transitions involving an incumbent president losing an election, and vacating office peacefully - the number rises to 25 once you factor in various transitional arrangements.

However, Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with most countries south of the Sahara having a median age in the twenties. 

To get a “relative” picture of how long a president has been in power, Mail & Guardian Africa compared the length of its 15 longest-serving leaders, with the percentage of the population in that country born after the president assumed power. 

The data on population was obtained from population.io, an interactive population portal that allows you to determine your age relative to everyone else in the world, and to people in your country. 

Our comparison includes leaders who served as transitional leaders before being elected by popular vote - for example Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who assumed office in 2000 under a transitional regime, before being elected as president in 2003.

The same goes for Isaias Afwerki, who assumed power in 1991 with the victory of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), before the country officially became independent in 1993.

Under this picture, the “relative” presidential term has been longest in Angola, where 85% of the population was born after Jose Eduardo dos Santos came into power on 10th September 1979.

In second place is Robert Mugabe; 83% of Zimbabweans today were born under a Mugabe presidency.

In third place is Yoweri Museveni, where 79% of the population was born with Museveni as president. Even though Cameroon’s Paul Biya has served longer than Museveni in absolute terms - Biya has been head of state since 1982 - Uganda has a younger population than Cameroon does, so Museveni beats Biya in relative terms.

It’s the same case for Equatorial Guinea: Teodoro Nguema Obiang is Africa’s longest-serving in absolute terms, having been in power since August 3, 1979, but relative to his country’s age, he is in fourth place: 76% of the population has only known an Obiang presidency.

Djibouti’s Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (1999) has been in power longer than Rwanda’s Paul Kagame (2000) or DR Congo’s Joseph Kabila (2001), but Rwanda and DR Congo have much younger populations than Djibouti. 

It means that 46% of Congolese and 44% of Rwandans, were born with their current president in power, compared to 37% of Djiboutians.

And Pierre Nkurunziza, who was recently sworn into a controversial third term, has been in power longer than Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika in relative terms - 35% of Burundi’s population was born after Nkurunziza assumed office on August 26, 2005, whereas in Algeria’s case, it’s 31% under a Bouteflika presidency.

Why does any of this matter? Because incumbents are often able to shape many of their country’s citizen’s attitudes about democracy, leadership, and integrity, and where a leader is corrupt or repressive, it’s likely to affect the attitude of the vast populations who knew them as their only leader in future.

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US warns of extremist threat to its interests in S. Africa, as reopens Somalia mission — based in Kenya

MgAfrica.com

EXTREMISTS may be targeting US interests in South Africa, the US Diplomatic Mission in the country said.

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The embassy “has received information that extremists may be targeting US interests in SouthAfrica, to possibly include US government facilities and other facilities identifiable with US business interests,” it said in a security message on its website on Tuesday. 

“There is no additional information as to timing or potential targeting.”

This came as the US mission to war-torn Somalia began work Tuesday without an ambassador or an embassy and based in a neighbouring country, the State Department said.

American diplomats will not be based in Mogadishu, scene of the infamous “Black Hawk Down” battle in 1993 that left 18 US servicemen and many hundreds of Somalis dead.

Instead, they will commute cautiously from Kenya’s capital Nairobi as they gradually work to strengthen Somalia’s internationally-backed government.

Washington recognised the Somali government in January 2013, and Secretary of State John Kerry visited Mogadishu in May, but the country is far from stable.

President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s forces are at war with the Al-Shabaab Islamist militia and survive thanks to the 22,000 peacekeepers of the African Union AMISOM force.

Only last week, at least 50 African Union soldiers were reported killed when Shabaab fighters stormed a camp 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the capital.

“US officials will continue to travel to Somalia to conduct official business as security conditions permit,” the State Department said.

The mission will be based at the US embassy in Nairobi, itself the target of a 1998 Al-Qaeda bombing that left more than 200 dead, and be headed by a charge d’affaires.

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Even war won't stop us: Determined Ethiopians, Somalis brave death and head to Yemen..then finally Saudi Arabia

 

Mgafrica

ETHIOPIA’S recent story has been one of robust economic growth, but for some of its citizens,  the hoped-for benefits are taking too long to trickle down, so they are heading out for where they feel they can make a more immediate impact on their circumstances and those of their families.  

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Qader and Abdi, two such Ethiopians, are two weeks into their journey. 

Carrying only one empty plastic water bottle each, flattened, with no liquid to return it to its cylindrical shape, the two men figure they will be walking for another month-and-a-half before they reach the sea. From there, they will take a smuggler boat for the short distance to Yemen, where another 600-kilometre walk lies ahead before they may reach their final destination, Saudi Arabia.

It is a sign of their determination that despite the flow of refugees fleeing in the opposite direction, they are focused on making it through their perilous journey.

The pair – members of Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, which activists charge is systematically disenfranchised by the government – are walking along an uncrowded road connecting the capital of Somaliland, Hargeisa, to a northern port city. 

They walk because they cannot afford the roughly $150-200 that some smugglers would charge to take them from the Ethiopian border east through Somaliland to the port of Bosaso in the neighbouring semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

”..until we become weak”

“We will walk until we become weak,” said 30-year-old Qader, who withheld his last name to protect his identity. He and his 19-year-old companion are dressed in dirtied long-sleeve shirts to shield them from the early morning sun, which will become unbearable by midday. They have made it this far off the good will of Somalilanders who offer them small change or meals as they pass.

There is a small risk they could be arrested so they veer off the paved road near checkpoints but quickly return so as not to lose their way. Although walking along roads in Somaliland – a self-declared nation that the international community still classifies as a region of Somalia – puts migrants like them at increased risk of robbery or assault, Somalilanders generally do not wish the duo ill will.

Government officials have even been known to stop and provide food and drink to migrants despite their illegal status in the country.

When they reach Bosaso the help will likely come to an end and Qader and Abdi will have to pay. Unlike on land, which the penniless can traverse without charge as long as they can avoid arrest, the sea is only passable by ships operated by smugglers, who are more than happy to continue transporting people to war-torn Yemen for a fee.

Migration to and through Yemen – historically the backdoor for migrants and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa trying to reach Saudi Arabia – has always put people at risk of death and inhumane treatment. 

Last year, there were numerous drownings in the Gulf of Aden and Human Rights Watch released a report in 2014 documenting “torture camps” where smugglers held newcomers for ransom.

The attraction for Saudi Arabia remains strong. (Google Maps)

A shipwreck in December killed 70 Ethiopian migrants, while an earlier one had in May killed 60 Ethiopian and other migrants—just some of the few reported deaths at sea. In December, the UN reported that over the past five years, more than 500,000 people—mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis—had reached Yemen via the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea following treacherous journeys on vessels that are often overloaded.

Two million immigrants

The country was also home to up to two million migrants, mostly illegals who entered from other countries of the Arabian Peninsula, according to unofficial estimates commonly cited by experts and humanitarian organisations. 

That was before the civil war, precipitated by the departure of Yemen’s internationally-recognised government. A Saudi Arabian-led bombing campaign to restore its legitimacy, has made an already perilous journey for migrants all the more death-defying.

“It’s very dangerous, and I cannot stress that enough,” said Teddy Leposky, an external relations officer for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Yemen.

Not only has the war given smugglers license to act more ruthlessly than before, but also the ability of aid agencies to provide services to migrants and refugees has been severely compromised and the conflict’s violence has been indiscriminate. Five migrants were caught in shelling near the Saudi border in May and, at the end of March, a camp for displaced people camp was bombed, killing at least 45.

But as migrants and refugees know, the grinding poverty, political persecution or violence that typically push them out of the Horn of Africa, do not conveniently abate as wars break out in their path. So they continue to risk life and liberty and end up on Yemen’s shores. According to figures from UNHCR, more than 10,500 people have arrived in Yemen since March when the bombing campaign began, although some of those might be part of the 51,000 who are now also leaving, as war in Yemen has created a circular flow in the region. Thus while Somalis go back home to escape the war, and Yemenis too are fleeing to safety in Somalia, more Somalis and Ethiopians are heading right back into the fire they are leaving.

“I know it’s a high risk, but I will take it,” said Fila Aden, 24, in a café in Hargeisa. He is familiar with what lies ahead. This is the second time he left home in Ethiopia for work in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Although he struggles to provide a precise timeline of events, he estimates he was deported from the kingdom about a month ago after working there for almost a year.

‘Migrants know the risk’

Some aid officials believe that boat smugglers in Bosaso and Djibouti (for the Red Sea route to Yemen) may be downplaying the conflict in Yemen or flat-out lying to clients about the dangers they have seen.

Fila Aden in Hargeisa doesn’t doubt smugglers are sugarcoating forecasts, but he thinks the conflict in Yemen might actually work to his advantage. He is reassured by news that one of his friends just traversed Yemen and slipped unnoticed across the border with Saudi.

“We worry about Yemen. We could be accused of fighting [for a certain side] in the conflict. People are more paranoid now,” he said. “But looking at it from the Saudi perspective, they aren’t concerned about us. They are fighting a war in Yemen.”

As long as those like Aden are willing to go, there is money to be made. Several sources said the smugglers had doubled their asking price in Bosaso, which pre-war ran from $60 to $120 for the sea crossing. 

Omar, who asked that a pseudonym be used, smuggles Ethiopians from the border into Somaliland. He is fairly new, joining the ranks of the illicit business just five months ago. But the job has proven lucrative. He saw a drop in numbers around the time war broke out in Yemen, but Ramadan (which straddled June and July this year) was profitable, suggesting an uptick in those still willing to go to Yemen.

“People know damn well that they are taking a risk,” he said, when IRIN asked if smugglers were taking advantage of the war and luring clients under false pretenses. But he said smugglers too were taking extra risks, and more and more fearful of arrest. “I feel bad sometimes but what can I do? I have to make a living.”

While Omar continues to facilitate a migrant march east, deteriorating conditions in Yemen have destroyed a refuge that many once sought.

‘Dire straits’

Abdulqader Ahmed, a 17-year-old Ethiopian migrant, arrived in Yemen in March from Djibouti right as street battles began to erupt in the southern port city of Aden. He made his way to the UN-sponsored al-Kharaz camp nearby, too afraid to begin his journey north to Saudi Arabia. He watched as the camp ran short of food and water, with aid agencies unable to get supplies in. Finally, he managed to secure passage on a ship that evacuated him to Somaliland.

At a migrant response centre in Hargeisa, where he was waiting to be repatriated back to Ethiopia, Ahmed said the war in Yemen had helped him reach the realisation that his goal of getting to Saudi Arabia would likely cost him his life. He now intends to return to farming with his father in Ethiopia, even though it will be almost impossible to earn a living.

For UNHCR’s Leposky, Yemen’s collapse is particularly concerning because of the country’s history of opening its borders to refugees and asylum seekers. He told IRIN that those arriving now in Yemen are making the costly journey across the sea only to find themselves in a similar situation, if not worse.

“It’s so unfortunate that a country that has provided protection and asylum to people for so many years is now in dire straits.”

—IRIN. Additional reporting by M&G Africa.

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Unpaid for 14 months, Zimbabwe diplomats say surviving on chicken feet, gizzards

“WE are surviving on chicken feet and zvikanganwa hama (gizzards), the situation is really bad,” a Zimbabwean diplomat said in an interview at the weekend as he outlined the increasingly dire situation at the country’s foreign missions.

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Frustration is said to be high in the service and morale rock bottom.

President Robert Mugabe has spent millions travelling the globe so far this year, even as the government admits it is struggling for money as tax revenues have been hit by the 80%-plus unemployment rate and the closure of hundreds of companies.

But while Mugabe is spared the pain of the cash-squeeze, which critics blame on his inept management of the economy, staff at the country’s foreign missions have been condemned to penury.

Struggling to survive

Many say they are struggling to survive, having gone for 14 months without pay.

“We have had families separated, wives/husbands and children are in Zimbabwe because we cannot afford the fees abroad,” said the diplomat who declined to be named for fear of victimisation.

“I personally have been limping along because of the little which is coming from rentals of my small house in Harare.

“But you can imagine the problems as the tenant is also failing to pay on time because of the harsh economic environment back home.”

Worst affected are diplomats posted to missions in the more expensive Western countries.

“My brother, we are sinking in debt; those serving in some European and North American countries are wallowing in debt (credit cards) which are not being serviced, debt collectors are after them,” said our source.

NewZimbabwe.com checked with other embassies where officials were prepared to talk on condition they were not named and the tales of woe appeared to be as global as the country’s diplomatic footprint.

In some cases, heads of missions have been forced to use personal funds to pay their own rentals as well as help struggling members of staff with “parents’ funerals, medical expenses, school fees”.

Electricity cut

NewZimbabwe.com was told that, in one case the wife of an ambassador was forced to give cookery classes in order to raise money for their own domestic expenses.

“I hear one mission’s electricity is now cut,” one official said.

Efforts to contact foreign affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi were unsuccessful as he is attending the Sadc summit with Mugabe in Botswana. Foreign affairs secretary Joey Bimha was also not available.

However, in March this year, Bimha conceded that the situation was bad.

He told legislators that government owed foreign embassy staff $6.6 million in salary arrears up to December 2014, $3.6 million arrears for operational expenses, and $376,900 in school fees refunds for children of staff at the 46 diplomatic missions and consulates.

But staff at the missions blamed Bimha and top officials at head office in Harare for the crisis.

Said one of the envoys we spoke to: “It is our understanding that Treasury regularly releases money for diplomats’ salaries.

“But because these salaries are remitted through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Secretary for that Ministry Bimha and the Director of Finance Ms Mudambo take upon themselves to divert that money to cover running expenses at Head Office and at missions, including the payment of rentals and other utilities.”

He added: “Our appeals for payment seem to have fallen on deaf ears as its quite apparent that no one cares for us anymore.

“The ministry has the audacity to buy new cars for the Secretary and Minister every year while we wallow in poverty in these foreign lands.

In June this year, Finance ministry secretary Willard Manungo said government was concerned about the welfare of staff at the country’s embassies adding their salaries who now be processed back home in Harare through the Salary Services Bureau (SSB).

However, it appears this is yet to be done.

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He is an ex-MP's son who believes God chose him as president; please meet Burundi's Nkurunziza

Mgafrica.com

BURUNDIAN President Pierre Nkurunziza was sworn in for a controversial third term in power Thursday, following elections last month, weeks of protests and a failed coup.

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His third term has been condemned as unconstitutional by the opposition and provoked months of protests. There have been a string of killings since his reelection, including of a top general, killed in a rocket attack last month.

No foreign head of state was present, and only South Africa was represented at ministerial level, giving it the highest level political representation of any at the ceremony. The ceremony itself came as a surprise, announced only hours before.

However, a tied-up corpse found early highlighted the bloodshed Burundi may still endure.

Local residents shuffled past the middle-aged man lying on a street in the capital, Bujumbura, some barely noticing what has become a common sight since violence flared in April and Nkurunziza dug his heels in against opposition to his rule.

At least 90 people have been killed in street battles between police and opposition supporters since April. 

In recent weeks, the violence has shifted to the nights, with isolated shots ringing out and bodies being discovered in the morning. The fighting harks back to a 12-year civil war that claimed the lives of 300,000 people before it ended in 2005. 

As Nkurunziza won last month’s vote, his opponents said he had violated the deal that brought peace a decade ago and limits him to two terms. 

His supporters argue that his first term doesn’t count because he was chosen by parliament rather than by popular vote. “It’s not going to calm down,” Thierry Vircoulon, the Central Africa project director for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group research group, said in a phone interview. 

The work of God

Nkurunziza didn’t sound daunted at his swearing in, perhaps because he thinks he has a formidable ally by his side - God.

He warned rebels who have taken up arms against his continued rule, after a failed coup, that they would be crushed by God. He also thanked God for his win in elections last month—polls the United Nations say were not free or fair.

The God script is one Nkurunziza rarely veers away from, and it goes many years back. 

The 51-year-old former sports teacher, ex-rebel, born-again Christian and football fanatic,  is from Burundi’s majority Hutu ethnic group.

Those who know the former guerrilla fighter who battled for years in the bush, said he was determined to hold onto his seat in the presidential palace.

“Nkurunziza has an instinct for survival, his determination to hold onto power is very high,” said Innocent Muhozi, from the press rights group, Observatoire de la Presse du Burundi (OPB).

Presidential press chief Willy Nyamitwe has described Nkurunziza, whose football club is called Hallelujah FC, as being “close to the people”.

In a typical busy week he is up early for an hour of swimming before arriving at his office by 6:30 am to tackle the business of state, before leaving mid-afternoon for a game of football or basketball at a private property on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

On other days he meets with ordinary Burundians, Nyamitwe said, who praised a leader who “built more schools than all his predecessors in 45 years of independence” from Belgium.

More than 5,000 schools have been built, as well as 10 sports stadiums—the most lavish of which is located in his rural homeland of Buye, and reserved for his exclusive use.

“He spends his time… building schools, plastering cement or mud, playing football or praying, and does not have time to deal with issues,” countered a leading critic, Leonce Ngendakumana.

Visions in the swamp 

Nkurunziza was born in 1964 to a wealthy family, the son of a member of parliament.

He was still a schoolboy when his father was killed in one of a string of ethnic massacres in 1972 that decimated the Hutu elite.

After high school he hoped to become an army officer or an economist—dreams made impossible by restrictions on the Hutu majority by the then ethnic Tutsi government, so ended up a sports teacher.

He joined the Hutu rebellion in 1995, finding religion as a solace after he was badly wounded in the leg, seeing visions when he was hiding out in remote swamps that one day he would be president.

“Nkurunziza indeed believes he is president by divine will… and he therefore organises his life and government around these values,” said Nyamitwe.

He and wife Denise have taken to holding prayer meetings, where they preach to thousands, washing the feet of the poor.

In power since 2005, when he was selected by parliament, he was re-elected in 2010.

Party officials who have publicly opposed a third term have lost their jobs, while others have been jailed or gone into hiding.

“Under a pleasant exterior lies a ruthless man,” said one former close associate.

-Additional reporting by Bloomberg.

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