Monday, 28 December 2015

DR Congo: Changing Lives for Women Farmers in Congo From Halfway Around the World

DR Congo: Changing Lives for Women Farmers in Congo From Halfway Around the World


Changing Lives for Women Farmers in Congo
From Halfway Around the World

Annie Kinwa-Muzinga, a professor of agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, came to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1990. When she returned in 2012 to conduct a study on the role gender plays in the region’s agriculture for the International Food Policy Research Institute, her interviews with local women sparked an idea and an impulse purchase—200 acres of land in Kikwit. She named it Kivuvu Farm, which means “hope”  in Kikongo.

“We’re always telling students, ‘Give back to the community,’ ” she said. “It was a way for me to give back. I want to empower women and help them to have a living with the farm. I can provide them leadership even from far away because that is my area of expertise, and I can talk to them in our language.”

A few minutes later, there was a tinny cell phone ring in her office. “That’s the farm,” she said, and on the line was Ms. Josephine, the on-the-ground manager. Through daily Skype conversations and email, the two are able to run the 10-acre portion of the land that’s currently being farmed. Kinwa-Muzinga told Josephine she’d get the day’s report later, and the two of them laughed as much as they talked during their brief conversation. “It’s something that’s in my heart, and that’s how I communicate with them—all the time,” Kinwa-Muzinga said after the call.

Since 2012, when she purchased the land, the number of women farming has grown from 10 to 30. Nine months out of the year, during the Congo’s two growing seasons, they raise corn, okra, peanuts, and cassava. Half of the crops go to feed the farmers’ own families, and the other half is intended for sale.

But poor infrastructure on the farm has led to losses, and the operation is struggling to support itself. Kinwa-Muzinga initially shared her vision for the farm, as well as its financial support, with a friend. When he died last January, the burden fell solely on her. Half of this year’s corn crop, earmarked for a profitable sale, was stored in a leaky shed and ruined. Currently the farm runs on donations and perseverance.

“I promised him that I would continue,” she said of her collaborator, Kevin Dickinsen, in an interview with TH Online. “I don’t know how. [The women are] pushing me to not lose hope.”

Some hope came in November from the the Pioneer Dairy Club at UW-Plattesville. A $2,000 donation will likely go toward the construction of a new storage shed and the purchase of a cow. In addition to providing milk for the women’s families, it could eventually lead to another value-added product once they learn to make cheese. The goal for 2016 is to purchase a second cow.

Of the 30 women who work the farm, many (including Josephine) are widows, a group Kinwa-Muzinga deliberately focused on after her study’s findings revealed them to be particularly vulnerable.

“The government policies protect the women—but not much. We know sometimes that they really struggle when their husbands pass away,” she said. Laws don’t always align with local traditions and customs, for example, and a woman may find the land she farmed with her husband sold out from underneath her; widow farmers have reported not knowing about land transfers until the new owners came to evict them.

With the help of land rights groups, some are able to regain matrimonial land after divorce or death, but many do not. A study in Zambia showed more than one-third of widows lost access to family land when their husbands died. “It is this dependency on men that leaves many African women vulnerable,” said Joan Kagwanja, a food security and sustainable development officer at the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa.

Kinwa-Muzinga operates a safe haven from afar, but she wants it to be self-sustaining. When she spends her sabbatical in Congo in a few years’ time, she plans to share more of her knowledge in hands-on ways: providing more agricultural trainings, teaching how to apply for grants, and collaborating with the local university on a farm internship program. Her farm goals for 2016 include building one or two houses on the farm to save the women a multi-mile walk.

One day she’d like to build an elementary school on the land.
“God will provide. There are always Christmas miracles, so you never know,” she said, laughing.

By Sarah McColl

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Next 35 Years:Nigeria, South Africa may not be Africa's biggest economies. Who will?

Next 35 Years:Nigeria, South Africa may not be Africa's biggest economies. Who will?

“South Africa will not get back on top. Nigeria will have strong competition and by 2050 may have an economy smaller than DR Congo and Ethiopia.”

SOUTH Africa has had a very tough 2015, as global – and local – forces seemingly conspired to knock the wind out of the country’s lungs. First, the global commodity price collapse linked to a slowdown in the Chinese economy has made a big dent in South Africa’s export revenues.

China is a major consumer of South Africa’s mining exports, but has had to cut down its order book as it tries to rebalance its economy.

Making things worse is the worst drought in more than three decades. Some parts of the country have been declared disaster areas, thousands of livestock may have to be killed, and the government is spending about 350 million rand ($25 million) on emergency measures.

And internally, social unrest has gripped the country in 2015, from the student protests that begun at Rhodes University early in the year and culminated in the #FeesMustFall protests, to a spate of xenophobic attacks in April. As the year came to a close, there were more protests against perceptions of increasing government corruption, and President Jacob Zuma’s highly controversial sacking of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.

As South Africans watch with dismay as the country’s sovereign credit risk hover close to junk level, could this all be a passing cloud? Is there a chance that the country will regain its top spot as Africa’s biggest economy? Nigeria knocked off South Africa as the continent’s largest economy last year, with the rebasing of its economy to $521 billion.

Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), doesn’t think so.

“South Africa will not get back on top,” said Lopes categorically in an extensive interview with Mail & Guardian Africa.

The reason for this possibly is two-fold, according to Mail & Guardian Africa analysis. First, there is a quiet but hugely significant trend happening in Africa at the moment, for which South Africa is a relative outlier – demographic change.

Over the next 35 years, more than half of the world’s births will happen in Africa. It means that over the same time period, the region’s working age population is expected to triple to 1.25 billion people. With the right policies in place, this could be harnessed into increased savings and investments, and booming economic growth.

Nigeria, for example, will see its working age population grow from 51.5% of the total population in 2015 to 58.4% in 2050, according to latest projections (pdf) by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

But over the same time period, South Africa will see its working age population (age 15-59) grow by just 0.3 percentage points, from 63% to 63.3%. South Africa’s demographic transition into smaller, and relatively more prosperous families, began earlier than in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. It means that there is less room for growth.

Financial markets

The other major challenge holding South Africa back is structural. The country has an enormous amount of capital concentrated in its financial markets – data from the World Bank shows that the market capitalisation of the financial markets is nearly three times larger than the country’s actual Gross Domestic Product.

That gives it a market capitalisation-to-GDP ratio that is the third largest in the world; only Hong Kong and Switzerland have relatively larger capital markets. Some of this is accounted for by large overseas companies cross-listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, but even so, the financial sector’s size is remarkable for a country of South Africa’s size and population.

Carlo Lopez made the following predictions:

2030  If malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis are completely eliminated in the next 15 years, it could translate into $80b of savings by 2030. The population life expectancy will be 20 years higher, diminishing the fertility rates and balancing the demographic pressure.

2030 The continent-wide railway spanning the breadth of Africa from Djibouti to Dakar is launched, one of 16 such key regional infrastructure projects. It sparks a boom in intra-African trade, as logistical trade barriers come crashing down, and governments abolish visa requirements for other African countries.

2035 Kenya surprises the world on innovation. It has become the lead country in the use digital money and makes Bitcoin irrelevant. And the last country to become fully cashless is Libya.

2035 Portuguese continues to grow, rather than disappearing in the five Lusophone countries - Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, and Sao Tome & Principe. It also increases  in popularity in Senegal, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

2050 Nigeria is overtaken by Ethiopia and DR Congo as Africa's biggest economy. South Africa never regains its position at the top, but always manages to be among the top 10.

2050 Diabetes becomes Africa's biggest public health challenge, as the continent witnesses a shift towards processed food that is likely to be, like for urbanisation, the fastest in human history.

It means that there is less incentive to invest in the real economy, or create real jobs, because investors can live comfortably off the interest accrued by their financial assets.

Still, Nigeria, even with its rosy headline economic figures, huge population and massive potential, also mask deep structural flaws in the economy that might make it choke on growth soon.

“Nigeria will have strong competition and by 2050 may have an economy smaller than DR Congo and Ethiopia,” says Carlos Lopes. Nigeria’s Achilles Heel is in its lack of power.

Nigeria produces just 1.5% of the electricity it needs for its 173 million people. Exasperated Nigerians dubbed the Power Holding Company of Nigeria the “Please Hold Candle Nearby” company; over 70% of running costs go to running fuel generators alone, and industries retain slow, outdated manual processes because they don’t have the power to run machines.

Without radical reform – and if oil revenues have hit a permanent slump – Nigeria will not be able to function as a modern economy, and may just become a de facto village, though still hulking in size. The impact on the continent of having such a giant grinding to a halt could be far-reaching.

Meanwhile, DR Congo’s potential is immense. The DR Congo’s total mineral wealth is estimated to be worth a mind-boggling $24 trillion, more than the GDP of Europe and the US combined.

It holds more than 70% of the world’s coltan, used to make vital components of mobile phones, 30% of the world’s diamond reserves and vast deposits of cobalt, copper and bauxite. Additionally, the DR Congo contains huge quantities of gold, platinum, oil, tin and uranium — indeed, of nearly every other precious mineral on the planet.

Lighting up

And the planned $80 billion Grand Inga Dam, if finally constructed, will be massive: Producing 40,000 megawatts when complete, it will be capable of literally lighting up the continent, providing electricity to half of African countries.

Currently, the world’s largest hydropower plant is the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River in China, delivering 22,500 Megawatts — Grand Inga will be nearly double the size.

But DR Congo is plagued by instability, so may not take its place at the top of Africa’s economic pile any time soon.

That leaves Ethiopia. At nearly 100 million, the country is Africa’s third most populous, and has posted blistering economic growth in the past decade or so. More importantly, it is fast closing the infrastructure gap, laying down a flurry of roads, railways and power projects, which would give it a competitive advantage in the region, particularly over DR Congo that is notoriously poorly connected.

DR Congo is the eleventh-largest country on Earth by area (2.3 million sq. kilometres) and the 19th largest by population (73 million people), but has less than 3,000 km of all-weather paved road, which would be barely enough to cross the 2,500 km-wide country in any direction, let alone service its population.

Making things worse is that only half of that paltry amount of all-weather road is in good condition. Cars are useless, trucks break down constantly and can be stuck for days, weeks, or months.  This leaves bicycles as the main method of land transportation in the DRC - and no country ever became a regional superpower on bicycles.

Ethiopia also has the advantage of an efficient bureaucracy and stable, if authoritarian political regime, though this could prove to be a liability in the future as people demand more political space.

Analysts are also warning that Ethiopia’s mega-infrastructure binge will put enormous pressure on Ethiopia’s public finances, which are already strained following the first growth and infrastructure plan that expires this year.


Friday, 25 December 2015

DR Congo president unlikely to give up power

DR Congo president unlikely to give up power

President Kabila is suspected of seeking to stay in
 power beyond his second term
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the presidential election is set for November 2016.
Political opponents and activists say that everything is in place for President Joseph Kabila to extend his stay in power, thus violating the constitution and potentially precipitating the continent-sized central African country into chaos.

"What we need is to have a specific action plan for the elections," says Serge Syvia, a doctor and activist. "Because theirs (the government's) is already being implemented."

In a small wooden house that was built, like much of the eastern city of Goma, on dried lava rocks, members of a youth group called Lucha (struggle for change) are holding a meeting. 
Lucha has a core of about 50 members and a few hundred sympathisers.
They believe in using non-violent protests to demand basic rights like running water, security and justice.

Currently, three of their members are in prison: one for taking part in a workshop in the capital Kinshasa on youth and democracy and two others for organising an outdoor tribute with candles and photos to victims of an armed group, based near the border with Uganda, which massacres people with machetes.

The government's spokesperson has in the past called Lucha members terrorists and Goma's mayor has banned their activities.

Increased repression
Why are they scared of a small, unarmed movement of young activists based over 1,500km from the capital?

"For us, the lowly people, there is nothing here and they know this, so when one of us raises a finger to protest, because they are very rich in vocabulary, they call it 'an attempt against state security'," says another member Aline Mukovi.
Lucha protest in Goma over lack of running water
There is also the fact that, a year ahead of the planned election in DR Congo which should, if all goes according to the law, bring about regime change, the powerful are on edge.
In January, at least 30 were killed in the country's capital Kinshasa, according to the UN, after the police brutally repressed demonstrations against an electoral bill.

For opposition politicians and activists, that bill was part of the "plan" to which Mr Syvia referred.

It has become known here as the "glissement" or the slippage of the election dates.

Term limit debate flares across the region:
  • Rwanda held a referendum last week which voted overwhelmingly for the country's current leader, Paul Kagame, to stay in power, potentially until 2034.
  • In October, a similar referendum has already made it legal for Denis Sassou Nguesso, in the Republic of Congo, to run again in 2016. He has been in power for a total of 31 years. Protests against the constitution change were brutally repressed.
  • Uganda is also about to go to the polls in February 2016, Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for nearly 30 years, is running again. Term limits were scrapped by parliament in 2005.
  • Burundi was just recovering from a civil conflict when president Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would run for another term, violating the peace agreement that ended the war. Hundreds have died since. There has been an attempted coup and a rebel movement has formed.
Under the current constitution, President Joseph Kabila must stand down in December 2016, when his second five-year term ends.

The bill would have tied the election date to the completion of a nationwide census, which could have taken years.

At least 649 people - many protesters, activists and political opponents - have since been detained, according to a UN report published this month.
It found "the shrinking of democratic space was a likely to impact the electoral process".

Critics believe interfering with the process by silencing critical voices is precisely the government's intention.

'Ploys to stay in power'
The controversial clause in January's electoral bill was scrapped as a result of the protests, but opponents say several other ploys to push the election back are in motion. 
First, there's the complexity and the cost of the votes. In theory five sets of local elections need to be organised before the presidential poll.
Aline Mukovi is concerned by the role that young
people play in democracies
Local civil society groups accuse the electoral commission of intentionally dragging its feet to organise local polls and to be "illegally linking the organisation of the election to a national dialogue".

Mr Kabila called for a countrywide dialogue last month, saying on national television that it was only way to avoid a crisis and to revive the electoral process.

Critics see it as a strategy to try to co-opt political opponents with positions or money.
Kabila also hinted at the possibility of an indirect or an electronic vote in the presidential election, to save money, which some say would make rigging the poll easier.

He has not directly commented on suspicions that he might be trying to cling to power. 
Peace or elections
But the spokesman of the ruling party, André-Alain Atundu, said that it would take "two to four more years to organise credible elections".

Sources close to Kabila say that, as the man who secured an important peace deal in the early 2000s following years of civil conflict that killed millions, he genuinely feels the country could implode if he were to leave at the end of next year, especially without having organised a successful dialogue. 
Serge Syvia has stressed the need for opponents of
the regime to be well organised
There are still dozens of armed groups with ties to politicians in the east of the country and the army's own loyalties are divided.

"Opposition leaders have said president Kabila should be judged by the International Criminal Court," said one source close to him. "That is hardly the language of appeasement."

It is true the country is still fragile. But it is difficult to see how the president staying on would guarantee peace.
Joseph Kabila:
Born in a rebel camp in eastern DR Congo - where he enjoys most of his support

Spent his childhood in Tanzania

Laurent Kabila, overthrew long-time ruler Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997

He first became president - the world's youngest head of state - after his father's assassination in 2001

Oversaw the signing of a peace accord in 2002 to end a five-year conflict involving several other nations

Became DR Congo's first freely elected leader in 2006, winning a run-off poll with 58% of the vote

Secured another term in controversial elections in 2011

Has enjoyed the clear support of western governments, regional allies such as South Africa and Angola and mining groups that have signed multi-million dollar deals under his rule

Revered in the Swahili-speaking east, where he is widely credited with helping to end the 1998-2013 wars, he is less liked in the west

The January riots were an indication of how the streets might react to an attempt to hold on to power.

Activists believe violence would escalate if the election deadline is missed.

The powerful and historically political Catholic Church has already called on the Congolese people to oppose any attempt to violate the constitution.

Bishops said the country's situation was worrying and reminiscent of past wars and bloodshed caused by "power being seized by force and exerted against the common good".

The international community does not seem to know what to do. "We just have no leverage. We have carrots, but no sticks," a UN employee admitted.

The UN peacekeeping mission's newly-appointed leader's brief is basically to rebuild a relationship with a government that has been cutting the mission off from both political discussions and military operations for months.

A matter of principle
"No one will fight this one for us," says Luc Nkulula, a lawyer and member of Lucha, perched on the leg of an armchair as he addresses his colleagues about their plans.

He believes that at the moment priority is a change at the top.

He isn't convinced that any of the potential opposition candidates would be any less corrupt or even more likely to bring more stability to the troubled east, but it's a matter of principle: upholding the constitution and ensuring accountability.

Police have broken up protesters workshops

He also doubts that the majority of the population will never understand, even less adhere, to Lucha's non-violent activism. He fears extreme violence on both sides and worries that weakest will suffer the heaviest losses.

"But," he says, "the alternative to this struggle in a country like Congo is not being able to look at yourself in the mirror."


Monday, 21 December 2015

Why Moscow is banking on Africa to counter America's global dominance

Why Moscow is banking on Africa to counter America's global dominance

Russia’s interests in Africa are manifold. As economic sanctions constrict its trade with the West, Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive investment opportunity.


Russian President Vladimir Putin meets South African
President Jacob Zuma
The setting was the 2007 Munich Security Conference, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has just about enough of what he called “the United States [overstepping] its…borders”. He was trying to ease up to the West anymore when he took a stance; “We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law,” he said. “The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way.”
This speech did not only become a defining moment of his presidency, but amidst the flurry of flashes and rapid clicks from press photographers at the event, whispers of a new Cold War echoed loudly.
Obviously, the declaration sent all analysts; political and economy alike; coming up with all sorts of explanations for what this meant for Russian-American relations, that none paid as much attention to the Kremlin’s important shift.
Why Moscow is banking on Africa to counter America's
 global dominance
A focus on Africa, it turned out that Moscow was quietly in the middle of an equally important shift, courting a new and unlikely international partner: Africa
Russia’s interests in Africa are manifold. As economic sanctions constrict its trade with the West, Africa is becoming an increasingly attractive investment opportunity. At the same time, Africa’s 54 countries represent a political opportunity to relieve Russia’s isolation and build support for its actions in the UN. Finally, Russia’s prominence in Africa lends credibility to its reassertion of world power status. The effectiveness of Russia’s re-engagement policy is still in question, but its progress is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
Evidently, in recent years, Russia’s unusual relationship with Africa has only kept on strengthening it even new heights as neo-Russian investments across the continent continue to grow at an astounding rate.
According to the Atlantic Center’s Africa Center Director J. Peter Pham, between 2000 and 2012, Russia’s trade with Africa increased ten times over. Russia has invested heavily in raw resource megaprojects, signing a $4 billion deal with Uganda in February to build and operate a crude oil refinery and using old Soviet connections, Uganda and Russia sealed a $3 billion energy deal in March 2015, some of the few moves by Russia in Africa.
Why Moscow is banking on Africa to counter
America's global dominance

Russia in Ghana – The Numbers and Projections

The volume of Russian-Ghanaian trade in 2010 amounted to US$146 million (exports - $28 million - produce ferrous and nonferrous metallurgy, fertilizer, paper, and imports - mainly cocoa beans, as well as manganese ore and tropical wood - US$118 million).
In May 2003, a Ghanaian–Russian Chamber of Commerce was established and Ghana declared interest in attracting Russian investments in transport, energy, agriculture, mining. The Russian side continues to assist Ghana in the training of national personnel. In the higher education institutions of the country, a total of over 2800 educated Ghanaian professionals. In the 2010–11 academic year, 33 students passed (30 - to complete the course and 3 - to graduate school).
For the 2011–12 school year for Ghanaian students, Russian academic institutions held 40 scholarships. And currently a partnership between the Institute of Russian Pushkin and the University of Ghana (Legon).

Russia and The Rest of Africa

Overall trade has increased more than tenfold over the past decade or so, with exports jumping from under $950 million to $4 billion, and imports from Africa rising from $350 million to $1.6 billion. For Russia to reclaim its role as a global power after long being seen as a “junior partner” by the West, “it needed to be present in all geographies — and, of course, Africa is an increasingly important one,” says Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, chief executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs, a research organization in an interview with
Indeed, for most developed countries Africa’s growing economic importance is now impossible to overlook. In the next five years, the continent will be home to eight of the 10 fastest-growing economies, and in the next 15 years its GDP is expected to reach that of Eastern Europe. But there’s also plenty of allure today: It’s already home to some of the largest untapped reserves for minerals, oil and gas in the world.
Russian Companies in Africa
The rekindling of relations has already had a positive political impact for Moscow.
Those features are particularly attractive to Russian companies. Sure, Russia’s sitting on 35 percent of the world’s reserves in mineral deposits, though the bulk of its undeveloped reserves are located in remote areas of Siberia, making them expensive to extract. Getting mineral resources from countries like Angola, South Africa, Guinea and Nigeria — countries now home to major Russian investment projects — is much more profitableAnd with Russia’s reserves of oil and gas plummeting while Europe’s consumption of energy is on the rise, Moscow is also desperately searching for alternative energy sources. In fact, Russian natural gas giant Gazprom has recently partnered with Algeria’s state gas company, which will give Russia control of nearly 40 percent of Europe’s gas consumption.
Unlike other countries racing in the new scramble for Africa, Russia has the added advantage of a long-standing history with the continent. Since the days of the Cold War, when proxy battles between the Soviet Union and the United States raged on African soil and African liberation movements fought for freedom from colonial powers, Moscow has built a vast network of political and economic ties to African countries.
By the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, it had established 20 cultural centers; launched agreements with 37 African countries on technical and economic assistance, and with 42 countries on trade; educated more than 25,000 Africans in Soviet universities; and trained 200,000 more on the continent. Alumni include the former president of Mozambique and the current presidents of Angola and South Africa. Yet when the Soviet Union dissolved, so too did its political ties with African allies.
Russia - Africa Trade
While growing at a rapid pace today, Russia’s total investment in Africa still lags far behind competitors such as India. China, for one, started courting businesses in Africa a decade before Russia, and has a secret weapon for investing in high-risk places where corruption and political instability are widespread: policy banks. George Ward, former U.S. ambassador to Namibia, says Chinese government officials and financial institutions have provided loans and other assistance that African governments have used for development purposes, “often employing Chinese companies to carry out large-scale infrastructure projects.” With the Chinese government and banks assuming the financial risk, Chinese companies have been encouraged to invest.
Still, the rekindling of relations has already had a positive political impact for Moscow. When members of the U.N. General Assembly, a third of which are African countries, overwhelmingly voted to condemn Russian intervention in Ukraine, two of the 10 countries that voted with Russia were in Africa, while a majority of African countries abstained. As investment continues, Putin’s predictions at the Munich Security Conference may just come true: The days of American global dominance are ending, and Russia is yet again making its way to the forefront of international affairs, starting with Africa.

By Sena Quashie



Clinging to power: African leaders who won't stand down

Clinging to power: African leaders who won't stand down

 21 December 2015

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and South Africa's
 President Jacob Zuma at the signing of bilateral agreement
 between the two countries at the Union Buildings on
Wednesday, 8 April 2015
Even the fate of Blaise Compaore, who was ousted after a bloody uprising in 2014 after 27 years as president of Burkina Faso, has not been enough to deter other African leaders from clinging to power long after their constitutions demanded they go.
In 2015, two African presidents amended their constitutions to allow them to seek another term -- or more.

Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has now led Congo-Brazzaville for more than 31 years, and Paul Kagame, Rwanda's head of state since 1994, both ordered referendums which will allow them to run again in 2016 and 2017 respectively. 

In neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila is due to stand down in 2016 after 15 years at the helm, but fears are mounting he too could stay on as the country endures a period of uncertainty.

The president has shown no sign of preparing to leave office and is now calling for a "national dialogue" to allow for a peaceful vote. Opponents view the demands as a trap, which could allow his supporters to put off polls for two to four years until they can organise "credible" elections.

Meanwhile, to the east of the DR Congo, Burundi has been in crisis since April, when president Pierre Nkurunziza sought a third term in a move that even some in his own camp judged unconstitutional.

The situation deteriorated when Nkurunziza was re-elected in July, on a ballot that was boycotted by the opposition. The country has since spiralled into violence and there are fears in the international community this could break out into genocide.

"The limit of two presidential terms in African constitutions goes back to the late 1990s," said Thierry Vircoulon, associate researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI).

"It was a lesson drawn from (the results of) autocratic regimes and presidency for life," he told AFP.

Testing the limits

But these limits were quickly broken, beginning with Togo in 2002, followed by Chad and Uganda in 2005, where Idriss Deby Itno and Yoweri Museveni have been in power since 1990 and 1986 respectively.

Constitutions in Angola, Djibouti and Cameroon have also been changed to allow incumbents to stay in power, as well as in Zimbabwe, where 91-year-old Robert Mugabe has been president since 1980.

"The basic tendency (in central Africa) over the last few years has not between towards greater democracy, but in the opposite direction," said Vircoulon.

"Civil wars and peace agreements have not changed the way of doing politics in these countries," he added.

But this has not been the case everywhere on the continent.

In Burkina Faso, it was Compaore's attempts to change the constitution which led to a popular uprising and pushed him into exile in October 2014.

After a year which saw an attempted putsch, the people of Burkina Faso in November elected a new president in polls which were judged to be transparent and credible.

In Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, Muhammadu Buhari's victory in March presidential elections led to the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history.

In a recent note, however, strategic consulting firm Control Risks said it was "unlikely" the changes in Burkina Faso and Nigeria would bring about others elsewhere in Africa in 2016.

- eNCA

Friday, 18 December 2015

Greenpeace Africa reacts to verdict on DR Congo torture case in Yalisika

Greenpeace Africa reacts to verdict on DR Congo torture case in Yalisika

December 18, 2015
Five policemen and soldiers have finally been convicted for their role in a vicious attack against community members protesting against an industrial logging company in a Congolese village in 2011, but many involved are still to be held accountable, says Greenpeace Africa.
The men were found guilty by a court in Kinshasa on Monday and sentenced to between two and three years in prison charges including torture. They were among 60 policemen and military personnel who entered the small village of Bosanga, located in Yalisika, in the Equateur province in May 2011 to quell protests against the company SIFORCO.
Serious human rights violations were subsequently committed, including rape, physical aggression, torture and destruction of property. 
Greenpeace welcomes the condemnation of the perpetrators of the attack; however we are very surprised by the sentences that do not reflect the gravity of the violence and crimes suffered by the community”said Victorine Sirri Che Thöner, the head of Greenpeace Africa’s Congo Forest campaign.

“We are also concerned that some individuals involved in the attack and identified during the investigations have not been brought to trial and SIFORCO was not held responsible for its implication”. said Victorine, “Unfortunately the only current route for appeal is to redress the issues of reparations for victims"

The Court did not convict SIFORCO or assign any liability despite acknowledging that torture was committed by the military in the company’s vehicle. The convictions come after many lengthy judicial delays over a period of years. To date only 14 of the 45 victims have been granted the right to seek reparations.

The villagers were protesting against the company, claiming it had not delivered on promises made in 2005 and revised in 2009, to provide infrastructure and services to the community in exchange for logging their forests. Faced with community opposition, SIFORCO called in the help of local authorities and security.

This trial sends out a signal that industrial logging in the Democratic Republic of Congo does not contribute to local development but instead generates multiple recurring conflicts with local communities” said Che Thöner. “

Yalisika is in the Bumba region in the Congo Basin - home to the world’s second largest tropical forest after the Amazon, which is increasingly under threat from industrial logging companies - the majority foreign-owned - who plunder the DRC’s rich resources with impunity.

Stand with communities of the Congo Basin to demand their home is protected. Stop the "050" forest law that favors industrial loggers over local communities. SIGN the petition!


Monday, 14 December 2015

Burundi: 'Help us, the world needs to know that a genocide is underway' says opposition

Burundi: 'Help us, the world needs to know that a genocide is underway' says opposition


Residents look at the bodies of unidentified men killed
during gunfire in Burundi's capital Bujumbura on
12 December
"Help us, the world needs to know that the genocide is underway." These were the words of Jeremie Minani, a spokesman for the Burundian coalition known as Cnared, following the death of nearly 90 people during clashes in the Burundian capital on Friday (11 December).
The UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously voted on 12 November for a resolution condemning increasing killings, torture and other human rights violations in Burundi. Human rights groups have urged action against what witnesses call a deadly government crackdown on opposition members, after at least 300 people were killed since President Pierre Nkurunziza launched a controversial bid to prolong his term in office in April.
Until now, battle-lines in the crisis have followed the political divide, but many fear prolonged violence could reopen old ethnic rifts. Burundi's 1993-2005 civil war pitted rebels of the Hutu majority − including one led by Nkurunziza − against what was then an army led by the Tutsi minority.

A 'genocide' underway
"There is an emergency for the international community to act and take measures to protect the civilian population. The world needs to understand there absolutely is a genocide underway in Burundi, against a part of the population who is opposed to the third term, and there is an ethnic element to it," Minani told IBTimes UK, highlighting the lack of action from the international community.
While the Burundian presidency said the police was ensuring the restoration of security in the capital Bujumbura, Minani warned Nkurunziza's only solution for today's crisis may be "stopping" all those opposing his mandate.
"The majority of young people have been targeted because of their ethnic affiliation, others because they did not belong to the ruling CNDD-FDD party or the Imbonerakure [the youth wing of Burundi's CNDD-FDD]," he explained.
Explaining that a "genocide" is underway in the country from which more than 220,000 have fled, Minani claimed the situation is a stark reminder of that of Rwanda in 1993-1994, when between 800,000 and 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.
Kenyans and Burundians living in Kenya hold a vigil in Nairobi
 to call for an end to killings in Burundi on 13 December
"We believe the ruling power is trying to breed anger in Tutsis, so when Tutsis will revolt, they will be able to tell the Hutu population that the government is fighting against Tutsis and that they needs their help," Minani alleged. "If nothing is done immediately, everyone needs to understand that the country will fall back into a new civil war. The facts are already there: the message of hatred is currently vehiculated [being driven] across the country and they have now taken action".
The spokesman urged the international community to take measures to protect civilians by, for instance, sending in a Blue Helmets peacekeepers protection force and immediately urging every party to negotiate.
"If the regime refuses, international leaders will have to isolate it. Measures will be mostly symbolic and will not help bend the regime, but will help open the dialogue. The country needs to find peace again."
International community inaction
Pancrace Cimpaye, spokesman for the Alliance for Democratic Change (ADC-IKIBIRI), one of the country's largest opposition parties, meanwhile, described as "dramatic" the fact that the international community "is really at odds with the actual situation in Burundi".
"The inaction of the international community is mind-blowing. They [the regime] will continue to massacre people, in silence," Cimpaye told IBTimes UK.
He questioned why world leaders are not as mobilised as they had been following a crackdown by Guinea's military ruler Moussa Dadis Camara that left more than 150 dead after security forces opened fire on thousands of anti-government protesters at the capital Conakry's main stadium in 2009.
Burundian police officers collect a cache of weapons recovered
 from suspected fighters after clashes in the capital Bujumbura,
 Burundi on 12 December
"Nkurunziza, in less than 24 hours, killed more than 90 people on 12 December but the world is not acting. His killing machine is continuing today. They are now transporting cadavers to bury them in mass graves. People need to understand a genocide is underway, they can't say they are not aware," Cimpaye claimed.

The United States told its citizens to vacate Burundi following this weekend's violence not long after Belgium also advised its citizens to leave − a call Cimpaye denounced, saying: "Burundians can die, as long as the Americans or Belgiums are safe."

"They only want to protect themselves, but not protect the people who are in danger. They are urging their citizens to flee because they have understood that the ruling power is considering the devil."

Presidency regrets violent deaths

Following the massacres, presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe condemned the persons and organisations "working very hard to disturb the peace in Burundi".

"The Burundi government regrets violent and untimely deaths," he said adding he "felt badly to see all these lives cut short by this human barbarity. A whole future compromised in a peaceful Burundi."
The United Nations's special adviser on genocide, Adama Dieng, meanwhile, told the BBC: "We can observe today in Burundi a clear manipulation of ethnicity by both the government and opposition".

By Elsa Buchanan

International |Business Times


Thursday, 10 December 2015

DR Congo: Free Political Prisoners

DR Congo: Free Political Prisoners

Halt Crackdown on Peaceful Assembly, Free Speech

(Kinshasa) – The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo should mark International Human Rights Day on December 10, by releasing everyone detained for their political views or for participating in peaceful political activities.

“Congolese officials’ recent attempts to intimidate and silence peaceful activists and political opponents should end immediately,” said Ida Sawyer, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “International Human Rights Day is an opportune moment for the Congolese government to reverse this troubling trend and release everyone who has been locked up for peaceful political activities.”

The following people were arrested in the past year after
speaking out against attempts to extend President Joseph
 Kabila’s term in office or participating in peaceful
 demonstrations or other political activities in the
Democratic Republic of Congo. They remain in
In one of the most recent incidents, on November 28 in the eastern city of Goma, police fired teargas and live bullets in the air when about 100 people were attending a peaceful protest against the government’s failure to halt massacres in Beni territory. A 14-year-old girl was shot and wounded. Authorities arrested 12 people, including two youth activists, three teenagers, and other demonstrators and bystanders. The teenagers were released after four days, but the others remain in detention on trumped-up charges.
Later that day, when an activist from the youth movement Struggle for Change (La Lutte pour le Changement, LUCHA), which had organized the protest, went to the police station to bring food to the detainees, police interrogated him for 45 minutes, slapped him, and tore his shirt.
On November 30, Goma’s mayor, Dieudonné Malere, and senior city and security officials met with three LUCHA members. Meeting participants told Human Rights Watch that the vice mayor, Juvénal Ndabereye Senzige, told a LUCHA activist that he was “the instigator of trouble in Goma using the cover of the LUCHA movement” and that, “if there are deaths in a future demonstration, it’s you who we will take and make disappear. We will take you to a place where no one will be able to find you.” In a meeting with Human Rights Watch on December 9, the vice mayor denied saying this.
On December 3, Mayor Malere issued a statement saying that LUCHA did not have the correct legal administrative documents and that it operates in “total illegality.” The mayor said that “all LUCHA members and those who support them, from near or far, [should] cease all activities aimed at disturbing public order.” Congolese law permits people to peacefully protest without being registered as an association, Human Rights Watch said.
Following the LUCHA protest, on December 3, a coalition of 33 Congolese human rights organizations, known as the Coalition for the Respect of the Constitution, published a declaration urging the Congolese government to respect the right to hold peaceful meetings and demonstrations. The coalition also expressed concern that the government’s announced national dialogue to discuss elections could lead to electoral delays, which it said would violate Congo’s constitution. Two days later, Congo’s communications minister announced that the government had opened an “administrative investigation” into the 33 coalition member groups.
Over the past year, government officials and security forces have clamped down on those who have opposed attempts to delay the scheduled November 2016 presidential elections and extend President Joseph Kabila’s term in office.
Under Congo’s constitution, President Kabila is due to step down in December 2016, at the end of his second term. Preparations for the November 2016 elections have yet to begin. Kabila and members of his majority coalition have indicated that the elections might be delayed, citing the flawed voter list and the high cost of elections.
The police and Republican Guard fatally shot more than 40 people during demonstrations in the capital, Kinshasa, and in Goma in January against proposed changes to the electoral law. Authorities have sought to ban political demonstrations in cities across the country, and dozens of youth activists, students, musicians, journalists, political party leaders, and supporters have been jailed. The National Intelligence Agency (Agence Nationale de Renseignements, ANR) held many of those arrested for weeks or months without charge and without access to their families or lawyers. Some have been put on trial on politically motivated charges.
In the southeastern city of Lubumbashi on December 1, police fired teargas to block supporters of the TP Mazembe soccer team from entering a private stadium to attend a meeting with the team’s president, Moise Katumbi. The former governor of Katanga province, Katumbi resigned from Kabila’s political party in September, citing concerns about delays in organizing elections.
On November 4 and 5, three members of the opposition political party Innovative Forces for Union and Solidarity (Forces Novatrices pour l’Union et la Solidarité, FONUS), including a 78-year-old woman with a disability, were arrested in Kinshasa following a news conference by the party’s president, Joseph Olengankoyi, opposing delays in national elections. Those arrested were taken to a detention facility run by Congo’s intelligence services. The elderly woman was released after 26 days, while the other two were transferred to the prosecutor’s office after 33 days and charged with attacking state security. They are now in Kinshasa’s central prison.
The extension of Kabila’s term in office, referred to by his political opponents as glissement, or “sliding,” has met with widespread opposition, including by the Catholic Church, civil society groups, youth activists, and former members of Kabila’s majority coalition who have formed a group called the “G7.” Many have called for protests in early 2016 if the government does not start carrying out clear plans for timely elections.
Congo’s national prosecutor said during a news conference in Kinshasa on December 2, 2015, that public calls for people to go to the streets and demonstrate “are undoubtedly a very clear way of cranking up the engine or pushing the trigger and putting peace at risk.”
On November 28, Kabila announced he wished to hold a national dialogue to prepare the way for elections, though he did not say when it would start. Many opposition leaders have refused to participate, saying they believe it is another attempt to delay elections or to propose constitutional changes that would extend Kabila’s term in office.
Kabila also said that he would grant individual pardons to some political prisoners to help “restore calm.” Any initiative to pardon prisoners should be part of a broader program to release all prisoners held in violation of their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Congolese government should release all political prisoners as a critical step in the right direction,” Sawyer said. “This step should be accompanied by measures to prevent such abuses in the future, including by halting arbitrary detentions and prosecuting officials responsible for rights violations.”
For more information on current political prisoners in Congo, please see below.
List of Prisoners

The following people were arrested in the past year after speaking out against attempts to extend President Kabila’s term in office or participating in peaceful demonstrations or other political activities. They remain in detention.
Detained in Kinshasa:
1. Vano Kalembe Kiboko: Former member of parliament from Kabila’s majority coalition, arrested on December 29, 2014, after publicly criticizing violent police repression of a demonstration in Katanga and attempts to allow Kabila to seek a third term. Detained at Kinshasa’s central prison. Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison on September 14 for racial hatred and tribalism and “spreading false rumors.” Appeals proceedings ongoing.
2. Jean-Claude Muyambo: President of the Congolese Solidarity for Democracy and Development (Solidarité congolaise pour la démocratie et le développement, SCODE) political party and former president of the bar association in Katanga, arrested in Kinshasa on January 20, 2015, after mobilizing participation in the demonstrations against proposed changes to the electoral law. Held at Kinshasa’s central prison, then transferred to a health clinic, where he is being treated for injuries he suffered during arrest. On trial for “abuse of confidence” and selling a building that did not belong to him, likely based on a complaint that a client brought against him in 2002 – and later withdrew – in his home province of Katanga.
3. Christopher Ngoyi: Human rights defender involved in mobilizing public participation in demonstrations against proposed changes to the electoral law, arrested on January 21, 2015, and held by the ANR for 20 days before being transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison, where judicial proceedings are ongoing.
4. Ernest Kyaviro: Opposition political party leader arrested in Goma on January 22, during the week of demonstrations against proposed changes to the electoral law. Transferred to Kinshasa and held at the ANR for 86 days before being transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison on April 15. Convicted and sentenced to three years in prison on September 18 for provoking and inciting disobedience toward public authorities. Appeals proceedings ongoing.
5. Fred Bauma: Activist with Filimbi, a platform to encourage Congolese youth to peacefully and responsibly perform their civic duties, and LUCHA, arrested on March 15 and held at the ANR for 50 days before being transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison, where judicial proceedings are ongoing.
Yves Makwambala: Filimbi activist arrested on March 15 and held at the ANR for 40 days before being transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison, where judicial proceedings are ongoing.
6. Léon Nguwa: University of Kinshasa student arrested in March while printing flyers supporting opposition leader Vital Kamerhe, during his trial at the Supreme Court. Reportedly transferred to the prosecutor's office in early December after being held for nearly nine months at the ANR.
7. Joël Bokoru: University of Kinshasa student arrested in March while printing flyers supporting Kamerhe. Reportedly transferred to the prosecutor's office in early December after being held for nearly nine months at the ANR.
8. Giresse Bangomisa: University of Kinshasa student arrested in March while printing flyers supporting Kamerhe. Reportedly transferred to the prosecutor's office in early December after being held for nearly nine months at the ANR.
9.unior Mapeke N’Labu (“Radek Supreme”): Congolese musician arrested in May and accused of having links with Filimbi. Held at the ANR without charge or access to lawyers.
10. Jerry Olenga: Member of the opposition FONUS political party, arrested on November 4 after attending a news conference by the party’s president. Transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison after being detained for a month at the ANR.
11. Paulin Lody: Member of the opposition FONUS political party, arrested on November 4 after attending the news conference by the party’s president. Transferred to Kinshasa’s central prison after being detained for a month at the ANR.
Arrested during the LUCHA demonstration in Goma on November 28 and held at Goma’s central prison:
  1. Juvin Kombi Narcisse (LUCHA activist)
  2. Pascal Byumanine (LUCHA activist)
  3. Innocent Fumbu
  4. Saidi Wetemwami Heshima
  5. Gervais Semunda Rwamakuba
  6. Nelson Katembo Kalindalo
  7. Jonathan Kambale Muhasa
  8. Osée Kakule Kilala
  9. Jojo Semivumbi
The nine people above are all charged with rebellion, incitement to acts of disobedience, insults to authorities, association with a criminal gang, intentional assault, and intentional destruction of goods or property belonging to others.