Saturday, 15th August 2020

East Africa

Blast rocks military base in Somali capital, at least eight dead

A huge blast rocked a military base in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu near a stadium on Saturday, killing at least eight people and injuring 14, emergency workers said, and the militant group al Shabaab claimed responsiblity.

Soldiers opened fire after the explosion which sent clouds of smoke into the sky, said Halima Abdisalan, a mother of three who lives near the area.

“We ran indoors in fear,” she told Reuters. “Soon I could see a military pickup speeding and carrying many soldiers covered with blood. I do not know if they were all dead or injured.” 

Army officer Major Abdullahi Mohamud said it was an attack. “It must be a suicide car bomb, I am now transporting casualties,” he said.

Claiming responsibility for the incident, the military operations spokesman of the al Shabaab group, Abdiasis Abu Musab, said: “We conducted a successful martyrdom operation on a major apostate military base in Mogadishu.”

“The enemy suffered many casualties and wounded, military vehicles destroyed.” 

Somalia has been embroiled in deadly violence since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew leader Siad Barre and then turned on each other.

Since 2008, al Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-recognised central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.


Tanzania opposition leader who survived 2017 gun attack to return from exile

A Tanzanian opposition leader and potential presidential candidate said on Monday he had started his return journey to the East African nation, days after police warned his supporters against gathering unlawfully to welcome him.

Tundu Lissu, a fierce critic of President John Magufuli’s government, was shot 16 times in an attack by unknown gunmen outside his residence in the administrative capital Dodoma in September 2017.

At the time, Magufuli condemned the shooting and ordered the country’s security forces to investigate, but no one has been arrested.

Lissu was arrested eight times in the year leading up to his attack and charged with incitement, among other alleged offences. His most recent arrest was in August 2017. He was released and shot more than two weeks later.

Since then, he has been living in exile in Belgium, where he had undergone treatment. 

“Boarding Ethiopian Airlines flight ... Let’s meet in Dar in slightly over three hours,” Lissu said on his Twitter account. Lissu, vice chairman of the CHADEMA party, plans to vie for the presidency in October general elections and is waiting for his party primary.

CHADEMA is the leading opposition party in the East African nation. If nominated, Lissu will face incumbent Magufuli.

CHADEMA chairman Freeman Mbowe dropped out of the presidential race after he and three other party members who initially said they would contest the presidency failed to pick and return nomination forms. Mbowe will seek to retain his current the parliamentary seat.

Magufuli, nicknamed “the Bulldozer”, for his ability to push through major projects, took office in November 2015 pledging to expand the East African nation’s infrastructure and fight graft. 

But international rights groups like Amnesty International have also accused him of curbing human rights including limiting free expression and cracking down on leading opposition figures.

The government has denied seeking to stifle dissent.


Sudan to allow drinking alcohol for non-Muslims, ban FGM

Sudan will permit non-Muslims to consume alcohol and strengthen women’s rights, including banning female genital mutilation (FGM), its justice minister said late on Saturday, in a reversal of almost four decades of hardline Islamist policies.

About 3% of Sudan’s population is non-Muslim, according to the United Nations.

Alcoholic drinks have been banned since former President Jaafar Nimeiri introduced Islamic law in 1983, throwing bottles of whisky into the Nile in the capital Khartoum.

The transition government which took over after autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled last year has vowed to lead Sudan to democracy, end discrimination and make peace with rebels. 

Non-Muslims will no longer be criminalised for drinking alcohol in private, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari told state television. For Muslims, the ban will remain. Offenders are typically flogged under Islamic law.

Sudan will also decriminalise apostasy and ban FGM, a practice which typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of girls and women, he said.

Women will also no longer need a permit from male members of their families to travel with their children.

Nimeiri’s introduction of Islamic law was major catalyst for a 22-year-long war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the mainly Christian south that led in 2011 to South Sudan’s secession. 

Bashir extended Islamic law after he took power in 1989.

Sudanese Christians live mainly in Khartoum and in the Nuba mountains near the South Sudan border. Some Sudanese also follow traditional African beliefs.

The transition government led by Abdalla Hamdok runs the country in an uneasy coalition with the military which helped remove Bashir after months of mass protests.


Kenyan police fire teargas, arrest marchers protesting at brutality

Kenyan police on Tuesday fired teargas and arrested activists gathering for a march against perceived government injustice that has been given extra impetus this year by allegations by rights groups of police brutality during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Activists said protesters from several areas had planned to march from their homes to the centre of the capital Nairobi, but many were dispersed or arrested before reaching there. Samuel Kiriro said six of his colleagues from rights group the Ghetto Foundation in the Mathare slum had been arrested.

For those who made it into the city centre, police fired more teargas and made further arrests, a Reuters witness said.

Activists rally each year on July 7, marking the date in 1990 when opponents of late president Daniel Arap Moi launched a bid to open up multiparty politics. The protest is called “Saba Saba” - “seven seven” in Swahili - because of the date. 

This year, protesters have been galvanised by mounting accusations of police brutality during the coronavirus lockdown.

“The police have been killing a lot of people ... During this pandemic, it has gotten worse,” said Michael Njau, an activist at Kiamaiko Justice Centre.

Police were not immediately available to respond to multiple requests for comment.

Rights group Amnesty International said Kenyan police had killed at least 100 people in 2020, with 21 related to COVID infractions, such as curfew or mask violations. In March, in the first 10 days of the curfew, at least six people were killed, Human Rights Watch has said. 

Over the weekend, protesters in western Kenya set fire to a police station after an officer allegedly killed a hawker for selling fake hand sanitisers. The officer was taken into police custody, a police report seen by Reuters said.

Kenya police spokesman Charles Owino told Kenyan TV station NTV in June, responding to allegations of brutality, it was fair to highlight the issues “but it is also important for us to try and get results of investigations for each and every matter” to avoid setting the public against the police.

In April, President Uhuru Kenyatta said there had been “some challenges” in the initial stages, adding: “I want to apologise to all Kenyans maybe for some excesses that were conducted.”


After second round of voting, Kenya wins spot on U.N. Security Council

Kenya was elected to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, defeating Djibouti in a second-round of voting by the 193-member General Assembly after an initial ballot failed to produce a clear winner.

Mexico, India, Ireland, Norway - who were elected on Wednesday - and Kenya will take up their two-year terms on the 15-member council on Jan. 1, 2021. Mexico and India were elected unopposed, while Ireland and Norway beat Canada. 

To ensure geographical representation, seats are allocated to regional groups. All candidates need to win the support of more than two-thirds of the General Assembly to be elected. Neither Kenya or Djibouti achieved that during the first round of voting. 

After operating virtually since March amid the coronavirus pandemic, diplomats - wearing masks and social distancing - returned to the General Assembly hall on Wednesday and Thursday to cast their secret ballots at allotted times.

The Security Council is the only U.N. body that can make legally binding decisions like imposing sanctions and authorizing the use of force. It has five permanent veto-wielding members - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.


Tanzanian president Magufuli dissolves parliament before vote, touts development record

Tanzanian President John Magufuli dissolved parliament on Tuesday ahead of elections in October, touting his government’s record in expanding infrastructure such as roads, electricity generation and reforming the mining sector.

Nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his ability to push through major projects, Magufuli took office in November 2015, pledging to expand the East African nation’s road and railway network and power-generation capacity.

His government also approved new mining regulations aimed at ensuring that the benefits of the mining sector were shared more equitably between multinational mining companies and the state.

“Large reforms have taken place, including ... restricting smuggling of raw minerals out of the country, establishing mineral markets in each region, increasing participation of artisanal miners,” he said.

Magufuli, who is expected to run for a second and final five-year term, told parliament in the administrative capital Dodoma that since he took office, the government had added another 3,500 km (2,170 miles) of tarmacked road.

He said a new 300-km (185-mile) standard gauge railway line between the commercial capital Dar es Salaam and Morogoro was almost complete, while a 422-km line from Morogoro to Dodoma was a third complete.

The government said on Monday a 6.5-trillion-shilling ($2.81 billion), 2,115 MW hydropower dam, being built next to a park that is a UNESCO World Heritage site, was 40% complete.

“This project was highly protested (against) but we have succeeded,” Magufuli said.

While hailed for also tackling corruption and wasteful spending, rights groups and opposition parties have accused Magufuli’s government of curbing human rights including limiting freedom of expression and preventing opposition parties from holding public rallies and sometimes private meetings.

The government has denied seeking to stifle dissent.

Tundu Lissu, deputy leader of the main opposition CHADEMA party, has announced he will run for president in October.

Burundi court affirms ruling party candidate's presidential victory

Burundi’s constitutional court has said last month’s elections were flawless and upheld the victory of the ruling party’s presidential candidate, dismissing a complaint brought by the vote’s runner-up.

The vote was the first competitive presidential election in Burundi since a civil war erupted in 1993. The ruling CNDD-FDD party’s candidate, retired general Evariste Ndayishimiye, was running against opposition leader Agathon Rwasa and five others.

“The constitutional court rules that the presidential election held on May 20 was regular, that Evariste Ndayishimiye is the president-elect,” the court said in a ruling late on Thursday.

Incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza will stay in office until August, when President-elect Ndayishimiye will take over and start a seven-year term.

Burundi’s election commission said Ndayishimiye had won the election with 69% of votes cast.

The commission said Rwasa had garnered 24% of the vote, amid what it said was huge, peaceful turnout.

The vote had been preceded by political violence, including the arrest, torture and murder of opposition activists, according to a local rights group. 

Rwasa, the candidate for the CNL party, filed the case in late May challenging the election outcome.

He said he had evidence that people had voted using dead voters’ identities, cited the use of an electoral register that has never been published by the electoral body, and made accusations of ballot box stuffing.

“No irregularities that could call into question the ballot boxes’ results were noted either at the level of the voting, the counting or while establishing the voting results,” the court said.

The court, topmost in Burundi, also ruled in 2015 that Nkurunziza could run for a third term, to which the opposition objected. Nkurunziza won that election, which the opposition boycotted.

That election sparked violent protests, pushing hundreds of thousands of Burundians into exile. The United Nations documented hundreds of killings, and the torture and gang-rape of opposition activists.

The government denies accusations of rights violations.

May’s vote was also held in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ahead of the election, Burundi expelled its head of mission of the World Health Organization, who had criticised all parties for holding rallies despite the pandemic.

Burundi has 63 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one death and 33 recoveries.



Burundi police detain more than 200 opposition election observers

Burundian police detained more than 200 opposition electoral observers during this week’s election, the spokesman for the main opposition National Freedom Council (CNL) told Reuters on Friday, alleging voting irregularities. 

Wednesday’s election, the first competitive presidential election since civil war erupted in 1993, is meant to usher in the first democratic transfer of power in 58 years of independence.

There was widespread international criticism of the last election in 2015, which the opposition boycotted, when President Pierre Nkurunziza won a third term.

There were few international election monitors on Wednesday after the government said they would have to spend 14 days in quarantine to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

The ruling CNDD-FDD party’s candidate, retired general Evariste Ndayishimiye, ran against opposition leader Agathon Rwasa and five others.

Nkurunziza, whose government has repeatedly been accused of rights abuses, will step down after 15 years in power.

Police were not immediately available to comment. An official at the justice ministry, who asked not to be identified as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said the detainees were currently on trial.

“The voting was marred with several irregularities: arrests of over 200 CNL (observers), intimidation, people who voted several times or under the names of dead ones, refugees or prisoners,” said Terence Manirambona, the spokesman for the CNL. 

The electoral commission said the allegations of fraud had to be addressed by the courts and not by them. The government did not respond to requests for comment about the accusations.

Full results are expected within a week. If no one wins 50% in the first round, then a run-off will be held within two weeks.


Air Tanzania postpones maiden flights to China over coronavirus

Tanzania’s national carrier said on Wednesday it will have to postpone its maiden flights from commercial capital Dar es Salaam to China, citing concerns over the spread of a coronavirus that has killed 133 people.

State-run Air Tanzania had planned to begin charter flights to China next month ahead of the expected launch of scheduled direct flights to the key Asian tourist market. 

“We have already received a permit to begin scheduled flights to China,” Air Tanzania managing director Ladislaus Matindi told Reuters. 

“But we will now have to take the necessary precautions ... We will decide when to launch our first flights to China after taking into consideration all the key issues to safeguard the safety of our passengers.”

 Tourism is the biggest source of foreign exchange in Tanzania, famed for its wildlife safaris and pristine beaches.

 Around 1.5 million tourists visit East Africa’s third-largest economy each year, according to government estimates. 


Rwanda detaining, abusing street children: rights group

Rwanda, often lauded internationally for its economic progress and reintegration after the 1994 genocide, is detaining and abusing street children at a holding centre in the capital, an international rights group said Monday.

Two homeless boys who had been held at the holding centre, known as the Gikondo Transit Centre, confirmed to Reuters that they had been abused there, giving accounts that were similar to those compiled from 30 children in the report by by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.

Rwanda’s justice minister, Johnston Busingye, said the centre trains young people in skills including carpentry and welding and rehabilitates them from life on the streets.

“These centres are run in full compliance with law,” he said in a text message to Reuters.

Rwanda adopted a law in 2017 that defines Gikondo, open since 2005, as a rehabilitation centre for people including minors exhibiting “deviant” behaviour. Human Rights Watch said the government is arbitrarily arresting and holding people there, and subjecting them to ill treatment. 

Human Rights Watch said it had interviewed 30 children aged 11 to 17 between January and October 2019 who had previously been detained at Gikondo. All but two of them had said officials at the centre beat them. Children said they had to share lice-infested mattresses with other children, access to medical care was sporadic and there was no support for rehabilitation.

President Paul Kagame, who won a third term in office in 2017, is praised abroad for steering a peaceful recovery in Rwanda since the 1994 genocide, when extremists from the Hutu ethnic majority killed an estimated 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

But he has also been criticised for what rights groups say are widespread abuses, a muzzling of independent media, and suppression of political opposition.

Nelly Nshutinamagara, 12, who lives on the streets of Kigali, told Reuters he was arrested by police at night, taken to Gikondo, and beaten with batons.

“They treat us badly by using batons…when one child makes a mistake, they beat us all,” he told Reuters in an interview after he was released earlier this month. 

Another child, nine-year-old Francois Muhizi, told Reuters: “They lock us inside a big hall and refuse to let us out to urinate.”

Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which begins a review of Rwanda’s policies on Monday, to call for the immediate closure of the centre. Rwanda ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991.

“Rwandan authorities claim they are rehabilitating street children,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “But instead, they are locking them up in inhuman and degrading conditions, without due process, and exposing them to beatings and abuse.”


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