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Monday, 25th March 2019
5:44:39pm

Africa

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At least 110 Fulani herders killed in central Mali's worst violence yet

Gunmen killed at least 110 Fulani herders in central Mali on Saturday, a local mayor said, the deadliest such attack in recent times in a region reeling from worsening ethnic and jihadist violence.

The assaults on the villages of Ogossagou and Welingara took place as a U.N. Security Council mission visited Mali to try to find solutions to violence that killed hundreds of civilians last year and is spreading across West Africa’s Sahel region.

Moulaye Guindo, mayor of the nearby town of Bankass, said armed men, who were dressed as traditional Donzo hunters, encircled and attacked Ogossagou at about 4 a.m. (0400 GMT).

“The body count continues by the gendarmes, who have just told me they have found 110 bodies, but the count continues,” Guindo told Reuters by telephone from Ogossagou.

He said another nearby Fulani village, Welingara, had also been attacked, causing “a number” of deaths, but he did not yet know how many. 

Security sources said the dead included pregnant women, children and elderly people.

One Ogossagou resident, who asked not to be identified, said the attack appeared to be in retaliation for an al Qaeda affiliate’s claim of responsibility on Friday for a raid last week that killed 23 soldiers.

The group said the raid was payback for violence by Mali’s army and militiamen against the Fulani.

Jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have exploited ethnic rivalries in Mali and its neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years to boost recruitment and render vast swathes of territory virtually ungovernable.

French forces intervened in Mali, a former French colony, in 2013 to push back a jihadist advance from the desert north but the militants have since regrouped and expanded their presence into central Mali and the neighbouring countries.

Some 4,500 French troops remain based in the wider Sahel, most of them in Mali. The United States also has hundreds of troops in the region.

Security Council ambassadors met with Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and other government officials on Friday evening to discuss the violence and the slow implementation of a 2015 peace agreement with non-Islamist armed groups.

“Clear sense of frustration among many Security Council members at pace of implementation of Mali Peace Agreement,” Britain’s representative on the mission, Stephen Hickey, wrote on Twitter. “Security Council prepared to impose sanctions on those who impede its implementation.”

-Reuters

Moroccan teachers start new protest over working conditions

More than 10,000 Moroccan teachers staged a new protest in the capital Rabat on Sunday to demand better working conditions, a witness said, hours after police had dispersed an earlier demonstration with water cannon.

The teachers started marching peacefully from the education ministry in Rabat to the square in front of parliament where police had intervened earlier.

Police were present at the latest protest but did not take any action.

-Reuters

U.S. sanctions Congo election officials, says they obstructed vote

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on three senior officials from Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission, accusing them of corruption and obstructing December’s presidential election.

The U.S. Treasury said in a statement that the commission’s organisation of the Dec. 30 election, which led to Congo’s first ever transfer of power via the ballot box, “failed to ensure the vote reflected the will of the Congolese people.”

Even so, the statement stopped short of calling into question the legitimacy of President Felix Tshisekedi’s victory, despite what sources told Reuters was outright rigging to deny runner-up Martin Fayulu the win.

The U.S. sanctions target commission President Corneille Nangaa, Vice President Norbert Basengezi and Marcellin Mukolo Basengezi, an adviser to Nangaa and son of Norbert Basengezi.

Nangaa and Norbert Basengezi were not immediately available for comment. Marcellin Mukolo Basengezi could not be reached for comment. 

The Treasury statement focused on what it said were efforts by the three “to obstruct and delay preparations” for the election, which had originally been due in 2016, and corruption related to procurement of voting machines and other materials.

Former President Joseph Kabila was required by the constitution to step down in December 2016 following an election to choose his successor, but the commission repeatedly postponed the vote, citing logistical obstacles.

Treasury said the three officials facilitated the delays by embezzling money meant to finance the vote into shell companies and accused Nangaa and Norbert Basengezi of bribing justices on Congo’s top court to approve an election delay in 2016.

It also said that commission officials, under Nangaa’s leadership, inflated by as much as $100 million the cost of electronic voting machines “with the intent to use surplus funds for personal enrichment, bribes, and campaign costs to fund the election campaign of Kabila’s candidate.”

Kabila’s preferred candidate, former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, finished a distant third in the official results. 

Congolese sources in contact with Nangaa and other senior government officials told Reuters that Fayulu actually won the election but that top officials instructed the commission to award the vote to Tshisekedi, who the Kabila’s camp viewed as less hostile to its interests.

Kabila and Tshisekedi’s camps both deny the vote was rigged.

The United States sharply criticised the conduct of the election but eventually recognised Tshisekedi’s victory and said it was committed to working with his government.

-Reuters  

Suspicion and strife strain Ethiopian plane crash probe

At the headquarters of the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, a paper sign balanced above room 107 and a threadbare square of carpet welcome a  stream of foreign visitors to the Accident Investigation Bureau.

The office - with three investigators and an annual budget of less than 2.5 million Birr ($89,000) - is leading a multi-party, multi-nation probe into what caused an Ethiopian Airlines flight to crash on March 10, killing all 157 people on board.

Brusque foreign investigators in cargo pants and Ethiopians in suits or reflective vests wave away questions from reporters on how their inquiries are progressing.

This modest agency is under intense international scrutiny because the results of its investigation could have far-reaching consequences for the global aviation industry.

If the investigators highlight flaws in the 737 MAX 8 that echo a recent crash of the same model in Indonesia, their report could deal a major blow to Boeing, the world’s biggest planemaker and a massive U.S. exporter.

But if investigators find Ethiopian Airlines fell short in maintenance, training or piloting, that could damage one of Africa’s most successful companies, a symbol of Ethiopia’s emergence as a regional power.

Disagreements have broken out in Addis Ababa between Ethiopian authorities and foreign investigators over issues including the handling of evidence and crash site management, according to several sources close to the investigation.

Kevin Humphreys, a former Irish regulator who founded the country’s air investigation agency, told Reuters the high stakes involved tend to make probes like this one particularly tough.

“There are tensions because it is unrealistic to assume that international protocols are always going to work. There is a potentially important economic impact from such investigations.”

An 18-strong team of American investigators has been sent to aid the Ethiopians with the inquiry, including representatives from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Boeing, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which certified 737 MAX planes as safe.

U.S. and some other foreign investigators are unhappy because Ethiopia is so far sharing only limited information, the sources said.

“There is no opportunity for the international community to benefit and learn from this,” said one of them, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Some foreign officials are also unhappy about the prominent role Ethiopian Airlines played in the probe, suggesting a possible conflict of interests, they said.

But one Addis Ababa-based source said the carrier’s role in the investigation does not necessarily indicate it is trying to exert undue influence. The airline is more likely involved because it is the most well-funded and staffed state enterprise able to help the over-stretched inquiry team, he added.

“When you have a vacuum, someone has to fill it,” he said.

Ethiopian Airlines’ spokesman Asrat Begachew said the carrier was supporting the investigation. “We are not taking the lead,” he added, declining to comment further.

Under global aviation rules, interested parties like airlines and manufacturers are discouraged from speaking publicly about the investigation. 

Yet in the first days after the Flight 302 crash, Ethiopian Airlines made all of the public statements, including announcing the black box recorders would be sent overseas for data extraction.

It was not until six days after the tragedy that the Ministry of Transport began briefing the media and public.

Hours after the crash, Ethiopian Airlines tweeted a picture of its CEO Tewolde Gebremariam holding a piece of debris in the crater of the crash site, surprising aviation experts who said the site should have been preserved for investigators.

Musie Yehyies, spokesman for Ethiopia’s Ministry of Transport, said the government had been quick to share information about the crash. He denied there was any mistrust between the Ethiopians and other parties.

“Our friendship with the United States is obvious,” he told Reuters. “Plenty of governments have been offering assistance, and some of them have helped practically.”

The ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the airline’s role in the investigation or any potential conflict of interest.

Ethiopia’s Accident Investigation Bureau and civil aviation authority, which fall under the transport ministry, declined to comment on the investigation or any grievances of parties involved.

Boeing, the FAA and the NTSB also declined to comment.

BLACK BOXES

The cockpit voice and flight data recorders were recovered the day after the crash, but it took Ethiopian investigators three days to decide where to send them for the information to be extracted and decoded. Like many fast-growing players, the Ethiopians do not have the technology to perform the task.

In a sign of the distrust between the parties, the Ethiopians turned down an American offer to perform the analysis in the United States, according to two sources.

U.S. authorities declined to comment.

Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde personally approached German authorities to request to send the black boxes to Germany to have the data extracted there, a separate source with knowledge of matter told Reuters. Airlines are not usually involved in such decisions, according to current and former investigators.

The airline could not comment on the investigation, a spokesman said in response to questions about the incident.

However German officials said they too did not have the most recent software needed to extract the data, so the devices were eventually sent to France.

Partial data from the flight data recorder was shared informally late on Monday with U.S. and French investigators in Paris, but nothing from the cockpit voice recorder, three sources familiar with the matter said.

It is common for the host investigator to closely guard voice recordings to protect privacy but unusual for relatively little data to be available a week after being downloaded. 

“As an investigator, it is hard to understand the logic behind withholding safety-of-flight information,” Greg Feith, a former senior air safety investigator with the NTSB, said on Facebook on Thursday.

Ethiopia said on Thursday it had begun analysing cockpit data and was working with U.S. and European experts.

Following Ethiopian Airlines’ last major crash, outside Beirut in 2010, an investigation led by the Lebanese and to which France contributed blamed crew mismanagement of the aircraft and poor communication in the cockpit.

The airline - led by the same CEO as today - said the report was “biased, lacking evidence, incomplete,” pointing to evidence of an explosion on board.

HIGH STAKES

Most crash investigations end up pinpointing a combination of factors.

For decades, reconstructions by independent investigators have been credited with reducing air accidents to record low levels. The system of co-operation works by sticking to technical details and avoiding blame or other agendas.

Safety experts worry that too many turf battles can cloud the progress of an investigation.

“The sole purpose of an accident investigation is to reduce the chances of something ever happening again,” said Paul Hayes, safety director at the Flight Ascend Consultancy.

The Flight 302 crash triggered the global grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, wiping billions off the company’s market value. Also on the line are more than $500 billion worth of 737 MAX orders.

Ethiopian Airlines is regulated by the country’s civil aviation authority, but its resources are far more extensive. The carrier’s operating revenue in the 2017/18 financial year was $3.7 billion. This dwarfs the regulator’s budget, which is 360 million Birr ($12.5 million) for this fiscal year.

CRASH SITE

Responsibility for leading the probe fell to Ethiopia because the crash occurred on its soil. Nairobi-bound Flight 302 went down into farmland minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa.

The crash killed people from 35 countries, all of which are also entitled to examine the crash site and join in the investigation. America, China, Kenya, Britain, Canada, Israel, France and other nations have sent investigators.

Some nations were unhappy that Ethiopia was using heavy earth-moving equipment at the site, potentially damaging evidence or human remains, although others said that was the only way to move heavy items such as engines.

Some foreign officials also complained of being unable to access the site in the days after the crash.

After Israel’s team were not given permission to visit the site, the Israeli prime minister eventually called the Ethiopian prime minister on Wednesday, a statement on the Israeli prime minister’s website said. 

A permission letter - from Ethiopian Airlines - was issued late on Thursday for the Israeli ambassador and emergency response unit ZAKA, a source familiar with the incident added. 

The European Union’s aviation safety agency, EASA, waited more than a week to be allowed to join the crash investigation.

“The Ethiopian investigation body is very keen to keep a very, very closed circle around the investigation,” EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky told the European parliament on Monday.

-Reuters

Death toll jumps as aid workers fight clock to rescue more African cyclone victims

Rescue workers plucked more survivors from trees and roofs to safety on Thursday, a week after a cyclone ripped through southern Africa and triggered devastating floods that have killed hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Helicopters whirred above the turbid, reddish-brown flood waters searching for people to ferry back to the port city of Beira, the main headquarters for the huge rescue operation in Mozambique.

The death toll in that country was now 242, Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said, adding that the number of dead was rising as rescue workers found bodies that had been hidden by now-receding floodwaters.

Correia told a news conference earlier that around 15,000 people, many of them very ill, still need to be rescued. “Our biggest fight is against the clock,” he said, adding that 3,000 people had been rescued so far.

In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the death toll from Cyclone Idai jumped to 139. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which is coordinating food drops, said 200,000 Zimbabweans would need urgent food aid for three months. In Malawi 56 people were confirmed dead.

“This is a human catastrophe of the highest order,” businessman Graham Taylor told Reuters, saying he had seen “hundreds of bodies that had been washed up by the floodwater” while trying to return home after visiting his son in Beira.

“What struck me first was the number of people on the rooftops and in trees. You could hear communities shouting for help - for hours, for days,” said Taylor, who also described meeting people on the badly damaged highways heading towards the devastated areas in search of family members. 

“It was a humbling experience,” he said. “I saw no sign of government assistance.”

Even when people are safely out of the floods, the situation is dire. Some 30 percent of the 88 centres set up by the government for displaced people still have no food, Environment Minister Correia said.

Mozambique’s National Disasters Management Institute (INGC) said some 358,000 hectares (885,000 acres) of crops had been destroyed. Thirty-nine hospitals had been damaged, it said.

‘PLEASE PRAY FOR US’

Idai lashed Beira with winds of up to 170 km per hour (105 miles per hour) a week ago, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

The cyclone’s torrential rains caused the Buzi River and the Pungue River, whose mouths are in the Beira area, to flood their banks. The scale of the flooding is huge - the U.N. satellite agency says floodwaters covered 2,165 square km (835 square miles) on March 20.

With more rain forecast for Beira on Thursday, Christian worshippers sang hymns on an empty tract of land where a pulpit was all that remained of their Pentecostal church. 

“Here in Beira, all the churches have collapsed from this cyclone... Oh my dear brothers, please pray for us,” said Pastor Luis Semente. “Only God can restore this.”

A priority for Thursday was pushing into flooded areas that had not yet been surveyed, said Connor Hartnady, leader of a South African rescue task force.

Rescuers also want to move people from a basketball stadium near the Buzi River - one of the worst affected areas - to a village on higher ground, where aid organisations are setting up a temporary camp with a capacity of up to 600, he said.

Days after the disaster struck, aid agencies were struggling to meet the needs of displaced people.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was sending two emergency units to Beira that would provide drinking water for up to 15,000 people and sanitation facilities for 20,000 people, as well as shelter kits.

“More help is needed, and we are continuing to do all we can to bring in more resources and to reach more people,” said Jamie LeSueur, the IFRC’s operations head in Mozambique.

The WFP stepped up airdrops of high-energy biscuits and water purification tablets to isolated pockets of people stranded by the floodwaters.

The U.S. military stands ready to help the cyclone rescue effort, a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said, according to the minutes of a humanitarian meeting held on Wednesday. China, a major investor in Mozambique, also expressed its willingness to help, Portugal’s Lusa news agency reported. 

The Christian charity Tearfund said the timing of the floods was disastrous, with harvesting due to start in coming weeks. Even before the floods, 5.3 million people had been experiencing food shortages, said its Zimbabwe director, Earnest Maswera.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who declared three days of national mourning starting on Wednesday, has said the eventual death toll from the cyclone and ensuing floods could rise to more than 1,000.

Mozambique’s tiny $13 billion economy is still recovering from a currency collapse and debt default.

The cyclone knocked out Mozambican electricity exports to South Africa, exacerbating power cuts that are straining businesses in Africa’s most industrialised economy.

-Reuters

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