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Saturday, 17th November 2018
7:17:41pm

Central Africa

Articles related to Central Africa

Gabon's Constitutional Court has intervened in a crisis surrounding hospitalised president Ali Bongo, declaring to a storm of criticism that it had modified the constitution to address his "temporary incapacity".

Speculation about Bongo's future has swollen since the 59-year-old president was taken to hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on October 24.

After initially saying that Bongo had been admitted for "severe fatigue," his office on Sunday admitted that he had undergone surgery.

It said his condition had "greatly improved" and was "recovering most of his functions" but gave no details about his illness or when he would return. 

The president of the Constitutional Court, Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, late on Wednesday informed reporters that the court had decided to modify the constitution in order to address the scenario of "temporary incapacity" by the head of state.

It inserted text in the charter that said: "In the event of the temporary unavailability of the president... certain functions... may be carried out either by the vice president or the prime minister accordingly, on special authorisation of the Constitutional Court."

In its first step under this clause, the court authorised Vice President Pierre-Claver Maganga Moussavou to chair a cabinet meeting. Ministers have not gathered since Bongo's absence, meaning that key decisions have been placed on hold.

The court had been asked to intervene by Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze Ngondet.

Opposition figures and civil society groups reacted furiously to the court's move, accusing Mborantsuo - a close ally of Bongo and of his father Omar Bongo, who ruled the country for nearly 42 years until his death in 2009 - of illegality.

The court "in no respects has the right to modify the constitution," said Paul-Marie Gondjout of the National Union, one of the main opposition parties.

"She is in effect opening up a new front in Gabon's deep political crisis."

The constitution, before its modification by the court, stipulated that only the president had the right to authorise the vice president to organise a cabinet meeting.

It also says that if there is a definitive vacation of power - a situation that has to be confirmed by the Court - the speaker of the Senate is named interim president pending the holding of presidential elections within 60 days.

"This lady (Mborantsuo) cannot be allowed to trample on our constitution and give away the sovereignty of the Gabonese people," opposition senator Jean-Christophe Owono Nguema, told AFP. "I fear the worst for our country."

In contrast, Telesphore Ondo, a constitutional specialist, said the court did have a "power of interpretation (and) regulation of the institutions" and was acting legally in amending the constitution at a time of "turbulence."

-AFP

Two Congolese opposition leaders on Monday pulled out of a wider deal to support a single candidate in next month’s presidential election, seemingly ending hopes of a united front against the handpicked successor to Joseph Kabila. 

Felix Tshisekedi and Vital Kamerhe had, alongside other opposition leaders, agreed to give up their candidacies on Sunday after signing an agreement to back businessman Martin Fayulu in the Dec. 23 poll.

That marked a rare moment of unity for Democratic Republic of Congo’s splintered opposition, whose infighting in recent years has often played into the hands of Kabila, who has ruled since his father was assassinated in 2001.

But scores of Congolese opposition supporters demonstrated in the capital Kinshasa on Monday against the choice of Fayulu, a former Exxon Mobil manager and businessman, to face off against Kabila’s preferred successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

Tshisekedi, some of whose supporters burned tyres and branches during the protest, then withdrew his signature in response to “the requests of the party base which did not agree with it,” his head of cabinet, Peter Kazadi, told Reuters.

Kamerhe told Reuters the “base was angry” and that had persuaded him to rethink.

Kabila triggered a political crisis when he refused to quit when his second elected term expired in December 2016, but he surprised many Congolese when he did then agree in August to step down.

December’s election, if it goes ahead without incident, would mark the Central African country’s first peaceful handover of power since independence from Belgium in 1960. 

Several prominent opposition leaders, including former vice president Jean-Pierre Bemba and millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi, were barred by authorities from running - decisions the opposition labelled politically motivated.

Some opposition leaders were willing to stick to Sunday’s agreement. One of their number, Freddy Matungulu, urged them to stick together.

“For me withdrawing support for the agreement is not an option, also because I am convinced that no party can win the elections on its own, not even (Tshisekedi’s) UDPS,” he told Reuters.

-Reuters 

Leaders of Democratic Republic of Congo's divided opposition will meet in Geneva on Thursday to choose a joint candidate for the upcoming presidential elections, sources said on Tuesday.

"All opposition heads will gather in Switzerland to attend a meeting to designate a joint candidate," one of the challengers, Freddy Matungulu, told AFP.

"The public has high expectations. We as a group cannot make any claim on winning the presidential elections unless we act together," he said.

Peter Kazadi, deputy chief of staff to leading opposition figure Felix Tshisekedi, said Tshisekedi would take part, and the meeting would probably last three days.

The December 23 elections are critical for the future of the DRC, a sprawling, mineral-rich state that has never experienced a peaceful transition of power since it gained independence from Belgium in 1960.

Twenty-one candidates are standing in the presidential vote, which will be combined with a parliamentary election and elections to the provincial assemblies.

At stake is who will succeed President Joseph Kabila, 47, who has been in power since 2001.

His second and final elected term in office ended nearly two years ago, but he stayed in office thanks to a caretaker clause in the constitution.

Months of speculation over Kabila's intentions, marked by protests that were repressed at a cost of dozens of lives, ended in August when he threw his weight behind Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a hardline former interior minister and loyalist.

On October 25, opposition parties agreed during talks in Johannesburg to name a unity candidate by November 15.

One of the challenges facing them is to forge a joint stance on the use of electronic voting machines - a technology that some critics condemn as an invitation to electoral fraud.

-AFP

The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most severe in the country’s history with 319 confirmed and probable cases, the health ministry said late on Friday.

The haemorrhagic fever is believed to have killed 198 people in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where attacks by armed groups and community resistance to health officials have complicated the response.

Congo has suffered 10 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered near the eponymous Ebola River in 1976.

“The current epidemic is the worst in the history of DRC,” Jessica Ilunga, a spokeswoman for the ministry told Reuters.

With over 300 cases the epidemic also ranks as third worst in the history of the continent, following the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa where over 28,000 cases were confirmed and an outbreak in Uganda in 2000 involving 425 cases.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that security represented the primary challenge in the current epidemic, followed by community mistrust. 

“When there is an attack, the operation actually freezes. So we hold the operation. And when the operation stops, the virus gets advantage and it affects us in two ways,” he told reporters in Kinshasa.

“And one is catching up on the backload. Because when operations are stopped, there is always a backload of vaccinations, or contact tracing. And the other, the second problem, is that more cases are generated because we can’t vaccinate them,” he said.

The confirmation of new cases has accelerated in the last month and an emergency committee of World Health Organization experts said in October that the outbreak was likely to worsen significantly unless the response was stepped up.

-Reuters

The Democratic Republic of Congo is condoning the torture of political and human rights activists, including the use of gang rape, beatings and electric shock treatment on detained men and women, a campaign group said Monday.

The UK-based Freedom from Torture group, which helps rehabilitate torture survivors, accused the DRC authorities of routinely detaining activists in inhumane conditions, holding them without charge and torturing them.

"Torture, including rape, is endemic in the detention system, irrespective of the detaining authority or type of detention facility," the 99-page report stated.

"Most of those who are detained, men and women alike, are raped, on multiple occasions and by multiple perpetrators. The rapes take place in a context of absolute impunity." 

The report is based on 74 medical and legal files of Congolese nationals over the last five years who fled to Britain after being allegedly detained and tortured.

Physical and psychological injury

Sixty-five of the cases, men and women, said they were sexually tortured, the vast majority raped at least once, including vaginally, anally and orally.

More than half of those who were raped described episodes of gang rape, the report said, resulting in profound physical and psychological injury.

Beatings, burning with heated metal or cigarettes, positional torture, sharp force trauma such as cutting, stabbing or biting, being forced to stare at the Sun, partial asphyxiation and electric shocks were also among the methods of torture reported.

"Different branches of state security - police, military and intelligence agencies - commit torture and other human rights violations from the point of arrest, and at both official and unofficial detention sites," the report said.

"The government is not only failing to prevent torture, it is tacitly or actively condoning torture," it said.

Human Rights Minister Marie-Ange Mushobekwa said she was not "aware" of the report and did not give an immediate response to the allegations.

In a separate development, 17 pro-democracy campaigners, arrested in the DRC capital of Kinshasa last Thursday, have gone on hunger strike, their organisation said on Monday.

"They have been refusing to eat since Saturday. We went (to the prison) to give them food, but they refused, saying they only needed freedom," said Mephy Pongo, of the Citizens' Vigilance Movement, known by its initials in French as Vici.

Of the three woman in the group, one was suffering intense abdominal and back pains after a police officer trampled on her during her arrest, Pongo said.

Twenty-one candidates are running in the DRC's presidential elections on December 23.

The ballot is being closely watched by Western governments. The vast African nation is attempting its first peaceful transition of power since the end of Belgian colonial rule in 1960.

-AFP

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