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Tuesday, 17th July 2018
1:35:06am

Central Africa

Articles related to Central Africa

Congolese politician Jean-Pierre Bemba, weeks after his conviction for war crimes was quashed at The Hague, was nominated by his party on Friday for December’s presidential vote, in what could be the stiffest challenge to President Joseph Kabila’s ruling coalition.

The election is due to choose a successor to Kabila, who is term-limited after having governed since 2001, and could herald Democratic Republic of Congo’s first democratic transition after decades marked by repeated coups and prolonged civil war.

But Kabila has refused to commit to standing down, sparking protests in which dozens of people have died. Some of his allies are now publicly arguing that he has the right to run again.

After he was announced as the Movement for the Liberation of Congo’s (MLC) presidential candidate at a party congress in Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, Bemba briefly addressed his supporters over the phone.

He is currently free in Belgium awaiting sentencing by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on a witness tampering conviction.

“I thank all the participants. Thank you for your confidence,” he said to cries of joy and dancing by MLC members. “I will return soon.” 

Bemba’s candidacy would represent serious competition to either Kabila or his hand-picked successor. Bemba served as vice president to Kabila during a 2003-06 transitional government and is popular in western Congo, including Kinshasa.

He finished runner-up to Kabila in a 2006 election that touched off street battles in Kinshasa between militiamen loyal to him and state forces.

The ICC quashed his convictions in May related to murder, rape and pillage by fighters he sent to Central African Republic to back CAR’s then-president Ange-Felix Patasse.

Bemba was one of only four people convicted by the permanent war crimes court in its 16 years of operation, and the highest ranking among them.

It is not clear, however, if he will be able to run in December as the sentencing process for the witness tampering conviction could drag on for weeks, or even months.

That could prevent him from returning to Congo before the Aug. 8 deadline to register his candidacy. Congolese officials have also offered mixed messages about whether he might face further criminal prosecution at home.

Several opposition leaders, including the exiled millionaire businessman Moise Katumbi, have been nominated by their parties to stand in the election. It was originally scheduled for November 2016 but has been repeatedly delayed. 

The MLC and other opposition parties have endorsed the idea of presenting a single opposition candidacy but it is not clear they will be able to agree on who that should be.

-Reuters

A group of Roman Catholic lay movements in Democratic Republic of Congo has announced three days of nationwide "major actions" in August aimed at forcing President Joseph Kabila to resign.

"Times are serious - the peace and stability of the country as well as that of the region are under threat," the Lay Coordination Committee (CLC) declared in a statement released after weekend planning.

Lay leaders of the church, which is a powerful force in the vast central African country, "will issue an appeal for general mobilisation in all key sectors of the nation in its first big actions to take place on August 12, 13 and 14," it said.

The population will be urged to mount linked protests in August, including "peaceful marches, sit-in demos, 'dead city' operations, general strikes and acts of civil disobedience," the statement said. "Dead city" operations aim at bringing cities to a standstill.

The aim is to get rid of Kabila, who has been in power since 2001 but stayed on after his mandate expired in December 2016, and his government, seen by the movement as "real obstacles to credible, transparent and peaceable elections."

At the end of 2017 and early this year, anti-Kabila demonstrations organised by Roman Catholics led to a violent crackdown by security forces, with a total of at least 15 dead reported around the country.

The CLC accuses Kabila of manoeuvring to run for office again and obtain a third mandate, in breach of a constitutional ban and his duty to turn power over to the victor in elections set to take place on December 23.

The platform of political parties in the national unity government gathered around Kabila plans to see that "the name of its candidate will be known before August 8", spokesperson Felix Kabange has told the media.

August 8 is the last day for electoral authorities to accept candidates for the presidential polls.

-AFP

An Equatorial Guinean opposition figure who had been jailed for "sedition" was tortured to death in prison earlier this week, his party, the Citizens for Innovation (CI), said.

Juan Obama Edu, a "political prisoner", died on Monday after being tortured, CI said in a statement received by AFP late on Tuesday.

Military authorities and the director of the Evinayong prison where Obama Edu was held refused to allow him to receive medical care, according to the party, which was dissolved in February with 21 of its members convicted of sedition.

The 21, which included Obama Edu and the party's only MP, were sentenced to more than 30 years in jail over scuffles at an election rally in Aconibe a week before legislative polls last November. 

The CI statement alleged that Obama Edu was tortured by the Aconibe police commissioner.

In March, the CI said another of its activists, Santiago Ebee Ela, was tortured to death while in detention in mid-January.

CI lawyers lodged official allegations of torture against Security Minister Nicolas Obama Nchama and three police units on June 11.

Aconibe was Obama Edu's hometown - as well as that of CI leader Gabriel Nse Obiang.

The announcement of Obama Edu's death comes in the run-up to a "national dialogue and political interaction" announced for mid-July by the country's iron-fisted leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

He has ruled the oil-rich country of 1.2 million since 1979 - a tenure that has been strongly criticised for corruption and human-rights abuses.

Obiang's proposal of a forum comes in the context of a failed coup last December - one of more than half a dozen attempts to unseat him over the years - that was followed by a crackdown on the opposition.

The last such "national dialogue" was held in 2014 and five opposition parties were legalised after that, including the now-banned CI. The main opposition party at the time, the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS), boycotted the talks.

On Tuesday, five opposition parties said they were ready to participate in the event provided the talks "were held outside Equatorial Guinea (like in former colonial ruler Spain) or in Equatorial Guinea but with the backing, help, protection and security of the international community."

They also called for a general amnesty before the process. The group includes the Party for Progress of veteran politician Severo Moto Nsa, who has been living in Spain since 1982 after being sentenced to 62 years over a failed 2004 alleged coup.

The country currently has 17 officially recognised political parties.

-AFP

The UN Human Rights Council voiced alarm on Friday at serious violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo's restive Kasai region, and agreed to send experts to assess whether Kinshasa is making recommended changes.

The UN's top rights body adopted by consensus a resolution "firmly condemning all violence, incitement to hatred and to ethnic violence ... committed by all parties in the conflict in Kasai."

The text, a compromise between two competing draft resolutions, was softer than what might have been expected following a report last week by a group of the UN investigators that accused DRC troops and militia members of committing "crimes against humanity" in the region.

In their report, the investigators said both DRC's security forces and militia members were targeting civilians in Kasai in a "systematic or widespread manner," highlighting atrocities including murder, mutilation, rape, sexual "enslavement" and other "inhuman acts". 

Following that report, two competing draft resolutions were initially presented to the UN's top rights body, one by the EU and the other by a group of African countries.

Following discussions, the texts were merged into the resolution adopted on Friday, which stopped short of using phrases like "crimes against humanity" and also refrained from reinstating the team of investigators who have been probing abuses on the ground. 

Instead it called for dispatching a new team of two rights experts to follow up on the investigator's findings and assess how the government is implementing their recommendations, especially when it comes to fighting impunity.

DRC's ambassador to the UN in Geneva Zenon Mukongo Ngay hailed that "deadlock was avoided", thanks to "concessions made by both sides".

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Slovakian representative Anton Fric said however the bloc regretted that the resolution "doesn't fully capture the seriousness and the scope of the past and present violations and abuses of human rights in the Kasai region."

"All the victims of these atrocities, including those committed by the security forces, are still demanding accountability," he said.

But he nonetheless hailed the final text for "establishing a credible follow-up."

The Kasai region plunged into violence in September 2016 after government troops killed a local chieftain, Kamwina Nsapu.

The chieftain was opposed to the Kinshasa government and now rebels fighting in his name are battling government forces and a pro-government militia called the Bana Mura.

The crisis is the latest in what has proven to been one of Africa's most troubled nations, which has been devastated by two regional wars and countless rebel insurgencies since the mid-1990s.

-AFP

Democratic Republic of Congo moved closer to declaring its Ebola outbreak over on Wednesday when the health ministry said it had completed surveillance of the last people who came into contact with patients and had not found any new cases.

If no further cases of the deadly disease are confirmed after one more three-week incubation period, Congo will be able to officially declare an end to the outbreak, which is believed to have killed 29 people since April. 

Health officials have traced contacts and deployed an experimental vaccine in northwestern Congo to head off what they feared could have become a wider contagion after the virus spread to Mbandaka, a river port city of more than 1 million people.

The latest outbreak has been seen as a test of global health authorities’ ability to counter Ebola after being criticised for responding too slowly to an epidemic in West Africa from 2013-2016 that killed more than 11,000 people.

More than 3,300 people have received Merck’s experimental vaccine and health workers kept a watch on 1,706 people who came into contact with Ebola patients, official said. 

This is Congo’s ninth outbreak of Ebola since the virus was discovered near northern Congo’s eponymous river in 1976.

-Reuters 

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