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Tuesday, 17th July 2018
1:30:10am

Opinion

Articles that reflect opinion

Ethiopia and Eritrea declared their “state of war” over on Monday and agreed to open embassies, develop ports and resume flights, concrete signs of a rapprochement that has swept away two decades of hostility in a matter of weeks.

The announcement promised to end of one of Africa’s most intractable military stand-offs, a conflict that has destabilised the region and seen both governments funnel large parts of their budgets into security and soldiers.

“The people of our region are joined in common purpose,” Ethiopia’s new prime minister Abiy Ahmed said, according to a tweet from his chief of staff, after signing a pact on resuming ties with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

The two agreed to work together on ports, Ethiopian state media said, offering landlocked Ethiopia and its growing economy the prospect of a new route to the Red Sea.

Abiy came to office in April and announced reforms that have turned politics on its head in his nation of 100 million.

With the 41-year-old former intelligence officer at the helm, the ruling coalition has ended a state of emergency, released political prisoners and announced plans to partially open up the economy to foreign investors.

In his boldest move, Abiy offered last month to make peace with Eritrea, 20 years after the neighbours started a border war that killed an estimated 80,000 people. Full-blown fighting had ended by 2000, but their troops have faced off across their disputed frontier ever since.

Abiy also said he would honour all the terms of a peace deal, suggesting he might be ready to settle the border row, particularly over the contested border town of Badme.

On Sunday, he flew to neighbouring Eritrea and embraced Isaias on the airport runway. Thousands of Eritreans came onto the streets to cheer them and the two men danced side by side to traditional music from both countries at a dinner that evening.

OBSOLETE SANCTIONS

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised the leaders after arriving in Addis to meet Abiy on Monday.

The reconciliation was “illustrative of a new wind of hope blowing across Africa,” he told reporters in the African Union headquarters. Sanctions imposed on Eritrea might become obsolete after the deal, he added.

The U.N. imposed penalties including include an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants in neighbouring Somalia - a charge it denies.

Both sides tweeted summaries of Monday’s agreement and repeated the reference to honouring the boundary decision.

“1)State of war has come to an end;2)The 2 nations will forge close political,economic,social,cultural & security cooperation 3)Trade, economic&diplomatic ties will resume,4)The boundary decision will be implemented,5)Both nations will work on regional peace,” read the Ethiopian version.

The “State of war that existed between the two countries has come to an end,” Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, wrote on Twitter.

State-owned Ethiopian Airlines will resume flights to Asmara next week, Ethiopian state-affiliated media reported.

The deal signed Monday also includes a resumption of phone connections, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said.

Ethiopia’s dollar-denominated bonds rose to their highest in at least 10-weeks on Monday.. The bond has clocked healthy gains for the last three sessions, adding some $3 since Wednesday’s close.

The shake-up by Abiy, a polyglot former soldier from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, has won plaudits from Asmara to Washington and drawn comparisons to the 1980s ‘perestroika’ reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

However, it has also attracted opposition from hardliners in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that has dominated the ruling EPRDF coalition - and by association the country and economy - for nearly three decades.

Two people were killed in a grenade blast at a massive pro-Abiy rally in Addis Ababa on June 23, with the finger of blame pointed at those opposed to his reform drive.

Ethiopia is a key ally of the United States and other Western powers in the fight against militants in the fragile Horn of Africa region.

-Reuters

Zimbabwe's main opposition leader and presidential hopeful Nelson Chamisa believes he will ride a wave of youthful optimism to election victory, emulating Barack Obama, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau.

In an interview with AFP, the 40-year-old Chamisa said Zimbabweans were craving generational change in the landmark July 30 elections. The vote will pitch him against President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a septuagenarian who was once a pillar of the Mugabe regime.

"People are connecting with young leadership," Chamisa declared.

"The world is moving... young people are taking charge, look at France, look at Canada, look at New Zealand - look at the United States," he said.

 
 

Barack Obama became US president aged 47, Justin Trudeau became Canadian prime minister at 43 while France's Emmanuel Macron became president at just 39.

"Most of the young people out there are connecting with our message, are connecting with my age - they are connecting with the vision I'm articulating," said Chamisa.

Chamisa has led the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) since the death of his mentor and predecessor Morgan Tsvangirai in February.

He will face off against 75-year-old Mnangagwa, whose Zanu-PF party - which has ruled Zimbabwe since independence 38 years ago - has sought to portray Chamisa as a political novice.

"I'm happy that they are accusing me of being young, it's an offence that I take," said Chamisa from behind an Apple laptop in his office overlooking Harare's Africa Unity Square.

The public space was once a site of major protest against former president Robert Mugabe, 94, who ruled for 37 years in which he clamped down hard on his political opponents.

 'Change is in the air' 

"Change is in the air - it's almost everywhere," Chamisa said, suggesting that Mugabe's exit from public life was "the beginning of that change".

Mugabe resigned in November after an unprecedented military challenge to his rule that saw armoured personnel carriers on the streets of Harare and drew accusations from some observers that Zimbabwe had suffered a coup.

The army, which took control of state TV and parked its tanks in front of parliament, denied it was seeking power and insisted it was performing an operation targeting "criminals" around Mugabe.

That was largely accepted to mean his wife Grace and her "G40" faction which backed her to succeed Mugabe as president over his former deputy, Mnangagwa.

Within days, Mugabe stepped down as head of state, hounded out by the once-loyal ruling party.

"People are very clear on their choices, they know that (Mnangagwa) represents the past with myself representing the future," said Chamisa who beamed confidently and wore a charcoal suit and a burgundy tie.

"There is no way Mnangagwa is going to beat us, he is going to be a distant second - we are ahead by miles."

But Chamisa and his MDC party face an uphill battle to win the all-powerful presidency.

The opposition has been riven by division since Tsvangirai's death with several MDC splinter groups emerging, threatening to dilute Chamisa's share of the vote.

Polling has also suggested that Zanu-PF still enjoys strong support in its northern heartland and in some rural areas.

Chamisa alleged that irregularities in election preparation, particularly linked to the electoral roll and ballot printing, could thwart his ambition to take the presidential oath.

 'Fallen for the ruse'? 

"Whereas in the past we have seen overt and flagrant violation of human rights, what we are seeing is almost a subtle, subterranean approach," he said.

Chamisa alleged that issues with the voter roll and ballot papers were examples of "technical violence" and accused the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission of "manipulating the processes".

"But we are still very optimistic - once we have the printing of the ballot papers in a manner that is transparent, we are going to win hands down," he said.

The international community is hoping that the presence of foreign observer teams, including a European Union mission for the first time in 16 years, will ensure a fair vote.

But Chamisa accused some observers of being seduced by Mnangagwa's pro-democracy "rhetoric".

"We feel that they have fallen for the ruse, that they have been sold the dummy that Mr Mnangagwa is ready for free and fair elections when in fact he is not," he said.

Chamisa warned that his party would seek to "stop any process that is illegal".

"We won't allow any repeat of the elections where they cheated my predecessor," he said referring to several previous polls that were widely condemned for being rigged.

Deadly attacks on MDC supporters in 2008 forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the second round of voting, handing Mugabe victory.

-AFP

An investigation by amaBhungane and the INK Centre for Investigative Journalism has cast new light on a secretive British-registered company whose extensive colonial-era land holdings have become a hot political issue in Botswana.

Politicians across the southern African country’s political divide have expressed concern about the Tati Company, which is believed to own large tracts of land in the North-East District while many Batswana are said to need land for housing, cultivation and grazing.

There is a widespread perception that the company’s main client is government and that it overprices the land it sells. AmaBhungane could find no evidence in Tati’s accounts or elsewhere either to confirm or disprove this claim.

The land, in Francistown and surrounding areas, was conceded in the late 19th century by the king of Matabeleland, Lobengula.

 
 

The Tati Company was incorporated in 1914 when Tati Concession Ltd ran into financial difficulties.

It passed into the hands of South African multimillionaire Bernard Glazer, whose ownership was confirmed in a controversial deal with Botswana’s first president, Sir Seretse Khama, after the country gained independence.

Glazer died in 1984.

The Tati Company is registered in the United Kingdom, but its holding company is a mysterious vehicle registered in the tax haven of Panama, Amarena Holdings, which is ultimately controlled by the The Bernard Glazer Will Trust, incorporated in South Africa.

Tati’s 2016 accounts, sourced from the UK company register, valued the company’s net assets at 366-million pula (about R470-million today) and its pre-tax earnings from the ownership and trading of land at 42-million pula (R54-million), with the profit mainly coming from the upward revaluation of its land holdings.

One expert has alleged that together with other absentee landlords and freehold farmers, Tati owns more than 40% of land in the north-eastern Botswana. However, Tati’s directors would not comment on this claim.

Two of the directors, David Nathan and Neville Sweidan, are senior executives of the Johannesburg branch of audit firm Grant Thornton, which has long been associated with Tati.

Nathan refused to answer a long list of queries about Tati, including why a company operating in Botswana is owned by an entity registered in Panama.

He referred amaBhungane to Tati’s Botswana-based general manager, Ogaisitse Khama, a distant cousin of former president Ian Khama.

Colonial plunder 

After numerous attempts to draw a response from him over a six-week period, Khama emailed: “Thank you for your inquiry. Please be informed that Tati Company is a private company. We therefore have no comment on the story and have not confirmed its accuracy.”

The accounts raise other questions, which were put to Nathan and Khama but not answered. These included why Sam Glazer – Bernard Glazer’s son – was paid a 6-million pula (R8-million) consulting fee in 2016.

They were also asked:

  • How much land it currently owns and how much it has sold over the years to the Botswana government, at what price
  • Whether the company has a close relationship with the Khama family, and whether this had any bearing on the agreement between Tati and Seretse Khama in 1970, which has been criticised as a “sweetheart” deal
  • Whether the company sells land at inflated prices, as claimed by its critics.

Questions to the Tati Land Board, which oversees land transactions in north-east Botswana, and the land ministry about the extent of Tati’s current holdings also went unanswered.

However, the company’s 2016 accounts list the company’s portfolio of investment properties as including 12 farms and 11 lots.

The total valuation of these properties was about 140-million pula (R181-million).

Critics in Botswana view Tati as a beneficiary of colonial plunder, and complain that its land holdings are a brake on development in Francistown.

South Africa’s land problems

Writing in the Botswana Sunday Standard in February this year, veteran journalist Bashi Letsididi commented that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s public stance on the need for expropriation as a way of redressing South Africa’s land problems could prompt fresh scrutiny of Tati’s holdings in Botswana.

In August 2003, the opposition Botswana National Front tabled a motion in the Botswana Parliament calling on the government to expropriate all idle and unutilised land held by the Tati Company and other absentee landlords.

The government rejected the motion, saying this would contradict the principles of Botswana’s liberal democracy.

The opposition Botswana People’s Party (BPP) – once the dominant political force in Francistown – takes a hard line on Tati.

BPP president Motlatsi Molapisi told amaBhungane that the company is protected by its relationship with the Khama family. The deal reached between Seretse Khama and Tati in 1970, four years after independence, made no sense, he said.

“Batswana are still paying for this decision through a shortage of land,” Molapisi said. “The company is still able to sell land and dictate what development should happen on the land they have sold.

“To my knowledge, Tati did not buy any of that land, but now they sell it to government at a ridiculous price. Development in Francistown and the areas around it has been stagnant for decades because of this issue, and farmers complain about the shortage of grazing land.”

'Full, free and undisturbed possession'

Molapisi said the BPP has long advised government to take back Tati’s holding. However, the authorities had refused to act because of what he claimed was the company’s relationship with the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP).

“We now realise that the ruling party will never take this land back unless we do something about it ourselves,” he said.

According to the 1911 Tati Concessions Land Act, the company once owned the whole of the Tati district, now known as the North East.

The Act confirmed the company in “full, free and undisturbed possession as owners of all the land within the Tati District, the limits of which ... are … from the place where the Shashe River rises to its junction with the Tati and Ramokgwebana Rivers, thence along the Ramokgwebana River to where it rises and thence along the watershed of those rivers.”

The original Tati concession is thought to have totalled some 1.6 million acres (almost 650 000 hectares). The Francistown municipality covers 19 657 hectares.

Controversial circumstances

The BDP MP for Tati East, Ignatius Moswaane, once the mayor of Francistown, said his office is currently researching how best to move the Tati issue forward and push government to reconsider its stance.

“Our forefathers signed off the land to Tati Company under very controversial circumstances, and went as far as to let them make laws that would protect them from anyone who would try to take back the land in future,” Moswaane said.

He said it is disheartening that after government allowed the company to keep the land after independence, nobody has tried to challenge the decision legally.

“We need to grow in the north and have no way of doing that because there is a serious land shortage. These people are selfish because they sell at inflated prices and still dictate to buyers on what development they can undertake on the land.”

He said that some Batswana have to wait more than 25 years to be allocated a plot.

Moswaane said it is worrying that the government shows no sign of trying to address the issue, and is unwilling to provide information about Tati.

“As a country, we observe the rule of law – that is why we have to deal with the legal aspect first. If this thing does not get corrected now, it will affect us forever. We need to push government to do something.”

Land shortages

Botswana’s constitution allows for expropriation “in order to secure the development or utilisation of … property for a purpose beneficial to the community”, where a law authorises this, and if there is “prompt payment of adequate compensation”.

In 2016, Sunday Standard reported that Moswaane had raised the land issue with the parliamentary accounts committee, saying that the company was becoming a state within a state because of its vast land holdings, while Batswana suffered land shortages. The then-deputy permanent secretary in the land ministry, Bareng Malatsi, replied – incorrectly – that it was difficult to “control” the Tati land issue because the land in question was obtained at the time of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, which was then administered by dikgosi (traditional leaders).

He told the committee that the land falls under freehold system and was treated as private land when Botswana gained independence in 1966.

The February 1970 agreement between Seretse Khama’s government and Glazer also handed Tati rights to “all precious and base minerals and their ores, coal, limestone, precious stones, minerals oils and … all other minerals whatsoever upon or under the property”.

It assigned Tati the right “at all times to enter the property or part thereof for the purpose of inspection, survey, prospecting or mining”.

It stipulated that when any Tati land was sold, the government should “free of cost of issue to Tati Company a certificate of all rights to all minerals in respect of each such piece of the property”.

Government policy

This was in sharp contrast with policy in most newly independent African countries, which vested mineral rights in the state. It was not immediately clear whether Tati still had mineral rights.

Tati agreed in 1970 to donate and sell some land to the government. Attempts to establish from the land ministry how much land the company let go and how much it retained under this agreement were unsuccessful.

The ministry of land management, water and sanitation services did, however, disclose that thereare no immediate plans to acquire land from Tati.

Director of lands Segomotso Maroba said adequate freehold land has been purchased in Gerald Estate, a suburb of Francistown, to augment state holdings to accommodate growth. “Further, there are undeveloped or unallocated pockets of serviced land within the city that are not developed.

“However, it is a standing government policy that, funds permitting, freehold land be acquired to augment tribal and state land as and when the need arises or for infrastructure development.”

She did not answer an amaBhungane question about how much the government has spent on land purchases from Tati over the years.

Future expansion of the city

However, in 2004 University of Botswana academic Zibani Maundeni wrote that in addition to 8 132 hectares for the existing township, the government had bought 11 525 hectares in Gerald Estate “for future expansion of the city”.

Maundeni could not be contacted for further information, including the price of the sale.

According to another University of Botswana academic, Boga Manatsha, the Botswana government has struggled to resolve the land crisis in the north-east of the country since independence because of its market-driven approach.

“In most cases under the willing-buyer willing-seller approach, as observed in north-eastern Botswana, landlords demand exorbitant sums for their land, leading to a willing-seller, unwilling-buyer scenario,” Manatsha said.

In an academic article entitled “The land question and colonial legacy in north-eastern Botswana”, Manatsha claimed that Tati Company, absentee landlords and freehold farmers own 42% of the land in the north-east.

Tati’s 2016 accounts list its company’s portfolio of investment properties as: “Farm 6/NQ, Farm 29/NQ, Farm 32/NQ, Farm 42/NQ remainder, Farm 45/NQ, Farm 46/NQ, Farm 46/NQ-1, Farm 56/NQ, Farm 60/NQ, Farm 65/NQ, Farm 66/NQ, Farm 69/NQ remainder, Lot 37175, Lot 16136, Lot 32845, Lot 32846, Lot 32848, Lot 32856, Lot 37345, Lot 37346, Lot 37196, Lot 41332, Lot 41333.”

Tati's annual accounts

Neither the land ministry nor the land board would provide details of the location or size of these holdings. “You can obtain such information by conducting a deeds search at the Deeds Registry (in Francistown) and also inquire directly from the Tati Company,” Maroba said.

The deeds registry refused access to the records unless Tati gave permission.

Inspection of Tati’s annual accounts showed some details of its property sales, but generally it did not identify the buyers.

In one case in 2008, Tati sold three of its Francistown commercial properties to Botswana-listed PrimeTime Properties for 75-million pula (R98-million), making Tati PrimeTime’s third largest shareholder.

Since then, much of Tati’s profit appears to have come from large upward revaluations of its properties. Mostly due to the these, Tati’s investment properties swelled in value from 7-million pula (R9-million) in 2010 to 140-million pula (R181-million) in 2016.

According to Tati’s accounts, the property valuer was “independent” and based his numbers on market values.

Manatsha, the academic, states that concession documents dating from the 1870s were written in English and explained to Lobengula, who could neither read nor write, by “a white man” (British adventurer Sir John Swinburne). Lobengula’s signature is identified in all the concession agreement documents by a cross.

Radical measures

He argues that in granting the concession, Lobengula did not intend to give away the land for good or to sell it, because he was not the “rightful owner” – and that the Europeans were aware of this.

“What ought to be done is that government must call Tati Company and other freehold farmers to the negotiation table. It is only after such discussions that radical measures can be put in place. But at the moment no serious discussions have been done over this issue,” he writes.

Tati, according to records filed with the UK company register, is majority-owned by Amarena Holdings, registered in 1975 in the offshore jurisdiction of Panama.

The website OpenCorporates, citing Panama’s registry, names Amarena’s directors as Julius Feinstein, Charles Zell Rangecroft and Bernard Glazer, who is given as the president of the company.

How current this is is unclear, as Glazer died in 1984, while Feinstein, one of the founders of audit firm Kessel Feinstein – Grant Thornton’s forerunner – died in 2002.

It is unclear whether Rangecroft, a former Kessel Feinstein partner and later Geneva resident, is still alive.

Glazer’s labyrinthine network of offshore companies is detailed in a document sourced from Wikileaks called the “Blue File”.

Although the authors are not named, the file states that it was the product of investigations requested by Glazer’s daughter, Michelle.

In a court application in 2004 she argued that she gave up certain share interests in exchange for a lump sum payment, based on incomplete and misleading information about the assets.

The Blue File states that in October 2015 Michele Glazer “unilaterally” withdrew her case against the Glazer estate in the Pretoria High Court and the authors “suspect an arrangement with her family ensued”.

Tax and other regulations

The Blue File claims that the administrators of Glazer’s estate may have set up mechanisms to funnel vast sums from Glazer’s investments especially mining royalties held across Southern Africa to other locations “to avoid tax and other regulations”.

The file states that efforts to thoroughly investigate the finances of Amarena – described as Glazer’s offshore investment company – or the Swiss Bank accounts held by Glazer before his death were hampered by lack of funds.

Several efforts to reach Michelle Glazer on her mobile phone were unsuccessful.

Attempts to get comment about the Blue File and its allegations from Grant Thornton’s Nathan also failed.

He told this reporter never to call him again, adding that he does not talk about the company to journalists.

Nathan again referred amaBhungane to Khama, who also failed to answer the follow-up questions about the Blue File. He did not return calls or respond to emailed questions.

As South Africa plans to expropriate land from white farmers, slum dwellers are also hungry for land reform, experts said, as protests, illegal invasions and evictions highlight rising inequality in rapidly growing cities. 

Towns and cities remain racially divided more than 20 years after the end of apartheid, when millions of blacks were forcibly removed from white-only urban areas to live in crowded townships and homelands, with buffer zones separating the races.

Although black people have since migrated to cities for jobs and better opportunities, economic inequality has worsened, said Geoff Bickford, a programme manager at South African Cities Network, a think tank which promotes urban development.

“The most lucrative urban land is still in the hands of the minority - be it the state, or previously advantaged white individuals, or black individuals who are now moving into the middle class,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The government aims to accelerate rural land reform before next year’s parliamentary elections, as Julius Malema’s radical left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party has pushed for land expropriation from the white minority without compensation.

But urban conflicts over land also need to be addressed, experts said, with better planning to create more affordable housing and better access to jobs, schools and hospitals.

South Africa is one of the continent's most urbanised countries, with two-thirds of people living in towns and cities, United Nations data shows, with a projection that this could rise to 80 percent by 2050.

The 1913 Land Act banned blacks from owning or renting land outside native reserves, to which those without jobs in urban white households and businesses were deported. Passes were required to enter urban areas in search of work.

After the repeal of segregation laws in 1991, large cities like Johannesburg and Pretoria have grown, and become more racially mixed, but different races continue to occupy separate spaces, Statistics South Africa said on its website. www.statssa.gov.za/?p=7678

“Ownership remains pretty racialised but what we’ve seen in South Africa since 1994 is also a class-income dimension shift,” said Lauren Royston, a senior associate with the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa.

    “We’ve seen some black South Africans able to afford properties in the market, but poorer (ones) remain excluded.”

Some wealthy blacks now live alongside whites in luxurious, leafy suburbs, often behind electric fences. But the poor majority remain in dusty, cramped townships, commuting long distances to city centres where they can work and use services.

“There is a big demand in cities for affordable housing close to work and home,” said Elmien du Plessis, an urban land expert at South Africa’s North-West University.

Almost 350,000 families are on waiting list for government-owned rental homes in Cape Town against a supply of about 15,000 units a year, data from cash-strapped city authorities shows.

FRUSTRATION

In South Africa’s second biggest city, Cape Town, inequality greets tourists as they leave the airport and pass Khayelitsha slum - a sea of congested iron shacks out of view of green suburbs on surrounding hills.

Musa Gwebani of the Social Justice Coalition, a campaign group based in Khayelitsha - one of the world’s largest slums - said people living there wanted to be included in the land reform debate.

“The declaration ... that there will be expropriation without compensation fuelled a hunger for land and brought to the fore the levels of desperation of the dispossessed black majority living in informal settlements,” she said.

“The situation in there is so dire and everyone wants to get out ... There is a lot of frustration on the ground and people there don’t understand why they can’t go out and build their structures in empty spaces.”  

Khayelitsha was established in the 1980s during apartheid as a vast dormitory for the thousands of workers who moved to Cape Town in search of jobs. According to the 2011 census, it is home to nearly 400,000 residents, 99 percent of them black.

“Something as simple as a clothing line can generate a lot of conflict,” Gwebani said, also highlighting protests over a lack of toilets, which has led to children being raped while relieving themselves in dark fields and bushes.

“We got a lot of people living in such level of congestion while there are a few others with two or more holiday homes in the same space.”

Data from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform shows that 7 percent of registered property in towns and cities belongs to blacks, who make up nearly 80 percent of South Africa’s population.

Meanwhile 11 percent is in the hands of whites, who account for 9 percent of South Africans and about 80 percent of urban land belongs to companies, such as mining firms, or is held in trusts by government on behalf of black communities.

The remaining 2 percent is owned by other races, including Indians and foreigners.

Fed up with living in squalor, many poor urban residents have invaded vacant private and state-owned land, where they build temporary houses, leading Cape Town authorities in 2009 to set up an anti-land invasion unit.

“There has been a lot of violence,” said Gwebani.

“The city of Cape Town officers come in the middle of the night and in the middle of the rain and demolish people structures without notice, without an eviction order, with nothing, and so people become homeless overnight.”

Protests and court battles have also been generated by the sale of publicly-owned land to upmarket developers that activists wanted to be used for affordable housing. 

“We say they are land grabbing but what they are actually doing is ... taking it upon themselves to get to a point that they can actually access resources in cities,” said Bickford of the South African Cities Network.

-Reuters 

Villagers in northern Mozambique have been under siege from alleged Muslim militants who have decapitated 23 civilians and burnt at least 230 houses in the past three weeks.

Thousands have now fled to the city of Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado Province.

The militants, who started the insurgency in October, are called al-Sunna or al-Shabaab and are believed to be behind the beheading of five villagers on Wednesday in the Quissanga district.

Yussuf Adam, contemporary history professor at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, and one of three authors of a study by the African Centre for Strategic Studies released in March, said there were massive human rights violations on the side of both the militants and the Mozambican defence force fighting them. 

He said the militants’ “actions have changed – first they were not killing people, but now they are doing that”.

“The state is reacting in the same manner – killing, flaying, burning and closing mosques.”

More than 70 civilians are reported to have been killed since the beginning of the insurgency eight months ago; 16 militants and three soldiers were also killed.

About 470 people – including 314 Mozambicans, 50 Tanzanians, three Ugandans, one Somali and more than 100 unidentified people allegedly linked to the militants – have been detained.

At the beginning of the insurgency, the militants mainly targeted Mozambique Defence Force units, police stations and state buildings.

But in the past three weeks, small bands consisting of about six men and women have been focusing on targeting civilians.

Although the Mozambican military says the insurgents are weakening because their groups have reduced in size, a study released last month in Maputo by academics Salvador Forquilha, João Pereira and Sheik Saide Habibe states that they are reducing the size of their units to reduce losses if they come under attack by the army.

Reports last week, confirmed by the government, stated that Democratic Republic of Congo forces were on the ground providing support to Mozambique. In January, Mozambique and neighbouring Tanzania signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in the fight against the militants.

Research suggests the militants either have ties to or are inspired by international terrorism, and holding similar aims and goals, such as “establishing an Islamic state following sharia law and eschewing the government’s secular education system”.

Mainstream imams contacted by the African Centre for Strategic Studies in two northern districts reported that one of the leaders of the insurgents was a Gambian by the name of Musa and the other was a Mozambican named Nuro Adremane, who is said to have received a scholarship to train in Somalia.

The group, researchers found, capitalises on local grievances against the government, which they use to drum up local support. Researchers state that the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, which the militants espouse, reinforces an ideology introduced in the region in recent years, apparently by young men who received scholarships to study in Sudan, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

Sheik Bakar, of the Islamic Council of the district of Montepuez, is cited by the African Centre for Strategic Studies as saying the group’s leaders were influenced by Mombasa-based imam Sheik Aboud Rogo, who was assassinated in 2012 after being placed on the US and UN sanctions list for allegedly supporting Somalia’s al-Shabaab militants.

One of the group’s several names, Swahili Sunna, “suggests a goal of establishing a Swahili state among the Swahili-speaking populations”.

“The reference appears to harken back to an earlier period when a series of Swahili city-states dotted the east African coast from southern Somalia to Mozambique,” the research found.

Swahili is spoken in three African regions: the Great Lakes, east Africa and in southeast Africa, which includes Mozambique.

Adam said social and economic stresses in Cabo Delgado could be the reason the militants’ message of achieving justice through the establishment of an Islamic state has found resonance among huge segments of the youth in areas where there are high rates of unemployment.

-City Press

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