Africa News In Brief

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PRESIDENT MUGABE, SAVORING VICTORY, PLANS TAKEOVER OF FOREIGN MINES

 

(GIN) – Robert Mugabe’s wide lead in the just-ended presidential poll over his long time rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, may have ended a years-long struggle between the two men for the nation’s top spot.

Pres. Mugabe trounced his rival, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, capturing 2 million votes or 61 percent of the July 31 vote total. With that, the victorious 89 year old President extends by another 5 years his 33-year rule of the southern African nation.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai, who captured one million or 34 percent of the votes, is challenging the outcome, presenting evidence of fingerprint ink that wore off (allowing multiple votes), multiple IDs, missing voter lists, names of the dead listed on voter rolls, among other acts.

Zimbabwe’s population is over 13 million with more than 3 million abroad as economic fugitives or asylum seekers, according to U.N. and World Bank reports.

Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa all sent congratulations to the re-elected President. Neighboring Botswana broke ranks with other African observers, saying that conditions for free and fair elections were not met because of widespread irregularities including delayed voter lists, and voters being turned away at the polls.

Despite the multiple challenges to his victory, the President unveiled a new economic initiative in which foreign banks and mines will be seized and redistributed to local investors.

Under the initiative, ordinary people will take charge of their economy through a “unique wealth-transfer model,” the party announced in a statement released to the press.

“The people of Zimbabwe have given President Robert Mugabe and (his party) ZANU-PF a clear mandate to transform the economy through indigenization and economic empowerment,” said Minister Saviour Kasukuwere in a BBC interview.

Bank owners will be compensated as Zimbabwe takes control of their companies but foreign companies will be compelled to turn over 51 percent of their assets to black investors without compensation.

“When it comes to natural resources, Zimbabwe will not pay for her resources,” Kasukuwere said in a press interview. “If they don’t want to follow the law, that’s their problem.”

“We want to welcome investors, as long as it’s in partnership with our people,” the minister continued. “It’s a logical economic plan that has been put forward by our party for Zimbabweans to achieve greater benefits from their resources. Forty-nine percent is a huge part of the cake.”

Non-compliant mine owners risk losing their licenses, he said.

UGANDA SILENCES CRITICS WITH TOUGH NEW LAW

 

Uganda’s ruling party, lead by President Yoweri Museveni, has cancelled the right to march, rally or demonstrate under a new “public order management” rule that critics say gives police dictatorial powers to curb free speech.

The law gives the police powers to control public meetings, including the use of force to break up gatherings held without prior authorization. Even meetings of a political nature held between three people must be authorized by the police, according to the law.

 

Activists who tried to defeat the bill in court note that the country’s constitution guarantees the right to hold peaceful gatherings.

 

The bill was passed amid a crackdown against street protesters in the capital, Kampala, where the security forces routinely use tear gas and live ammunition to disperse opposition supporters.

 

Maria Burnett, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, called the law a “devastating” attack on freedom of expression and assembly.”

 

Meanwhile, in a demonstration pre-cleared with police, Uganda’s beleaguered gay community held its second annual Gay Pride parade on the shores of Lake Victoria in the city of Entebbe.

 

Part of a weekend-long event, there were film screenings, a fashion show in drag, and all-night (and into the morning) parties. Two hundred and fifty tickets were sold but only about 50 showed up due to fear.

 

Uganda is among the most homophobic and anti-gay of its neighbor countries. An Anti-Homosexuality Bill not only targets gays and lesbians but holds a three-year jail sentence for anyone who fails to tell authorities, within 24 hours, that someone they know is gay. That obligates teachers, landlords, friends and relatives.

The bill, introduced in 2011, expired without a vote but was reintroduced in November 2012 although it has not yet come up for a vote and there are signs that it may not.

Activist Frank Mugisha, who appeared dressed in a sailor’s costume with a rainbow sash and called himself Captain Pride, said, “I just wish I had a switch that would make everyone who’s gay say they are gay. Then everyone who is homophobic can realize their brothers, their sisters, and their aunts are gay.” He confessed that he was shocked to see so many people in attendance.

One participant, Ambrose, who was in charge of selling Pride-themed T-shirts, explained that the dynamics of being gay in Uganda have changed: “This is who we are. We are here to stay. And we are not going anywhere.” w/pix of Ugandans protesting curbs on free speech

 

SOLDIERS BLAMED FOR FATAL WEAPONS DEPOT BLOWUP

 

(GIN) – One year after a weapons depot blew up in the Ouenze district of Brazzaville, destroying homes and taking some 240 lives, the government has charged local soldiers with arson and harming state security.

The disaster initially caused fingers to be pointed at the government which had failed to relocate the munitions facility despite the large number of families in the immediate vicinity.

The blasts were so powerful they devastated the surrounding area and blew out windows in Kinshasa, the capital of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo across the Congo river.

More than 2,300 people were injured in the Mar. 4 tragedy at the Mpila munitions depot. Hundreds of homes, churches, businesses and government buildings were flattened. Some 17,000 were left homeless.

Members of an inquest into the explosion initially suspected faulty electric wiring. But according to the Republic of Congo prosecutor Essamy Ngatsé: “This theory no longer holds.”

At least 30 people have so far been arrested and charged, among them 23 military officers who were said to have breached state security and committed arson. But their case files have, for a long time, been circulating between various offices of the judiciary, including the court of appeals and the Supreme Court.

“If the trial proceeds based on this cacophony that we have observed, it’s hard to believe that it will be a just and fair trial,” said Roche Euloge Nzobo of the Congolese Observatory for Human Rights.

According to the South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, the Brazzaville explosion is unlikely to be an anomaly in Africa, as there are many more inappropriately managed arms and ammunition stockpiles in most African regions. These stockpiles will continue to present major risks to civilian communities if the problems associated with them are not urgently addressed.

Colonel Marcel Tsourou, former deputy secretary general to the National Security Council, is among the defendants. His wife Charlotte Tsourou called the officer’s indictment political but declined to provide further details.

Meanwhile, thousands of people remain homeless one year later, according to the U.N. news agency IRIN. “We have not relocated all those affected to date. We are relocating them gradually, as we are building houses on selected sites,” said Emilienne Raoul, the Republic of Congo minister for humanitarian action. w/pix of lawyers for accused soldiers

 

WORLD CHAMPION RUNNER PLEADS TO SAVE MONEY-TRANSFER FIRMS

 

(GIN) – Olympic and world champion runner Mo Farah has joined the campaign to preserve critical money transfer companies now threatened by big banks which plan to end the service to poor nations such as Somalia.

Mo Farah said the decision by the British bank Barclays could mean life or death to millions of Somalis. Many U.S. banks have already ended the service, citing heavy U.S. Treasury fines if wired money falls into the the hands of the Somali insurgency.

The looming cutoff is expected to occur next Saturday. It comes at a time when more and more Somalis have returned from abroad to invest in their home country, build new businesses and jump-start the nation’s economy after years of chaos.

Farah’s native Somalia has no regulated banking system and gets 50% of its income through remittances.

This weekend Farah added his name to a petition calling on the bank to extend its deadline of Aug. 12 and asked his 800,000 Twitter followers to do the same.

Rushana Ali, shadow MP, said: “Countries across Africa and Asia will be badly affected and none more so than Somalia, a population reliant on what their friends and families send. Barclays’s decision will indeed cost lives – quite apart from potentially triggering a new crisis in the region.”

Somali migrants send home approximately $1.3 billion in remittances each year — more than Somalia receives in humanitarian assistance, development assistance and foreign direct investment combined. About 20 percent of the total comes from Somalis based in the United States, who send approximately $214 million — almost the equivalent of one year of U.S. foreign assistance to Somalia — to families and friends each year.

 

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