Africa Headline News

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

World/Africa: Lack of clean water poses extra threat to millions facing famine: UN

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)

Nearly 27 million people in countries facing famine – Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen – do not have access to safe water, which can be as deadly to severely malnourished children as a lack of food, the U.N. children’s agency said on Wednesday. More than 20 million people – a number greater than the population of Romania or Florida – risk dying from starvation within six months in the four countries due to conflict and climate change, the United Nations said last month. UNICEF said water shortages, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene posed additional risks to malnourished children in the four countries and could lead to fatal diarrhoeal diseases. ” … unsafe water can cause malnutrition or make it worse, no matter how much food a malnourished child eats, he or she will not get better if the water they are drinking is not safe,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF director of emergency programmes, said. “The combination of malnutrition, dirty water and poor sanitation sets off a vicious cycle from which many children never recover,” Fontaine said in a statement. In northeast Nigeria, where millions of people have fled an insurgency by Boko Haram militants, 75 percent of water and sanitation infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, leaving 3.8 million people without access to safe water, UNICEF said. In Somalia, which has been hit by the worst drought in 20 years, many water sources have dried up or were contaminated, leaving about a third of the population without access to water, sanitation and hygiene, it said. UNICEF said conflict had left 5 million people in South Sudan and at least 14.5 million people in Yemen with no access to safe water, basic sanitation and hygiene. “We are working around the clock to save as many lives as we can as fast as we can,” Fontaine said.

Cameroon and the tumultuous autumn of an African patriarch

(Financial Times)

At 84 he is nine years younger than Robert Mugabe. And he has been in power for 35 years, two years short of the Zimbabwean leader’s extravagant haul. Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon, is however, as ruthless a despot, and his role in stifling the potential of one of Africa’s most promising economies, is as great. One difference between two of Africa’s most enduring anachronisms is that Mr Biya has aged more quietly. The catalogue of abuses committed by his regime have received less attention for it. That may be about to change. Last week Mr Biya joked in Rome, after a visit to the Pope, that very few governments last beyond 30 years these days. He claimed his country was stable as a result of that longevity. It is not and the joke was in poor taste. Cameroon is in the early throes of an upheaval that mirrors one it experienced 25 years ago when a pro-democracy movement spearheaded by the disgruntled anglophone minority came close to unseating Mr Biya. He rode out that storm, dividing, or jailing, his opponents, and mastering the art of staging elections which rubber-stamped a perpetual grip on power. Cameroon is now one of only a few African states, including Angola, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, that have weathered the tumultuous aftermath of the cold war, granting only token concessions to more accountable forms of government. Thus, it still has a difficult transition to come. One sign of looming trouble, is the re-ignition of the crisis in the anglophone west. Cameroon has been divided along linguistic lines since 1961 when colonial-era French and British-administered territories were brought together in a federation after a referendum. The unification of the two parts in a centralised state 11 years later has been a bone of contention for anglophones, who make up a fifth of the population, ever since. Frustrations boiled over last year in the two English-speaking provinces due to perceived attempts to impose French in courts and schools. The region has been in turmoil since, with schools shuttered. Rather than seek to defuse this crisis with dialogue, Mr Biya has chosen once again to put it down with force — fearing perhaps that it could precipitate a wider, national revolt. For more than two months, the region has been subjected to an internet blackout. Heavy-handed policing has caused numerous deaths and dozens of activists have been arrested. On Friday, Akere Muna, one of Africa’s most distinguished lawyers and a potential challenger to Mr Biya in polls next year, was hauled before the gendarmerie.

DR Congo: Bodies of two U.N. investigators found in Congo: government

(Reuters)

Villagers in Democratic Republic of Congo discovered the remains of two U.N. investigators and their Congolese interpreter who went missing this month in an area engulfed in a violent uprising, a government spokesman said on Tuesday. Michael Sharp, a U.S. citizen, and Zaida Catalan, a Swedish national, had been in a group of experts monitoring a sanctions regime imposed on Congo by the U.N. Security Council when they disappeared in Kasai Central province. Villagers found three bodies – two Caucasians and one Congolese – not far from where the experts group vanished, according to the government. Police informed the authorities in the capital Kinshasa on Monday and a team including the provincial police commissioner was sent to the scene to identify the bodies. “It’s now a certainty. It is the two investigators. We identified the third body in the grave with them as their Congolese interpreter,” Communications Minister Lambert Mende told Reuters. John Sharp, the father of Michael, posted on his Facebook page that the bodies of two Caucasians had been found in a shallow grave, saying that there was a “high probability” that it was the U.N. officials. “This is a message I hoped never to write,” he wrote, adding that DNA tests and dental records would be used to confirm the identities of the bodies. The United Nations said it was still examining the remains. “We cannot, at this moment, confirm that they are the bodies of the experts. We hope to be able to provide more information on this soon,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said. The Swedish Foreign Ministry said it would not comment on the incident as it was being handled by the United Nations. Congo’s Kasai Central region is the epicenter of the Kamuina Nsapu insurgency that has now spread to five provinces in the loosely governed Central African country. The Kinshasa government said earlier this month the two U.N. officials had fallen into the hands of unidentified “negative forces” along with four Congolese who were with them near the village of Ngombe in Kasai Central.

DR Congo: Turmoil deepens in DRC as election talks collapse

(Financial Times)

Political turmoil in the Democratic Republic of Congo deepened on Tuesday following the collapse of mediated talks aimed at preparing for the delayed election to succeed President Joseph Kabila. The Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS), the largest opposition party, called for a new campaign of peaceful resistance across the country against what it described as Mr Kabila’s “presidency for life programme”. It urged the international community to stop engaging with the Kabila government and called for peaceful nationwide marches, as well as by the diaspora, on April 10. Mr Kabila, who has been DRC president since 2001, should have stepped down on December 19 but failed to hold elections on time. With some fearing that the fragile but resource-rich nation could collapse into anarchy, he struck a deal on December 31 with the opposition to form a unity government and to hold elections within a year. Three months on, however, the government has yet to form because the two sides cannot agree on how the prime minister, who is to be nominated by the opposition, should be selected or who should lead a committee to oversee implementation of the December 31 deal. The country’s Catholic bishops, who had been mediating the negotiations, withdrew from the talks on Monday. They said the deadlock “reflects the lack of political will and the inability of the political and social actors to find a compromise by prioritising the interests of the nation and our people”. After meeting with the bishops on Tuesday, Mr Kabila pledged to “find a solution to the persistent divergences”, the prelates’ spokesman said. No details were given of what this might involve. The collapse triggered sporadic violence in Kinshasa as people took to the capital’s streets to vent their frustrations. Police fired tear gas at protesters and surrounded the UDPS headquarters. Analysts and diplomats said that, while Mr Kabila must take primary responsibility for the impasse, the opposition, still reeling from the death of longtime leader Etienne Tshisekedi, were not blameless. “However the ball is very much in Mr Kabila’s court now,” said Hans Hoebeke, a DRC analyst with the International Crisis Group, a think-tank. ”The president has been more or less silent for the last three months so this would be a good time for him to speak out.”

Ethiopia sends 16 to prison for trying to create new state

(AP)

An Ethiopian court has sentenced 16 people to prison after finding them guilty of trying to create a separate state in the tense Oromia region. All 16 are members of the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front. They received sentences of four to 13 years. The Ethiopian Federal High Court said in its ruling Tuesday the members tried to carry out terrorist acts across the country and supported other group members in remote parts of Oromia. The region has been a hotspot for anti-government protests that began in November 2015. The protests later spread across the country and demanded wider political freedoms and the release of political prisoners. The protests led to the killings of hundreds of people and the declaration of a nationwide state of emergency that remains in effect.

Namibia expects heavy maize loss from pest outbreak

(Xinhua News Agency)

Namibia is set to lose about 5,000 tonnes of maize to pest outbreak, Eddie Hasheela, Chief Agricultural Scientist in the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, said Tuesday. According to Hasheela, it is estimated that this year, the northern and northeastern regions, the country’s main maize producers, will produce about a quarter less than their annual production, which is estimated at about 20,000 tonnes. Fall armyworms and American bollworms have invaded maize fields in regions including Zambezi, Omusati, Kavango West and Kavango East since early this year. More losses are expected, with the damage and pests impact still hard to assess, Hasheela said. Meanwhile, containing the pests has been difficult, despite farmers having received government assistance to spray the crops to control the insects, he said. “The biggest challenge is the big moles flying in the air, and would reproduce once the temperature become favorable. And the chemicals would only work once sprayed by all farmers at the same time, in the right quantity and way, which is when the pests are still young and haven’t entered the plants,” he added. Outbreak of the worms was also reported in other SADC countries like Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique.

Nigeria: President Buhari acts to fill vacant ministries

(Reuters)

Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has submitted the names of two ministerial nominees to the Senate, the upper house said on Wednesday, moving to reassert his authority after returning from seven weeks of medical leave. Buhari nominated Stephen Ocheni, of Kogi state and Suleiman Hassan from Gombe state, to fill the vacant labor and environment ministries, said the Senate on its official Twitter account. They were the first major political appointments since the ailing president returned from Britain on March 10 following medical leave for an unspecified illness. Since then, he has worked only a handful of hours each day. Nigerian law makes it mandatory for a minister to be appointed from each of the country’s 36 states. The role of minister of environment was left open earlier this year after Amina Mohammed, from Gombe, became the United Nations’ deputy secretary-general. The former minister of labor – James Ocholi, from Kogi – died in a car crash a year ago and the position has since remained vacant. The nominees will be vetted by the Senate and, if confirmed, their names will be returned to Buhari for ministerial roles to be formally assigned to them.

Somalia: Lawmakers approve new cabinet after challenge

(AP)

Somalia’s parliament has endorsed the country’s new cabinet, a victory for the prime minister after more than 100 legislators challenged his nominations last week. Acting parliament speaker Abdiweli Sheikh Ibrahim said Wednesday that 224 MPs out of the 341 present voted in favor of the new cabinet, while 15 rejected it and two abstained. Somalia’s chief justice has sworn in the cabinet members. Some lawmakers had said the proposed cabinet went against the power-sharing formula that Somalia’s powerful clans agreed on previously. The fragile central government is trying to assert itself in this long-chaotic country after the election of Somali-American President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed last month. The international community has poured in hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years for Somalia’s political and economic recovery.

South Sudan/Sudan: Over 60,000 S.Sudanese enter Sudan in three months: UN

(Agence France Presse)

More than 60,000 South Sudanese have entered Sudan in the first three months of 2017, the UN refugee agency said on Wednesday, fleeing famine and war in the world’s youngest nation. South Sudan, formed after splitting from the north in 2011, has declared a famine in parts of the country where 100,000 people are said to be facing starvation. The UN refugee agency UNHCR was initially expecting 60,000 South Sudanese refugees to arrive in Sudan in the whole of 2017, but that figure has already been exceeded in the first three months. “The number of new arrivals has surpassed expectations, signalling a likely worsening situation in South Sudan,” it said in a statement. UNHCR anticipates a continuous influx of South Sudanese refugees throughout this year, but is concerned about a drop in funding to meet their needs. Aid groups have denounced a “man-made” famine caused by bloodshed in South Sudan where civil war has forced people to flee, disrupted agriculture, sent prices soaring and cut off aid agencies from some of the worst-hit areas. South Sudan has been engulfed by war since 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his rival and former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup. More than 365,000 South Sudanese refugees, most of them women and children, have arrived in Sudan since December 2013.

Tanzania: Country to raise spending by 7 pct in 2017/18 fiscal year

(Reuters)

Tanzania plans to raise spending by 7 percent to 31.69 trillion shillings ($14.23 billion) in its 2017/18 (July-June) fiscal year, the Finance Ministry said in a draft budget proposal on Tuesday. The economy grew an estimated 7 percent last year, matching 2015, Finance and Planning Minister Philip Mpango said. Investors have been unnerved by unpredictable policies from the government of President John Magufuli while private sector credit growth has been hampered by a steep drop in the money supply and a spike in non-performing loans. Tanzania, which is East Africa’s second-biggest economy, has stepped up spending in recent years to build a standard gauge railway and new roads and expand its ports. Mpango said in a presentation to members of parliament on Tuesday that the budget for the next fiscal year will continue in that vein. “Some of the flagship infrastructure projects being implemented by the government include construction of a standard gauge railway network,” he said, adding the project will be allocated 800 billion shillings. Mpango said that out of planned development expenditure of 11.8 trillion shillings this fiscal year, only 3.97 trillion shillings had been spent by February due to delays in receiving loans and grants from external sources. The government said it was forced to hold back plans to tap international credit markets for financing of infrastructure projects over the past year due to high borrowing costs. He said the government plans to lower the budget deficit to 3.8 percent of gross domestic product in the next fiscal year, from an estimated 4.5 percent of GDP this fiscal year. Mpango said the government plans to borrow 6.15 trillion shillings from domestic sources.

Ugandan president urges sustained crackdown on corruption

(The New Vision)

President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday [28 March] congratulated the security forces for successfully arresting two senior government officials, Ogor Mike, an economist, and Godfrey Turyabahika, a commissioner in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, who were suspected of taking bribes from investors. The president said he appreciated the security during a meeting with the inspector-general of police, Gen Kale Kayihura, at State House, Entebbe. “I have told you, in this “Hakuna Mchezo” [This is serious business] period of no more jokes, anybody involved in the act of asking for bribes will be handled harshly under the law,” remarked the president. Museveni noted that taking bribes has become a habit in public service, and particularly the Ministry of Finance, and Economic Planning. He said officials who take bribes do not care about the country, but only themselves. He reiterated that the two officials will appear in court for trial soon.

(Africa News Bureau <africanewsbureau@worldbank.org>)

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