11 Jun

A Chinese coal plant on a UNESCO-protected island in Kenya

Environmental activists in Kenya are determined to show that coal has no place in the country’s energy future. This week, dozens of activists descended on the capital in what campaigners described as the “first anti-coal demonstration in Nairobi.”

The coalition of advocacy groups is protesting the building of a coal-fired energy plant on the island of Lamu, a major tourist attraction, and a UNESCO heritage site, besides coal mining in the Mui Basin in Kitu county in eastern Kenya.

The over 1,000-megawatt coal plant in Lamu is part of an ambitious project aimed at generating electricity to help boost the region’s socio-economic landscape.

Built through a joint Kenyan-Chinese venture, the plant will initially rely on combustible imports from South Africa—a move environmentalists say will damage natural and marine resources, and destroy fishermen and farmers’ livelihoods.

Carrying signs that read “Coalition of death,” “Clean coal is a lie,” and “Don’t be fooled by fossil fool. Coal is not cool,” marchers said the government should put the lives of “Kenyans before coal.”

The protests followed an unsuccessful legal battle to try and stop the plant’s opening, with activists arguing that the threat of climate change has made renewable sources of energy like wind and solar more attractive across the world.

Officials insist they have carried out due diligence, and that the plant will start production to help meet future power demands. The Kenyan-Chinese partnership, however, underlies another effort Beijing is undertaking globally to expand its coal-fired power capacity.

As China’s investment in renewable energy projects at home have dramatically increased, Chinese corporations have also been building hundreds of coal plants abroad, some in countries that today burn little or no coal. This include in Africa, where the promise of subsidized development is pushing many nations to invite the Chinese.

Energy experts say these coal plants run against global emission-cutting drives proclaimed in the Paris Agreement, would harm significant steps taken toward establishing green economies, while the waste and toxins would hurt local communities.

To read the full article, click here.

08 Jun

A new investigation shows the scale of illicit financial flows out of West Africa

A questionable web of shell companies and tax-evasion schemes have cost West African countries millions of dollars in revenue, a new investigation shows.

West Africa Leaks, an investigative project by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) in collaboration with West African journalists, has uncovered how these practices take money out the region. ICIJ says its findings were drawn from a pool of 30 million documents, including leaked financial records.

But with Mauritius’ notoriety as a tax haven, SNC-Lavalin managed to avoid $8.9 million in taxes altogether. It set up a shell company in Mauritius “for the specific purpose of helping the engineering giant avoid tax payments,” ICIJ reports.

Documents also showed Marcel Tchifteyan, a businessman with close ties to the government in Benin Republic, has routed some earnings for his Erevan superstore in Cotonoucommissioned by then president Thomas Boni Yayi in 2009through a company in Panama to a Monaco bank account for years, avoiding possible taxes.

In Niger Republic, a $31.8-million contract to build a refrigerated slaughterhouse was signed by a “little-known” operator two months after he set up offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands in 2009. A coup d’etat in 2010 halted operations but ICIJ says it’s unclear “whether any of the earnings were ever taxed.”

Aside from the revelations from the ICIJ investigation, other high-profile incidents of illicit financial flows have come to light in recent months. Last July, a lawsuit by the US Justice Department sought to recover $144 million in assets, including a $50-million New York condo and an $80-million yacht believed to have been procured with proceeds from bribes paid for lucrative Nigerian oil contracts.

For countries typically dealing with plugging wide gaps in funding for infrastructure and capital projects, illicit flows due to corruption and tax evasion schemes have a significant effect. And it’s not just a regional problem: Last year, a report by Global Financial Integrity showed Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most vulnerable region, losing up to $69 billion in 2014 alone.

To read the full article, click here.

07 Jun

Ethiopia’s unexpected step towards peace with long-time enemy Eritrea

Ethiopia’s premier just made the surprise announcement that it’s going to make peace with its enemy Eritrea.

In a statement made last night (June 5), the ruling coalition declared that it will fully accept the terms of an agreement signed in 2000, which ended the war between the two nations over a disputed border.

Recognizing the deal is a huge step forward in bringing about a peaceful conclusion to the political fight that has rattled on for decades.

From 1962 to 1993, Eritrea was ruled as a province of Ethiopia, and the two nations amicably separated after a vote in 1993. But that decision left Ethiopia landlocked, which kick started a bitter rivalry and raised questions over national pride, and regional dominance.

The unrest helped catalyze a war in 1998, which erupted over the town of Badme, which both sides claimed as their own. The brutal battle killed around 70,000 people.

However, after the war ended, a boundary commission awarded the contested town to Eritrea, a decision Ethiopia refused to accept. Since then, diplomatic attempts to get both sides talking have faltered, leading to years of no-war, no-peace stalemate.

Seeking to reverse all this, Addis Ababa appealed to the cultural and historic ties between the two countries.

“The suffering on both sides is unspeakable because the peace process is deadlocked,” Fitsum Arega, chief of staff to prime minister Abiy’s office, said on Twitter. “This must change for the sake of our common good.”

The contention between the two nations hasn’t been helped by the authoritarian stance that both countries took over the last few years.

Eritrea, led by president Isaias Afwerki since independence, grew to be a reclusive state. The country’s human rights track record remained abysmal, as it regularly subjected citizens to arbitrary arrests and harsh treatment.

The one-party state also promoted a national conscription service that drafted citizens for an indefinite period of time, forcing them into “slave labor” conditions.

And because of the repression, many Eritreans fled to neighboring countries, Europe, and Israel, making them one of the top refugee contributing nations in the world.

To read the full article, click here.

04 Jun

South Africa’s school pit latrine scandal: Why children are drowning

During his first week at school, five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a pit latrine in northern South Africa. That day in January 2014 will be one his father James Komape will never forget.

As he takes me back to the school in Chebeng village, where the tragedy struck, his pain is palpable. “When I arrived at the opening of the toilet hole all I could see was a small hand,” he says.

“Some people were standing looking into the hole, no-one had thought to take him out. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen. “No-one should die like that.

He pauses for a moment before continuing. “He must have been trying to call for help to maybe even climb out. It’s hard to accept that my son died alone and probably afraid.”

Mr Komape struggles to make eye contact. Instead he fixes his eyes on the neat row of brick toilet stalls, which were built after his son died in the toilet of rusty corrugated iron just metres away.

The iron sheet that had served as the seat collapsed when Michael sat on it. He fell in, along with the seat and its white plastic lid, the authorities said. But this is not a one-off problem affecting one school.

While access to proper sanitation is a basic human right enshrined in South Africa’s constitution, many pupils have no choice but to use pit toilets.

How did things get so bad? Analysts say it is partly a legacy of apartheid, since under white-minority rule virtually no resources were allocated to develop schools for poor, predominately black children. Also to blame is the failure to maintain existing infrastructure, however basic.

Back at their home just outside Polokwane, the main city in Limpopo province, the Komapes tell me they want justice for Michael’s death.

With the help of Section27, a human rights law firm, the family are set to appeal against a recent court ruling which rejected their claim for damages over the incident.

To read the full article, click here.

30 May

Somaliland authorities arrest demonstrators, journalists covering protest

Police in Somalia’s breakaway Somaliland region arrested more than 40 protesters and two journalists at a demonstration in a town whose ownership is disputed by a neighbouring region, a police officer said.

Protesters marched through the town of Las Anod on Monday, shouting in support of rejoining the federal government, based in Mogadishu, residents said.

“We arrested 47 demonstrators including women and youth who were misled,” Abdirisak Mohamed Faarah, police commander for Somaliland’s Sool region, said at a news conference in Las Anod on Monday.

‘‘There are also two reporters in jail for creating chaos. We are also looking for others and we shall arrest them. We arrested them because they were destabilising peace and we shall take measures against those who masterminded it.’‘

Last week, fighting between Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region and breakaway Somaliland killed dozens of soldiers.

The fighting appeared to be a resumption of more than 10 years of periodic conflict between Puntland and Somaliland over the disputed region of Sool.

A week earlier, clashes between the two sides over the ownership of Tukaraq village, taken by Somaliland last month, killed at least 45 people. Forces from Puntland and Somaliland remain stationed on opposite sides of Tukaraq.

“We shall continue fighting till we liberate Las Anod town. We urge Somaliland to stop suppressing the residents,” Abdihakim Abdullahi, deputy president of Puntland, told Reuters on Monday. Other Somaliland officials could not be reached for comment.

Source: http://www.africanews.com/2018/05/29/somaliland-authorities-arrest-demonstrators-journalists-covering-protest/

15 May

S. Sudan conflict mediator asks IGAD to take action…

South Sudan should not waste the opportunity of forthcoming peace talks even though an agreement to end its conflict has been violated several times by warring parties, an international mediator said on Monday.

Despite several agreements and ceasefires, fighting has rumbled on in South Sudan with barely any break since civil war erupted at the end of 2013, just two years after independence.

Troops loyal to President Salva Kiir clashed with forces loyal to Riek Machar, then the vice president. Tens of thousands of people have been killed and much of the nation face dire food shortages.

The government and rebel groups signed the latest ceasefire in December in the Ethiopian capital, aiming to revive a pact reached in 2015. But the truce was violated within hours.

The parties will hold a forum in Addis Ababa from May 17-21 to try to jumpstart the peace process. The forum is organised by the regional East Africa group IGAD.

“This country has missed so many opportunities to make durable peace and we should not allow the High level Revitalisation Forum to be squandered,” Festus Mogae, the former president of Botswana said in a speech.

Mogae chairs the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, which was set up to monitor the failed 2015 truce and peace deal implementation. South Sudan has since launched its own national dialogue, while fighting has continued across the country.

He accused the parties of engaging in human rights violations and urged IGAD to take action.

“The parties continue to wage a campaign of defiance and commit human rights abuses with impunity. This is unacceptable and I call on IGAD to make good its promise to hold spoilers accountable,” he said.

Frustrated allies including the United States, European Union and Germany have warned of dire consequences should the peace talks fail.

Source: http://www.africanews.com/2018/05/14/s-sudan-conflict-mediator-asks-igad-to-take-action-agains-saboteurs-of-peace/

15 May

AMISOM leaders endorse Somalia’s security responsibilities

Somalia has made an appeal to the African Union (AU) and United Nations, urging the international bodies to believe in the country’s ability to take over security responsibilities.

The United Nations directed the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM)to embark on a gradual withdrawal from Somalia, a decision that was approved by the AU’s peace and security council.

However, relentless attacks by the terror group Al Shabaab, coupled with corruption and infighting within military ranks has cast some doubts on whether the Somali National Army is ready to take over the role of securing the Horn of Africa nation.

The Ugandan commander of AMISOM recently warned against the negative consequences that a premature exit by the peacekeeping force might have on the stability of Somalia.

Speaking at a high-level meeting attended by the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and the United Nations, National Security Advisor Abdi Said Muse Ali asked that his country is not judged by its past, but rather decisions should be made based on current assessments and progress reports.

Ali added that the Federal Government of Somalia has the political will to take over the country’s security.

“The transition plan is a huge opportunity for the planning and security of Somalia. Somalia is grateful to our international partners for the strong support provided over the past years. But now, the situation is different,” Ali said.

Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (SRCC) for Somalia, Ambassador Francisco Madeira, reiterated the mission’s commitment to Somalia’s desire to meet its own security needs.

“We need to build a country, and to build a country it means that Somalis need to take responsibility not just in military responsibilities but also the administration of the country.”

He added that the peacekeepers have been working on the withdrawal plan in many areas including rebuilding institutions and they are now ready to hand over to the Somali government.

The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and the United Nations is in Mogadishu to hold meetings with various parties, and then report to the UN Security Council before a meeting to determine the mandate of AMISOM.

Source: http://www.africanews.com/2018/05/15/amisom-leaders-endorse-somalia-s-readiness-to-take-over-security/

14 May

Journalists, bloggers weigh in on media freedom in Ethiopia

The new Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is said to have increased transparency in governance since his assumption into office. His critics cite his outreach to opposition political parties, journalists and human rights activists as a good move.

Thousands of prisoners have been released since January. Prominent Ethiopian journalist and human rights activist, Eskinder Nega has not seen his wife and son, both settled in the United States, for 5 years. In total, he’s spent nearly 9 years behind bars.

“They wanted to break my spirit, they want to break the spirit of political prisoners. They want you to say, I finally give up, it’s too much for me, I’ve suffered enough. In this story, I’m happy to say that they didn’t break my spirit and that’s why I’m talking to you”, Nega said.

Eskinder is one of the founders of one of the first opposition newspapers. In 2011, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison on anti-terrorist law charges.

‘‘This is my work published on the internet after I was forbidden to publish on paper. We were forbidden to publish in newspapers after our release from prison in 2008”, he added.

His colleagues agree. Manaye studied journalism at the Addis Ababa University and worked in the state press for a year. He tells our correspondent, Nathalie Tissot that news covered are sometimes ‘buried’.

“I have found it difficult to work as a free journalist in a government media. I was sent to cover public meetings and press conferences of opposition parties. I covered them when I came back to the office and returned my article, I didn’t find it in the next day’s edition’‘, Belay Manaye said.

Today, he follows the trials of activists in the Federal High Court of Justice. Like Eskinder, this human rights activist welcomes the new Prime Minister.

To read the full article, click here.

11 May

Stranded South Sudan govt begs U.S. against assistance review

South Sudan’s government urged the United States on Wednesday not to “abandon” the country after Washington said it would review its assistance programs because it could not continue a partnership with leaders perpetuating “endless war”.

“We are asking the United States not to abandon this country (South Sudan) because we need them … their role to assist the population of South Sudan is crucial and cannot be ignored”, said foreign affairs ministry spokesman Mawien Makol Ariik.

The United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to South Sudan, which has been in the throes of a civil war since late 2013 that has displaced around a third of the 12 million-strong population and killed tens of thousands of people.

In a sharply worded statement on Tuesday the White House said the United States was a “proud and hopeful supporter” of South Sudan when it gained independence in 2011.

“Seven years later, the leaders of this country have squandered this partnership … killed their own people, and repeatedly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to live up to their commitments to end the country’s civil war.”

The U.S. funding provides aid to millions of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda and lifesaving assistance such as food to people still inside the war-torn country.

Washington’s statement says the United States is committed to saving lives but does not want its assistance to “prolong the conflict” or facilitate corrupt behaviour by elites.

Production in some of South Sudan’s oil fields has been shut down due to the conflict, but the government says around 130,000 barrels per day of oil are being produced. Juba spends well more than half ifs budget on weapons and paying soldiers, according to U.N. experts.

To read the full article, click here. 

 

10 May

Glencore Says Legal Proceedings Opened Against Congo Unit

Glencore Plc subsidiary said the Democratic Republic of Congo’s state-owned mining company began legal proceedings to dissolve a unit forecast to become the world’s largest cobalt mine, because of a capital shortfall.

Toronto-listed Katanga Mining Co. said it has several options to remedy the deficit at Kamoto Copper Co., which operates a copper and cobalt mine in southeastern Congo, according to a statement issued on Sunday.

Possible courses of action include the conversion into equity of a portion of existing debt owed by KCC to Katanga or forgiving some debt, it said.

“Any such outcome would impact the distribution of future cash flows earned by KCC,” Katanga said. KCC is a joint venture between Katanga, which owns 75 percent of the company, and Gecamines, Congo’s state miner. Glencore, based in Baar, Switzerland, owns more than 86 percent of Katanga.

High levels of debt at mining companies are becoming an increasingly heated issue in Congo, the world’s largest source of cobalt and Africa’s biggest copper producer. Gecamines has said it plans to renegotiate partnerships with international companies to give it a greater stake in mining revenue and profit.

KCC resumed production in December after a two-year hiatus during which it invested in new processing facilities.

Glencore said the company will produce as much as 300,000 metric tons of copper and 34,000 tons of cobalt in 2019, which would make it Congo’s biggest copper mine and the world’s largest producer of cobalt.

The price of cobalt, a key ingredient in rechargeable batteries needed to power electric vehicles, has more than quadrupled in the past two years.

Katanga last year flagged a $3.9 billion capital deficiency and gross debt of $8.9 billion. The company warned last month that the unit could face legal action because of the shortfall.

A court hearing is scheduled in a Congolese court for May 8 and “may grant KCC a maximum period of six months to regularize the situation,” Katanga said Sunday.

To read the full article, click here.