02 Jul

Ugandans – furious with new tax for using social media and mobile money

Uganda’s government has kept its promise: Many Ugandans woke up today (July 1) to find that if they hadn’t paid the new tax on social-media use, services like WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and Skype were inaccessible.

Uganda’s government has long had an issue with social media as it tries to keep tabs on its young population. Back in February 2016, the country’s telecoms regulator blocked the internet during elections, ostensibly for security purposes.

This year, the regulator proposed a tax on social-media use, designed to curb gossip online and raise billions of shillings in government revenue.

That levy came after president Yoweri Museveni complained that idle talk on social media was costing the country much-needed time and income.

Many tech-savvy Ugandans have already taken to virtual private networks to get around having to pay an extra 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) per day. The new fee is expected to impact usage of social media and mobile money, which now has an additional 1% tax.

Major telecoms providers MTN, Airtel, and Africell, issued a joint statement informing customers of how to pay the new tax with mobile money services of MTN and Airtel.

Internet penetration stands at just 22% in Uganda, according to the World Bank. Social networks constitute the internet for those already online, with Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter being the most popular apps.

Source: https://qz.com/1319064/uganda-social-media-and-mobile-money-tax-now-in-effect/

28 Jun

Scene is set for interesting contest in Zimbabwe’s upcoming poll

Zimbabweans are heading to the polls on July 30. They will be making their decisions not only on what appears to be a dramatically changed political landscape, but with looming fears of a destabilised country following the recent bomb blast at a Zanu-PF election rally in Bulawayo.

Reports say that the attack targeted President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Opposition parties now fear a crackdown.

But Mnangagwa and his deputy immediately pledged that the bomb attack wouldn’t stop the elections going ahead.

Nonetheless, the incident is likely to create a climate of fear, insecurity, intense polarity and high securitisation of the state.

Even before it happened civil society actors and think-tanks in Zimbabwe had raised questions about the possibility of a rigged election.

But be that as it may, the circumstances are very different from when Zimbabweans went to the polls in 2013. Then Zanu-PF won a two thirds majority.

The upcoming elections will be closely fought between the 75-year-old Mnangagwa and new leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-Alliance), Nelson Chamisa (40). In addition, the polls will be contested without two men who have dominated Zimbabwe’s politics for decades – Robert Mugabe, who was deposed in 2017 and Morgan Tsvangirai who died in February this year.

These two factors – new leaders and the absence of old ones – set up an interesting contest.

As things stand, the MDC-Alliance is seeking to regain its relevance in the absence of Tsvangirai. Across the aisle, Mnangagwa is seeking to legitimately secure his authority, and the dominance of his party following the November 2017 transition after 37 years of Mugabe’s rule.

The elections are significant for average Zimbabweans too. Citizens are eager for new leaders to kick start the economy after years of decline under Mugabe’s rule.

A lot is at stake for Zanu-PF. The party has aggressively pursued an agenda to restore its legitimacy regionally and internationally. For example, the Mnangagwa administration has repeatedly promised that the election will be credible. It has even taken its reform agenda to the international stage.

To read the full article, click here.

26 Jun

The Ethiopia rally bomb will test the prime minister’s reform agenda

At least two people died and 156 were wounded in a grenade attack at a political rally in Addis Ababa addressed by reformist Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed.

Abiy was a surprise guest on the day and, moments after sitting down once he’d made his speech, there was an explosion meters away. He was not hurt, but the rally’s organizers have claimed he was the main target.

Was this an unprecedented moment in Ethiopia’s history?

The attempted assassination on a national leader isn’t entirely new to Ethiopia. There was, at least, one such attempt in 1976 targeting Mengistu Hailemariam, a former leader who now lives in Zimbabwe as a fugitive. He survived with slight injuries.

That attack was interpreted by many as the incident that triggered horrendous political violence known as “Red Terror”, which left thousands of young people dead.

But the scale and the audacity of this attack is unprecedented. It appears that those who planned it couldn’t deliver on the scale they might have wanted. Had they succeeded, the human cost and its political implications would have been immense.

What is the current political context?

The ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which has been in power for nearly 30 years, is decaying.

It lacks the political will to introduce fundamental reforms which would address issues like endemic corruption, the incarceration of journalists and political opponents and widespread economic marginalization.

These concerns precipitated protests from various segments of society and forced former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign.

Abiy emerged from within the ruling party amid this disarray. His message was markedly different. He spoke the language of the people and tapped into society’s aspirations and fears.

While it was expected that he’d be a safe pair of hands for ordinary people as well as the ruling elites, nobody expected him to be as direct and decisive as he has turned out to be in his reform efforts.

To read the full article, click here.

 

11 Jun

‘Stay out of politics,’ Zimbabwe army told ahead of crucial elections

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) has questioned the Zimbabwe National Army’s ability to explicitly stay clear of the southern African country’s forthcoming election –  regardless of its outcome.

In an interview with News24, Senior researcher at ISS, Derek Matyszak said that there was need for the Zimbabwean military to stay clear of politics if the country was to hold a credible election.

“It is important that the military publicly announces its pledge to stay clear of politics regardless of the election results. They have often been meddling in politics in the past and have just recently done that when they stepped in last year,” said Matyszak.

The Zimbabwean army played an important role in getting President Emmerson Mnangagwa into power last year, as they launched a brief take over from then president Robert Mugabe.

The military temporarily took control of the country on November 15 when internal feuding escalated in the ruling Zanu-PF party over then president Mugabe’s succession.

The takeover, which the army said was targeting Mugabe’s corrupt allies came days after the 94-year-old leader had fired then deputy Mnangagwa who had strong military ties and was widely tipped as the likely successor.

Mugabe’s wife Grace had indicated interest in succeeding her husband. The army’s intervention was followed by mass street protests against Mugabe and a motion to impeach the veteran ruler who resigned in a letter to parliament as proceedings to recall him began.

“The military’s involvement in politics is a worrisome issue because they have been meddling with the country’s politics for the past decades.

In 2008 they made it clear that they were not going to back any leader without any liberation credentials.

And they have also made it clear in the past seven months that they are the final arbiters in the country’s politics. So their announcement to stay clear of the election will be important,” said Matyszak.

To read the full article, click here.

06 Jun

Zanu-PF supporters to march for President Mnangagwa

Supporters of Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party are reportedly expected to march in the capital Harare on Wednesday, in solidarity with President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

According to NewsDay, Harare provincial chairperson, Godwin Gomwe, said that everything was set for the march.

“We are going ahead as planned, nothing has changed in terms of the message for the solidarity march…,” Gomwe was quoted a saying.

This comes a day after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance held its hugely-attended peaceful march demanding the implementation of electoral reforms.

The opposition are demanding the publication of the full voter roll, independent audits of ballot papers as well as guarantees of safety for non-government candidates.

Zimbabwe’s next polls – on July 30 – will be the first since the fall of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe who was forced to step down following a brief military takeover in November.

Mugabe who had been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from British colonial rule in 1980 was replaced by his former deputy, Mnangagwa.

Previous elections in Zimbabwe were marred by violence which peaked in 2008 when then-opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted a presidential run-off because of a spate of deadly attacks on his supporters.

Mnangagwa has pledged “free, fair and credible elections” as he seeks to end Zimbabwe’s isolation and mend fences with the West.

He will face-off against Nelson Chamisa who became leader of the MDC following Tsvangirai’s death from colon cancer in February.

Source: https://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/zanu-pf-supporters-to-march-for-president-mnangagwa-report-20180606

05 Jun

Chamisa writes to Mnangagwa, ahead of election

Zimbabwean leader Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, has said that interaction between the president and opposition figures “will only be a fixture of post-election Zimbabwe and not before”.

According to the state-owned Herald newspaper, Charamba said this as he revealed that Chamisa recently wrote to the president asking for an inclusion in a government of national unit similar to that of Kenya.

In March, President Uhuru Kenyatta and former prime minister Raila Odinga said they had launched a new initiative to unify the country that was largely divided between tribes that supported the rival leaders, raising fears of violence.

Said Charamba: “Indeed, he (Chamisa) wrote asking for inclusion in a government of national unity, which is why he has given an example of Kenya — President Uhuru and Mr Odinga.”

Charamba, however, said that Mnangagwa would only likely consider making such an offer after the plebiscite.

He described Chamisa’s proposal as an attempt to “violate the democratic will of Zimbabweans in honour of a bilateral arrangement, more so when that arrangement stems from a fear of elections”.

This came after Mnangagwa reportedly declared that his ruling Zanu-PF party would still be in power after the July elections.

According to New Zimbabwe.com, Mnangagwa also described the opposition parties as “barking puppies” who would not mount any significant challenge to Zanu-PF.

“Zanu-PF is in power. Let it be known that nothing will change in this country even if we go for elections because people will vote for our party. Elections on July 30 belong to Zanu-PF. We dictate what happens in this country. We already have an upper hand and the elections have been won already by us. Let those who want to argue do so, but just vote for Zanu-PF,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying.

Source: https://www.news24.com/Africa/Zimbabwe/mdc-leader-chamisa-writes-to-mnangagwa-asks-for-inclusion-in-unity-govt-ahead-of-election-aide-20180605

04 Jun

Malawi media giant defies closure by gov’t over unpaid taxes

Malawi’s biggest privately owned media company, Times Group has defied a closure by the country’s tax body.

The Group which runs newspapers, a radio and a television station was closed by Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA) officials on Friday over accumulated tax arrears.

Times Group’s editor in chief, George Kasakula, however linked the move to the organisation’s criticism of the government and said MRA had ignored a court injunction that would have stopped the closure of its main office in Blantyre over a tax compliance dispute.

“This is not about taxes but about frustrating us because of our critical editorial policy,” Kasakula told Reuters.

“While other companies are allowed negotiations over tax issues, Times Group gets no such fair treatment.”

“This is not about stifling media freedoms and frustrating Times Group because of their critical editorial policy. It’s about them failing to pay taxes,” said government spokesman Nicholas Dausi.

A governance expert, Makhumbo Munthali faulted both sides, specifically asking the media group to honor its tax obligations in order to safeguard its ‘fearless work exposing government failings’.

‘‘While it is a a fact that MRA’s decision is politically motivated, the failure of Times Group to faithfully honour its tax obligations is regrettable and must be condemned in the strongest terms,’‘ Munthali said.

Malawi News which is one of the newspapers run by Times Group hit the streets on Saturday, bearing a banner headline, ‘Witchhunt’, in reference to the MRA closure action. News articles have also continued to be published on the Times website.

In December last year, the group’s operations were shut down by MRA over the same Value Added tax arrears amounting to K675m ($933,000), accumulated between 2011 and 2016. The company resumed operations within 24 hours.

Freedom House, a non-governmental organisation which ranks press freedom worldwide, classified impoverished Malawi as “partly free” in its 2017 ranking.

In 2012 the Malawian government warned journalists and human rights activists that people who insulted the president faced prosecution. A prominent journalist was arrested that year, and some media firms were closed.

Source: http://www.africanews.com/2018/06/03/malawi-media-giant-defies-closure-by-tax-body-over-unpaid-taxes/

31 May

Kenya’s president vows to recover resources lost in corruption scandal

Kenya’s public prosecutor said on Wednesday 24 civil servants and business people charged with involvement in the theft of nearly $100 million of public funds will stay in custody pending a June 4 hearing on their application for bail.

The suspects, who include the public service ministry’s principal secretary, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to magistrate Douglas Ogoti to charges that relate to theft at the government’s National Youth Service (NYS).‏

“Accused to be remanded in custody until Monday 4th June, 2018 when court will rule on their bail application,” the office of the director of public prosecution said on Twitter.

The NYS is a state agency that trains young people and deploys them to work on projects ranging from construction to traffic control.

It is rare for prosecutors to bring such a large group of public officials to court to answer corruption charges.

President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to stamp out graft when he was first elected in 2013 but critics say he has been slow to pursue top officials and ministers.

In the wake of the latest NYS scandal, the president vowed to recover all resources that have been lost to corruption schemes.

“These people who are corrupt should be jailed and we recover all the stolen funds to deliver on the things we promised Kenyans,” Kenyatta told residents of the capital Nairobi while launching a government project on Wednesday.

The president also called out any Kenyans that might entertain the notion of defending people implicated in the scandal, based on their ethnicity.

“I do not want to hear anybody defending those caught in corrupt dealings. A thief is a thief irrespective of the tribe he/she comes from,” said the president.

Chief prosecutor Noordin Mohamed Haji on Monday named 54 people, 40 of them government officials, to face charges including abuse of office and conspiracy to commit an economic crime. Some of those charged remain at large.

To read the full article, click here.

29 May

Mugabe snubs parliament over $15m diamond probe, given last chance

Former Zimbabwe president Robert Gabriel Mugabe has snubbed the country’s parliament in respect of summons for him to appear before a committee investigating diamond revenue.

The lawmaker who chairs the parliament’s mines and energy committee said Mugabe was left with a last opportunity to appear before them to answer questions.

“We had written to the former President for the second time to come but he has failed and we are going to write him for the last time as required by the law,” MP Themba Mliswa said.

The probe referred to by the state-run Herald as the ‘Missing $15 billion hearing’ is seeking clarification from Mugabe on alleged loss of US$15 billion worth of diamonds revenue during his tenure in office.

The committee said it will issue a final summons to him to appear before it without fail on the 11th of June.

The first summons was slated for 23rd of May at 0900 hours – when he failed to appear as widely expected, MP Mliswa put it down to miscommunication, stating that his old age meant that asking him to appear in the morning was unfair.

Asked what parliament will do in the likely event that he refuses to show up, Mliswa said he would be invited up to three times after which the service of the police will be solicited to help bring him.

“The implications would be the police bring you,” Mr Mliswa told the BBC last week.

The second appearance date was scheduled for 28th of May (today) at 1400 hours (1300 GMT) but there was no sign of the former leader who ruled for over three decades till he was ousted in November 2016 in what is widely described as a de facto coup by the army.

The Herald reports that the committee has summoned several former ministers, sitting ministers, high ranking security officials and all those who were part of the diamonds mining operations with a view to getting to the bottom of the matter.

Source: http://www.africanews.com/2018/05/28/mugabe-snubs-parliament-over-15m-diamond-probe-given-last-chance/

29 May

Ethiopia’s 27th National Day: U.S. restates support for PM Abiy’s govt

On the occasion of Ethiopia’s National Day, the United States has restated its support for the current government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

Washington said it was committed to helping Addis Ababa in the area of sustainable development, democracy, human rights, peace and good governance.

In a statement released by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Department of State stressed that Premier Abiy had their unalloyed support in his bid to ring governance changes promised by the ruling coalition.

Full text of U.S. Department of State press statement:

On behalf of President Trump and the people of the United States, I send my best wishes to all Ethiopians as they celebrate their National Day on May 28.

The United States and Ethiopia share a long and deep friendship based on our commitment to sustainable development, democracy, human rights, peace, and good governance, as well as on our important and influential population of Ethiopian-Americans, who contribute so much to our own country.

Congratulations to your new Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who has our full support in his determination to bring greater political openness to Ethiopia and to continue the great economic gains made in recent years. I offer best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday, and I reaffirm the commitment of the United States to our enduring friendship.

Abiy’s Premiership and task of political reforms

Abiy was sworn into office on April 2 this year, taking over from Hailemariam Desalegn who resigned to allow political reforms to be undertaken after close to three years of deadly anti-government protests across the Oromia and Amhara regional states.

The ruling Ethiopia Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) announced reforms in January 2018. The coalition said the reforms were to help foster national unity and open up the democratic space.

Hundreds of people – including top opposition chiefs and journalists – have been released after the government dropped charges against them. Abiy is tasked with continuing with reforms as the country heads to its next polls in 2020.

To read the full article, click here.