Africa News in Brief from April 10-16 edition

| April 9, 2013

Courtesy of Global Information Network

Kenyans spiff up for Uhuru’s swearing-in ceremony

(GIN)—Streets were swept and bunting was hung in the run-up to the public swearing-in ceremony of Kenya’s newly elected president, Uhuru Kenyatta, which took place at the 60,000 seat Moi International Sports Center, April 9.

“We are now focusing on the day which will be historic in many ways. The whole of this week will be for preparation of the swearing in ceremony,” said Francis Kimemia, head of civil service prior to the event.

Uhuru, who defeated Prime Minister Raila Odinga in a close race, takes the reins of power as Kenya’s fourth president.

Raila, in a BBC interview after conceding defeat and wishing Uhuru and his team well, said his coalition would fight on for democracy, “through other venues’’ which he did not specify.

The March 4 race, he said, was “predetermined and manipulated by a few technocrats,’’ but “in the fight for democracy, election is just an event.”

Odinga said he conceded defeat as a personal sacrifice to avoid the bloodshed of 2007-2008, stirred by disputed presidential elections results between himself and outgoing President Mwai Kibaki.

When asked how he would restrain millions of his supporters who feel cheated, Raila said: “I am going to tell my people to look at peaceful ways of solving disputes. There are many ways to pursue the cause of democratization. I want to avoid the bloodshed that we experienced.”

Although evidence of technology failure and other glitches were documented to the Supreme Court, the election exercise was ruled to be predominantly free and fair.

Meanwhile, the N.Y.-based Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding justice for investigative journalist Bernard Wesongo, whose bruised lifeless body was found recently at his home in Mombasa. Wesonga had told friends of anonymous threats sent to him via text message after he wrote about the shipment and sale of 300,000 bags of expired fertilizer dated 2011 that had been re-marked Afriventure and printed with a new expiration date of 2016.

Farmers have already started planting maize in some areas in the Rift Valley region and more than half have incurred heavier costs buying the product at twice what they were expecting to pay at a government subsidized rate.

 

Horror among South African soldiers over armed ‘kids’ in rebel ranks

(GIN)—After a deadly confrontation that mismatched 200 soldiers with 3,000 rebel troops, South Africans sent to the Central African Republic (CAR) counted their losses, the heaviest military loss since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Thirteen soldiers were killed in Bangui, the CAR capital, in clashes with Seleka rebels who toppled the dictatorial President Francois Bozize, now believed in hiding in nearby Benin.

Another 27 were wounded and flown back to South Africa.

But, especially troubling to the South Africans was finding that among the Seleka rebels were children, some no older than fourth grade.

“They knew how to advance, put down suppressing fire, withdraw, use camouflage,” one troop member told the Sunday Times newspaper. “They knew we had no support… they had intelligence on us… they knew our movements, our numbers, our capabilities… everything about us.

“It was only after the firing stopped that we saw we had killed kids.”

He continued: “We did not come here for this… It makes you sick. They were crying, calling for help… calling for [their] moms.”

A paratrooper said: “We were told to serve and protect, to ensure peace.”

The mission, however, morphed from training CAR soldiers, to protecting South African property, and finally to protecting civilians around the capital.

“All along we were told they were a bunch of rag-tags, nothing to worry about. We were lied to straight out,” he said of the Seleka rebels. “They were well armed.”

The deployment of South African troops in a country more than 2,000 miles away is now facing stiff criticism at home where some say it was prompted by mining interests of the ANC.

Opposition leader Helen Zille told a news conference that President Jacob Zuma had told an “untruth” to Parliament when he said the soldiers were being sent to the CAR for capacity building and training in terms of a memorandum of understanding with Mr. Bozize.

“What makes this intervention even more disturbing is that the deployment was reportedly undertaken against expert military advice, allegedly to protect the business interests of a politically connected elite, both in South Africa and in the CAR.

“If this is so, President Zuma’s position—both as president of the republic and commander-in-chief of the armed forces—becomes untenable,” she said. “The nation must know the truth.”

President Zuma, meanwhile, has rebuffed the critics, calling the troops “heroes” sent to uphold South Africa’s foreign policy and protect a contingent of military trainers sent in 2007 under a military cooperation agreement.

“Let me emphasize that we reject any insinuation that these soldiers were sent to the CAR for any reason other than in pursuit of the national interest and the interests of the African continent,” he said at a memorial for the soldiers.

No decision has been made to withdraw fully from CAR. This will be “determined by a political process which is now unfolding,” said Defense Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. Meanwhile, troop build-up has been reported in neighboring Uganda. A final decision about the CAR is expected shortly.

 

Power grabs in Central  African Republic—a French tradition

(GIN)—The rise of self-appointed president Michal Djotodia in a rebel victory against sitting President Francois Bozize recalls the nation’s tragic history of coups engineered largely by France, writes journalist Howard French in a published piece.

After independence in 1960, French authorities picked Jean-Bedel Bokassa to overthrow the nation’s first president. Mr. Bokassa, an anti-communist and devoted to France, assumed the titles of president, prime minister, commander-in-chief of the army and leader of the sole political party.

Paris congratulated Mr. Bokassa when he decided to upgrade his republic to an empire, and the French government helped finance some of the estimated $30 million cost of Mr. Bokassa’s lavish coronation in 1977, patterned after Napoleon.

Eventually, Mr. Bokassa wore out their patience with his frequent bids for independence in foreign affairs and his outsized extravagance at home.

In September 1979, citing the repressiveness of his rule and unconfirmed reports of cannibalism, 700 French paratroopers took control of Bangui while Mr. Bokassa was in Libya.

David Dacko, sacked earlier by Bokassa at the request of France, was picked by the colonial power to replace Bokassa when he was finally removed.

Now, 35 years later, the U.S. State Department is in similar crisis management mode, having lost an ally it long supported despite similar bad marks as a president who came to power by force. State Dept. spokesman Patrick Ventrell declined to call the rebels’ overthrow of President Francois Bozize a “coup” since that would make it impossible for the U.S. to provide military or economic support for the government. In any case, Washington only planned to provide $300,000 in security assistance to the country this year. That’s down from $156.9 million, mostly humanitarian aid, in 2009.

“In terms of whether this is a coup or not, that’s something that we’re reviewing,” Ventrell said. “There’s always a legal review before the U.S. makes that determination, and we’ll continue to look at it. But we do condemn the actions over the weekend.”

Political instability in the CAR might also affect the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony. Bozize was a strong supporter of U.S. efforts to dismantle Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

Some 3,350 African troops are currently deployed against the Lord’s Resistance Army in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The U.S. has about 70 to 80 anti-Kony military advisers in the Central African Republic, Ventrell said.

“There are some American trainers in the eastern part of the country, way over in the corner, much closer to the Congo and South Sudan,” he said. “Our understanding is that they’re very far away from what’s happening in Bangui and they continue to be there.”

This above articles originally appeared in our April 10, 2013 issue. Following is additional material that did not appear in print. 

 

Recurring lung infection keeps ‘Madiba’ under weather

(GIN)—A lung infection developed from tuberculosis acquired in Robben Island prison has sent former South African president Nelson Mandela back to a Pretoria hospital for observation.

The much-loved leader continues to experience a problem with fluid buildup in his lungs. He is being treated for pneumonia with oral medication.

Last week, Mandela spent part of Family Day—a public holiday in South Africa with members of his family.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela’s former wife looking somber, reported that her ex-husband was “responding well to treatment.” She made the comments after attending a church service in Soweto where she prayed and greeted fellow worshippers. Winnie also thanked President Obama for sending his well wishes to Mandela.

“We were very touched this morning when we heard President Barack Obama also wishing Dada well and it is very inspiring that at least we have the world on our side,” she said, using Mandela’s nickname.

It is the third hospitalization for Mandela, 94, in four months for a chronic lung infection.

Messages have been pouring in from all over the world, wishing him good health and a speedy recovery.

People in South Africa are aware Mandela’s health has been declining steadily over the years and while he will be missed, people are realistic about his situation, said Robyn Curnow of CNN Africa

“There’s no sense of panic, just a quiet nostalgia, a quiet thankfulness for him, and I think when it does happen, when he does pass on, many South Africans will come together.

“This is a man who held this nation together in some of its toughest times. Even when he goes he’ll be a glue, he’ll be a bridge to all the differences here.” Mandela has not appeared in public since 2010.

 

GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media. To find out how you can support their work, visit www.globalinfo.org.

 

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GLOBAL INFORMATION NETWORK distributes news and feature articles on Africa and the developing world to mainstream, alternative, ethnic and minority-owned outlets in the U.S. and Canada. Our goal is to increase the perspectives available to readers in North America and to bring into their view information about global issues that are overlooked or under-reported by mainstream media.

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