• No more death penalty?

    07/Apr/2016 // 638 Viewers

    By Ryan Lenora Brown


    There was little global fanfare last year when two small African states – Madagascar and Congo Brazzaville – announced that they had outlawed the death penalty.

     
    On the surface, the legal change in both countries appeared little more than cosmetic – neither had carried out an execution in more than 30 years, a far cry from from places like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Pakistan that execute hundreds of criminals every year. But beneath the global radar, Madagascar and Congo had helped put a thumb on the scales of history.
     
    In 2015, for the first time ever, the death penalty was illegal in more than half the world’s countries, according to a report released today by Amnesty International. In addition to the two African countries, the states that tipped the balance were Fiji, Suriname, and Mongolia. They are all part of a dramatic global shift away from capital punishment over the last two decades, which has seen the number of states where the practice is entirely illegal nearly double, from 60 to 102.
     
    And perhaps in no region has this transformation been more significant than sub-Saharan Africa, where abolishing the death penalty has been part of a broader movement in many countries to close the door on colonial-era laws – including those criminalizing everything from homelessness to homosexuality – developed for a world order that no longer exists.
     
    “The death penalty in Africa is overwhelmingly a product of colonialism,” says Andrew Novak, an adjunct professor of criminology, law, and society at George Mason University in Virginia and author of a forthcoming book on the death penalty in Africa. “Colonial powers used executions to showcase state power and put the fear of god in their subjects. It was a tool to make people comply with the law by terrifying them.”
     
    BRUTALITY OF COLONIAL HISTORY
     
    That dark history has warped the continent’s contemporary views on capital punishment, Mr. Novak says, though not always in straightforward ways.
     
    In some countries, like South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, the brutality of colonial executions – particularly those carried out against the countries’ freedom fighters – led to a dramatic reduction or outright abolition of the practice after independence. South Africa, which in the waning days of apartheid executed more people annually than any other country, abolished the practice formally in a unanimous court decision in 1995, echoing back to the country’s apartheid-era justice system when it argued that “retribution cannot be accorded the same weight under our Constitution as the right to life and dignity.”


     
    Other countries, however, learned a more sinister lesson from their colonial experience: capital punishment works as a tool to intimidate your population into submission. In the past year, four countries in Africa – Somalia, Chad, South Sudan, and Sudan – carried out at least 43 executions according to Amnesty, though the organization believes the true figure in some of those countries may be considerably higher.
     
    “What the African countries who executed people in 2015 all have in common is a history of systematic violation of human rights” more broadly, says Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa director for research and advocacy. “They are all places known for grossly unfair trials and the suppression of basic rights.”
     
    Across the continent, 443 new death sentences were imposed in 2015, down from 909 in 2014. But most of those criminals will likely never be executed, says Novak, since many have paradoxically been sentenced to death in countries that never or almost never carry out the practice.
     
    Kenya, for instance, has one of the largest death rows in the world, owing to laws that make a sentence of death mandatory for both murder and armed robbery. But the country’s last execution – for coup-plotting – was carried out nearly 30 years ago.
     
    And while both Zimbabwe and Swaziland technically allow the death penalty, each has struggled in recent years with an unusual staffing problem – they can’t find a qualified hangman.
     
    A BROKEN SYSTEM
     
    Still, “one shouldn’t overlook the people trapped in a broken system,” says Thomas Probert, a senior research with the unlawful killings unit at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights. “There are likely thousands of people on death row across the continent for whom the fact that their government hasn’t executed anyone for 10 years is only a small consolation.”
     
    Even in African countries where the death penalty is rare or de facto prohibited, activists say it can continue to haunt the legal system, draining disproportionate resources from already over-burdened courts and prisons.
     
    But in countries saddled with a wide spectrum of human rights concerns – including, in many cases, extrajudicial killings by police, militaries, and armed groups – formally abolishing the death penalty is often low on national priority lists. Just 18 of Africa’s 54 countries have outlawed the practice completely, although Amnesty considers another 16 to have “de facto” done away with capital punishment.
     
    But advocates for full abolition say these de facto moratoriums on execution can be fragile, particularly when regimes change or wars are waged. Chad, for instance, had not carried out an execution in more than a decade when it executed 10 suspected members of the terror cell Boko Haram last year for carrying out an attack that killed 38 people in the city of N’Djamena in June.
     
    Still, Africa is doing considerably better than its northerly neighbors. In 2015, nearly 90 percent of all executions recorded by Amnesty (which crucially leaves out China, where execution figures are a state secret) occurred in just three countries – Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Globally, the organization notes, executions were up 54 percent in 2015 over the previous year, from 1,061 people globally to 1,634.
     
    But focusing on those figures obscure the march of progress seen in Africa and elsewhere, Mr. Probert says.
     
    “Advocacy around the death penalty for very obvious reasons tends to focus on the really intransigent, retentionist states … that execute scores if not hundreds of people per year,” he says. “But behind those headlines is a less-often-told story about the remarkable decline of the practice of the death penalty in the rest of the world over the last 50 years. Those states that still have the death penalty on their books – in Africa and elsewhere – are behind the curve of history.”


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  • Kenyans mock 'visiting' president over frequent foreign travel

    07/Dec/2015 // 277 Viewers

     

    Kenyans mock 'visiting' president over frequent foreign travel

    Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has been forced to defend his frequent travel abroad after an outbreak of mass ridicule on the Internet from Kenyans mocking him as a foreign leader making a fleeting visit to their country.

    Kenyatta returned last week from trip abroad that included a summit in South Africa, a climate conference in France and a Commonwealth meeting in Malta. He is due to travel to Rwanda later this week.

    Kenyans have been trading photos online that depict highlights of his "visit" to Kenya. In recent days, the criticism has gone viral on the Internet, with the hashtag #UhuruInKenya surging in rankings of posts on Twitter.

    A popular road traffic information website with more than 300,000 followers joked that a major Nairobi street had to be closed so Kenyatta could stay at the Kempinski Hotel, where U.S. President Barack Obama lived during a visit in July.

    Photos uploaded by Twitter users depict him on the typical itinerary of a visiting dignitary: signing a visitors' book, touring a national park, greeting religious leaders and meeting other politicians, labeled as "hawkers".

    In a poor country where corruption has been a central issue for decades, the mockery has struck a chord with a public angry at the lavish lifestyles of the political class. Presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu was obliged to defend Kenyatta's foreign trips at a news conference on Sunday.

    "The cost is really nothing compared to the result," he said, noting a $1.5 billion Chinese loan secured during the summit meeting in South Africa as one example. "We cannot claim the leadership position we have in the region yet shun our obligations to deal with regional issues."

    As for the size of delegations, "it would be folly to send two lawyers" to Paris climate talks when other countries sent dozens, Esipisu said.

    The Daily Nation, one of Kenya's leading newspapers, said the president had been on 43 government trips since taking office in 2013, while his predecessor President Mwai Kibaki made just 33 in 10 years in power.

    "It sometimes feels as if the president is more comfortable away than in Kenya," said John Githongo, one of Kenya's most outspoken anti-corruption activists.

    Opposition CORD coalition spokesman Dennis Onyango said that while the head of state had to travel, his delegations included "quite a number of joy riders, people who really don't have a role."

    Kenyatta's jet-setting ways are being compared with the cost-cutting announced by the newly elected president of neighboring Tanzania, John Magufuli, who since taking office last month has restricted official travel and banned perks like government-printed Christmas cards.

    Twitter user Nyaigoti G. Nyasani suggested Kenyatta travel "to Tanzania and learn from Magufuli." User Emmanuel K. had another solution. Addressing Tanzanians, he asked: "Could we please swap presidents for 2 months?"

     

     

    Source: Reuters


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  • Breaking: AU to scrap visa regime for African countries as it rolls out e-passports' pilot

    07/Jul/2016 // 1706 Viewers

     


    The African Union (AU) has announced they will be launching an electronic passport, or e-passport, at the next AU Summit tabled to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, in July 2016.

    This flagship project, first agreed upon in 2014, “falls squarely within the framework of Africa’s Agenda 2063 and has the specific aim of facilitating free movement of persons, goods and services around the continent,” the AU said in an official statement in June this year.
    This in order to foster intra-Africa trade, integration and socio-economic development, the union says.

    The Chairperson of the AU Commission, South Africa’s Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, has described this initiative as both symbolic and significant, calling it a “steady step toward the objective of creating a strong, prosperous and integrated Africa, driven by its own citizens and capable of taking its rightful place on the world stage.”

    The move also fits well into the African Development Bank’s (ADB) plans to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018 – a move which would aid business and overall travel on the African continent.

    The ADB launched the first Africa Visa Openness Index in May this year, which showed that the African continent remains largely closed off for African travellers – a fatal but easily avoided roadblock for business travel on the continent.

    Moono Mupotola for Regional Integration and Trade at the African Development Bank said at the time that in order for Africans to capitalise on this growth and potential, “Africa’s leaders and policymakers have to move freely in support of Agenda 2063’s call to abolish visa requirements for all Africans by 2018,”

    Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa (FIPSA) chairperson Gershon Mosiane, however, says the project is a ‘pie in the sky’, and would be a challenge to implement across the continent.

    Speaking to CapeTalk on Monday, 4 July, Mosiane said the AU’s e-passport ambitions might be admirable, but that “security threats like terrorism” have made implementing the passport more complicated.

    “Would we in South Africa allow someone with a terrorist history be allowed to come into the country” using the all-access e-passport, Mosiane asked.

    You can listen to the full interview with Gershon Mosiane about the AU e-passports’ roll-out here:

    Nonetheless, the AU Commission will launch the e-passport at the AU Summit in Rwanda soon.
     
    The first group of beneficiaries will include AU Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Representatives of AU Member States based at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

    The AU e-Passports will be issued to them in July 2016, at the 27th AU Summit in Kigali. In order for all the recipients to acquire the passports, they are “strongly encouraged to comply with the needed paperwork required to accelerate the processing lead time,” the AU warned.

    “Issuance of the AU e-passport, is expected to pave the way for the Member States to adopt and ratify the necessary Protocols and Legislation with the view to begin issuing the much expected African passport,” the official statement reads.

    The concept of unrestricted movement of persons, goods and services across regions and the continent is not a new one. And countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, and Ghana have taken the lead in ensuring easier intra-Africa travel by relaxing visa restrictions and in some cases lifting visa requirements altogether.

    South Africa currently sits in the 35th position on the Africa Visa Openness Index, and has been slow to adopt easy visa systems for all travellers.

    SA’s implementation of new visa regulations for minors also saw negative effects on visitor numbers to the country.

    But early in 2016, significant changes was made visa policies – especially for African travellers.

    SA’s Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba in January this year approved the granting of 10-year multiple entry visas to frequent business and academic travellers from Africa.

    More recently, discussions held between Kenya’s Joseph Nkaissery and Gigaba also promised for travel regulations to be eased between the two countries’ borders.

    One of the main adjustments to the visa regulations between SA and Kenya will see an issuing of a three-year multiple entry visa for frequent travellers. These visa service fees have also been decreased by more than R300.

    Because of this and other progress made to ease travel in Africa, “the scene seems to be set to realise the dream of visa-free travel for African citizens within their own continent by 2020,” the AU says.

    “Aspirations 2 and 7 of Agenda 2063, respectively, envision an Africa that is ‘integrated’ and ‘united’, and the introduction of the Common African Passport as an effort towards realising integration and unity on the continent.”


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  • BREAKING NEWS: Children massacred in South Sudan battle

    07/Nov/2015 // 264 Viewers

    Dozens of children have been killed in fighting in South Sudan, where battles rage despite political deals to end almost two years of civil war, the United Nations has said.

    The UN said that fighting in the northern battleground state of Unity has "intensified with grave consequences for civilians" in recent weeks, adding that 40,000 people are also starving to death.

    The report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released late Friday detailed killings in just one area of Unity state during a two-week period.

    It said that in the Leer district of southern Unity, which has swapped hands multiple times between government and rebel forces, at least 80 civilians were killed between October 4 to 22.

    Almost three-quarters of those killed were children -- at least 57 killed in Leer -- while there were more than 50 cases of rape being used as "a weapon of war", the report said.

    Both sides are accused of having perpetrated ethnic massacres, recruited and killed children and carried out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to "cleanse" areas of their opponents.

    Hunger experts from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) have warned of a "concrete risk of famine" before the end of the year if fighting continues and aid does not reach the hardest-hit areas.

    While some aid has reached two districts in Unity -- Buaw and Koch -- other areas are cut off.

    Some 3.9 million people are in critical need of aid -- a third of the country's population and a massive 80 percent rise compared to the same period last year, the UN said.

    Civil war began in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that have split the poverty-stricken, landlocked country along ethnic lines.

    The army and rebels have repeatedly accused each other of breaking an internationally-brokered August 26 ceasefire, the eighth such agreement aimed at ending the nearly two-year long war.


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  • SA braces for 'mother of all stay-aways'

    07/Oct/2015 // 117 Viewers

    Cape Town - Cosatu will embark on the "mother of all stay-aways" on Wednesday when it stages marches in all nine provinces to protest against higher taxes, e-tolls and job losses among other things burdening the working class.

    The demonstrations coincide with the World Day for Decent Work.

    Cosatu said its members will march and demonstrate in city centres all over the country against issues such as the deadlock on its demand to scrap e-tolls. The union federation is also calling for a better transport system and is  demanding an immediate halt to pending retrenchments.

    Cosatu also wants Treasury to reject the proposals to increase VAT, Eskom to be held accountable for the delays in the building of the new power stations and the release of the white paper on the National Health Insurance.

    "Workers cannot afford a further burden of tax increase after an increase of personal income tax," said Cosatu.

    In what it called an unemployment crisis, Cosatu expressed concern about especially the large number of young people who are jobless. Cosatu is also calling for a minimum wage.

    "This is a crisis and it poses a political instability for our democracy, needing urgent attention. As if this is not enough, workers' demands for wage increases are met with notices of retrenchments of thousands of workers, affecting their families and in particular their children's future," said Cosatu.

    It is calling for a moratorium on retrenchments until business, government and labour can find a solution for the crisis.

    According to Cosatu the protest of hundreds of thousands of members across the country will start from 09:00.


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  • Scared of military action, armed invasion, Sudan denies using CHEMICAL WEAPON in W'DAFUR

    07/Oct/2016 // 141 Viewers

     

    KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Sudan is denying allegations made by a rights group that it used chemical weapons in the country's western Darfur region, describing them as an "unfounded fabrication."

    The deputy chair of President Omar Bashir's ruling National Congress party says the allegations by Amnesty International were made to undermine the country.

    Mahmoud Hamid tells reporters in Khartoum Thursday that allegations of rights violations have been used as a pretext to attack Sudan in the past.

    Last week, Amnesty accused the Sudanese military of using chemical weapons against civilians, including young children, in a remote corner of Darfur over the past eight months.

    The Britain-based group said it had gathered "horrific evidence" including satellite imagery, more than 200 in-depth interviews with survivors and expert analysis of dozens of images in its investigation.


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  • Shame on you; I am not dying - President Mugabe cries out in alarm

    08/Apr/2016 // 417 Viewers

    PARIS, APRIL 8, 2016: (DGW) - AFRICA'S oldest leader President Robert Mugabe aged 92 has lashed out at his potential successors who wish him dead that he is not dying anytime soon.

    He raised this alarm in Harare a meeting of about 10,000 veterans of Zimbabwe's 1970s independence war that his frequent trips to Malaysia and Singapore had fed newspaper reports that he was ill and sometimes dying  and told his party supporters to united against the enemies of the country be they within or outside Zimbabwe.

     

     Mugabe is Africa's oldest ruler who  has held power since independence from Britain in 1980. He said in no uncertain terms that Zimbabwe is  not a hereditary monarchy  and says his heir must be chosen democratically and that his wife will not automatically inherit the role.

    His word, "You then see a stampede now, they will be saying the president is dying. 'I am not dying, shame on you'," Mugabe said during the first ever such meeting with the veterans.

    "I am there at the mercy of the people. If the people say no, go, I go. But if the people say no, we still want you, I stay on''. 

    The meeting became absolutely necessary resulting from  tension from the ruling party officials' position for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe.


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  • Foreign tourists wounded in attack in Egyptian resort

    08/Jan/2016 // 201 Viewers

     

    (AFP)Two suspected militants on Friday stabbed and wounded three foreign tourists - two Austrians and a Swede - at a hotel in the Egyptian Red Sea resort city of Hurghada, the Interior Ministry said.

    Security forces opened fire at the two assailants, killing one and seriously wounding the other, according to the ministry. It said two men armed with knives had entered the hotel's outdoor restaurant at the front of the building and attacked the tourists.

    All three wounded tourists were taken to hospital, where one was treated and discharged, the statement said. There was no word on the condition of the other two.

    Security officials had initially said the attackers wounded two tourists, a Dane and a German, but such discrepancies are common in the immediate aftermath of terror attacks.

    The attack came just hours after the local affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack a day earlier on a hotel in Cairo near the Giza Pyramids. No one was hurt in the Thursday attack.

    Egypt has been battling an insurgency by Islamic militants led by the Islamic State's affiliate. The insurgency has been focused in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula but has frequently spilled over into the mainland since the ouster in 2013 of the Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

    The Hurghada attack is a dangerous precedent since Egypt's Red Sea resorts have done better than elsewhere in the country in withering the slump suffered by the vital tourism sector in the five years of turmoil since a popular uprising topped longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.

    Thursday's attack was also significant in that it targeted a hotel in Cairo, a heavily policed city of some 18 million tourists, at a time when security appeared to improve in recent months after a series of disruptive bomb attacks.

    Egypt's tourist industry was decimated after the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai in October. The local Islamic State affiliate has claimed it downed the aircraft with a bomb. All 224 people on board were killed in the crash, mostly Russian tourists.

    (AP)


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  • Climate change threatens African crops

    08/Mar/2016 // 156 Viewers

     

    Paris (AFP) - Climate change will claim vast swathes of land needed to grow staple food crops in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly maize, bananas and beans, researchers warned Monday.

    Up to 30 percent of areas growing maize and bananas may become unsuitable for the purpose this century, said the authors of a study in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    For beans, "this number rises up to 60 percent," said a statement from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.

    This was based on worst case-scenario climate change projections in which greenhouse gas emissions continue rising unabated and temperatures warm as much as 4.8 degrees Celsius (8.65 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-Industrial levels this century.

    Crops should be replaced with heat- and drought-resistant sorghum or millet to prevent food shortages, said the team.

    "Given that solutions such as breeding improved crops can take a minimum of 15 years to complete, the report authors stress the urgency for action," said the statement.

    Banana-growing regions in West Africa will have to change their land use in the next ten years, as will bean-growing regions in Angola, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania and Zimbabwe by 2050.

    "All maize-growing regions in Niger will need to undergo transformation by 2100," said the statement.

    "Around 30 percent of Benin's yam growing areas will be unsuitable by the end of the century, as well as 35 percent of Senegal's groundnut-growing regions."


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  • Benin presidential election set for second round

    08/Mar/2016 // 736 Viewers

     

    Cotonou (AFP) - Benin's presidential election looks set to be a second round run-off between Prime Minister Lionel Zinsou and businessman Patrice Talon, the country's electoral commission indicated on Tuesday.

     

    Zinsou won 28.4 percent of votes in Sunday's first round, with Talon on 24.8 percent of ballots and business leader Sebastien Ajavon third with 23.03 percent in a record field of 33 candidates.

    Electoral commission president Emmanuel Tiando announced the polling in the early hours of Tuesday. Confirmed results from the first round will come from the Constitutional Court.

    President Thomas Boni Yayi is bowing out after serving a maximum two five-year terms, marking him out among some African leaders who have tried to change constitutions to ensure third terms.

    A second-round ballot appears likely within a fortnight of official confirmation of the first-round result because no candidate managed a majority.

    Boni Yayi's mandate expires on April 6.

    Talon's spokesman Oswald Homeky told AFP he was "happy the Beninese understood the new departure we're proposing".

    They were "ready to talk to everyone and especially Ajavon" before the second round, he added.

    Zinsou's spokesman Eric Houndete, the deputy head of the national assembly, said they were "satisfied" with the prime minister's polling, even though they would have liked to have had more votes.

    Turn-out was poor in some areas, he added. The electoral commission said 64 percent of the 4.7 registered voters cast their ballot.

    The election was postponed from February 28 because of problems distributing new voters' cards. But international observers said there were no major incidents.

    The West African bloc ECOWAS, which has 120 monitors on the ground, said on Monday evening said it was a "free and transparent" vote.

    Zinsou, 61, was appointed prime minister last year after a successful career as head of France's biggest investment bank.

    But despite having French-Beninese citizenship, he has had to face criticisms of being an outsider, "parachuted" in by Paris, the former colonial power.

    Talon, 57, has long been a key player in Benin's economy, in particular in the cotton sector and the port in the commercial hub of Cotonou.

    He gave financial backing to both Boni Yayi's presidential election victories in 2006 and 2011 but fell out with the head of state after being implicated in a bizarre poisoning plot in 2012.

    Talon fled into exile in France but Boni Yayi pardoned him in May 2014.

    Benin Prime Minister and presidential candidate Lionel Zinsou casts his ballot at a polling station in Benin's capital Cotonou on March 6, 2016

    Key issues in the election include urgent job creation, tackling corruption, improving access to health and education and the economy in the country, which is a major cotton producer.

    Despite its problems, largely agricultural Benin, which is dwarfed by Nigeria to the east, has been seen as a relatively stable country in often turbulent west Africa.

    The major centre of the voodoo religion is now promoting itself as a major regional shipping hub. It introduced multi-party democracy in 1990 after nearly two decades of military rule.


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