Mugabe returns from Singapore medical trip

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe returned home on Saturday after medical treatment in Singapore, the state broadcaster said, putting to rest speculation over the 93-year-old’s whereabouts.

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation said Mugabe, who left for Singapore last Saturday, “had eye surgery in the Asian country a few years ago” and had returned for a “routine medical check-up”.

Mugabe, in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from British colonial rule in 1980, is his party’s presidential candidate for next year’s elections despite concerns over his age and fitness to rule.

ZBC later reported that Mugabe’s wife Grace was injured in an “freak car accident” involving her motorcade at Harare airport as she returned with the president.

“(She) suffered some soft tissue bruising on the right ankle as a result,” ZBC said, adding that she did not suffer any major injury and was discharged from hospital shortly after the incident. It is unclear exactly how Grace’s ankle was injured.

This week’s trip there is Mugabe’s third there this year.

Public hospitals in Zimbabwe often suffer from chronic shortages of drugs and staff as the economy has struggled to rebound following years of mismanagement.

Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party was forced to postpone a rally on Friday at which he was due to address supporters, triggering speculation about his whereabouts.

Early in 2015, he tripped and fell as he left a podium after addressing supporters who had gathered at Harare airport to welcome him back from a foreign trip.

The same year he also read a speech to parliament apparently unaware that he had delivered the same speech before.

Mugabe’s party is sharply divided over his succession. Vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa and Mugabe’s wife Grace are seen as likely contenders to take over in the event of his death or retirement.

Opposition parties have formed a coalition to fight Mugabe’s party in next year’s vote.

Rwanda killed 37 petty criminals, Human Rights Watch says

Rwandan authorities have summarily executed “at least 37” people accused of committing minor criminal offences, instead of prosecuting them, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

The government in Kigali denies that any extrajudicial killings took place.

Most of the alleged victims were accused of theft – in one case stealing bananas.

Others were accused of smuggling marijuana, illegally entering the country, or using illegal fishing nets.

Human Rights Watch says the executions took place between July 2016 and March 2017 in western Rwanda.

They believe it is part of an official strategy to “spread fear, enforce order and deter any resistance to government orders or policies”.

Witnesses told HRW the fate of one man, accused of stealing a cow, was decided in a community meeting. Fulgence Rukundo was questioned about the stolen cow, then taken to a community meeting with the district mayor.

One witness described what happened next:

“When the meeting was finished, the soldiers walked Fulgence to a small field near a banana plantation. There were many of us following; some were primary students.

We wanted to see what would happen… A soldier told him to stand up and walk, and another soldier told us to leave. At that moment, I heard three shots.”

The report by HRW also alleges that, in another case, two men were killed by civilians after local officials encouraged them to do so.

In a tweet, Rwanda’s Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye rejected the report outright:

A screengrab of the Rwandan Justice Minister's tweet, which reads: 'My response to [the] HRW report. It is clearly fake. HRW is so desperate for attention. They have been duped, yet again, wilfully.'

Mr Busingye has declined the BBC’s request for an interview.

HRW has previously accused Rwanda of rounding up thousands of street children and sex workers and putting them in illegal detention centres – the government also denied these allegations.

Somalia internet outage is ‘major disaster’

Somalia’s government says an ongoing internet outage is costing the country $10m (£7.7m) each day.

The outage affects southern Somalia, and was caused by damage to an undersea fibre-optic cable more than two weeks ago.

Somali Post and Telecommunications Minister Abdi Anshur Hassan has called the incident a “major disaster”, costing Somalia “more than $130m”.

He said the cable was being fixed and service will be restored “this week”.

After more than 20 years of conflict, internet usage is low in Somalia, with just 1.6% of the population online in 2014, according to estimates by the International Telecommunication Union.

A woman wearing a niqab types at a computer in an internet cafe in Somalia
Many Somalis rely on internet cafes rather than 3G or satellite internet

That same year, 3G mobile phone services in southern Somalia were cut off because of a threat from al-Shabab Islamist militants and the ban has stayed in place ever since.

Satellite internet is available, but users complain that it is costly and slow.

Internet cafes have therefore proved popular in towns and cities, as they provide more reliable connectivity.

Kenyan MPs to get 15% pay cut

Kenyan MPs, who are some of the best paid lawmakers in the world, are to get a pay cut intended to reduce the public wage bill.

The MPs’ $7,200 (£5,500) monthly pay will be cut by 15% and they will lose some generous allowances.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) said that the salary review was part of a plan to reduce Kenya’s public sector wages by 35%.

The average income in Kenya is $150 a month.

The new salaries will be effective after the 8 August election.

The review will affect pay and allowances of national and county government officials, including the president, whose gross salary has been reduced from $16,000 to $14,000.

MPs’ current benefits:

  • Personal car loan up to $67,400 – repayable at 3% interest
  • An official car grant of $48,000 per 5-year term
  • Mileage (or business class travel by air or rail in lieu) and car maintenance of $3,440 monthly
  • Mortgage $190,000
  • Salary $7,200

Figures from Africa Check and media reports

The lawmakers blocked previous attempts to tax and/or cap their pay, saying that their constituents depended on the MPs to help them financially.

The review reduces their salaries to $6,100 and scraps some of their allowances.

SRC boss Sarah Serem said the abolition of mileage and sitting allowances, which are favoured by the MPs, “were prone to abuse”.

Instead of mileage allowances, the SRC has created zones for which state officers will get a one-month allowance, the Daily Nation reports.

“There were claims of up to Sh2 million ($20,000) per month,” Ms Serem said of the abuse of mileage allowance, the report adds.

SRC said the salaries were set after comparing them with countries within the East African Community, South Africa, India, Canada and the US.

It says it also considered the country’s GDP before setting the salaries.

Ms Serem said that despite the reduction, the MPs will still remain some of the best paid legislators in the world.

The salary review is also meant to harmonise the pay structure of other workers in the 700,000 strong public sector.

Kenya’s president warns judiciary not to help opposition

Kenya’s president has warned the country’s judiciary not to help the opposition throw the next election into disarray.

The presidential poll will take place next month and Uhuru Kenyatta is seeking re-election.

On Friday, after a case brought by the opposition, the High Court ordered the electoral commission not to print ballot papers.

Mr Kenyatta insisted the election would go ahead as planned.

“This kind of intimidation will not be allowed and the election date will not change,” he said.

He said the judiciary could not claim independence and then use it to interfere with the functioning of the executive and other arms of government.

The High Court argued that the tendering process for the ballot papers had not been transparent enough.

The opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) alleged that the president had links to Al Ghurair, the Dubai-based firm that won the $24m (£18m) tender.

Al Ghurair and Mr Kenyatta deny any wrongdoing.

The judges ruled that the company could still print ballots for the parliamentary and county elections, but the tender for presidential ballots should be re-advertised.

Supporters of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) led by Raila Odinga listen as he delivers a speech during a rally held in Nairobi, 7 July 2017.
Mr Odinga’s party alleges improper links between the president and the firm printing ballots

Local media have reported that whoever takes on the job of printing and distributing the ballot papers will have just 30 days to do what is usually a 45-day task.

In a separate development, Raila Odinga, Mr Kenyatta’s main contender, was taken ill and admitted to hospital on Sunday with what his campaign team said was suspected food poisoning.

Mr Odinga, speaking shortly after he was discharged from the hospital in the coastal city of Mombasa, said that he was “fit as a fiddle“.

“I had stomach pains, which have since disappeared after getting treatment,” Mr Odinga said, adding: “I have been discharged to go to Nairobi to continue with my campaigns.”

Meanwhile, several people have reportedly been killed in clashes between rival political groups, rekindling memories of post-election violence in 2007-2008 that left more than 1,000 people dead.

11 people die in South African botched circumcision

Eleven teenagers have died of botched circumcision within two weeks during the winter initiation season in South Africa, authorities said on Saturday.

According to Provincial Department of Traditional Affairs, all the deaths are in Eastern Cape Province, a hotbed of circumcision-related deaths.

“The death toll of initiates in a short period is alarming,’’ Fikile Xasa from the department said.

He added that the deaths occurred in spite of “Zero Deaths” campaign launched by the government.

Government-dispatched teams were currently monitoring the situation across the country, according to Community Development Foundation of South Africa, which deals with the safety of initiates.

It, however, said over 22 boys were rescued from illegal initiation schools in the province.

The department stated that six other initiates died in the province when their initiation school caught fire, noting that their funeral was held on Saturday.

Circumcision is viewed a sacred practice in African cultures, marking a male’s transition from child to adulthood.

In South Africa, young males must traditionally be circumcised as a passage to manhood.

According to the CDFSA, over 70 boys died at initiation schools in 2016 and scores of others were hospitalised in the Eastern Cape alone.


How Nigerians were Jailed and ransomed in Libya

It was called “Morning Tea” – a brutal flogging with a hosepipe.

Every morning for four months, Seun Femi’s captors beat him at a makeshift prison in Libya.

“They would flog my head, my hands, my bum,” says the 34-year-old. “The guard would beat me until he got tired.”

Two of Seun’s fingers were broken during one of the brutal sessions. But the Nigerian says it could have been far worse. One man was beaten to death in front of him.

“I thought I was going to die in that prison,” he says.

Seun was one of the tens of thousands of West Africans who cross the Sahara Desert into Libya every year, from where they hope to be trafficked by boat to Europe.

Desperate journey

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates there are between 700,000 and one million people in Libya awaiting their chance to cross the Mediterranean.

It was always a dark and desperate journey but now appears to be increasingly dangerous as undocumented migrants fall prey to militias and criminal gangs in war-torn Libya.

Map showing Central Mediterranean migrant routes

Earlier this year, the IOM reported that African migrants were being sold by their captors in “slave markets” in the south-western Libyan city of Sabha.

It was in the same city that Seun says he was held with about 300 other African migrants for ransom.

“We thought the traffickers were taking us to a place to stay and not a place to lock us up,” he says.

Seun says a hunchbacked Libyan called Ali ran the makeshift prison.

It was a half-constructed building. The male migrants, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, were separated into large rooms, each called a ghetto. Seun was held in the Nigeria ghetto.

In two of the ghettos, called Ghana and VIP (for very important person), the guards would extort a higher ransom in order for the migrants to be freed.

“We were packed on the floor like sardines when we tried to sleep,” says Seun.

There was little food but enough bottled water as otherwise the migrants would die of thirst in the stifling heat.

Illegal immigrants are seen sleeping at a detention centre in Libya
Up to one million migrants are thought to be in Libya attempting to reach Europe

The brutal business model was simple, says Seun. Guards with nicknames like “Rambo” would beat the migrants and then hand them a phone.

“They would let us phone our people once a day,” he said. “They would whip us while we were on the call so our families would get the message. We would beg them to send us money.”

On Tuesday, the Italian authorities said they had arrested a notorious human trafficker known as Rambo on charges of torturing and killing migrants but it is not possible to verify whether it was the same man.

‘He helped me’

Seun needed to a pay a ransom of approximately $500. It was to be deposited in a bank account in Nigeria. But he did not have the money. He urged his ex-girlfriend to sell his car.

“It was in bad shape. It took three months for her to sell it,” says Seun. “There were no buyers.”

The irony is that Seun, a taxi driver, had no money to repair the vehicle in the first place, which is why he decided to go to Libya.

His ransom was finally paid last December. Seun thought he was free.

But then he was told he needed to pay a “gate-fee” of approximately $50. He had no money. But a Nigerian baker who sold bread at the prison took pity on him and paid the fee.

“He helped me a lot by taking me out of that place – it’s bad, very bad,” says Seun.

Seun then paid the man back by working in his bakery for several weeks in Sabha.

He then pushed on to Tripoli but was detained by Libyan police earlier this year and held at a detention centre. He was repatriated to Nigeria in April.

Now back in Lagos, he has no work, and rents a small dark room in one of the city’s sprawling slums. He is trying to piece his life back together.

He hopes to raise cash to buy a car and work as a taxi driver again. He wants to move to a better area so his young daughter can visit. He regrets ever setting out to Europe.

“The desert is such a dangerous place,” he says. “Many people died on the way. No-one should follow that path.”


Drug Mules, Smugglers Arrested At Or Tambo

Parliament – Three suspected drug mules and three people suspected of smuggling counterfeit goods into South Africa were nabbed at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg over the long weekend, the South African Revenue Service said on Tuesday.

The first arrests were made on Thursday when customs officials “intercepted 10 bags and three boxes with counterfeit goods estimated at R4.2 million”.

“Three passengers from Hong Kong via Nairobi were linked to the 10 bags and 3 boxes filled with designer wrist watches, footwear and tracksuits. They have since been handed over to the counterfeit team and brand holder attorneys,” Sars said in a statement.

A third passenger was linked to three abandoned parcels containing 3kg of cocaine worth over R800 000.

All three passengers and goods were handed over to the South African Police for further investigation.


Paying bride price for dead wife

A man in Mozambique’s southern province of Inhambane had to pay the traditional bride price, locally known as “lobolo”, for a dead woman at the weekend, Mozambique’s state radio reports.

After the woman died due to complications during childbirth, her relatives forced her young partner to pay the “lobolo”, warning that she would not be buried otherwise.

The relatives accused the young man of failing to fulfill his obligations, including being introduced to the woman’s relatives, before the tragedy occurred.

To ensure that the funeral took place, the young man says he had to buy clothes and shoes for his dead wife, agree to pay more than $800 (£630), and hold a symbolic wedding ceremony on 15 December.

A brother to the young man, Irmao do Jovem, explained their dilemma:

We tried to raise the money they demanded, but we could only put together about $178. So we had to sign a pledge promising to pay the remaining amount on wedding day, December 15th.”

A Yemeni employee counts one hundred US dollar notes at a currency exchange office in the capital Sanaa on February 12, 2017.

While the man’s family has conceded to the demands, they condemned the behaviour of the dead woman’s relatives.

However, this is a common practice among some ethnic groups in Mozambique, especially if a man decides to live with a woman, without going through all the marriage formalities.

Fighting groups sign truce in Central African Republic

A ceasefire agreement has been signed in Rome between the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) and rebel groups in the country.

The truce, which takes effect immediatel, will see armed groups in the CAR included in the political process in exchange for ending attacks.

The agreement was brokered by the Sant’Edigio Catholic Community in the wake of several years of sectarian violence between mainly Christian and Muslim militias, and the deployment of a long-running United Nations peacekeeping mission in the country.