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AccorHotels Expands Presence in Nigeria
August 6, 2018 | 0 Comments

-New project signings mark the launch of MGallery and Pullman brands in Nigeria

Engr Kola Ogundayo, Managing Director of Tom Hawksworth Limited  and Olivier Granet, CEO, AccorHotels Middle East and Africa

Engr Kola Ogundayo, Managing Director of Tom Hawksworth Limited and Olivier Granet, CEO, AccorHotels Middle East and Africa

AccorHotels, the world’s leading travel & lifestyle group, today announced the beginning of a new partnership with TomHawksworth Limited, a prominent property and real estate developer, with the signing of Pullman and MGallery Ikoyi in Nigeria. The signings mark the launch of both in the country and are expected to open in late 2020.

The 100-room MGallery and 204-room Pullman, situated in the prime neighbourhood of Ikoyi, are both in close proximity to the business area of Victoria Island. The MGallery Ikoyi benefits from easy access to the upmarket residential neighbourhood of Ikoyi and Banana Island. The Pullman Ikoyi, located on Ojora Road, enjoys prime visibility and direct access to destinations such as the Lekki Area.

Following the signing, Olivier Granet, Chief Executive Officer of AccorHotels Middle East and Africa (MEA), commented: “Since opening our very first hotel in Nigeria almost 20 years ago, we believed in the long term potential of the destination having witnessed incredible growth as one of the largest economies in Africa. As the market continues to evolve, there is a need for international brands and it is our commitment to fill this gap with two of our leading upper upscale brands – MGallery and Pullman.”

“With today’s signings with TomHawksworth Group, our valued partner, we are delighted to be entrusted with such an ambitious project. It not only reinforces our regional presence within Abuja and Lagos, but throughout West Africa and the entire continent, as well. Our leadership position in the luxury and upscale segment has taken shape with a growing interest for Pullman with over 15 hotels in our Africa and Middle East network as well as our storied collection of boutique hotels under the MGallery brand, with a property in Addis Ababa to open within the year.”

Engineer Adekola Ogundayo, Managing Director of TomHawksworth Limited said: “The signing of these two landmark agreements reflects our vision and mission to become one of the leading property developers and managers in Nigeria. Through our partnership with AccorHotels, we are delighted to introduce a boutique brand like MGallery and a cosmopolitan upper upscale concept such as Pullman to Nigeria. We look forward to working with AccorHotels to develop and manage what will undoubtedly become flagship hotels.”

MGallery Ikoyi features innovative restaurant and lounge concepts including an all-day dining restaurant, fine dining restaurant and lobby bar, all helping to establish MGallery as a lifestyle destination within Lagos. Drawing inspiration from its surroundings in Ikoyi, MGallery will offer a members’ only club, providing for an exclusive experience in an enviable location. Leisure and fitness based amenities also include a fully equipped gym, swimming pool and a well-appointed spa.

In-line with Pullman’s appeal to cosmopolitan travellers, Pullman Ikoyi features an eclectic range of dining options, including an all-day dining restaurant, pool bar, fine dining restaurant and lobby bar. Retaining the brand’s values of comfort and immersive design, the Pullman Ikoyi serves as an urban refuge with a spa, gym and pool. Pullman Ikoyi includes dedicated meetings and events facilities which will become available following the completion of a second phase of development, including a ballroom and state-of-the-art meeting rooms.

A collection of inimitably enchanting, unique boutique hotels, the debut of MGallery in Nigeria, is a milestone in the expansion of the brand across Africa. MGallery places story making at the heart of the services, amenities, décor and dining concepts across each hotel. Offering a mix of Heritage, Serenity and Signature hotels, MGallery hotels provide one-of-a-kind moments, spirited by local experiences, lively food and beverages and customized discovery tours. MGallery Ikoyi will join four other MGallery hotels located in Africa.

Pullman Hotels & Resorts is a cosmopolitan collection, delivering a modern, upscale, upbeat and immersive experience with global zeitgeist. Pullman is a pioneering travel brand with a remarkable history, dating back more than 150 years. Pullman has become a prominent upper upscale brand in Africa with five properties located across gateway cities and far-flung destinations such as Marrakech, Douala and Kinshasa. Existing flagship Pullman properties in Dakar and Abidjan are also undergoing extensive refurbishments to elevate the brand further within the continent. The brand will make its debut in Nairobi and Addis Ababa in the near future.

AccorHotels has eight hotels in operation and in the pipeline in Nigeria. Following the successful reopening
of the fully renovated Pullman Dakar and Pullman Abidjan, the committed network (operational and pipeline) of AccorHotels in the Middle East and Africa is over 300 hotels, representing 80,000 rooms across 30 countries in the region.

AccorHotels is a world-leading travel & lifestyle group and digital innovator offering unique experiences in more than 4,300 hotels, resorts and residences, as well as in over 10,000 of the finest private homes aroun d the globe. Benefiting from dual expertise as an investor and operator, AccorHotels operates in 100 countries. Its portfolio includes internationally renowned luxury brands such as Raffles, Sofitel Legend, SO/, Sofitel, Fairmont, onefinestay, MGallery by Sofitel, Pullman and Swissôtel, the mid-range boutique hotel brands 25hours, Novotel, Mercure, Mama Shelter and Adagio, and very popular budget brands such as JO&JOE, ibis, ibis Styles and ibis budget, as well as the regional brands Grand Mercure, The Sebel and hotelF1. AccorHotels provides innovative end-to-end services across the entire traveler experience, notably through the acquisition of John Paul, world leader in concierge services. With an unmatched collection of brands and rich history spanning close to five decades, AccorHotels, along with its global team of more than 250,000 dedicated women and men, has a purposeful and heartfelt mission: to make every guest Feel Welcome. Guests enjoy access to one of the world’s most rewarding hotel loyalty programs – Le Club AccorHotels. AccorHotels is active in its local communities and committed to sustainable development and solidarity through PLANET 21, a comprehensive program that brings together employees, guests and partners to drive sustainable growth.

 

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Chad: Austerity measures killing students’ dreams and ambitions
August 6, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Balkissa Ide Siddo*

Students protesting in Chad

Students protesting in Chad

The wind blew and coloured the landscape in dusk-like orange as we settled to meet with a group of university students under a neem tree in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Chad’s capital, N’Djamena.

It was about 5.30PM. My colleague and I were part-way through a field mission to investigate the devastating impact of government-mandated austerity measures on ordinary people, and we were eager to hear from some of the many students whose bright futures were now in doubt.

16 public university students from different parts of the country had gathered to discuss, to describe to us the financial hardships they have faced since the government decided in August 2016 to scrap the US$53 (XAF 28,000) monthly scholarships for all students, except for those enrolled in medical schools, at vocational universities or studying abroad.

After an introduction about the objectives of the meeting, one of the students stood up and set the tone:

“These decisions are unfair and contradictory to the authorities’ claim according to which education is a key priority […]. They did not consult us,” he said.

“They said they will reinvest the money saved (from cancelling the scholarships) to improve our study conditions through the university student welfare centre… Nothing was done. Our study conditions are dire. Did you visit the Toukra University? We don’t have electricity it’s been over a year now and water on the campus is scarce […]. When we protested against the decision, we were beaten up, arrested and some of us were imprisoned”.

One by one, the students took turn to speak. We listened to their disappointment and sometimes anger over the austerity measures that have sparked numerous protests over the past two years. Even the wind calmed down, as if lending an ear to their testimonies.

Many scholarships scrapped

Besides healthcare, education has been a major casualty of the government’s severe spending cuts. Almost one third of all higher education students in Chad have been affected by the government’s abolition of the monthly scholarships. This is especially crippling for students from marginalized communities such as those from rural areas and poor family backgrounds.

Most of the students that spoke to us under the neem tree come from rural areas and used their scholarships to pay their rent, food, transportation to the university and other bills. Now that these have been scrapped, many students are finding themselves in a dire situation.

“I have six months’ rent arrears and I do not know where to go for support,” said Bachir, and orphan whose family live in a village.

“Before, I used the scholarship – even though it came late – to pay my rent and other needs. Now it doesn’t exist. Since it was cancelled by the authorities, I don’t know what to do.”

Jobs are scarce in Chad 

Some of the luckier students have been able to find jobs as security guards, selling cellphone credit cards or driving motorcycle taxis. But then they struggle to combine work and study, with the majority too often forced to miss classes to earn a little more to make ends meet.

Officials from the Ministry of Higher Education have told us that they plan to reintroduce scholarships for disadvantaged students and to increase the budget of the student’s welfare centre to improve study conditions, but they admitted that none of this had happened and could not confirm when it would.

Piling on further misery – increasing registration fees

In October 2017, the authorities made students’ lives even more difficult by doubling the registration fees for public universities – except for students at medical and vocational schools. A new student now has to pay US$94 to enrol (XAF 50,000). A new re-registration fee was introduced for returning students who must now pay US$53 (XAF 28,000) to continue their studies. Previously, re-registration fees were subsidized by the government.

These higher fees have made it even more difficult for students to pay for their courses and their bills. Most of the 16 students we met told us they feared not being able to continue their studies.

They particularly worried about their friends from rural areas and poorer backgrounds because this new measure would stop people from embarking on the path to higher education, denying them a better future.

Peaceful protests are met with violence and prison 

In protest at the negative impact the government’s austerity cuts have had on their lives and hopes of academic success, many students have taken to the streets in peaceful demonstrations. On several occasions they faced police violence, beatings, and arrests and in some cases imprisonment. Three of them and a 21-year old high school student who joined our discussion later, were arrested and sentenced to prison after taking part in protests against the impact of austerity measures on education.

From January to March 2018, Amnesty International has documented the arrest of at least 150 people for “engaging in unauthorized protests” and “public disorder”. The majority of those arrested were students, at least 42 of them were sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to four months.

Balkissa Ide Siddo

Balkissa Ide Siddo

There is a different way

Instead of using measures that are hitting some of the poorest hardest whether in the education or health sector, the Chadian government should look for alternative ways of balancing their budget. Closing tax loopholes and tackling corruption would have been not just fairer but more effective options in addressing the revenue gap. According to the IMF, Chad lost US$1.09 billion to tax evasion in 2013. This amount is nearly double the country’s total education and health care spending in the same year, which was US$555 million before cuts were applied.

Keeping promises and meeting legal obligations

I can’t help but think about what President Idriss Deby Itno said during the global Partnership for Education Financing Conference in Dakar in February 2018.  Referring to poverty, underdevelopment, conflict and terrorism, President Itno said: “The only sure way to combat these scourges in a sustainable way is to ensure that all children, including the most marginalized, have a good education.”

During the same summit, he also announced that the Chadian government is committed and determined to increase the share of the national budget for education to 20 per cent of the national budget by 2020.

After nightfall, we left the group of students after a few words of encouragement. On our way back to our hotel, my colleague and I were silent. One question remained in my mind: Will the commitment made by President Idriss Deby Itno during the 2018 global Partnership for Education Financing Conference be a reality one day for all these Chadian students yearning for accessible quality education and a better future?

It’s in the hands of the authorities to improve the prospects of all young people in the country.

As a start the authorities need to carry out an assessment of the impact of austerity measures on the rights of Chadian people to access education and other sectors such as health and social services. Such an assessment should be used to guide the law and policy reform needed to ensure that Chad meets its legal obligations to guarantee that everybody has the opportunity to enjoy their economic and social rights.

On 16 July, Amnesty International launched a report to highlight the consequences of the austerity measures on the population’s economic, social and cultural rights.

*Balkissa Ide Siddo, Amnesty International Central Africa Researcher

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South Sudanese foes sign final peace deal
August 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Deng Machol

File Picture.Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir hold hands with Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, South Sudan's Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar during a peace meeting in Khartoum as part of talks to negotiate an end to a civil war that broke out in 2013, June 25, 2018. /REUTERS

File Picture.Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir hold hands with Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, South Sudan’s Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar during a peace meeting in Khartoum as part of talks to negotiate an end to a civil war that broke out in 2013, June 25, 2018. /REUTERS

Kampala – South Sudan warring parties signed final peace deal on Sunday evening in Khartoum, in an efforts ending more than four years of conflict in the youngest nation.

President Salva Kiir, opposition leader Riek Machar, a representative of the former political detainees and representatives for other South Sudan opposition groups signed on the agreement during a signing ceremony at Sudan’s Presidential Palace in Khartoum, capital Sudan.

This peace agreement focuses on powers – sharing (governance) and security between the warring parties.

Sudanese foreign minister Al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed announced that the holdout opposition groups have finally agreed to sign the deal.

This direct peace talks amongst warring parties were hosted under patronage of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

According to this peace, president Kiir will led the transitional government for 36 months, with Riek Machar reinstated as the country’s first vice president and more four vice presidents.

The deal also provides for 35 ministries during the transitional period. According to the deal, there will be 550 members of parliament.

Kiir’s side will take 20 slots in the new 35-member government, while Machar’s SPLM-IO and other smaller opposition groups will take the rest.

Previous peace deal signed held for a months before fighting erupted again in 2016.

South Sudan has just returned to civil war in 2013, two years after her independence from Sudan in 2011. Fighting has claimed tens thousands of people and displaced 2.5 people from their homes. Conflict has ruined oil production, caused economic crisis in the country.

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International election observation missions to Zimbabwe’s harmonised elections condemn post-election violence in Zimbabwe
August 5, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Wallace Mawire

Hailemariam Desalegn  headed the AU election observer mission to Ethiopia

Hailemariam Desalegn
headed the AU election observer mission to Ethiopia

 The International Election Observer Missions present for the 30 July Harmonised Elections in Zimbabwe have said that  while appreciating the generally peaceful and orderly pre-electoral environment and on the  voting day, express their grave concern about the regrettable outbreaks of post-election violence.

 “At the outset, we extend our sympathies to the families and loved ones of those affected by these troubling incidents” the missions said.
  It added that while recognising the right to peaceful protest, they condemn vandalism and destruction of property and call on political party supporters to abide by the law.
 “We denounce the excessive use of force to quell protests and urge the police and army to exercise restraint,” the missions added.
The missions also urged the  Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), to release the full and detailed results expeditiously, in a transparent and accountable manner saying that the  election presents an opportunity for Zimbabwe to break the cycle of electoral contentions and post-election violence.
 “We call on the leadership of all political parties and their supporters, in particular the two main parties, ZANU-PF and the MDC Alliance, civil society, faith based organisations, and all other stakeholders to safeguard the integrity of the political and electoral process” they added.
Also  all stakeholders and citizens have been urged to pursue grievances peacefully and through the established legal channels.
“We encourage political leaders to show magnanimity in victory and graciousness in defeat,” the missions said .
  The missions said, on 30 July, the people of Zimbabwe went to vote in high numbers, aspiring for a new beginning. They added that they stood  in solidarity with them as they look up to their leaders, and all stakeholders to complete the process peacefully and credibly, and to ensure their votes truly count.

 

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ZLHR calls for peace and respect for human rights in Zimbabwe
August 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Wallace Mawire

Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party of Nelson Chamisa sing and dance in the street outside the party's headquarters following general elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 31, 2018.REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party of Nelson Chamisa sing and dance in the street outside the party’s headquarters following general elections in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 31, 2018.REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has said that it is greatly concerned, by disturbing events that unfolded in Harare on  01 August 2018, during a protest by unarmed civilians in Harare following the  announcement of the 2018 National Assembly results, after the harmonised elections held on 30 July 2013.

According to ZLHR, reports indicate that, members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) were acting to contain the situation that was unfolding in the Harare central business district. ZLHR says that it  has further received information that armed elements of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) used excessive force to disperse the protestors.

The protests erupted in the  morning with civilians protesting against the outcome of the 2018 harmonised elections, although the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission continued to announce the outstanding results for the National Assembly elections at the National Command Centre, situated at the Rainbow Towers hotel in Harare.

According to ZLHR, reports indicate that the ZDF opened fire, using live bullets and wantonly brutally assaulting unarmed protesters resulting in several people sustaining injuries and some people losing their lives.

ZLHR said that while it does not not condone any violent acts by members of the public could have handled the situation in a restrained and reasonable manner without subjecting members of the public, media practitioners and innocent by standers to arbitrary and unlawful acts such as harassment, assault, torture, other forms of cruel and inhuman treatment, loss of life, which are a violation of their fundamental rights.

“The right to demonstrate is a fundamental and constitutionally guaranteed right for citizens to exercise in expressing their concerns and aspirations as guaranteed in section 59 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Further section 58 of the Constitution guarantees everyone’s right to freedom of assembly and association. ZLHR wishes to remind the public, however that the right to demonstrate must also be exercised with due regard of the rights of others” ZLHR said.

ZLHR said that while authorities may have been concerned by the conduct of the protestors, the ZDF’s conduct is unacceptable and does not justify the brutal response. Such conduct by elements of the ZDF is a serious  threat to national security. The role of the ZDF as outlined in section 212 of the Constitution is to protect Zimbabwe, its people and uphold the supreme law. Further, the United Nations Basic Principles on the use of force and firearms by law enforcement officials provide that lethal force may only be used under circumstances where it is unavoidable and in order to protect life in proportion to the seriousness of the situation and objective to be achieved.

ZLHR  said that it calls for:

•       All members of the public to remain calm and peaceful;

•       All political parties to encourage their members and members of the public to exercise their rights with due regard to rights of others;

•       Members of the ZRP and the ZDF to conduct themselves with utmost respect for all the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed in the is party to;

•       Those ZDF members involved in the gross violation of citizens’ rights to be appropriately disciplined or prosecuted, regardless of their rank and be held accountable to prevent recurrence.

 

 

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Calm returns to the streets of Harare following recent violent protests
August 4, 2018 | 0 Comments
By Wallace Mawire
Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) of Nelson Chamisa burn an election banner with the face of Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare, Zimbabwe, Aug. 1, 2018.

Supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) of Nelson Chamisa burn an election banner with the face of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa in Harare, Zimbabwe, Aug. 1, 2018.

Calm has returned to the streets of Harare in Zimbabwe following recent violent protests by the opposition MDC Alliance which reportedly  saw at least six people being killed by the military and scores injured.

   However, business activity is beginning to slowly pick up after the police has assured the public that they should continue with their normal business activities.

Today, Friday, a few shops had opened up early in the morning with most business people not sure whether the violent skirmishes would erupt following the announcement of the presidential election results.

Yesterday, Thursday, most business grinded to a halt as there was heavy presence of security agents, especially the military who are reported to have ordered most citizens to vacate the Central Business District (CBD) of Harare by 1 pm mid-day.

Most shops, including banks remained closed following the destruction of properties blamed on opposition activists.It is also reported that some of the business premises and vendors who conduct their daily activities in the pavements of Harare’s CBD were subjected to looting and lost their wares.

Today, vendors who had fled from the skirmishes amid open gunfire on demonstrators from the military are slowly trickling in parading their wares in anticipation of normal business activity with hope to regain lost time and income experienced during  the past three days.However, on observation it is evident that a sense of fear still prevails and some shop owners are still afraid to open their business.

Most  citizens interviewed by Pan African Visions in the streets of Harare have condemned the recent violent demonstrations by opposition MDC activists which they said had resulted in the death of some innocent people caught in crossfire and  severely affected normal business activity, especially in the CBD of Harare city.

The army was deployed in the capital on Wednesday after police proved unable to quell demonstrators who claim Monday’s historic election was being  rigged.

In a late-night press conference, Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu warned that the government “will not tolerate any of the actions that were witnessed today.”

“The opposition… have perhaps interpreted our understanding to be weak, and I think they are testing our resolve and I think they are making a big mistake,” he said.

By mid-afternoon yesterday much of the city centre resembled a war zone, with military helicopters flying overhead, armoured personnel carriers moving through burning debris and patrols of soldiers chasing stone throwers down narrow streets. A pall of smoke filled the sky. On cracked pavements there was glass and – in some places – blood.

Terrified commuters took cover in shop doorways or behind walls still covered in posters bearing portraits of election candidates as volleys of shots rang out and stones flew through the air.  Soldiers were seen  beating people with makeshift batons.

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In Nigeria, Anglophone Cameroonians turn to low paid labour
August 3, 2018 | 0 Comments

Thousands who fled a government crackdown on protests struggle for basic necessities in neighbouring Nigeria.

 By Linus Unah*
Cameroonian refugees gather at an aid centre in Agbokim Waterfalls village to collect food and other items [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

Cameroonian refugees gather at an aid centre in Agbokim Waterfalls village to collect food and other items [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

Agbokim Waterfalls, Nigeria – Stella Obi wakes every morning in search of odd jobs in Agbokim Waterfalls village in southern Nigeria’s Cross River state.

With a hoe and a machete, the 34-year-old asks locals if they have any work for her on their farms.

She weeds or breaks cocoa pods.

“I get paid between 500 to 1000 naira ($2 to $4) a day,” she tells Al Jazeera as she works the soil in a small vegetable field. “I never tasted this kind of suffering when I was in my village in Cameroon.”

Obi, a mother of six, is among over 180, 000 Cameroonians who fled their homes following a violent crackdown by the Cameroonian government on Anglophone separatists who declared independence from the French-speaking majority on October 1.

More than 21,000 people have crossed the border to Nigeria, according to NGOs, though local emergency officials say the number could be higher, at up to 50,000.

Tensions rose in late 2016 with a strike by barristers and then teachers, both of whom were protesting against the use of French in schools and courts in Cameroon’s English-speaking northwest and southwest regions.

More protests followed in major cities in the regions, with local residents joining rallies.

As calls for either integration or autonomy grew louder, the government stepped in with heavy-handed tactics.

Security forces were deployed to the regions; protests were met with violence, arrests and killings. Hundreds of homes were razed.

The Ambazonia Defence Forces and other rebel groups sprang up and fought back, and armed separatists kidnapped civil servants, torched government buildings, and killed soldiers.

We left everything behind and fled to the forest. My husband tried to go back and gather some things and he was killed.-

STELLA OBI, REFUGEE FROM CAMEROON

Most Cameronian refugees settled in Cross River state, which has a border with southwest Cameroon.

In Agbokim Waterfalls village, Obi and thousands of refugees have little or no access to food, medicine, education, clothing, drinking water and sanitation facilities.

“We left everything behind and fled to the forest,” Obi says, beads of sweat gleaming on her forehead. “My husband [a cocoa buyer] tried to go back and gather some things and he was killed.”

The asylum seekers are mostly staying with host families. Some households raised money for rent after doing odd jobs.

The UNHCR has been supporting the refugees, but it is now struggling with a lack of funds.

“I am becoming frustrated here,” says Obi, who is now joined by two of her children at the farm. “We have only received [support] two times, and sometimes it does not get to all of us, [especially] the sick, old and blind.”

Turning twigs into teeth-cleaning sticks

Across the road, another asylum seeker, 43-year-old Janet Obi, clears shrubs growing beneath large maize stalks, working with so much force that she stops regularly to catch her breath.

She is angered by the government’s use of force on protests.

“My [nephew] was playing outside our home when he was shot by a soldier,” she recalls. “He was innocent, he did nothing wrong. Our people are being shot like animals; we are armless civilians.

“I came to this village with my two children and 21 relatives last year. I used to be a businesswoman dealing in cocoa and fashion wears. Now I am doing anything to survive.”

Janet emphasises the word anything.

Janet Obi, a businesswoman before the conflict started, now works on farms to feed her family [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

Some women and children work on building sites, carrying bricks and other materials to make enough money for food.

Others use their income to buy tree branches to make chew sticks – which are used in some parts of Africa to clean teeth – to sell.

Across Agbokim Waterfalls, it is common to see refugees chopping tree branches into twigs.

 
Most Cameroonian refugees in Agbokim make chew sticks to survive [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

At an unfinished apartment building in the village centre, Mary Obong and a group of nine children are loading piles of twigs into a 100kg sack.

“I have to make chew sticks to feed my seven children and two of my grandchildren who are staying with me,” Obong says, imploring the children to hurry.

Families hosting refugees give Obong the branches and pay her anything from 1,500 to 3,000 naira ($5 to $10) to fill up a bag. The process could last a week or a little less.

 
Mary Obong is one of thousands of refugees from Cameroon who have fled violence [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

After Francophone Cameroon secured independence in 1960, the UN facilitated a referendum that allowed regions under British mandate to either join Nigeria or the larger French-speaking Cameroon.

Southern Cameroon – the present-day northwest and southwest regions – joined the Republic of Cameroon, but a national referendum in 1972 changed Cameroon into a unitary state.

Current President Paul Biya, who came into office in 1982, changed the country’s name in 1984 to the Republic of Cameroon, the initial Francophone territory name.

A second yellow star on the green stripe of the flag was removed, with the government touting the move as a symbol of unity.

However, a group of five elderly Cameroonian refugees who spoke to Al Jazeera say the second star represented the Anglophone regions, and its removal showed that Cameroon was not “one” or “united”.

Cameroon has a population of nearly 24 million people. An estimated 20 percent live in the Anglophone regions.

Eight out of the country’s 10 administrative provinces are Francophone.

Many in the Anglophone community feel marginalised by the French-speaking government in Yaounde, citing a lack of political representation, job opportunities and resources and the imposition of French in schools, official documents and courts.

More than half of Cameroon’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from the Anglophone regions, according to estimates.

“The bulk of Cameroon’s industrial output, including its only refinery, is in the [Anglophone] Southwest Region, a fact which may partly explain the central government’s urgency in moving to quell secessionist elements,” says Cheta Nwanze, head of research at Lagos-based geopolitical risk consultancy firm, SBM Intelligence.

“What it unintentionally accomplished, however, was to inflame the feeling of discontent and disillusionment among large sections of English-speaking Cameroonians, which has seen the ranks of the separatist fighters increase.”

 
Ntui Patrick Obi, a former Cameroonian policeman, says many refugees would not go back to live under Paul Biya’s rule again [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

Discontent is common among the refugees.

“Many resources [such as] crude oil, cocoa, palm oil, timber, rubber, and banana come from our side, but after taking them away they forget us and face the Francophone areas,” former Cameroonian policeman Ntui Patrick Obi, 78, tells Al Jazeera.

“Our children will finish school with all their knowledge and the books they know but there is no work,” says Helen Agbor, an 80-year-old refugee.

“Why would Paul Biya want us to remain in Cameroon? He couldn’t even give our children a broom to sweep the road to get money to eat. Some of them are becoming thieves because of no work. We will resist him until the end.”

 
Cameroonian refugees in Agbokim Waterfall village wait in the sweltering heat outside a centre to receive assistance [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]

If President Biya, 85, extends his 35-year rule in upcoming elections, the crisis is expected to deepen, according to analysts.

“Cameroon sits at the crossroads of West and Central Africa, a strategically important position from a geopolitical standpoint,” says Nwanze, the researcher at SBM Intelligence.

“On all of its international boundaries – Boko Haram in Nigeria, ethnic militias in Chad and sectarian fighters in the Central African Republic – instability abounds. A further escalation of the violence into more open and defined conflict will have repercussions that extend beyond its borders.”

Back in Agbokim Waterfalls village, hundreds of refugees pour into an aid centre. More than 1,000 people wait outside, plastic bowls and cups in their hands.

They gather like this whenever food and other items come in from the Anglophone diaspora, or local people and churches.

Inside the centre, there are grains, vegetable oil, salt and tins of tomatoes.

 

Quarrels simmer over how to ration out the supply.

It is in moments such as this that Stella Obi, the widowed mother of six who works the vegetable fields, remembers home.

“Soldiers burned our homes, clothes, property, bags of cocoa – just everything, so what is the point of returning?” she asks.

“My children ask me ‘where is our father?’ every day.”

 
Cameroonian refugees gather at an aid centre in Agbokim Waterfalls village to collect food and other items [Linus Unah/Al Jazeera]
 *Culled from Al Jazeera
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Zimbabwe election: Emmerson Mnangagwa declared winner
August 3, 2018 | 0 Comments

Electoral officials say ZANU-PF leader won presidential poll marred by violence and rigging allegations.

 by

Mnangagwa has promised to bring in foreign investment and create jobs [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Mnangagwa has promised to bring in foreign investment and create jobs [File: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters]

Harare, Zimbabwe – Incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa has won Zimbabwe’s presidential election, according to official results, in a poll marred by deadly violence and opposition allegations of vote rigging.

Mnangagwa, of the ruling ZANU-PF party, won 50.8 percent of the votes cast, with his closest rival Nelson Chamisa, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance, garnering 44.3 percent, Zimbabwe’s electoral commission announced in the capital, Harare, early on Friday.

A candidate needed more than 50 percent of the votes to secure an outright victory in Monday’s poll.

Mnangagwa, a former vice president popularly known as “the crocodile” because of his political shrewdness, has been in power since November 2017 following the resignation of long-time president Robert Mugabe in the wake of a military intervention.

Shortly after the announcement of the results, Mnangagwa took to Twitter to thank Zimbabweans and hailed “a new beginning”.

The 75-year-old has vowed to bring in foreign investment and create much-needed jobs.

Paul Mangwana, spokesperson for ZANU-PF, said the ruling party was “very happy with the results”.

“We’re very pleased that our president has won because it means that we can now deliver the change that’s promised to the people,” he told Al Jazeera.

He added that if the opposition had “the courage to claim fraud, then they must have the courage to face us in court – we are ready for the battle and we will defeat [them] the same way we defeated them at the polls.”

His comments came as Morgan Komichi, MDC Alliance chairperson, described the results as “bogus”.

“We were not given time to verify the results. This result that you are hearing has not been verified. These are bogus figures. They are bogus results, and we believe that a lot of the figures have been inflated,” he said, speaking outside the National Results Centre.

ZANU-PF, which has ruled the southern African country since independence in 1980, also won a clear majority in the 210-seat parliament.

The ruling party won 145 seats, followed by the MDC which took 63. The National Patriotic Front and an independent candidate also picked up one seat each.

Tense calm

The streets of Harare remained deserted on Thursday, with shops closed a day after clashes between security forces and MDC supporters, who claimed foul play in the vote counting of the parliamentary poll.

At least six protesters were killed and 14 wounded.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that soldiers used live rounds to disperse the demonstrators. Security forces also used tear gas and water cannon at them.

Even before the presidential poll results were released, the MDC accused the government of rigging the election – the first without Mugabe in the ballot in decades.

“We have won this election and Mr Mnangagwa knows it – our supporters must be calm and anticipate massive celebrations,” Chamisa told reporters earlier on Thursday, after visiting wounded protesters at Harare’s Parirenyatwa hospital.

EU observers: Un-level playing field

More than five million people registered to vote, while a total of 23 presidential hopefuls run for the country’s top seat – all first time contenders.

It is the first time since the end of white-minority rule that such a large number of candidates competed for the Zimbabwe’s presidency.

The Electoral Commission said on Wednesday 1.3 percent of registered voters could not cast their vote because they presented the wrong documents at polling stations.

Observers from the European Union criticised the poll, saying there was “un-level playing field” and “intimidation of voters”.

“These elections were seen as a critical test of Zimbabwe’s reform process,” Elmar Brok, the EU mission’s chief observer, said on Wednesday.

“In some senses, up to this point, the conduct of the polls has had a number of positive features, but in other senses, serious concerns remain,” added Brok.

 *Al Jazeera
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South Africa to seek constitutional change for land reform
August 2, 2018 | 0 Comments
"It has become patently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation," said South African President Cyrcil Ramaphosa (AFP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

“It has become patently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation,” said South African President Cyrcil Ramaphosa (AFP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Johannesburg (AFP) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that his ruling party would seek to change the constitution to speed up redistribution of land to the country’s poor black majority.

Much of the most productive land in South Africa is still owned by white people, 24 years after the end of apartheid which systematically disenfranchised black people.

White farmers control 73 percent of arable areas and it is widely understood to be that land which could be forcibly seized and transferred to the previously disadvantaged.

“It has become patently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation,” he said in a televised address.

“The (ruling) ANC will, through the parliamentary process, finalise a proposed amendment to the constitution that outlines more clearly the conditions under which expropriation of land without compensation can be effected,” he added, vowing the change would “unlock economic growth”.

The issue of whether to take land without compensating current owners is by far the most divisive and emotive issue facing modern South Africa with critics drawing parallels with Zimbabwe’s disastrous reforms.

Until now the government has pursued a policy of “willing buyer, willing seller” to enable land transfer.

But in February lawmakers voted to establish a commission charged with rewriting the constitution to allow for forcible land transfers without compensation.

Observers have suggested constitutional reform is a ploy by the African National Congress (ANC), which has faced political pressure from the radical leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, to win votes in elections due next year.

“The intention of this proposed amendment is to promote redress, advance economic development and increase agricultural production and food security,” said Ramaphosa.

He has previously endorsed land reform on the condition that it should not hurt agricultural production or economic output.

The ANC alone does not have the two-thirds parliamentary majority required to amend the constitution but would be able to pass changes with the support of the EFF.

 *AFP
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Mnangagwa says he is in talks with Chamisa to defuse tension
August 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

By MACDONALD DZIRUTWE AND JOE BROCK*

President Mnangagwa (seated) says he has reached out to Chamisa (standing) to call for calm after violence erupted in Harare in a tense build up to the release of election results expected to be won by the ruling ZANU PF

President Mnangagwa (seated) says he has reached out to Chamisa (standing) to call for calm after violence erupted in Harare in a tense build up to the release of election results expected to be won by the ruling ZANU PF

Harare – Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Thursday he had been talking to opposition leader Nelson Chamisa to try to defuse tension over this week’s presidential election after violent clashes on the streets of Harare.

Writing on Twitter, Mnangagwa also called for an independent investigation into the violence, in which three people were killed after soldiers were deployed to the streets of the capital.
 Zimbabwe police said three people were killed in Harare on Wednesday as soldiers dispersed stone-throwing opposition supporters who accused the ruling party of trying to rig Monday’s presidential election.
The deployment of soldiers and their beating of unarmed protesters set back President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s efforts to shed Zimbabwe’s pariah status after decades of repression under Robert Mugabe, who was ousted in a coup in November.
Even before the violence, European Union observers questioned the conduct of the presidential and parliamentary vote, the first since Mugabe’s forced resignation after nearly 40 years in charge of the southern African nation.
Zimbabwe’s electoral commission had said it would start announcing results for the presidential race from 10.30 GMT on Wednesday but that was then pushed back at least 24 hours. EU monitors said the delay was undermining the vote’s credibility.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told state broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) that the three people killed in the clashes had yet to be identified.
Gunfire crackled as troops, backed by armoured vehicles and a military helicopter and some with their faces masked, cleared the streets of opposition protesters.
The unrest started soon after Nelson Chamisa, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), declared that he had won the popular vote.
*Reuters
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Zimbabwe’s ruling party wins control of parliament
August 2, 2018 | 0 Comments
President Mnangagwa is likely to be pronounced as winner of the Presidential elections

President Mnangagwa is likely to be pronounced as winner of the Presidential elections

Zimbabwe’s ruling party has won a majority of seats in Parliament, the electoral commission announced Wednesday, as the country braced for the first official results of the presidential election.

The ruling ZANU-PF won 109 seats while the main opposition MDC party had 41 in the country’s 210-seat House of Assembly. The commission said 58 seats had yet to be declared.

The commission says it will announce the results of Zimbabwe’s presidential race, pitting President Emmerson Mnangagwa against opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, only after all the votes have come in from across the country.

Western and other election observers were poised Wednesday morning to give their first public assessments of the election and whether it was free and fair.

The opposition alleges the elections have irregularities, saying voting results were not posted outside one-fifth of polling stations as required by law.

Mnangagwa’s government, meanwhile, accused Chamisa and his supporters of inciting “violence” by already declaring he had won Monday’s election, the first after former leader Robert Mugabe stepped down in November under military pressure.

“Let me also warn such individuals and groups that no one is above the law,” Home Affairs Minister Obert Mpofu said. Security forces “will remain on high alert and continue to monitor the security situation in the country.”

Zimbabweans desperately hope Monday’s peaceful vote will lift them out of economic and political stagnation after decades of Mugabe’s rule, but the country is haunted by a history of electoral violence and manipulation that means trust is scarce, despite today’s freer environment.

While the electoral commission has five days from the end of voting to release the final tally, the national mood is growing anxious partly because unofficial results are already swirling on social media.

Dozens of opposition supporters gathered Tuesday evening at their headquarters in the capital, Harare, celebrating in the belief that they had won the presidential election based on results they said they collected from agents in the field.

As they danced to music blasting from speakers set up on a truck, police with water cannon circulated in the area.

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Zim Elections:EU Observer Mission lauds turn out but critical of soft intimidation
August 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Nevson Mpofu

European Union Election Observation Mission Chief Observer Elmar Brok (centre) briefing journalists in Harare. Picture: @eueomzimbabwe/Facebook.com.

European Union Election Observation Mission Chief Observer Elmar Brok (centre) briefing journalists in Harare. Picture: @eueomzimbabwe/Facebook.com.

European Union Election Observer Mission in Zimbabwe has declared the recent elections as not free, fair and credible at all.

This has come at a time the preliminary results of the Elections are pronounced by ZEC, ZANU PF leading all the way in all rural areas. By the time of going to Press, ZANU PF out of 140 constituencies had won 110 and MDC Alliance 38 and two for other Independent candidates.

Elmah Brok today in Harare at a Press Conference in the chagrin of lack of transparency of the State Media spoke out in short , precise declarative voice .

‘’The Elections were not free, fair and credible, why I testify. Public Media was biased and prejudicial. The voices and will of the people through Media was far away from fairly being handled,

‘’Peaceful elections, yes, but underground activities, soft intimidation and inside biting in stealthy tactics ‘’

The EU witnessed hidden intimidation in rural areas prior to elections, before casting the vote and after. This they say was done more silently in stealth and cool tones.

Norbert Neuser from Germany, Head of European Parliament Delegation pointed out that the main voice of the Public Media was negative towards MDC Alliance.

‘’Soft intimidation was the main hiding snake’’ in rural areas where people were voting in fear, with confusion and without literacy’’

‘’ZEC failed to display positive perspectives to the public. There was less voter education in most rural or even urban areas .In-fact there was strategy of insufficient information to pervade rural folk for confusion and less extra-sensory perceptions’’ .

‘’There are short comings even up to now of whispers related to soft intimidation , that targets those in favor of MDC Opposition .

There is strong linkage between ZANU PF , MDC ,ZEC and Public Media like Herald and ZBC . This emerged with evidence that is in all people’s hands.

Nobert said the number of women and young people was marvelous. However he cited lack of dialogues among them, lack of more voter education and creation of confusion, fuming terror, perplexing future aftermath of elections terror.

‘’We are still to see and dig further into these issues. People are confused about the reality on ground. They thought otherwise, for a new change in the country, he said’’

The QUESTION OF THE DAY.A foreign Journalist asked Elmah Brok  .’’Do you see ZEC transparency? Elmar Brok got cornered during the question and Answer session. Elmar nodded in Nathan tones, boggled in mind answering with a snarling face .

‘’ In the future you need to revamp ZEC please. It must be Independent. How can it be transparent if it falls under the State and the State is in friction with opposition.’’?

On ununiformed Military intimidation circulating news in the rural communities, he drew laughter from the crowd by shouting,

‘’Unfortunately I do not know them, can -not identify if dressed that way’’.

‘’My big statement is, Electoral Bodies in Africa must be Independent .But meanwhile ask me later for more’’, he said in precise.

Deputy EU Election Observer Mission Mark Stevens cried foul over the issue of Traditional Leaders who were reported in massive intimidation in rural areas.

‘’The intimidation of traditional leaders contributes to this soft intimidation. The whole process lies on the floor with more to assay before and after the final results which we wait for now,’’ he concluded.

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