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Ghana :NPP, NDC sabotaging RTI bill – CDD
October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Papisdaff Abdullah.

The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD) has accused the governing New Patriotic Party and the opposition National Democratic Congress of colluding against the Right to Information (RTI) bill. The RTI bill was laid before Parliament by the Deputy Attorney General Joseph Kpemka Dindiok in March this year. It has been 22 years since the first RTI bill was drafted under the auspices of the Institute of Economic Affairs, IEA and 16 years since the Executive arm of government in 2002 drafted the first RTI bill. The draft Executive Bill was subsequently reviewed in 2003, 2005 and 2007 but was never laid in Parliament until February 5, 2010. “…If there’s one, or two or three things that the two main political parties [NPP and NDC] align, agree to, then, it is this RTI that they don’t want. I think that’s what it is,” says Deputy Director of the CDD, Dr Franklin Oduro at a roundtable discussion on METOGU anti-corruption report in Accra. He continued, “My own view is that these two parties have demonstrated that they don’t want the RTI. So there’s no blame game between them, the NDC and the NPP. “Until they pass that law and not passing any law but the good law, I will still stand by my position that the two main parties…especially those represented in parliament have sort of come into secret understanding that let’s not get this law passage,” he added.

RTI will be law by end of 2018

Speaking at a press launch on March 26 as Ghana joined the rest of the world to mark the World Press Freedom Day, former Information Minister, Mustapha Hamid assured that the RTI bill will be passed into law by the end of 2018. “We have shown our commitment in this past year that we have come into office with a commitment to pass the Right to Information bill…the Right to Information bill is going to become law by the close of this year,” said Hamid who is now Zongo and Inner Cities Development Minister following President Akufo-Addo’s maiden reshuffle.

RTI’s passage will end media speculation

According to private legal practitioner Samson Lardy Anyenini, the passage of the RTI bill into would bring an end to the culture of media speculations in the country as public officials would be mandated by law to supply journalists and the public information requested of them. “Your ethics that say that you should be fair and deal with the fact will be upheld because you will get the fact. You will not be speculating. You will not be running rumours on media every morning in the name of a morning show,” he said at a Seminar organized by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) – Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) chapter earlier this year. “They are bound by law to supply you the contract and every information so as a journalist, you will be dealing with facts and figures that the law compels the public officials to give to you,” he added.

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Bank crisis: Gov’t saved deposits of 1m Ghanaians – Akufo-Addo
October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Papisdaff Abdullah

President Akufo Addo

President Akufo Addo

Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has revealed that the rationalization of the banking sector has ensured that deposits of 1,147,366 Ghanaians were saved.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the new Standard Chartered Head Office, President Akufo-Addo noted that his administration assumed the reins of office in January 2017, with the country’s banking sector in deep trouble.

According to him, some banks were saddled with high non-performing loans, $2.4 billion energy sector legacy debts, and were also thinly capitalized, and, as such, were unable to underwrite big ticket transactions.

“With time, even more toxic problems emerged, such as systemic widespread abuse, poor, irresponsible governance practices, liquidity challenges, circumvention of banking laws, all with the apparent complicity of some high-ranking officials of the Bank of Ghana,” the President said.

He continued, “There were situations where directors of banks took depositors’ monies, lent those monies to themselves or to their own businesses, and failed to pay back. This led to liquidity challenges and the inability of these banks to pay back when the depositors came calling.”

The Ghanaian President noted that the banks, caught up in these malpractices, became insolvent, and relied on liquidity support from the Bank of Ghana.

What this meant was that, President Akufo-Addo explained, without injection of liquidity from the Bank of Ghana, these were bound to fail and collapse, with depositors losing their entire savings, and all their workers losing their jobs.

The intervention of his Government and the Bank of Ghana, the President said, prevented a banking crisis, with GH¢12.7 billion of public funds, made up of an GH¢8 billion bond issued by the Ministry of Finance, and GH¢4.7 billion of liquidity support from the Bank of Ghana, being injected into the seven banks that failed.

“These measures saved not only the deposits of one million, one hundred and forty-seven thousand, three hundred and sixty-six (1,147,366) Ghanaians and their businesses and the people they employed, but also minimized job losses

President Akufo-Addo reiterated that the rationalization and clean-up of the financial sector were necessary to safeguard the health and strength of the economy.

“I have said it before, and let me reiterate, that those responsible for the sequence of activities that led to the ‘crisis’ will face the full brunt of the law, if they are found to have broken the law, and suffer all the consequences prescribed by law,” the President stressed.

Banking sector

Speaking on the role of the banking sector to the progress and prosperity of the country, the President noted that “when banks do not become mere profit-making enterprises, but see themselves as partners with Government actively to build a healthy and stronger economy, then we would be making significant progress.”

He indicated that the perennial problems of the slowdown in credit to the private sector, high bank lending rates, and financial exclusion continue to be matters of great concern to Government and are being addressed.

Firstly, the President noted that the introduction of the National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy (NFIDS), which is currently before Cabinet, should help increase the penetration of financial services from 58% in 2013 to some 85% by 2023.

Secondly, Government, he added, is working with financial institutions and regulators to promote digital finance, mobile money usage, and formalize the Ghanaian economy.

With mobile money penetration in Ghana being the second in Africa, and, with reforms to our payment system, the President was hopeful that Ghana will have a strong competitive edge in the region for financial innovation and access to credit.

“The introduction of the mobile money interoperability platform, launched in May this year, resulted in GH¢12.5 million worth of transactions within the first month alone. Currently, mobile money transactions are worth GH¢155.8 billion, up from GH¢78.5 billion in December 2016, representing an increase of 98.5%. We are moving our country’s payment systems from being a pre-dominantly cash-based one to an electronic one,” he added.

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Ghana: NADMO rushes to Afram Plains to rescue 100 submerged communities.
October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Papisdaff Abdullah

Officials of  Ghana’s National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO) are moving to Kwahu Afram Plains North District of the Eastern Rgion as floods submerge more than 100 communities.

The team comprising of the National Headquarters and the Eastern Regional Directorate is expected to arrive by Wednesday October 3. The devastating floods caused by the Bagre Dam Spillage and Torrential rainfalls in the area have collapsed hundreds of houses in the affected communities and displaced many residents who are now being sheltered in classrooms and Churches.

NADMO officials say most of the affected communities are on the Island adding that many more communities have been affected as the organization continues to receive distress calls from other Island communities reporting of similar incidents. Some of the affected communities are Mepe C.K Korpe, Kpekuidzi No.1 & 2 Zikpo,Kpekpa Korpe,Dodi,Apapasu Battor, KorleKorpe , Congo ,Kwaku Dadae,Gbadagba Kpala Tonu among others in the Eastern and Volta regions of the country.

The floods have also destroyed 40 acres of Maize, Cassava, groundnut and Sugar cane farms in Faaso Battor community. The Afram Plains North District Director of NADMO David Nyarko  told Starr News his staff are struggling to visit all the affected communities for assessment due to lack of safety logistics and speed boats.

“The Dwarf and the Afigya Island have about 500 communities, so we cannot cover it a day. Our Zonal Officers are along the lake but not all the areas that they are able to cover because the Volta Lake is bigger so it takes time”.

He added: ” we are waiting for the regional and National to come with speed boats so that we go there tomorrow so we are now mobilizing”.

The District NADMO Director blamed some residents for the devastation noting residents flout warning and build closer to the lake during the dry season.

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Postponing Terminal 3 commissioning Petty, embarrassing – Mahama Appointee
October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments
Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa

Former deputy education minister under the erstwhile Mahama government, Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa has expressed concerns over the government’s decision to postpone the commissioning of the popular terminal 3 at the Kotoka International Airport.

According to him, the move puts Ghana in a bad light since aviation giant Emirate has put in place measures to join Ghana celebrate the commissioning of the terminal.

The terminal, constructed by former President John Mahama, was scheduled to be commissioned on Tuesday October 2 by President Akufo-Addo.

Emirate has scheduled their 100th and biggest plane to fly in by a Ghanaian pilot as part of marking the ceremony.

“Insiders within the government confirm to me that there has been an indefinite postponement of tomorrow’s official opening of Terminal 3 and that President Akufo-Addo will no longer be attending the high profile ceremony.

“Now let us remember:

“Based on a request from Ghana, Emirates put out a press release on 18th July, changed crew and aircraft schedules and finalized arrangements to fly the A380 to Ghana. Who has let them and Ghana’s image down so badly?

When did we know that this event was ‘postponed indefinitely’, and did anyone bother to let Emirates know? If so, why are there still murmurings in Dubai? I am reliably informed that passengers who tried to get first class tickets were told that the entire First Class cabin had been blocked off for Emirati and Emirates airlines VVIPs. If this is true, what are we going to do with our VVIP guests who planned to attend a Presidential Commissioning? Is this not too much a price to pay because of bad politics and petty partisanship?” Ablakwa wrote in a feature Tuesday.

Below are details of the write-up

There’s not a scintilla of doubt that this is an exciting period for aviation enthusiasts. On Saturday, September 15, 2018, the new Kotoka International Airport Terminal 3 began operations (Go Live!, they called it).

It was a deeply awesome feeling when I finally had my own Terminal 3 experience last week en route to the 73rd United Nations General Assembly. I could identify with the tangible national pride and a renewed sense of accomplishment that many Ghanaians displayed while we went through embarkation formalities. Many were those who asked that I convey their gratitude to President Mahama for a great job done; obediently I obliged, promising them I will do just that when I meet with the former President upon my return.

Many Ghanaians have subsequently been looking forward to experiencing history and the future at the same place – Kotoka Terminal 3 – that beautiful new edifice, as it is common knowledge, that it will be commissioned at a grand ceremony at noon tomorrow Tuesday 2nd October. To make the day even more memorable and befitting of the international accolades Terminal 3 is receiving, Emirates airlines had scheduled a flight to operate into Accra on that day, using the world’s biggest commercial passenger aircraft – the double-decker Airbus A380. The significance of the first ever visit Accra by this behemoth (the history); and a new terminal capable of handling these new, incredibly large double-decker aircraft (the future) must not be lost on us!

According to Wikipedia, Emirates is the world’s fourth-largest airline in terms of international passengers carried, and the second largest in terms of freight carried. It operates a fleet of more than 250 aircraft, of which 104 are Airbus A380s. They have 58 of these giant aircraft on order. So I can imagine the great pride with which Emirates airlines management put out a press release on 18 July 2018, saying ‘Emirates iconic A380 aircraft will operate a one-off flight to Kotoka International Airport (ACC) on Tuesday 2nd October, 2018 as the global airline joins local authorities in celebrating the opening of the Airport’s new Terminal 3’. The press statement went on to say that ‘we have enjoyed a close relationship with Ghana as a strategic hub to West Africa for over a decade, and are honoured to bring our flagship A380 to this vibrant city’. The participation of this aircraft in the opening ceremony was at the request of Ghanaian aviation officials.

Emirates has been operating a daily passenger service to Abidjan via Accra since January 2004 (a flight with designation EK 787). The airline started operations on this route with an Airbus A340 and quickly changed this to the newer Boeing 777 – 300 aircraft. The flight arrives in Accra at 11:35 am daily and goes on to Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

On Tuesday 2nd October 2018, there will be a switch of aircraft used by Emirates on the Accra/Abidjan route to the world’s biggest passenger aircraft that has never visited Ghana before, and its arrival has been timed to place it at the centre of the commissioning of Terminal 3. The official commissioning of Terminal 3 by government was to be complemented by a separate ceremony by Emirates airlines focusing on the arrival of their special aircraft.

Compared to the Emirates aircraft that comes to Accra every day, this special aircraft has the following seat configuration:

14 First Class (6 seats more than the 777 that regularly operates on the Accra/Abidjan route)
76 Business Class (34 extra seats)

426 Economy Class (116 extra seats)

In summary, there will be 156 EXTRA SEATS on this special flight and it is important to note that NO EMIRATES FLIGHT WILL BE OPERATED TO ABIDJAN ON THAT DAY – Emirates has, at the request of Ghanaian aviation officials, decided to leave the aircraft on the tarmac in Accra for close to six hours to help us celebrate our big day.

To recap, Emirates put in place plans to do the following on Tuesday 2nd October TO SUPPORT OUR FUNCTION:

Terminate the flight in Accra (no continuation to Abidjan so no Abidjan passengers, revenue lost on the Accra to Abidjan leg, likelihood that Accra passengers alone cannot fill the entire aircraft, inconvenience to potential passengers who had planned to fly to Abidjan on 2nd October)

Schedule British/Ghanaian A380 Captain Nana Quainoo (picture of this great Ghanaian attached) and other Ghanaian crew to handle the flight on that day as a sign of partnership and respect.

Take a huge risk to bring in an aircraft for which they most likely don’t have ground engineering support for.

The icing on the cake is that the aircraft being operated into Accra is registered A6-EUV, the 100th Airbus A380 to be acquired by the airline. It is only 1.6 years old, and it has pride of place in the airline’s fleet. It is popularly known by the name ‘Year of Zayed 2018’, named to mark the 100th year since the birth of the founding father of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) -Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nayhan. What great lengths they have gone to, to celebrate what is essentially OUR DAY!!

Now guess what?

Insiders within the government confirm to me that there has been an indefinite postponement of tomorrow’s official opening of Terminal 3 and that President Akufo-Addo will no longer be attending the high profile ceremony.

Now let us remember:

Based on a request from Ghana, Emirates put out a press release on 18th July, changed crew and aircraft schedules and finalized arrangements to fly the A380 to Ghana. Who has let them and Ghana’s image down so badly?

When did we know that this event was ‘postponed indefinitely’, and did anyone bother to let Emirates know? If so, why are there still murmurings in Dubai?

I am reliably informed that passengers who tried to get first class tickets were told that the entire First Class cabin had been blocked off for Emirati and Emirates airlines VVIPs. If this is true, what are we going to do with our VVIP guests who planned to attend a Presidential Commissioning?

Is this not too much a price to pay because of bad politics and petty partisanship?

If it is not the case of destructive politicking, what possibly could account for this late notice of indefinite postponement of the commissioning which has led to a last-minute scramble to inform invited guests (financiers, contractors, other partners etc.) traveling from all across the globe that the event has been postponed?

Granted that this episode will be quickly forgotten, and another issue will come up soon to drown this one out, but I would plead that this decision is revisited, if at all possible, because we may not care, but in other places, someone’s word is his/her bond. Ever tried buying a rug or attire in a market in Dubai or Tehran? Time spent bargaining, drinking coffee with customers and reaching an agreement on prices matters even more than money. Words matter. Agreements matter. Trust matters. In the larger scheme of things, this may not be a big issue, but it doesn’t portray us as trustworthy partners, honestly.

As Ranking Member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament, I am terribly worried about what this pettiness does to brand Ghana and the ramifications for future strategic partnerships with the international business community with its resultant effect on the already struggling Ghanaian economy. And as for our official ties with the United Arab Emirates; if what I am picking up is exactly the case, then we must begin to tighten our seat belts for the turbulence ahead in our diplomatic relations.

Thankfully, Emirates is still going ahead with their own function to mark the arrival of the aircraft in Accra. Forget how our fellow Ghanaians who work with Emirates will feel about this – they will get over it. Forget about the effect it will have on operations at the new terminal – life will go on, commissioning or no commissioning. But remember that actions have consequences, and trust cannot be bought with money.

If we can do something about this embarrassment, let us do it NOW. 24 hours is a long time in aviation (and politics). EK787 (A6-EUV/A380/02OCT2018) has not taken off yet. Let’s put our best foot forward and fly above the pettiness!!!!

 

 

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Ghana:Cedi to depreciate further – ISSER hints
October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Papisdaff Abdullah

Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia

Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia

The Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER) has predicted the Cedi to further depreciate against the US dollar in 2018.

“It’s expected that the Cedi will depreciate slightly more than the 2017 levels because of the current rise in interest rate in the US market and the gradual increase in the proportion of foreigners holding Ghana’s domestic bonds,” the Institute’s Director Professor Felix Ankomah Asante said at a press conference to announce their findings.

The Cedi in May this year, according to the Central Bank governor, gained 0.02percet against the dollar then, compared to a depreciation of 0.97 per cent in the same period in 2017.

Since then, however, the cedi has recorded massive losses against the dollar, the latest being last week where it hit GH¢4.97 to the dollar.

It followed a July fall where it traded at GH¢4.8250 to the dollar depreciating cumulatively, by 5.3 per cent in the first six months, compared to 3.3 per cent in the first half of 2017 despite significant increments of weekly dollar sales to local banks in the country.

Critics have blamed government’s policies for the weakening of the cedi against the U.S. Dollar and other major currencies – a stance Vice President Dr Bawumia Bawumia rejected.

Cedi depreciated only 7% because of strong fundamentals

Dr Bawumia defended the Akufo-Addo government’s management of the economy in the wake of the depreciation of the Cedi against the United States dollar.

According to him, the depreciation of the Cedi against the dollar has been only seven per cent an indication of relatively stronger fundamentals of the economy.

He said the percentage depreciation of the Cedi which is only been seven per cent is because “over the last few months the US dollar internationally has strengthened against all the major currencies in the world” because the US federal reserve has increased its interest rate.

“So, you have been seeing over the last few months that many currencies in the world have been depreciating against the US dollar,” said Dr Bawumia. “For example, the Argentina peso has depreciated by 50.2percent this year against US dollar, the Turkish Lira has depreciated by 42percent against the US dollar, and the South African rand has depreciated by 19.2percent against the US dollar. In India, another strong market economy rupee has depreciated by 11 per cent against the US dollar, in the UK, the British pound has depreciated by 4.29percent against the US dollar and in this context, and so far this year the Ghana cedi has depreciated by just 7percent against the US dollar.”

That, according to him, meant that the exchange rate of the cedi to the dollar has remained “relatively stable when compared to the movements in other currencies against the US dollar. The reason for this is because of the relatively stronger fundamentals that we have in our economy.”

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Ghana:Govt blows $6m on private probes to nail Mahama appointees – NDC
October 4, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Papisdaff Abdullah

Johnson Asiedu Nketiah with John Mahama (right)

Johnson Asiedu Nketiah with John Mahama (right)

Ghana’s largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) has accused the Akufo-Addo administration of squandering over $6million on private investigations aimed at nailing appointees in the erstwhile Mahama government.

According to the NDC, the investigations being done by private investigators at a staggering cost to the state, are being done simultaneously with other state agencies like the Economic and Organized Crimes Office (EOCO).

“The NDC has credible information that an amount of at least $6.8million has so far being paid by the NPP government under President Akufo-Addo’s watch to these private firms to carry out work that’s already being done or has been completed by state agencies,” said the General Secretary of the NDC Johnson Asiedu Nketia at a news conference.

“Meanwhile,” he added, “the taxpayers’ money is being spent on state agencies like the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI), the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) of  the Ghana Police Service, the Economic and Organized Crimes Office (EOCO), the Special Prosecutor’s Office, the Auditor General’s Department and  the Attorney General’s. Any of these [institutions] could have carried out these audits.”

He said the party has evidence from some former appointees that while they have been or are being subjected to EOCO’s investigations and while they have submitted themselves to regularly reporting to EOCO, they have also received letters from some of these private firms to answer the same questions they have already answered at EOCO.

The NDC’s accusation follows the uncovering of some procurement irregularities amounting to a whopping US$137,861,127.15 at Ghana National Gas Company during the erstwhile administration of John Mahama by a private firm Morrison and Associates.

Nketia

Nketia

Commissioned by the government, Morrison and Associates’ forensic audit of Ghana Gas further detected that helicopters purchased from China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) by Ghana Gas “have never been used for purpose of its purchase.”

According to the audit report in possession of panafricanvisions.com, as a result of the situation, a whopping amount of $54,800,000 has gone down the drain as “financial loss to the state.”

It added: “Abnitio training cost not fully utilized for its intended purpose” amounts to US$300,000, making a total of US$61,058,366.756.

The report which has been submitted to President Akufo-Addo and his cabinet also detected procurement breaches worth US$34,451,650.22 and US$42,351,110.17 in contracts with Memphis Metropolitan Limited and Kingspok Company Limited respectively.

The report which covered the board chairmanship tenure of Dr Kwesi Botchwey also has it that equipment for the helicopters worth $5,958,366.76 “were not delivered even though it was part of the contract price.”

A former member of the Ghana National Gas Company board Dr Valerie Sawyerr has since challenged report of the forensic audit describing it as shoddy.

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Hilton on track to more than double its Footprint in Africa as it opens Legend Hotel Lagos Airport, Curio Collection by Hilton
October 2, 2018 | 0 Comments
Legend Hotel Lagos Airport sees the introduction of Hilton’s Curio Collection to Africa and marks the milestone of 500 operating hotels across EMEA
NAIROBI, Kenya, October 1, 2018/ — As it continues to grow its presence in Africa by introducing new brands and entering new countries, Hilton (NYSE:HLT) (http://newsroom.Hilton.com/) today announced it is on track to more than double in size in the next five years with the opening of Legend Hotel Lagos Airport, Curio Collection by Hilton (http://bit.ly/2IuCN4S) – the company’s first Curio Collection by Hilton hotel in Africa.

Legend Hotel Lagos Airport is located at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, which serves more than eight million passengers each year [1]. The stylish hotel is adjacent to the airport’s private jet terminal and has an exclusive immigrations and customs desk in the hotel for private jet passengers. Handpicked to be part of the exclusive collection of one-of-a-kind hotels and resorts celebrated for their individuality, the hotel joins more than 60 Curio Collection hotels around the world. This is Hilton’s first hotel in Lagos and its second in Nigeria, with an additional seven hotels in its development pipeline for the country.

Speaking ahead of the Africa Hotel Investment Forum (AHIF) in Nairobi, Hilton’s President and CEO, Chris Nassetta, said: “We continue to innovate in Africa with new brands and products, and we are pleased to introduce our Curio Collection brand here with the opening of Legend Hotel Lagos Airport. As the continent continues to undergo rapid urbanization, with the UN forecasting that the world’s 10 fastest-growing cities will all be in Africa by 2035, this hotel is a part of our strategy to connect guests to key cities and airport locations across the region.”

Hilton is seeing strong demand for its brands across the continent and expects to open eight hotels in total across Africa this year, three of which will fly under the Hilton Garden Inn flag. This brand appeals to the rising tide of middle class travelers into and across Africa and the company expects to open at least 16 Hilton Garden Inn hotels in the coming five years, including brand entries in Kampala, Ghana, Malawi, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and many other strategic locations across sub-Saharan Africa.

Last year, Hilton launched the Hilton Africa Growth Initiative, which will support the conversion of existing hotels to Hilton brands with an investment of US$50 million over five years. During that period, Hilton expects to secure 100 conversion opportunities with some 15-20,000 rooms added to its portfolio to meet the growing need for quality branded hotels across the continent.

Hilton is committed to growth and opportunity across Africa and has been a continuous presence on the continent since 1959. With 41 open hotels and 53 in its development pipeline in Africa, Hilton expects to double its footprint across the continent in the next five years. This includes market entries in 13 countries where it does not currently operate including Botswana, Ghana, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland), Uganda, Malawi and Rwanda.

About Curio Collection by Hilton:

Curio Collection by Hilton (https://CurioCollection3.Hilton.com) is an upper upscale, global portfolio of more than 60 one-of-a-kind hotels and resorts handpicked for their unique character. Curio Collection properties appeal to travelers seeking unexpected and authentic experiences, and the benefits of Hilton’s award-winning guest loyalty program, Hilton Honors (https://HiltonHonors3.Hilton.com/). Read the latest brand and property stories at news-room.Hilton.com/Curio; discover Curio Collection destinations through the eyes of locals with 48-hour itineraries at CitiesByCurio.com; and connect with Curio Collection on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CurioCollection/), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/curiocollection/?hl=en) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/CurioCollection).

 

About Hilton:

Hilton (NYSE: HLT) (newsroom.Hilton.com)  is a leading global hospitality company, with a portfolio of 14 world-class brands comprising more than 5,400 properties with nearly 880,000 rooms, in 106 countries and territo-ries. Hilton is dedicated to fulfilling its mission to be the world’s most hospitable company by deliver-ing exceptional experiences – every hotel, every guest, every time. The company’s portfolio in-cludes Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts, Conrad Hotels & Resorts, Cano-py by Hilton, Curio Collection by Hilton, DoubleTree by Hilton, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, Em-bassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton, Home2 Suites by Hilton and Hilton Grand Vacations. The company also manages an award-winning customer loyalty program, Hilton Honors. Hilton Honors members who book directly through preferred Hilton channels have access to instant benefits, including a flexible payment slid-er that allows members to choose exactly how many Points to combine with money, an exclusive member discount that can’t be found anywhere else, and free standard Wi-Fi. Visit newsroom.Hilton.com for more information, and connect with Hilton on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/hiltonnewsroom), Twitter (https://twitter.com/hiltonnewsroom), LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/hilton), Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/hiltonnewsroom/) and YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/hiltonnewsroom).

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Statement of the Second Joint NDI/IRI Pre-Election Assessment Mission to Nigeria
October 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

I. INTRODUCTION

From September 19-28, 2018, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) conducted a second joint pre-election assessment mission to Nigeria. The first assessmentmission visited Nigeria in July 2018 and issued a statement on July 20, 2018, with recommendations on steps that would enhance citizen confidence in the credibility of the elections. This second mission builds on the first and captures progress achieved thus far and remaining challenges that need to be addressed. The purpose of conducting two pre-election assessment missions in Nigeria is to:

  • Assess the current political and electoral environment in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections;
  • Assess preparations for the general elections and offer recommendations to enhance citizen confidence in the process and mitigate violence; and
  • Demonstrate international support for Nigeria’s democratization process.

The second assessment delegation was comprised of: Robert Benjamin, Senior Associate & Regional Director for Central and East Europe, NDI (USA); Mvemba Dizolele, Professorial Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (Democratic Republic of the Congo); Sarah Jegede-Toe, Co-Chair, Liberia National Elections Commission (Liberia); Anna Jones, National Network Coordinator, WANEP-The Gambia (The Gambia); and John Tomaszewski, Africa Director, IRI (USA).

The delegation met with a wide array of election stakeholders, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), political party and religious leaders, civil society representatives, security forces, academics, and representatives of the international community. In addition, the delegation traveled to Osun State to meet with electoral stakeholders ahead of the off-cycle gubernatorial election on September 22, 2018 and visited several polling units in the cities of Osogbo, Ilesa, Ede, and Ofatedo on voting day to witness the conduct of the election within the framework of preparing for the 2019 general elections. The delegation expresses its deep appreciation to everyone with whom it met for sharing insights from which the mission benefited greatly. The delegation conducted its activities in accordance with the laws of Nigeria and the Declarations of Principles for International Election Observations, which was launched in 2005 at the United Nations.

Both IRI and NDI have deployed international election observation missions to all general elections in Nigeria since the 1999 transition from military to civilian democratic rule. IRI and NDI are nonpartisan, nongovernmental organizations that support and strengthen democratic institutions and practices worldwide. The Institutes have observed collectively more than 200 elections in more than 50 countries over the last 30 years. IRI and NDI will deploy a joint international delegation to observe the presidential, National Assembly, gubernatorial and state assembly elections in Nigeria in 2019.

II. SUMMARY

Nigeria’s 2019 elections will be an important step for the country’s democracy. If successful, the elections would consolidate democratic gains achieved in the last two decades since the transition from military to civilian democratic rule. The elections are also expected to be closely competed among the major political parties. President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking reelection after historic elections in 2015 when the country experienced its first transition of presidential power from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)—which had been in power since the transition from military to civilian democratic rule in 1999—to the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Numerous positive developments have occurred since the 2015 elections that enhance today’s electoral environment in Nigeria. Some of these developments were noted in IRI/NDI’s first pre-election statement. For example, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) has improved the voting process, notably through the introduction of continuous voter registration, adoption of simultaneous accreditation and voting, improvements to the secrecy of the ballot, and advancement of the smart card reader technology. Young people are also more motivated to participate in politics and hold their representatives accountable through initiatives as the Not Too Young To Run campaign. Citizens are also deeply committed to democracy. Afrobarometer’s 2017 survey found that 72 percent of Nigerians agreed that democratic elections are the best means of choosing their country’s leaders.

Despite the above improvements in the administrative and procedural aspects of the voting process, deficits in the political process could undermine the democratic character of the 2019 elections. Numerous interlocutors commented on the lack of equitable competition within political parties regarding candidate selection, and, relatedly, a penchant among parties to induce voter support through means that run contrary to the spirit of democratic franchise. For many Nigerians, the pervasive role of money in the campaign process lies at the heart of these concerns.

III. NOTABLE IMPROVEMENTS

The IRI/NDI delegation recognizes numerous positive developments initiated by electoral stakeholders—some of which followed the IRI/NDI July 2018 pre-election statement—that are contributing to an enhanced electoral environment:

  • Improvements to election administration – The delegation notes that INEC has initiated several measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of voting since the last pre-election assessment mission. Citizen observer group YIAGA Africa stated that the September 22 Osun State poll was an improvement over previous elections in Anambra and Ekiti states in that most sensitive and non-sensitive election materials arrived on time thus facilitating the punctual opening of polling units, poll workers were deployed early, and results were posted in the polling units. The delegation also notes that INEC has improved efforts to recruit staff, particularly women, and provide better training, which can yield more uniform polling unit operations and clear roles and responsibilities among various polling officials.

  • Enhancement of the ballot secrecy – During the Ekiti election, citizen observer groups as well as IRI/NDI’s delegation noted deficiencies in ballot secrecy in some polling units during the process and offered recommendations to address these issues. For the Osun election, INEC instituted measures that enhanced ballot secrecy, including providing additional guidance to poll workers on the configuration of the polling unit and banning the use of cellphones while voting. Higher consistency of polling officials in guiding voters to roll their ballots avoided spoiling the ballot while also obscuring the voter’s choice from view. These changes enhanced the voters’ privacy and reduced the possibility of vote buying and voter intimidation on Election Day.

  • Enhancements to the biometric verification system – Software enhancements to the smart card reader have increased the rate of successful verification of voters’ biometric data and increased the speed of the voting process. This lessens the burden on voters and polling workers. In addition, smart card readers used for voter accreditation are experiencing fewer malfunctions. Reports from citizen observer groups in Osun State indicated that malfunctions were resolved in timely fashion.

  • Strong commitment by civil society to improve the electoral process – As noted in IRI/NDI’s July 2018 statement, civil society is playing a critical role in the areas of conflict mitigation, inclusion, voter and civic education, and citizen-based voter observation. During this assessment, IRI/NDI heard about additional initiatives underway, including the Access Nigeria Campaign and Center for Citizens with Persons with Disabilities’ advocacy for better inclusion of PWDs on Election Day. As a result of these efforts, INEC adopted the Framework on Access and Participation of Persons Living with Disabilities. Some of the measures were implemented during the Osun State election, such as the use of a Braille Ballot Guide and a form that counts voters with disabilities. Efforts by the International Federation of Women Lawyers to mitigate violence against women has the potential to increase women’s participation in the electoral process and deter psychological and physical violence that too often curtails their participation. The Peace and Security Network is coordinating efforts to identify potential risks of electoral violence and mobilize response efforts.

IV. REMAINING CHALLENGES AND CONCERNS

Despite the above improvements, the delegation noted challenges, that if left unaddressed, could limit the ability of Nigerians to experience a fully participatory and credible process. With 140 days left before the elections, there is need to urgently address these issues.

  • Delays in finalizing legal framework for the 2019 elections – The delegation notes consensus among political, civic and governmental stakeholders on proposed amendments to the Electoral Act 2010, which could improve the credibility and transparency of elections in 2019. After weeks of back and forth between the executive and legislative branches, the bill is currently with the National Assembly, which is slated to reconvene on October 9, 2018. However, delays in the amendment’s passage have many Nigerians questioning whether INEC will have enough time to implement these changes for the 2019 elections.

  • Delayed release of funds for the 2019 elections – Nigerian interlocutors expressed concerns regarding timely and sufficient funding for the 2019 elections. INEC leadership has affirmed that it will be prepared for elections if the full budget is released when the National Assembly returns to session. Several electoral stakeholders in Nigeria underscored the need for timely logistical and operational preparations.

  • Security threats – Delegates heard continued concerns about persistent insecurity, particularly in the Middle Belt and North East, which may be amplified in the pre-election environment. Insecurity, combined with heightened political tensions, raise the likelihood of political and/or communal violence, which would disproportionately impact vulnerable populations such as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Should existing conflicts remain unresolved and/or the threat of violence intensify, personal insecurity could deter enthusiasm or prevent citizens from participating in the electoral process. In light of these complex and difficult circumstances, it is incumbent on security services in Nigeria to ensure a safe and secure environment for citizens to exercise their right to vote and to contribute to public confidence in the overall electoral process. Some Nigerians are concerned that security efforts could be used for partisan agendas at the expense of their ability to fulfill their mandate as prescribed by law.

  • Vote buying – The delegation heard complaints about the lack of robust investigation and, where merited, prosecution of alleged vote buying, despite numerous instances reported by civil society groups. Improvements to the electoral administration and procedure and a higher number of political parties vying for elected positions have enhanced political competition and narrowed margins of victory. Tighter political competition heightens the risk of political parties relying more intensively on unethical and illegal means to secure victory, including inappropriate voter inducement schemes and vote buying. Political parties are responsible for their campaigns and are obligated to follow the law. The delegation heard from many stakeholders, including those within political parties, that there is neither sufficient will nor incentive to remedy these issues.

  • Barriers to internal party democracy – The delegation recognizes that some political parties have experimented with direct primaries that empower members to select a candidate of their choice, while others rely on indirect measures for candidate selection. In reality, candidates contesting in party primaries are often imposed on members by political elites and so-called “godfathers.” Political parties lack comprehensive membership lists, which does not provide a foundation for a successful direct primary process. There is also a lack of open and advance communication from national party leaders about the composition of delegate lists and the mode and date of voting. These circumstances can heighten intra-party tension and focus party attention inward at a time when their ability to communicate effectively with voters is paramount.

  • Women’s participation in the electoral process – The delegation understand that there are barriers for women, youth, and PWDs to be active participants in the electoral process, including but not limited to attempts to run for elected office. These barriers include the lack of access to party decision-making structures and financial obligations that are impossible to meet without the support of political party elites to whom aspirants can become politically and/or personally beholden. Prevailing social structures and practices limit the ability of women to enter and advance in politics, and often discourages them from engaging in political life in the first place. Women politicians with whom the delegation met referenced numerous instances of discrimination, which led to their dissuasion from and, in some cases, loss of will to participate in politics. The failure to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities bill last year in the National Assembly and of political parties to establish and implement voluntary electoral party gender quotas are missed opportunities for increasing women’s political participation and enhancing the electoral environment in Nigeria.

  • Incitement to violence and disinformation – The IRI/NDI delegation observed with concern the use of inflammatory language by political parties, particularly through social media. Much of this rhetoric, which at times contains false or unverified information or hate speech, can manipulate public perceptions, heightens tensions, and fuels the possibility of election-related violence. Following the Osun election, the delegation observed on social media the circulation of false results, misleading photos and videos, and inciting statements by political parties, which contributed to heightened tension during and following the results announcement process.

V. RECOMMENDATIONS

The delegation believes that with political will and through coordinated efforts by all stakeholders, many of the above-mentioned challenges can be addressed to enhance citizen confidence and participation in elections and mitigate violence during and after the polls. In the spirit of international cooperation, the delegation therefore offers the following recommendations to electoral stakeholders in Nigeria, which build upon and reinforce the recommendations of the first pre-election assessment mission.

Recommendations for the Federal Government of Nigeria:

  • Provide sufficient and timely funds so that INEC and other electoral bodies can fulfill their responsibilities as prescribed by law.

  • Ensure the timely passage of the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010.

  • Ensure that security services maintain the highest level of professionalism and impartiality in facilitating the electoral process, refrain from actions that could be seen as motivated by partisan interests, enable accredited observers and journalists to perform their work, and protect the right of citizens to exercise their votes freely.

  • Enforce laws against election malfeasance (including vote buying) and ensure equal and robust application through such measures as the establishment of the Electoral Offenses Commission and Tribunal.

  • Respect and uphold press freedom and freedom of information laws in letter and in spirit.

Recommendations for the Independent National Electoral Commission:

  • Take concrete measures to combat vote buying through voter education campaigns, enforcement of laws against voter inducement, and nationwide ban on cellphones in the voting cubicle.

  • Enhance as much as possible the physical space for voting to facilitate the processing of voters on election day. Prioritize training for polling officials on configuring polling units to enhance ballot secrecy while maintaining a transparent voting process.

  • Decentralize the Permanent Voter Card (PVC) collection process from the local government level to the ward and community levels and intensify voter sensitization to increase PVC collection rates.

  • Implement the PWD framework, including operationalizing the Braille Ballot Guide and Form EC30PWD nationwide for Election Day, conducting voter education to increase the participation of PWDs in the voting process, and improving accessibility of polling units.

  • Undertake measures to increase understanding of the vote collation process and ensure access of observers and party agents to collation centers.

  • Publish polling unit-level registration and results data on INEC’s website in a machine-readable format.

  • Release specimen ballots well in advance of Election Day so that civil society and other electoral stakeholders can conduct sufficient voter education to orient voters.

Recommendations for political parties:

  • Engage, at the leadership level, in inter-party dialogue, such as the one facilitated by the National Peace Committee in 2015, and adhere to agreed provisions therein.

  • Proactively investigate and, where substantiated, take punitive action against party members and supporters who use hate speech and violence (including through gangs) or disseminate false information during the election cycle.

  • Demonstrate thorough adherence to campaign finance regulations and commit to the proper use of resources in engaging voters. Provide access to INEC auditors per applicable regulations.

  • Adhere to and enforce existing codes of conduct that commit parties to democratic electoral standards regarding campaign use of resources, engagement of voters, peaceful resolution of disputes, and acceptance of verified and credible results.

  • Empower the Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) to perform its coordination and mediation functions effectively with a priority on state level engagement.

  • Upon conclusion of party primaries, promote party cohesion through equitable access to dispute resolution and reconciliation mechanisms.

  • Participate in public debates and otherwise enable candidates to reach out to citizens so that the latter are duly informed of party and candidate platforms and policy positions. Devote time and attention to women and youth candidates in particular.

Recommendations for civil society:

  • Begin voter education as soon as feasible on ballot design, use and secrecy; vote buying and other illegal practices; the role of security forces in the voting process; and vote tabulation and collation procedures.

  • Begin to focus voter education in IDP camps or areas where IDPs have recently returned home so that they are afforded the same opportunities to participate in the voting process.

  • Promote the peaceful participation of citizens in the electoral process and draw on existing inter-religious and peacebuilding bodies to enhance their efforts.

  • Disseminate information about citizen-based observation findings and analysis to increase public knowledge and understanding about the conduct of the elections.

Recommendations for state-owned and private media:

  • Provide balanced coverage of political activities and opinions during primetime television and radio shows, and in the print media.

  • Without infringing on freedoms of the press and expression, refrain from disseminating proven “fake news” or inciting language by electoral stakeholders that could inflame tensions around the elections.

  • Provide political parties with ample opportunities to share information on their policies and manifestos with voters.

  • Disseminate messages on the importance of peaceful participation in the electoral process.

Recommendations for the international community:

  • Support Nigerian civil society at the state level to implement creative and strategic programs around voter and civic education and conflict mitigation that target groups of voters most in need of information, including women, youth, PWDs rural populations, and IDPs.

  • Continue to regularly message to the main political actors and parties on the importance of respecting the rule of law and holding credible, meaningful polls.

IRI and NDI will continue to observe the electoral process and will issue additional statements as appropriate. IRI and NDI will also field joint international election observation missions for the 2019 general elections. IRI and NDI will cooperate with other international observation missions and Nigerian citizen observer efforts in accordance with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Nigerian law.

The delegation’s work was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

*Source NDI

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Top UN adviser calls for Cameroon investigation
October 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Emmanuel Igunza*

Mr Dieng said there's need for dialogue to resolve the Cameroon civil crisis

Mr Dieng said there’s need for dialogue to resolve the Cameroon civil crisis

The UN special adviser on prevention of genocide has called for immediate investigations into a wave of killings in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions.

Adama Dieng described the atrocities being committed in the country as “concerning” and said both sides of the conflict should “sit around the table and dialogue to end the conflict”.

“The crimes committed by both parties need to be properly and independently investigated and perpetrators of those crimes need to be brought urgently to justice so that people know that no-one is above the law – that all Cameroonians are equal,” he said.

Groups calling for independence of the region they call Ambazonia have been staging attacks against government forces, which have responded with what has been condemned as a brutal crackdown.

The separatists are riding on long-held complaints by residents of the South-West and North-West region over what they see as marginalisation by the French-speaking majority.

They say they are forced to use French in schools and courts.

Both sides have been accused of kidnappings, extra-judicial killings and the burning of villages.

“My worry is that we still have many people being killed, so far more than 400 people. We have seen atrocious crimes being committed. We need to have political dialogue but also demand for justice,” he told me.

Cameroon is to hold presidential elections on 7 October. “It is true that one could not exclude some form of violence [around the polls] but for the time being things seem to be under control,” Mr Dieng said.

Map

Cameroon government forces have also been accused of human rights crimes against civilians in their fight against Islamist militant group Boko Haram in the far north of the country.

Recently, a BBC investigative report analysed a horrifying video that showed two women and children being blindfolded and shot multiple times by Cameroonian soldiers.

The Cameroon government has since arrested some of the soldiers shown in the video despite initially dismissing the footage, which was widely shared on social media.

Mr Dieng also defended the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after US President Donald Trump made scathing attacks against the Hague-based court, saying it lacked legitimacy and jurisdiction.

Some African countries have also threatened to withdraw from the Rome Statute that set up the institution.

“It is very unfortunate that there is today this perception that the ICC is selective. That’s not true,” Mr Dieng said.

He said the court was an important deterrent to war crimes being committed in the world.

“History has shown that the ICC is an independent court governed by the law. We saw the case against Kenya’s current President Uhuru Kenyatta being closed, and we also saw what happened with the case of [ex-Democratic Republic of Congo warlord] Jean-Pierre Bemba, who on appeal was also acquitted.”

“I supported African leaders when they said they wanted to have their own court, but since they adopted the protocol to set it up, how many Africa states have ratified the protocol? Not more than five. It’s very unfortunate,” he added.

*BBC

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Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa takes on repressiveness online
October 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Hans Ngala

Accra, Ghana.

The fifth edition of the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) has ended with calls for media professionals to form coalitions to curb the harassment of these professionals by governments across Africa.

Three hundred participants from across Africa, Europe, Asia, North and South America discussed everything from fake news and disinformation to restrictive policies that make the work of journalists difficult and how these restrictions can be bypassed.

“Governments will always use ‘national security’ as an excuse to shut down the internet and repress freedom of expression”, Sulemana Braimah, executive director of the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) told attendees at the opening of the two-day event in Accra, Ghana last week.

“This is the time to hold these stakeholders to account” he added.

Smaller sessions discussed how to stay safe online in a continent where being online and expressing oneself is often equated with “terrorism”.

The topic was handled by the Zone 9 bloggers, a group of Ethiopian bloggers; some of whom were arrested and allegedly jailed for doing their job by the Ethiopian authorities.

“Governments label those who are brave to fight for justice as terrorists” said Befekadu Hailu, one of the Zone 9 bloggers narrating how he was tortured for simply blogging.

Discussions in other panels addressed the issue ‘fake news’ across social media platforms on the continent.

Journalists and bloggers were called upon to go last with a story and first with the truth to ensure that they don’t fall victim to the dissemination of unverified information. Added to this, they would need to find tools that will help them to verify the authenticity of photos, audio, tweets and other infographics that sometimes pass for ‘news’ on social media when they really are not.

“The internet nowadays is just as important as water or electricity. You simply cannot do without it” Peter Asare from the Pan African University in Cameroon told the audience. “You cannot separate your life online from your life offline’’ and so “we better fight for the right to freedom on the internet” Charles Onyangobo from Africapedia said.

Cameroon, Gabon, Togo and a host of other African countries have shut down internet connectivity within the last two years mainly for reasons to do with politics. A phenomenon which will “continue with impunity unless we rise up to denounce this ill in the strongest possible terms” according to Olumide Babalola, a Nigerian lawyer.

“We, like the proverbial hunter who shoots without missing, must also find ways to circumvent the incessant censorship by governments on cyberspace” stated Dr. Waraigala Wakabi from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA).

It is worth mentioning that the FIFAfrica is a landmark event that convenes various stakeholders from the internet governance and online rights arenas in Africa and abroad to discuss issues relating to internet governance and internet freedom.

This is the first time it was held in West Africa, having been hosted in East and Southern Africa before. This year’s event was jointly hosted by CIPESA and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and saw students, academics, journalists, opposition politicians, ICT experts, human rights activists among several others in attendance.

 

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Gunfire Rocks“Ambazonia” Independence Observation
October 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Hans Ngala

There have been several deaths and casualties in the restive English-speaking area of Cameroon where separatists are battling soldiers. The clashes follow a ban imposed by authorities restricting movement from one sub division to another and prohibiting the assembling of more than four persons.

“We could not go to church yesterday” said a resident of Ndu, a tea-growing town some 110km from the regional capital of Bamenda. “People were teargassed out of a church yesterday by soldiers”, the woman who opted for anonymity told the American Media Institute.

Most churches remained close Sunday as people feared arrests by soldiers and the few who made it to some churches were asked to return home by gun-wielding soldiers according to sources on the ground.

Monday was characterized by gunshots in towns like Bamenda,Kumbo and Pinyin with reports of unverified fatalities and casualties at this stage given the volatility of the situation.

Sources also said two military helicopters were flying overhead and that “there has been intermittent shooting since morning; probably between the Ambazonia fighters and soldiers. We are all lying on the floor to avoid getting hit by stray bullets.”

“Ambazonia” is a rebrand of the Southern Cameroons which joined French Cameroun in 1961 on the basis of a two-state federation that was discarded in 1972 by then president Ahmadou Ahidjo in favour of a “United Republic of Cameroon.”

Southern Cameroonians say the abolition of the two-state federation went against agreements reached between the two Cameroons at a Conference in Foumban, French Cameroun where it was agreed that the two-state nature of the state shall remain sacred.

Southern Cameroonians who have since been split into the Northwest and Southwest of the country have also long complained of economic and political marginalization and things came to a head in 2016 when lawyers and teachers complained of having French-speaking teachers and judges imposed upon them by the central government and called for a return to the two-state federation.

Government arrested key leaders and later succumbed to international pressure and released them; but continued harassment of activists and journalists, shutting down internet access and a refusal to touch on the political demands made has led to a call for not just a return to the two-state federation but an outright ‘restoration’ of the statehood of the Southern Cameroons.

The International Crisis Group, Amnesty International and other organizations have warned that the situation is likely to escalate further especially with a presidential election scheduled for October 7 with president Paul Biya in power for 36 years seeking re-election.

 

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A new report estimates that more than 380,000 people have died in South Sudan’s civil war
October 2, 2018 | 0 Comments

By Siobhán O’Grady*

South Sudanese demonstrators await the arrival of President Salva Kiir at Juba International Airport on June 22, 2018. (Akuot Chol/AFP/Getty Images)

South Sudanese demonstrators await the arrival of President Salva Kiir at Juba International Airport on June 22, 2018. (Akuot Chol/AFP/Getty Images)

Years of brutal civil war in South Sudan have left at least 382,000 people dead, according to an estimate in a new State Department-funded study that far surpasses an earlier figure issued by the United Nations and points to the horrors of an often-overlooked conflict.

The findings of the study, conducted by a small team at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine but commissioned by the U.S. Institute for Peace in partnership with the State Department, were released Wednesday.The Washington Post obtained an advance copy of the report.

In March 2016, U.N. officials estimated that the conflict had killed about 50,000 people, and for years, a more accurate death count has been missing as a metric to measure the bloodshed, even as the conflict raged on. Experts say an accurate death toll can be a critical tool for policymakers.


Ghanaian peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan patrol in March in Leer, a town in South Sudan where famine has been declared since February 2017. (Stefanie Glinski/AFP/Getty Images)

But counting the dead is a challenge in war zones, where many people are displaced and crucial data is hard to come by.

By comparison, the new estimate puts the death toll from the violence in South Sudan on par with the impact of conflicts such as the war in Syria, where upward of 510,000 people are believed to have died in a significantly larger population.

Gordon Buay, deputy chief of mission at the South Sudanese Embassy in Washington, said he thinks the estimate is “not accurate.” He said he would put the death toll at fewer than 20,000 people.

“If you included disease and everything, it would be less than 20,000,” Buay said.

But Francesco Checchi, the lead epidemiologist who worked on the study, said his team’s estimate is conservative. He and other researchers at the London school statistically analyzed mortality data in the country to estimate conflict-related deaths between December 2013 and April 2018.

They compiled data from humanitarian agencies and media reports, piecing together factors including food security, presence of humanitarian groups and intensity of armed conflict to create a statistical model that predicts mortality by county. At the center of their research were around 200 surveys conducted by humanitarian groups across South Sudan.

Checchi called the process “painstaking.”

In South Sudan, a number of factors, including the dangerous nature of the conflict, have made calculating a death toll through a national survey and interviews with families nearly impossible.

The country broke away from Sudan seven years ago, after decades of deadly conflict that eventually led to shaky independence. But South Sudan soon fell back into war, after a rivalry between President Salva Kiir, from the Dinka ethnic group, and then-Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, turned violent.

The conflict started in Juba, the capital, and spread across the country. Journalists, human rights researchers and humanitarian workers have collected evidence of mass atrocities committed by both sides in the conflict, but rights groups say most attacks on civilians have been carried out by government troops. In some areas, entire villages were said to have been razed. Women were allegedly raped and children burned alive, and some families even reported forced cannibalism.

South Sudan’s then-first vice president, Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir sit to be photographed after the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government in the capital, Juba, in April 2016. (Jason Patinkin/AP)

South Sudan’s then-first vice president, Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir sit to be photographed after the first meeting of a new transitional coalition government in the capital, Juba, in April 2016. (Jason Patinkin/AP)

Checchi’s team took into account assumptions about what the death rate would have been without civil war to find how many excess deaths the conflict has caused. The researchers factored in the reality that many people have fled or were killed in circumstances that might have been exacerbated by the conflict, such as outbreak of disease or malnutrition, he said. South Sudan experienced a man-made famine last year.

*Source Washington Post.Siobhán O’Grady writes about foreign affairs for the Washington Post. She previously freelanced across Africa and worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy magazine. 

 

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