Category Archives: Central Africa

DR Congo – Christian sect members attack prison and free leader

Reuters

By Aaron Ross | KINSHASA

KINSHASA Supporters of a jailed Christian sect leader attacked the prison holding him in Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital, freeing him and about 50 other inmates early on Wednesday, the government said.

Ne Muanda Nsemi – a self-styled prophet and leader of the Bundu dia Kongo movement – was arrested in March after a series of deadly clashes between his supporters and police, government spokesman Lambert Mende said.

Witnesses said they had heard gunfire near Makala prison at around 4 a.m. (0300 GMT) and saw prisoners wearing blue shirts with yellow collars in the streets.

The United Nations warned its staff to avoid unessential movement around Kinshasa, saying the situation was calm but unpredictable.

Soldiers stopped young men for questioning near Nsemi’s house in the city’s district of Ngaliema and arresting some of them, a Reuters witness said.

Justice minister Alexis Thambwe told a local radio station that, aside from Nsemi, the prison’s most prominent prisoners, including political opposition leaders and soldiers convicted in the assassination of former president Laurent Kabila, had not escaped.

The president of Bundu dia Kongo’s political wing could not be immediately reached for comment.

Nsemi has a strong following in southwestern Congo and wants to revive the Kongo kingdom, which flourished for centuries around the mouth of the Congo River.

Clashes between his followers and security forces have compounded wider tensions across Congo since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired in December, raising fears of renewed civil conflict.

At least six of Nsemi’s supporters were killed earlier this year during the two-week standoff at his Kinshasa residence that led to his capture.

(Reporting By Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Benoit Nyemba; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

 

Attacks on journalists, activists and protestors increasing across West and Central Africa

Premium Times

Shiites protest detention of their leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky

Shiites protest detention of their leader Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky

Human rights defenders, journalists and protesters in West and Central Africa are facing ever-higher levels of persecution, intimidation and violence, warned Amnesty International on Tuesday as it launched a new global campaign demanding an end to the onslaught of attacks against brave individuals standing up to injustice.

The ‘Brave’ campaign calls on states in the region to recognize the legitimacy of human rights defenders by respecting their work, giving space for it and protecting them from threats. States should take concrete measures to achieve these aims including by adopting strong protection laws and revising or repealing laws used to target human rights defenders.

“States across the region have deployed a broad and increasingly inventive range of tactics to stop people standing up against injustice and to coerce them into self-censorship,” said Alioune Tine, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa

“By removing the right to protest, placing activists under surveillance, and intimidating them with threats and physical attacks, many governments are carrying out a full-frontal assault on human rights defenders.”

In a briefing ‘”Shut down for speaking out: Human Rights Defenders under attack in West and Central Africa” published today, Amnesty International documents the mounting danger faced by those defending human rights in the region.

Growing arsenal of tools used to crack down on defenders

The combination of mass surveillance, new technology, the misuse of laws and crackdowns on peaceful protests is exposing human rights defenders to dangerously high levels of risk, the briefing warns.

In almost every country in West and Central Africa, people participating in peaceful protests have been repressed through the banning of demonstrations or by the use of the unnecessary or excessive force against protesters.

Since January 2014, Amnesty International has documented 271 protesters killed – one every five days – and thousands more injured during protests across the region, although the true number is likely to be higher. The overwhelming majority of these killings and injuries were committed by the security forces who used teargas, batons and live ammunition to disperse protesters or armored vehicles to ram their way through the crowds, even when protests were peaceful. There is rarely, if ever, accountability for such heavy-handed repression.

Arbitrary arrests and detentions and administrative measures

Since January 2014, Amnesty International has documented the arbitrary arrest of at least 87 human rights defenders in West and Central Africa. In 2016 alone, 13 anti-slavery activists in Mauritania were brought before court on trumped up charges and sentenced to between three and 15 years in prison. In November last year, an Appeal Court acquitted and released three of them and reduced the sentence of the 10 others.

In Chad, four pro-democracy activists were arrested in N’Djamena between March and April 2016 for planning to organise peaceful public demonstrations against the current president’s bid for re-election for a fifth term. They were found guilty of ‘incitement to an unarmed gathering’, and received suspended prison sentences after more than two weeks in detention.

Several states including Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo introduced legislation which could be used to target human rights defenders, journalists and whistle-blowers in reprisal for their work, often in the name of countering terrorism and cybercrime.

In Cameroon, anti-terror legislation originally introduced to respond to the security threat from Boko Haram, was used to silence civil society leaders in the English-speaking regions who called for protests against discrimination.

Administrative measures – such as delaying or denying the registration of NGOs to operate or restricting their funding – have also been used to prevent the work of human rights defenders. In Togo, for example, officials refused to deliver registration certificates to a group of LGBTI activists because they “challenged cultural and social norms”.

“Human rights defenders are not enemies of the state; they are individuals who stand against injustice and take peaceful action to improve the human rights situation. Without their courage, our world is less fair, less just and less equal,” said Alioune Tine.

Internet and social media restrictions

Among the emerging trends is the use of new technologies and targeted surveillance, including online, to threaten and silence activists.

Restrictions on the use of the internet are increasingly being used across the region. In Gabon, Gambia and the Republic of Congo, access to the internet was cut off for between two and five days before and after Presidential elections in 2016, while social media was restricted around elections in Chad. In the most severe restrictions to date, the Internet was shut down in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon from January to April 2017 following protests about the use of French in courts and schools and demands for greater autonomy.

Many states have passed legislation which restricts internet access and subjects human rights defenders to online surveillance. For instance, in Senegal, amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure empower the authorities to restrict access to “illicit content” online and to hack into computers without judicial oversight.

In Nigeria, the Cyber Crime Act, requires internet service providers to keep all traffic and other data of subscribers for two years and make that data available to law enforcement agencies upon request.

The demonization of human rights defenders

Amnesty International urges the authorities in West and Central Africa to refrain from using language that disparages human rights defenders including by labelling them “criminals”, “foreign agents”, “terrorists”, or “undesirables”.

“When they are not threatening or harassing them, governments are attempting to cultivate open hostility towards human rights defenders by peddling demonizing rhetoric that portrays activists as threats to national security,” said Alioune Tine.

“It is a tribute to the brave men and women across the region that in spite of this continuing repression, they continue to fight for justice. We call on states to recognize and protect the legitimate work of those standing up for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people.”

South Sudan – seven opposition groups unite to oppose Kiir

Sudan Tribune

S. Sudan opposition groups vow to work against Kiir’s regime

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May 14, 2017 (NAIROBI) – Seven South Sudanese opposition parties have agreed to closely work together against the regime in the war-torn nation.

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President Salva Kiir addresses the nation at the South Sudan National Parliament in Juba, November 18, 2015. (Photo Reuters/Jok Solomon)

“There is great value in working together and, as a result, the opposition groups will actively work together with a view of seeking a united front on common strategic and operational issues,” partly reads a draft communiqué of the 1st Teleconference of the Leaders of Opposition Groups in South Sudan, held on 7 May 2017.

The group also agreed on a face-to-face meeting of the leaders of all political groups to discuss and work out the details and modalities for closer relationship among all opposition groups.

In the statement, the various opposition political party members also encouraged efforts by the different opposition groups to help convene a summit of leaders of the country’s opposition groups.

The South Sudanese opposition groups further expressed concerns about the “untold” and “unbearable” suffering of South Sudanese people, whom they said urgently and desperately needed peace.

“Aware that the regime in Juba is dysfunctional, in crisis, paralysed and about to implode and take the country down with it, if no urgent action is taken to save the country, to unify it, and reclaim the country from forces who want to destroy and liquidate it,” they said.

The opposition groups called for drastic and immediate change in the world’s youngest nation to foster and promote mutually beneficial alliance of all political and military groups in South Sudan.

Signatories to the document included, Henry Odwar, deputy chairman of the SPLM-IO faction led by Riek Machar, FDP party leader Gabriel Changson Chan, Thomas Tut Doap of UDRA, SPLM-FDs member Kosti Manibe, SSNMC leader Joseph Bakasoro, National Democratic Movement (NDM) leader Lam Akol, and Thomas Cirillo Swaka, leader of the National Salvation Front (NAS).

(ST)

Central African republic – UN says death toll could reach 30

Reuters

By Serge Leger Kokopakpa

BANGUI (Hundreds of civilians are seeking refuge inside a mosque in the Central African Republic’s border town of Bangassou amid ongoing attacks by Christian militias that have killed up to 30 civilians, U.N. officials and aid workers said on Sunday.

The attacks throughout the weekend on the town of Bangassou on the Congolese border have involved hundreds of fighters with heavy weaponry and appeared to be aimed at Muslims, they said, in the latest sign that the multi-year conflict is worsening.

The U.N. base there has also been targeted, prompting the deployment of extra troops to the remote town on Sunday in anticipation of further attacks. They had succeeded in partly securing the town by dusk, said Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the U.N. mission (MINUSCA).

“The situation is extremely deplorable and we are doing everything to rapidly retake control of Bangassou,” MINUSCA chief Parfait Onanga-Anyanga told Reuters in an interview.

Asked about the civilian death toll, he added: “It is clear that we are looking at numbers that could easily reach 20 to 30.” Many of the fighters are child soldiers who appeared to be under the influence of drugs, he added.

Local Red Cross President Pastor Antoine Mbao Bogo said gunfire continued to ring out from the town on Sunday, blocking attempts by his organisation and others to reach the wounded and recover the dead.

In recent months, roaming militias spurred by ethnic and religious rivalries have stepped up violence despite pledges to take part in a government-led disarmament programme.

Aid workers say that militias seem to be exploiting security voids after Ugandan and French soldiers left in the past few months when their missions ended.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday he was “outraged” by the attacks on the 13,000-strong mission that have killed six peacekeepers around Bangassou, an area previously sheltered from conflict.

Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji condemned the attacks in a statement on local radio on Sunday and said those responsible would be brought to justice.

Central African Republic has been plagued by inter-religious violence since 2013 when mainly Muslim Seleka fighters seized power and ousted then-President Francois Bozize, prompting reprisal killings from anti-balaka militias drawn from the Christian minority.

More than 400,000 people in the former French colony are displaced internally and 2.2 million, or nearly half the population, are reliant on aid.

(Additional reporting and writing by Emma Farge in Dakar; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Dr Congo – Ebola outbreak; Nigeria preparations for outbreak

BBC

Health workers wearing protective gear at the Nongo Ebola treatment centre in Conakry, Guinea, on August 21, 2015Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The world’s deadliest Ebola outbreak hit West Africa in 2014-2015

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At least one person has died after contracting the virus in the country’s north-east, the WHO says.

The Congolese health ministry had notified the WHO of a “lab-confirmed case” of Ebola, it added on Twitter.

More than 11,000 people died in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2015, mainly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The last outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo was in 2014 and killed more than 40 people.

Of the nine people suspected to have contracted the deadly virus, three died, with one case of Ebola confirmed through tests at the national laboratory in the capital Kinshasa, WHO Congo representative Allarangar Yokouide said in a statement.

People began to get sick on or after 22 April in Bas-Uele province in the country’s far north, he added.

The region affected lies 1,300km (800 miles) north-east of Kinshasa, close to the border with the Central African Republic.

“It is in a very remote zone, very forested, so we are a little lucky. But we always take this very seriously,” WHO Congo spokesman Eric Kabambi told Reuters news agency.

The WHO described the outbreak as “a public health crisis of international importance”.

It said the first teams of experts, including epidemiologists, biologists and hygiene specialists had been dispatched and were due to arrive in the affected region by Friday or Saturday.


No need to panic: Tulip Mazumdar, BBC Global Health correspondent

While this outbreak will be extremely worrying for communities in this remote part of northern DR Congo, it is important to remember that the country has stamped out more Ebola outbreaks than any other place on earth. It is well practiced in fighting the deadly virus.

Ebola was first identified in DR Congo (then Zaire) in 1976. Since then, there have been at least nine outbreaks in the country. The last was in 2014, when – at the same time – parts of West Africa were fighting a separate outbreak, the worst in history.

DR Congo was able to bring an end to its epidemic within four months. In West Africa, which had never experienced an Ebola outbreak before, it took two years.

Authorities in the DR Congo will need to act quickly to contain the virus, and ensure it doesn’t spread to more populated areas.

This time, for the first time, health officials have another weapon they can use. The world has an experimental vaccine

 

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‎Nigerian govt announces steps to prevent Ebola

Ebola patient being attended to during the last outbreak

Ebola patient being attended to during the last outbreak

The Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, has called on health care providers and the general public to be vigilant and intensify awareness on the symptoms of haemorrhagic fevers.

The minister’s statement on Saturday follows the announcement by WHO‎ of a confirmed case of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

According to a statement released by the Ministry of Health on Saturday, the federal government in response to the WHO announcement directed health officials at the ports to step up inspection activities and to report any sick person or suspects. Such sick persons are to be referred to the chief epidemiologist in the state where there are present and relevant tests conducted.

The minister noted that health care providers and the general public must immediately report any sign of illness to public health officials.

He urged Nigerians not to panic saying the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is on ground and equipped to secure the health of citizens.

“The agency has for a while now, been strengthening states capacities to detect, manage and respond to hemorrhagic fevers including Lassa fever and symptoms to look out for include; fever, fatigue, weakness dizziness and muscle aches.

“Patients with more severe cases show bleeding under the skin, internal organs or even from bodily orifices like mouth, ears, and the ears,” he added.

The health minister, therefore, directed that all Nigerian health workers should maintain a high index of suspicion by screening all fevers for Ebola. He also charged state health ministries to strengthen their supervision services and escalate any incident appropriately.

He called on states to begin social mobilisation and media awareness efforts via TV, radio, print and social media.

The minister also encouraged members of the public to observe a high level of personal hygiene including regular hand washing and to also report all cases of fever to the nearest health facility.

Nigeria was declared free of Ebola virus by the WHO in October 2014 and the country praised for its handling of the disease which caused about 4,500 deaths across‎ West Africa.

South Sudan – sacked army chief Malong leaves Juba for home state raising fears of rebellion

Reuters

JUBA South Sudan’s sacked former army chief Paul Malong has left the capital Juba for his home state, its defence minister said, raising concerns over his next move as a civil war drags on.

Malong’s removal followed a slew of resignations by senior generals in recent months alleging tribal bias and war crimes. Some of the departed officers subsequently said they might join the revolt against President Salva Kiir.

Malong left Juba in a convoy of several vehicles for Aweil state in the country’s northwest shortly after his dismissal was announced on Tuesday, Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Juuk said.

“We do not know exactly what the reasons may be,” he told Reuters, adding Malong may have departed out of “anger”. Kuol said he had since spoken with Malong and convinced him to return to Juba, but that it was unknown when that would happen.

Malong, who was replaced as army chief by General James Ajongo, could not be immediately reached for comment. Ajongo is a member of an ethnic minority, the Luo, also from Aweil.

South Sudan, which obtained independence from Sudan in 2011 and is the world’s youngest nation, has been mired in civil war since 2013 when Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, fired his deputy, Riek Machar, from the rival Nuer community.

The move triggered a conflict that has pitched parts of the oil-producing country into famine, paralysed public services and forced 3 million people – a quarter of the population – to flee their homes. The United Nations has said the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing and risks escalating into genocide.

In February, the military’s logistics chief Thomas Cirillo Swaka resigned, citing rampant human rights abuses by Kiir’s armed forces and the dominance of the president’s Dinka group.

His announcement triggered a spate of further resignations by generals and civil servants who made similar accusations against the government.

Officials in Juba have played down the significance of Malong’s removal, calling it “normal practice”.

Ajongo joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the formal name of the South Sudanese military, in 1983, when the SPLA was still a rebel group fighting for independence from Sudan.

(Editing by Aaron Maasho and Mark Heinrich)

DR Congo – UN says ethnic violence and humanitarian crisis escalating

Reuters

By Stephanie Nebehay | GENEVA

GENEVA Spreading ethnic violence is driving more people from their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the humanitarian situation is “dramatically deteriorating”, the United Nations said on Monday.

Some 100,000 people were uprooted last week alone, bringing the ranks of displaced in the central Kasai region to nearly 1.3 million, it said. The total number of displaced throughout Congo has more than doubled to 3.7 million since Aug 2016.

“This very acute crisis in the DRC is not just expanding dramatically in terms of numbers but it’s also expanding in terms of geographical scope,” said Rein Paulsen, head of the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs office in Congo.

“The fact that we are also now seeing an evolution of the conflict in the Kasais where inter-ethnic violence and conflict is becoming a dominant characteristic should be a deep, deep concern to all of us,” he told a news briefing.

The U.N. said last month it had documented 40 mass grave sites and killings of more than 400 people in Kasai, the focus of the fight against the Kamuina Nsapu militia, since August when security forces killed its leader. The militia has been fighting largely to avenge his death.

Paulsen cited fresh reports from U.N. staff of inter-ethnic fighting in the Kasais, including the Penda and Chokwe ethnic groups against the Luba and clashes between the Lunda and Luba.

In Manono, in the eastern province of Tanganyika, more than 140 villages have been reportedly burned down in a separate conflict between the pygmy population and Bantu ethnic groups, causing forced displacement, he said.

Across the vast Central African nation, an estimated 1.9 million children under five are severely acutely malnourished, a condition which could kill them or leave them with lifelong damage, Paulsen said.

The United Nations has received just 19 percent of the $812.5 million sought in the humanitarian appeal for Congo this year, he said.

The world body said last month it was horrified by a video screened by the government that appeared to show the brutal killing of two U.N. investigators.

Congo’s government said the film showed members of an anti-government militia carrying out the act although that has not been confirmed by either the U.N. or independent analysts.

Paulsen said that government workers – education inspectors and local transportation staff – had been “killed and beheaded” in the Kasais in the past week despite tighter security.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Pritha Sarkar)