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Africa’s top scorers ready to slug it out in Group B at the AFCON 2019

Let us run the rule over the Group B hopefuls and assess their prospects in the biennial African football showpiece

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Nigeria's AFCON 2019 squad

The sharpest shooters in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying, Odion Ighalo of Nigeria and Fiston Abdul Razak of Burundi, will come face to face in Group B at the finals this month. While Ighalo and his Super Eagles team-mates are favoured to top the four-nation table and advance to the knockout stage in Egypt, Abdul Razak and the Swallows may struggle.   

Burundi are the lowest ranked of the 24 sides at the June 21-July 19 tournament and the best they can be expected to hope for is third place below Nigeria and Guinea and above Madagascar. The countries finishing first and second are guaranteed round-of-16 slots while the best four of the six third-placed teams also qualify.

Let us run the rule over the Group B hopefuls and assess their prospects in the biennial African football showpiece:

Burundi

The tiny central African country secured a first appearance at the expense of favoured Gabon despite drawing four of six qualifiers.

Algeria-based Abdul Razak starred with six goals at an average of one per match — a total bettered only by Ighalo, who netted seven times. But having tormented the defences of Mali, Gabon and South Sudan, can he wreak more havoc against the Nigerian and Guinean defences?

Olivier Niyungeko, who has succeeded where a string of foreign coaches failed, chose Burundians based in 13 countries and also picked one local, goalkeeper Jonathan Nahimana.

Verdict: an early exit looms

Guinea

A squad coached by Paul Put hope poor dress rehearsals will be transformed into a grand opening night against Madagascar. Warm-up losses to lower-ranked opponents the Gambia and Benin in Morocco could sow self doubts and there has also been the distraction of injured midfield star Naby Keita.

He injured a thigh playing for Liverpool at Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals and admits to “not yet being fully fit”.

Put, who took outsiders Burkina Faso to the 2013 final, will expect a lot from Ibrahima Traore, a winger based in Germany whose footwork can bewilder even the tightest defences.

Verdict: Quarter-finals a realistic goal

Madagascar

Like Burundi, the Indian Ocean islanders who are making their Cup of Nations debut will eye third place and qualification as one of the four best teams in that position. French coach Nicolas Dupuis has worked wonders with a side that got to Egypt by finishing above Equatorial Guinea and Sudan, and he also coaches a lower-league club in his homeland.

He believes practice makes perfect, saying: “Madagascar used to play three or four matches a year and we’re going nowhere. We now make full use of every international window.” Dupuis has also convinced France-born Thomas Fontaine, Romain Metanire, Jerome Mombris and Jeremy Morel to represent a country they are linked to through parents or grandparents.

Verdict: reaching second round would complete a fairytale

Nigeria

The three-time champions are back at the Cup of Nations after unexpectedly lifting the trophy in 2013 and then failing to qualify for the next two editions. They should take advantage of a kind draw and cruise into the second round, but Nigerian supporters will expect much more from a team coached by experienced German Gernot Rohr.

When the Cup of Nations was last staged by Egypt in 2006, the Super Eagles finished third behind the host nation and the Ivory Coast. Apart from former Watford forward Ighalo, Spain-based Samuel Chukwueze could be a major threat having scored regularly for Villarreal in La Liga last season.

Verdict: Anything less than a semi-final place will be considered failure

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Central Africa News

76 people survive shipwreck in DR Congo

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu.

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DR Congo boat accident claims 11 lives, dozens missing

76 people have survived a shipwreck on Lake Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a regional official said Saturday. However, more than a dozen people are feared to have drowned in the same incident.

The motorised boat was carrying around 100 passengers when it capsized on the lake, near the eastern city of Bukavu. 

“We have already registered 76 survivors,” said Swedi Basila, the regional transport minister for South Kivu province, adding that up to 20 people were still missing.

“No body has been found until now,” he told AFP.

The vessel had been on its way to the island of Idjwi when it hit a large rock and capsized, Basila said.

River transport is one of the most used in DR Congo with its numerous waterways. Boat mishaps are common, typically caused by overloading of passengers and cargo.

Tolls are often high because there are no life jackets and many Congolese do not know how to swim.

In April, at least 167 people were killed in two accidents, prompting President Felix Tshisekedi to make it mandatory for boat passengers to have life jackets. 

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DR Congo authorities ban rallies in Kinshasa as tensions rise

Tensions rose in the capital after youths announced they would hold a protest against the candidacy of a former justice minister

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UDPS opposition party leader Felix Tshisekedi gestures to supporters as Authorities bans rallies

DR Congo authorities have banned political rallies this week in the capital Kinshasa because of tensions between supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi and those of former leader Joseph Kabila, police said Sunday.

Tshisekedi was elected in December to replace Kabila who presided over sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country for nearly two decades.

Tensions rose in the capital after the youth wing of Tshisekedi’s Democracy and Social Progress party (UDPS) announced it would hold a protest against the candidacy of a former justice minister for the senate presidency.

In response, the pro-Kabila Red Berets movement said it would hold a counter-march to support the candidacy of Alexis Thambwe, who is considered by many a hardliner from the Kabila regime.

Read also: Zuma to testify at South Africa’s graft probe

Kinshasa police chief General Sylvano Kasongo told state television that given the tensions in the capital, Kinshasa’s governor had banned all political rallies for this week. “He instructed the police to take all appropriate measures. Anyone who attempts to march or disturb the public order this week will find the police in their way,” he said.

UDPS youth wing spokesman Fils Mukoko told reporters they wanted to protest against seeing “the same faces in charge of the country’s institutions or in the government.”

Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC) coalition won comfortable majorities in both houses of parliament as well as provincial assemblies, and his supporters also dominated elections for the governorships across the country.

Read also: GNA announces a new political plan, promises elections in Libya

None of the candidates the FCC presented for seven key Senate posts is from Tshisekedi’s CACH alliance in the legislature despite an agreement to work together between the two political blocs.

Six months after Tshisekedi’s inauguration and more than a month after the appointment of Prime Minister Ilunga Ilunkamba, who was proposed by Kabila, CACH and FCC negotiators are still struggling to agree on the composition of the government.

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Social media restriction in Chad lifted after one year

Access to social media was cut in March 2018, as public opposition mounted over Deby’s plans to push through changes to the constitution

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High costs and slow speed mar Equatorial Guinea's dreams for internet access

Chad President Idriss Deby said Saturday he was lifting social media restrictions which were imposed more than a year ago for “security reasons.”

“For some months, security requirements led the government to toughen access conditions and control measures for electronic communications,” Deby said in a closing address to a digital forum in the capital N’Djamena. 

“These measures were imposed in a context of terrorist threats (but)” the current situation ” leads me … to instruct the firms concerned to lift immediately the restriction on electronic communications,” said Deby.

On Saturday afternoon, it was possible to access social media applications including Whatsapp and Twitter, an AFP journalist reported.

Access to social media was cut in March last year as public opposition mounted over Deby’s plans to push through changes to the constitution shoring up his power after almost three decades in office.

Access remained possible using VPN networks but the use of those is costly in one of the world’s poorest nations.

Barely five per cent of the population enjoys internet access.

Chad is a Western ally in the fight against jihadist groups in Africa and notably faces threats from Boko Haram, which has made several deadly incursions into its territory in recent months.

The largely desert north, bordering Sudan, Libya and Niger, is highly volatile while several rebel groups have set up base just over the border with Libya.

In late January, Chad rebels seeking to destabilise Deby entered the northeast of the country from Libya but were pushed back after French air strikes.

In the east, farmers and nomadic groups have also clashed while the south on the border with the Central African Republic is still tense after the 2013 overthrow of former CAR president sparked unrest which spilt over the border.

Legislative elections in Chad are scheduled to take place by the end of the year having been postponed several times since 2015 as Deby, who grabbed power in 1990, looks to maintain his grip on the country.

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