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Madagascar polls open amidst tough political rivalry

President Andry Rajoelina and his rival, Marc Ravalomanana have dominated politics since the early 2000s

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Madagascar polls open amidst tough political rivalry
Members of Madagascar's electoral commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) / (AFP)

Madagascar holds parliamentary elections Monday in what is being seen as the latest round of a bitter feud between President Andry Rajoelina and his longstanding rival Marc Ravalomanana.

Beaten to the top job in December, Ravalomanana has been everywhere to support the candidates of his TIM (“I Love Madagascar) party, determined to win what he says is “the third round” of his feud with President Rajoelina.

The two men have dominated politics since the early 2000s, sometimes cooperating but mostly fighting for advantage and high office.

“We were a bit disappointed by the result of the presidential election but we have to pick ourselves back up now,” Ravalomanana told supporters at the start of the parliamentary campaign earlier this month.

“We are winners and we are not going to let ourselves be beaten.”

Rajoelina has not been slow to respond, visiting and inaugurating projects around the country to get his message across.

“We are dedicated to working to change the lives of Madagascans and to develop our country,” he said in a tweeted message after a trip to Diego Suarez in the north last week.

The stand-off between Rajoelina and Ravalomanana runs everywhere, including the third district of the capital of the Indian Ocean island nation.

Two months of street protests –

Antananarivo’s walls are plastered with election posters, while loudspeaker trucks pass by in convoys and supporters hand out T-shirts for their candidates, bringing the capital’s streets to life.

The polls take place after another bout of instability in Madagascar which saw Rajoelina and Ravalomanana put aside their differences last year to oppose new electoral laws introduced by then president Hery Rajaonarimampianina.

After two months of street protests, the government fell and Rajaonarimampianina trailed in a distant third in the presidential election.

“I was disappointed that the leader of our party did not win the presidential election but that defeat has motivated us to win a majority in the assembly,” said TIM candidate, businessman Feno Ralambomanana.

“We need a majority to ensure stability and avoid a political war over the next five years,” says Rajoelina candidate Aina Rafenomanantsoa, a singer popularly known as Anyah.

“Madagascans have no need to go through all that again,” she says.

However, it is far from certain that Monday’s vote will produce the stability all say they want -of the 800 candidates fighting for the 151 assembly seats, nearly 500 are standing as independents.

“Independent candidates could win many seats…because a lot of voters want to break the hold of the Rajoelina and Ravalomanana camps,” political analyst Tohavina Ralambomahay told AFP.

“If there are too many independents in the assembly, that will create changeable majorities which will, in turn, generate corruption and political instability,” Ralambomahay added.

Corruption allegations –

The campaign has been overshadowed in its last days by corruption allegations against more than half the outgoing deputies.

The anti-corruption bureau handed over to prosecutors a list of 79 deputies alleged to have each accepted bribes worth 12,500 euros ($14,000) to vote in favour of Rajaonarimampianina’s electoral laws.

Both Rajoelina and Ravalomanana have promised voters they will put an end to such practices.

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African leaders pay last respects to Mugabe at state funeral

African leaders and senior officials from Cuba, Russia and China all praised Mugabe as a pan-African hero

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African leaders pay last respects to Mugabe at state funeral

Zimbabwe gave former president Robert Mugabe a state funeral on Saturday with African leaders paying tribute to a man lauded as a liberation hero but whose 37-year rule was defined by repression and economic turmoil.

Mugabe, who died in Singapore last week aged 95, left Zimbabwe deeply torn over his legacy as the country still struggles with high inflation and shortages of goods after decades of crisis.

He died on an overseas medical trip almost two years after former army loyalists forced him out in 2017, following a power struggle over what was widely perceived as a bid to position his wife Grace as his successor.

Mugabe’s casket, draped in the green, black, gold and red Zimbabwe flag, was marched slowly into Harare’s national stadium as a military band played and crowds chanted and drummed, though less than half of the 60,000 seats appeared taken.

Former South African President Jacob Zuma (L) bows on September 14, 2019 as he says a final farewell at the casket of late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during a farewell ceremony held for family and heads of state at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

African leaders and senior officials from Cuba, Russia, and China all praised Mugabe as a pan-African hero for his past as a colonial-era guerrilla leader.

“We honour and remember our African icon. He had many allies and followers… Our motherland is in tears,” Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said. 

African leaders pay last respects to Mugabe at state funeral
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (L) shakes hands with Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa upon his arrival to attend a farewell ceremony for late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

Doves were released over the stadium before soldiers fired a 21-gun salute from artillery cannon.

Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe ally who turned against him, praised Grace in a signal of reconciliation and called for sanctions on Zimbabwe to be lifted in the post-Mugabe era. 

“We say give our country a rebirth and a new start. Remove the sanctions now, we don’t deserve them.”

South African leader Ramaphosa’s speech was briefly interrupted by jeers and whistles from the crowds until he apologised for recent xenophobic attacks on African migrants, including Zimbabweans, in Johannesburg.

Bitter legacy

As a former anti-colonial rebel, Mugabe is credited with helping to end white-minority rule in Zimbabwe.

But his nearly four-decade rule was marked by repression, the brutal silencing of dissent and violent seizure of white-owned farms, making him an international pariah.

Though still lauded as an African icon, at home many Zimbabweans will remember Mugabe more for the increasingly tyrannical rule and economic mismanagement that forced millions to flee the country.

Many are struggling to survive despite Mnangagwa’s vows of more investment and jobs in the post-Mugabe era.

“The fruits of his tenure are the shortages. That is what we remember him for,” said Steven, a consultant shopping near the stadium.

“He has made sure there is no opposition and he succeeded. There is no reason to go to his funeral.”

Friends and enemies

A young Mugabe was once jailed in the former British colony Rhodesia for his nationalist ideas. But he swept to power in the 1980 elections after a guerrilla war and sanctions forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table.

In office, he initially won international praise for promoting racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority.

“You can’t talk about Zimbabwe without Bob. Zimbabwe is Bob. It took a man like Bob, his bravery, to get independence,” said Norman Gombera, 57, a school principal in Harare. “Bob did his best under the circumstances. There is no country without a problem.”

Always divisive in life, Mugabe’s funeral arrangements were also caught up in a dispute between Mnangagwa and the family over where and when the former leader should be buried.

His final burial at a national monument will only happen after a new mausoleum is built in about 30 days. That decision was taken after his family ended a dispute with Mnangagwa over the date and place of the ceremony.

His family are still bitter over the role Mnangagwa played in his ouster and had pushed for Mugabe to be buried in his homestead of Zvimba, northwest of Harare.

A former guerrilla who fought alongside Mugabe against colonial forces, Mnangagwa was fired as first vice president by Mugabe in 2017. Mugabe had branded him a “traitor”.

Soon after, protesters took to the streets and military officers pressured Mugabe to step down in what was widely seen as a struggle between Mnangagwa’s faction and loyalists to Mugabe’s wife Grace inside the ruling ZANU-PF party. 

Mnangagwa himself is now under pressure to deliver in the post-Mugabe period.

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Death toll from capsized Cameroon ferry rises to 17

So far, 111 survivors have been rescued, according to state radio and a local leader

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Death toll from capsized Cameroon ferry rises to 17

The death toll from a Cameroon ferry that capsized this week has risen to 17 after more bodies were found, state radio said Wednesday, though the total number of victims was still unknown.

Fourteen more bodies were recovered from the Bakassi Peninsula on Tuesday, two days after the ferry sunk off southwestern Cameroon, Cameroon Radio Television reported.

A source with local authorities confirmed the details to reporters.

State media had initially reported that three victims — of Cameroonian, Nigerian and French nationality — were found and more than 100 people were rescued when the ship went down overnight Sunday to Monday.

The Austrheim, a trading vessel converted into a passenger ship was supposed to carry 75 people, but it was “overloaded,” according to a statement from the defence ministry. 

So far, 111 survivors have been rescued, according to state radio and a local leader. Searches continued on Wednesday for survivors or bodies.

The ship left Sunday from Calabar, Nigeria, and was due to dock at Tiko in southwest Cameroon but hit a sandbar before capsizing, according to the ministry.

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Gambia’s first President, Dawda Jawara dies aged 95

Jawara led the Gambia to Independence on 18th February 1965 until July 1994 when he was ousted in a coup led by ex President Yahya Jammeh

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Gambia's first President, Dawda Jawara dies aged 95
(L-R) Late President of the Gambia, Sir Dawda Jawara and current President, Adama Barrow. (AFP)

Dawda Jawara, the first President of The Gambia following independence from Britain, died Tuesday at the age of 95, officials said.

Current President Adama Barrow, in online comments, described Jawara’s death as “a great loss to the country in particular and humanity in general”.

Fisheries Minister, James Gomez told reporters that “the former head of State Sir Dawda Jawara died this afternoon. Flags would fly at half-mast” and the body will lie in state for mourners to pay their respects.

Jawara, a Glasgow-trained veterinary doctor, led the Gambia to Independence on 18th February 1965 until July 1994 when his reign was brought to an end by a bloodless military coup led by Yahya Jammeh, who went on to rule the country for 22 years.

The Gambian presidency, in a statement on Twitter announced that a state funeral would be held on Thursday.

“In honour of his enduring legacy, President Barrow has ordered that the former President be accorded a befitting state funeral and that flags at all public institutions to fly at half-mast.”

“Sir Dawda has lived a life that epitomises peace, tolerance, respect, and patriotism. His time as president has put the country on the path of development at both human and institutional standards. His legacy as the father of the nation shall forever live on.”

Jawara was born in 1924 into a Muslim family in central Barajally, where his father was a tradesman.

He worked as a vet and it was not until 1960 that he decided to enter politics, joining the Protectorate People’s Party in 1960 while the country was still under British rule.

Gambia's first President, Dawda Jawara dies aged 95

His party, which later changed its name to the People Progressive Party (PPP) won the elections in 1962 and he became the country’s Prime Minister. 

That was the post that Jawara held when The Gambia gained its independence in 1965, ending British colonial rule which had begun in 1888.

It was not until 1970 that he assumed his post as the country’s first President.

Jawara resisted post-independence pressure to become part of neighbouring Senegal, which surrounds the whole country with the exception of its Atlantic coastline. 

Following his 1994 ouster, Jawara sought refuge in Britain where he lived with his family until 2002 when he returned home after President Jammeh granted him amnesty and returned his assets to him.

While in power, his regime was considered one of the most democratic on the African continent.

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