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Opposition calls for cease fire to end crisis in Cameroon

At the moment there are no channels for dialogue between the government and the rebels.

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Cameroon's Social Democratic Front (SDF) leader Ni John Fru Ndi

Cameroon’s main opposition party on Friday called for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all political prisoners, during talks with Prime Minister Joseph Dion Ngute on resolving the country’s regional conflict with anglophone separatists.

At the meeting in Bamenda, capital of the restive anglophone Northwest Region, Social Democratic Front (SDF) leader Ni John Fru Ndi also called for the appointment of a mediator for resolving the conflict

“Everyone must be listened to. The SDF is for inclusive political debate on the crisis…,” said SDF official Jean Robert Wafo.

“We can listen to the secessionists without, however, agreeing to the principle,” he said explaining that a “clear and unambiguous” against secession had to be taken.

During Friday’s discussion the federalist SDF recommended four measures to resolve the crisis, according to a party statement received by AFP.

The party called for “an immediate ceasefire” and the demobilisation of all separatist forces as well as “the immediate release of all political prisoners held as part of this crisis” as well as the naming of a mediator to prepare negotiations.

On Thursday, Dion Ngute arrived in Bamenda with the message that the government was ready for dialogue to resolve the regional conflict with separatists, while stressing that independence was not on the table.

He said President Paul Biya was “ready to organise a formal dialogue to resolve the socio-political crisis” while stressing that independence was not on the table.

Since 2017, fighting between government troops and anglophone separatists demanding independence in the Southwest and Northwest regions has killed hundreds and forced nearly 500,000 people from their homes.

English-speaking communities chafe at what they see as discrimination from the French-speaking majority. But the government rejects demands for autonomy and has dispatched thousands of troops in a crackdown.

At the moment there are no channels for dialogue between the government and the rebels.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Monday that Cameroon authorities have regularly tortured and held incommunicado detainees arrested in the government’s crackdown on the armed separatist movement.

In October 2017, radicals declared the creation of the “Republic of Ambazonia,” covering the two English-speaking regions incorporated into francophone Cameroon in 1961.

The declaration went largely unnoticed outside Cameroon, and “Ambazonia” — named after a bay at the mouth of the Douala River — has been recognised by no-one.

Dion Ngute was also due to visit the other anglophone region — the Southwest Region.

The separatist conflict has forced more than 530,000 people to flee their homes while 32,000 others have sought refuge in neighbouring Nigeria.

The UN Security Council will hold its first meeting this month to discuss the country’s separatist conflict.

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Africa News & Updates

DR Congo’s government move to reform the economy as Cobalt prices dip

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The Democratic Republic of Congo’s new leadership is under mounting pressure to diversify the country’s economy from its dependence on raw materials following the plunge in the price of cobalt. Economic experts currently visiting the country have a sobering figure on which to base their work: over the past year, the price of cobalt on the London Metal Exchange has tumbled from $80,000 to $28,000.

DR Congo is the world’s top producer of cobalt, a key component for rechargeable batteries needed for smartphones and electric cars. But economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country is on the same roller coaster as the global cobalt price.

“GDP growth increased to 5.8 per cent from 3.7 per cent in 2017, driven by a sharp increase in cobalt prices,” the International Monetary Fund said earlier this month in a report of DR Congo’s economy. “GDP growth is projected to decelerate to 4.3 per cent in 2019 based on the assumption of a slowdown in mining activity in the context of lower cobalt prices,” it added.

In another sign of DR Congo’s heavy reliance on mining and metals exports, that deceleration comes amid growth more than doubling in the rest of the economy thanks to public investment and post-election optimism. Either way, DR Congo’s GDP is small when compared to the size of the country and its population.

At less than $40 billion for 81 million inhabitants in 2017, according to World Bank figures, that translates into less than $2 per day per person on average. The IMF mission “focused on policies that would lead to diversifying the economy and tackling high levels of poverty and unemployment in the context of a rapidly expanding population,” according to the report.

Diversification and transformation of the nation’s economy is also the theme of the sixth French Kinshasa week organised by the Franco-Congolese Chamber of Commerce and Industry. With 80 per cent of DR Congo’s export revenues generated by the mining sector, this “creates a vulnerability due to the volatility in the prices of its main raw material exports” noted the organisers.

Liberalisation

They said possibilities in numerous other sectors needed to be explored for growth opportunities: agriculture and food, textiles, tourism, communications, transportation services, forestry, energy, pharmaceuticals and recycling.

France is keen to promote an initiative recently unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron to provide 2.5 billion euros in financing to 100,000 African startups as well as small and medium-sized companies by 2022. But the best intentions in business development must confront the problems of doing business in what is a weak state because of patchy tax revenue collection amidst endemic corruption.

One economic analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “fifty per cent of the containers that enter the Matadi river port don’t pay customs duties”. The IMF urged the new president Felix Tshisekedi “to expedite the adoption of the proposed anti-corruption law” and the creation of an independent anti-corruption commission.

The IMF also expressed concern about low tax collection. Reforms in some areas are moving ahead, albeit slowly. The insurance sector has been liberalised with three operators licensed to take over from the former state monopoly Sonas. And mining multinationals will be meeting in Lubumbashi to discuss the plunge in cobalt prices and the impact last year’s reform of the mining code has had.

Mining expert Chantelle Kotze said the reform increased taxes and royalties paid on strategic minerals such as cobalt and coltan, an ore that is another crucial element for the production of electric car batteries.

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Africa News & Updates

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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Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, ‘Mr. Green’ as new forestry minister

Lee White, who has lived in Gabon for three decades and is a citizen, takes over one of the most sensitive jobs in the country.

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Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, 'Mr. Green' as new forestry minister
Newly appointed Gabon Minister of Water and Forests, British Lee White was, before his appointment, the head of Gabon's National Parcs (Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux, ANPN). -(AFP)

Here’s your new job: You have to protect the country’s precious tropical forests. You have to stop illegal logging and fight the entrenched corruption backed by powerful forces which goes with it. By the way, you are a committed environmentalist — and you are foreign-born.

This is the challenge facing Lee White, a green activist born in Britain, who this week was named minister of water and forests in Gabon.

Related: Gabon vows no mercy over $250 million hardwood theft

White, who has lived in Gabon for three decades and is a citizen, takes over one of the most sensitive jobs in the country.

Long-running tensions between logging and conservation have been sharpened by corruption and falling revenues from oil, Gabon’s main money-earner.

“My appointment was a surprise for many people here,” White admitted in an interview with reporters after President Ali Bongo Odimba appointed him on Monday.

He said Bongo had asked him to “put an end to bad practices… (as well as) the corruption in the ministry”.

Related: Mystery in Gabon: Illegal haul of sacred wood disappears

White acknowledged the scale of the tasks ahead.

“We have to sustainably manage the Gabonese forest to improve the living environment of the Gabonese people, to stabilise its natural treasures and to preserve our ecosystems,” he said.

Almost 80 per cent of Gabon is covered by forests.

The forestry sector is a historic pillar of the economy, accounting for 17,000 jobs and 60 per cent of output excluding oil.

About a quarter of Gabon’s population live in rural areas, and many people depend on the forests for food and livelihood.

At the same time, the forests themselves are a treasure trove of biodiversity, much of it rare or endangered. 

Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, 'Mr. Green' as new forestry minister
Tropical forest exploitation, Gabon. Biosphoto / Jean-Francois Noblet

Related: Gabon threatens crackdown over theft of sacred wood

They are a haven for great apes, forest elephants and the black panther, as well as rare species of trees, some of them giants towering up to 60 metres (200 feet) high.

Manchester-born –

White, 53, was born in the northwestern English city of Manchester but grew up in Uganda — in a biography he recalls fighting at school with the son of former dictator Idi Amin.

In 1989, he arrived in Gabon, where he studied for a doctorate in zoology.

He took up Gabonese nationality in 2008 and the following year took over as head of the National Parks Agency (ANPN), a massive conservation project of 13 wildlife zones set up by the late president Omar Bongo, the incumbent’s father.

He was decorated by Queen Elizabeth II in 2010 for his dedication to nature conservation in Central Africa.

Lee’s high-profile defence of the rainforest and wildlife — often with the verdant Raponda Walker Arboretum near Libreville as a backdrop — made him a familiar face in the national media, which dubbed him “Monsieur Vert” (“Mister Green”).

Bongo turned to him for the job after firing the last forestry minister over a timber-smuggling scandal.

Related: Gabon’s president sacks vice president and forestry minister

Analysts say the job will require remarkable skills, juggling tact and principles, as well as rock-solid support from the top.

“This appointment can only be good news for protectors of the environment in Gabon,” said Gaspard Abitsi, director of a US-based NGO, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), in Gabon.

“He is perfectly familiar with the challenges of conservation on a national and international level.”

Graft –

Others are more cautious about the prospects of reform.

“There are enormous management problems at the ANPN, and this agency only accounts for 10 per cent of the land,” said Marc Ona, president of an NGO called the Brainforest Association and a member of the opposition.

“From now on, Lee White will have to manage all of the forests in Gabon… If he hasn’t succeeded at the ANPN, why would he succeed with the whole expanse of the territory?” 

“The problem,” said Ona, “is not which individual heads the ministry but the whole forestry system, which is corrupt.”

In a report issued in March, a British NGO, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) pointed the finger at a Chinese group, Dejia, which has wide-spreading logging interest in the Congo Basin.

Gabon appoints popular environmentalist, 'Mr. Green' as new forestry minister

It accused the firm of exceeding its logging quotas and spinning a web of patronage extending to ministers as well as the opposition.

The then forestry minister, Guy Bertrand Mapangou, initially lashed the report as biased and “inquisitorial” and seeking to “discredit” the country.

But within weeks, the government suspended Dejia’s licence at two logging sites.

Related: Gabon recovers 200 containers of rare hardwood, 153 still missing

On May 21, it fired Mapangou and Vice President, Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou over the so-called “kevazingogate” scandal.

In February and March, authorities had seized nearly 5,000 cubic meters (176,000 cubic feet) of banned kevazingo wood — the equivalent of about 150 large container-loads, valued at around $8 million (seven million euros).

The contraband timber was found at storage sites belonging to Chinese companies at Libreville’s Owendo port — some of it disguised in containers bearing the stamp of the forestry ministry.

Related: 30 containers of kevazingo seized in Gabon

Kevazingo, also known as bubinga, takes many years to mature. Logging the wood is illegal in Gabon, but the temptation to flout the ban is huge. In Asia, kevazingo can fetch up to $2,000 per cubic metre.

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