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Voters in Malawi go to the polls in ‘unpredictable’ race

Incumbent president, Mutharika faces opposition from his own VP Saulos Chilima and former baptist preacher, Lazarus Chakwera.

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Malawi begins tough three-way election
A polling clerk checks electoral list at Goliati Primary School in Goliati village, the home of Malawi's President Arthur Peter Mutharika in Thyolo District, southern Malawi, during presidential elections on May 21, 2019. -(Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Malawi polls opened on Tuesday after a closely-fought election campaign, with President Peter Mutharika battling to hold off two serious rivals in a race that has focused on corruption allegations and economic development.

Mutharika, who has been in power since 2014, faces opposition from his own deputy Saulos Chilima and former baptist preacher, Lazarus Chakwera.

“We have set Malawi on the path of progress,” Mutharika, 78, told several thousand cheering supporters of his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) at his final campaign rally at the weekend.

His bid for a second term has highlighted on the economy and his record of improving road and electricity infrastructure across the southeastern African country.

Under Mutharika, inflation has fallen from 23 per cent to below nine percent, but still only 11 per cent of the population has access to electricity.

The election is the first since a new law forced parties to declare large donations and banned the once-common practice by candidates of giving cash handouts.

“I’m hoping for change. We need jobs to change our lives and that is what I hope my candidate does,” voter Madalitso Willie, 25, a motor mechanic in Lilongwe, told reporters, declining to reveal his preference.

“We have been disappointed so many times before but now we want something different,” said Violet Moyo, 30, businesswoman, as she waited to vote after polls opened at 6am (0400 GMT). “I’m super excited for voting,”

‘We are winning’

Food shortages, power outages, and ballooning external debt have hurt Mutharika’s popularity while in office.

He faces a strong challenge from Chakwera, leader of the main opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), who came a narrow second in the 2014 election.

As campaign ended at the weekend, Chakwera told reporters that he expected “nothing less than victory -we are winning.”

Mutharika’s other opponent, Chilima, quit the ruling party last year to form the youth-focused United Transformation Movement, while staying on as Vice President.

Under Malawi law, the president cannot fire the Vice President.

Chilima, 46, emphasised his youth credentials by doing push-ups on stage during the campaign, while his wife releases a popular rap video extolling his credentials to be president.

More than half of the 6.8-million registered voters are under 35.

Narrow margin?

Dan Banik, a politics professor at the University of Malawi, told reporters that the election posed many questions.

“What will happen when a winner is declared by a narrow margin?” he said.

“How will losing presidential candidates take defeat? Will supporters of the incumbent DPP peacefully accept losing?”

Banik said that the election commission and the courts could be severely tested by counting complaints after polling day, when voters also choose lawmakers and local councillors.

In Malawi’s “winner takes all” system, Mutharika won in 2014 with just 36 percent of the vote.

He came to power in the aid-dependent country vowing to tackle corruption after the “Cashgate” scandal erupted a year earlier, revealing massive looting from state coffers.

But his government has been dogged by several high-profile cases of corruption and nepotism.

Last November, Mutharika himself was forced to return a $200,000 donation from a businessman facing a corruption case in a $3-million contract to supply food to the Malawi police. 

“It will even be more uncertain and tight than last time. It could undermine the legitimacy of the winning candidate,” said Michael Jana, a Malawi politics specialist at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

Malawi won independence from Britain in 1964, and was then ruled by Hastings Banda as a one-party state until the first multi-party elections in 1994.

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East Africa News & Stories

Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

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Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

Most of Ethiopia was without internet access on Tuesday on the eighth consecutive day of an unexplained break.

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

Cherer Aklilu, executive director of the state monopoly Ethio Telecom, declined to give any details to explain the break.

“We expect to release an official statement on the internet blackout before the end of this week and we urge our users to be patient until that time,” she told AFP.

Internet access was cut on June 11, briefly restored and then severed again. It was restored for the Addis area on Friday.

The cut is the longest since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to office in April last year in the Horn of Africa country.

The current break coincides with annual school-leaving exams, which end on Friday. In 2017, the authorities defended a similar blackout by saying they wanted to limit cheating for the important tests.

However, the internet was also repeatedly cut between 2015 and 2017 when the government at the time faced waves of protests.

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Health minister issues Ebola threat alert in Tanzania

Tanzania’s northwestern Kagera, Mwanza and Kigoma regions are most at risk.

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Health workers stand at a non-gazetted crossing point in the Mirami village, near the Mpondwe border as Tanzania issues Ebola threat alert

Tanzania’s health minister issued an Ebola ‘alert’ Sunday after the disease, which has killed over 1,400 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, appeared in their shared neighbour, Uganda. “I want to alert the public that there is the threat of an Ebola epidemic in our country,” Ummy Mwalimu tweeted days after officials confirmed that members of a family who had travelled to the DRC had died in western Uganda.

The minister said the alert was necessary given the frequent interactions between Tanzanian and Ugandan people “via the official borders or by other, unofficial channels.” Tanzania’s northwestern Kagera, Mwanza and Kigoma regions were most at risk, said Mwalimu. But “given that this disease transmits very easily and very quickly from one person to another, nearly the entire country is in danger.”

The minister began a tour of the frontier regions on Saturday to assess the measures in place at ports and border posts to deal with potential incoming Ebola cases. The country has not yet been touched by the often fatal viral disease that causes violent vomiting and diarrhoea, impairs kidney and liver function, and sometimes internal and external bleeding.

Ebola spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids. The current outbreak in the DRC is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.

On Friday, the World Health Organization said the outbreak does not yet warrant being declared a “public health emergency of international concern”, meaning it would require a “coordinated international response”.The UN body declares public health emergencies when a disease outbreak in a country risks spreading beyond its borders.

Two members of a Ugandan family, a woman and her five-year-old grandson died of Ebola this week after travelling to the DRC to take care of a dying family member and attend the funeral. The boy’s brother, aged three, is also infected, and several family members are in isolation. To date, no locally-acquired Ebola cases have been reported in Uganda.

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East Africa News & Stories

Militant group kill nine civilians in Somalia

The victims were rounded up from the streets or their homes and then shot dead on the outskirts of Galkayo

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Militant group kill nine civilians in Somalia

Nine civilians were executed by a local militia in Somalia after the killing of a policeman by the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, police said Saturday.

The revenge attack on Friday just outside Galkayo – one of the most developed cities in the centre of the country – targeted the Rahanweyn clan, several of whose members are suspected of being Shabaab fighters.

“This was a horrible incident, a gruesome killing against nine unarmed innocent civilians in southern Galkayo. All of the civilians belong to one clan and the gunmen shot them dead in one location a few minutes after suspected Shabaab gunmen killed” a policeman, Mohamed Abdirahman, a local police official said.

“This is an unacceptable act and we will bring those perpetrators to justice,” said Hussein Dini, a traditional elder. 

“Their killing cannot be justified. It seems that the merciless gunmen were retaliating for the security official who they believe was killed by Al-Shabaab gunmen belonging to the clan of the victims.”

Witnesses told local media that the victims were rounded up from the streets or their homes and then shot dead on the outskirts of Galkayo.

Local officials have in the past fingered the Rahanweyn clan for fomenting instability in the region and supplying fighters to the Shabaab.

The local militia which staged the revenge attack are from the Saad Habargidir, a sub-clan of the Hawiye group which is dominant in the southern part of the city. 

Galkayo, situated about 600 kilometres (380 miles) north of the capital Mogadishu, straddles the frontier with the self-proclaimed autonomous regions of Puntland and Galmudug. 

The city has been the scene of violent clashes between forces of the two regions in recent years and also witnessed violence between the two rival clans occupying its northern and southern districts.

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