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New Militia Attack in Central African Republic Kills 2 UN Peacekeepers

KINSHASA — 

Suspected Christian militiamen killed two Moroccan peacekeepers from the United Nations mission in Central African Republic on Tuesday, the mission said, in the second deadly attack on Moroccan forces this week.

The peacekeepers were ambushed by suspected anti-balaka fighters in the town of Banagassou, 700 kilometers (435 miles) east of the capital Bangui, as they stocked up on water to deliver to the population, the mission said in a statement.

Thousands have died in an ethnic and religious conflict that broke out when mainly Muslim Seleka rebels ousted President Francois Bozize in 2013, provoking a backlash from Christian anti-balaka militias.

Tuesday’s raid, which injured a third soldier, followed similar attacks by suspected anti-balaka fighters in the diamond-mining town in recent days, including one on Sunday that killed a Moroccan peacekeeper and left three others wounded.

The violence has prompted several humanitarian organizations to suspend their activities in Bangassou, where fighting in May killed at least 115 people.

It also points to the inability of the 13,000-strong U.N. force to contain violence in a country where government control barely extends outside the capital.

“I am shocked by these new losses of human life and I firmly condemn this flagrant violation of the right to life and of international law,” mission chief Parfait Onanga-Anyanga said in the statement.

Violence has escalated in Central African Republic since former colonial power France ended its peacekeeping mission in the country last year, and despite a peace deal signed between the government and rival factions in Rome last month.

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Italy Seeks ‘Code of Conduct' for Charity Ships as Death Toll Rises

ROME — 

The Italian government on Tuesday threatened to shut down humanitarian groups that operate migrant rescue ships in the Mediterranean out of the country’s ports if they do not sign a “code of conduct.”

Italy fears that the ships are making it too easy for smugglers to operate and that they act as an incentive for migrants who want to reach Europe. An Italian court has also suggested they collude with Libya-based smugglers, which the charities deny.

Italy’s coastguard coordinates all rescues off the coast of Libya, which has been shattered by years of civil war. Almost 100,000 have been brought to Italy this year, adding to the half a million brought over the three previous years.

As a high-ranking Interior Ministry official illustrated the 12-point document that charities fear will limit their capacity to save lives, one of the groups, Proactiva Open Arms, recovered 13 bodies off the Libyan coast.

Accused of working with smugglers

A photograph posted on Twitter showed the corpses strewn across the bottom of a large yellow raft that had been crammed with more than 160 migrants. More than 2,200 people have died in the Central Mediterranean this year.

“Several pregnant women and mothers among the (dead),” Proactiva’s founder Oscar Camps wrote on Twitter, adding, “and we are apparently the only ones who need a code of conduct.”

Members of the nine non-governmental groups working at sea sought changes to the document, ultimately driving Mario Morcone, chief of staff for Interior Minister Marco Minniti, to express his frustration, according to a source who attended the meeting.

“Your solidarity with Italy is hypocritical,” he quipped, according to the source.

There will be another meeting on Friday at the ministry, when the NGOs must submit the changes that they are seeking.

Since February the charities have been accused of colluding with people smugglers and attacked in the Italian media. This week a dozen far-right activists are setting out to sea to monitor their work.

The NGOs have repeatedly denied any ties to smuggling and no evidence of wrongdoing has ever been presented. They say their only objective is to save lives.

‘Urgent need of support’

“We are fully aware that Italy is in urgent need of support from European member states,” Sandra Mammamy, a Sea-Watch coordinator, told Reuters after the meeting. “But the code of conduct is a desperate attempt to blame someone else for Italy’s problem.”

Among the most controversial points is one that asks NGOs to let police on board so they can search for smugglers hidden amongst the migrants.

Another point forbids ships from transferring people to other boats, a measure apparently aimed at shutting down smaller rescue ships that normally transfer migrants to larger vessels to be brought to Italy.

Violation of maritime law

Fulvio Vassallo, a professor of international law at the University of Palermo, said in an interview on Radio Radicale that many points in the “code of conduct” would be in violation of international maritime law.

“The code of conduct isn’t meant to save more lives but to limit the number of people rescued by the NGOs,” Vassallo Paleologo said. “It’s being sold to the public as something that will lower departures from Libya, which it will not do. Unfortunately, it could increase the number of victims.”

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Farmers Pushed Off Their Land to Save Tanzania's Great Ruaha River

KILOLO, TANZANIA — 

Gazing at the exposed, rocky bottom of the Great Ruaha River, known as the jewel of Tanzania, Rosemary Kasenza ponders what the future holds for her family now that there is no longer enough water for her crops.

“I am worried because it’s the dry season and I don’t have enough food to feed my children,” she said.

Kasenza grows potatoes, maize, onions and bananas on 3 hectares (7 acres) of land in the fertile Ruaha basin in southern Tanzania.

She says she used to have no problem irrigating her crops, but now the river flow slows to a trickle in the dry season.

“We have experienced long periods of drought which have badly affected the river flow,” said Kasenza, who runs a channel to drain water from the river to her farm.

The 51-year-old mother of six is among the roughly 1 million small-scale farmers who produce much of the East African nation’s food, many cultivating rice on water-intensive farms.

In the Ruaha basin, the government accuses farmers of illegally squatting on protected land along the river banks.

Now, thousands face eviction as authorities try to protect wetlands critical for the river’s flow — and the survival of local wildlife.

The government says farmers’ water-intensive methods and herders’ cattle have brought the once mighty river close to death, but farmers and pastoralists say they have lived in harmony with nature for decades, and are victims of drought.

“I don’t have anywhere to go. We have been staying here all our lives. My children have known no other home than this one,” Kasenza said.

Wildlife and water

Described as the “ecological backbone of Tanzania,” the Great Ruaha River flows nearly 500 km (300 miles) from its source in the Kipengere mountains, through vast wetlands and the Ruaha national park before emptying into the Rufiji River in the southeast.

The Ruaha river produced more than half of Tanzania’s hydropower for decades but increasingly frequent periods of drought have forced the government to shift to fossil fuels, including gas, for electricity production.

A task force set up this year by the Tanzanian government to examine the river’s continuing degradation highlighted the impact of intense agriculture on the river’s health and recommended the eviction of farmers and pastoralists from some areas.

Speaking in May after reviewing the task force report, Samia Suluhu Hassan, Tanzania’s Vice President, said the government would consider removing farmers who encroached on water sources to help restore the river’s flow.

“[We must] come together to save the ecosystem of the valley for the welfare of our lives and the interests of the nation as a whole,” she was reported as saying in local media.

During a visit to the river basin in the Kilolo area last month, muddy, drying ponds were visible along the river, and crocodiles and hippos seemingly found it difficult to cool themselves.

In another area, vultures hovered above mounds of dead fish rotting in the sun.

Officials say the degradation of the river spans its entire length, from source to mouth.

In an interview with Reuters, January Makamba, minister of state in the vice president’s environment office, said farmers who divert water from the river to their farms were responsible not only for the degradation of the environment but also for the death of wildlife.

It is illegal to divert water from the river in wetland areas the government deems to be protected sites.

“We are going to take stern measures against them regardless of their status or position in order to save the river ecology,” he said. “We feel it is necessary to be very aggressive and uncompromising in enforcing the laws.”

Long-term problems

Authorities say that the Ruaha river dried up for the first time during the dry season of 1993. Water levels have dropped and dry spells have lengthened since, sometimes lasting several months, the minister said.

“You can say, without fear of being contradicted, that the river is collapsing. And, for once, God is not responsible,” Makamba told Reuters.

He said that unless urgent action is taken to restore flows to the river, Ruaha National Park — the largest in east Africa and home to about 10 percent of the world’s lions — will die.

“The beauty of nature across the basin was breathtaking, its destruction is heart-breaking,” he said.

According to the minister, farmers with legitimate land claims will be compensated and allocated plots elsewhere but those who occupied land in the river’s basin illegally would have to return to “where they came from.”

“If someone settles in an area that he clearly knows to be protected land, they will not be compensated,” the minister said.

According to local analysts however, the government’s decision to evict poor farmers from the river basin and the more fertile areas of wetland will cut off families from natural resources they have relied on for generations.

“Smallholder farmers along river banks have for a long time managed to feed themselves and their families adequately without causing any harm to nature,” said Lucas Mnubi, an environmental expert and the editor of Nature magazine in Dar es Salaam.

Mnubi said authorities should instead teach communities how to harvest river water sustainably, not evict them from the land.

Local farmers say they are being unfairly singled out and the move to evict them would destroy their livelihoods.

“We are being accused of destroying water sources, but the government doesn’t realize the biggest enemy is drought,” said Benjamin Nzuki, a farmer in Kilolo.

According to Nzuki, local farmers have always tried to conserve water sources, especially in the catchment areas.

“We always plant water-friendly trees in order to protect catchment areas so as to allow free flow of the water,” he said.

Nzuki called on the government to work with local communities instead of “harassing them and branding them invaders.”

The minister said farming methods that were less water-intensive would be introduced in some areas, and communities taught about the importance of protecting water sources.

“We have [also] put a limit on the number of cattle that each household can keep to cope with land scarcity and manage water sustainably,” Makamba said.

However, herders who graze their animals in the riverlands are not happy.

“Pastoralism is business like any other, if you ask me to keep ten cows instead of hundreds you will obviously deny me income,” said Leikim Saburi, a herder in Kilolo district.

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Zimbabwe's Parliament Amends Constitution to Let President Handpick Top Judges

HARARE — 

Zimbabwe’s parliament has amended the country’s constitution to empower the president to handpick the southern African nation’s top judges.

Plans to give President Robert Mugabe such power started early this year when the then-chief justice left the bench after reaching the age of retirement.

Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF immediately petitioned the courts to halt public interviews to appoint the next top judge until the constitution had been changed to allow Mugabe to choose the new jurist.

The application failed, but ZANU-PF introduced a bill proposing the amendment to ensure the president chooses a chief justice, along with the deputy and the head of the high court, known in Zimbabwe as the Judge President.

Priscilla Misihairabwi, an opposition member of parliament who had campaigned against the constitutional amendment, says the move reverses what Zimbabweans voted for in 2013.

“Why do we take away the will of the people, something that was voted in by millions and millions of Zimbabweans?” Misihairabwi said. “The second thing is that it goes against [the] very basic tenet of democracy. One of the things that democracy demands is that you have to have separation of power. You cannot create a situation where you put all the powers in one individual. What this thing has done is the second thing to the executive presidency. We had the executive presidency, now we have created a bigger creature than the executive presidency.”

ZANU-PF parliament member Ziyambi Ziyambi says he sees nothing wrong with the new law that awaits Mugabe’s signature.

“I think it is good for our democracy,” Ziyambi said. “We discovered a lacuna [gap] in our law, something needed to be rectified and the bill was tabled in parliament. We did all the due processes. … It was discovered that there were impractical things which were within that constitution. For instance, the outgoing chief justice will interview his successor. It is something which is not attainable. And besides, even if you look at most jurisdictions, even in Europe, they do not hold public interviews for the chief justice. For other judges, yes.”

The opposition has criticized the amendment as a direct reversal of the will of the people. The 2013 constitution passed by popular referendum limited presidential powers, including removing Mugabe’s ability to handpick judges.

Observers say the amendment could have implications for the 2018 elections, as the Supreme Court would decide on who rules on any poll disputes.

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UN Points Finger at 'Elements' in Congo Army Over Kasai Mass Graves

KINSHASA — 

The United Nations accused “elements” of the Congolese army on Tuesday of digging most of the mass graves it has identified in the insurrection-ravaged Kasai region of central Democratic Republic of Congo.

The report by the U.N. Joint Human Rights Office in Congo (UNJHRO) is the first time the United Nations has directly suggested that government forces dug the graves.

Congo’s human rights minister was not immediately available for comment but the government has repeatedly denied its troops were responsible for dozens of mass graves discovered since the Kamuina Nsapu militia launched an insurrection last August and called for the departure of government forces from the area.

“As of June 30, 2017, UNJHRO had identified a total of 42 mass graves in these three provinces [of Kasai], most of which would have been dug by [Congolese army] elements following clashes with presumed militia members,” the report said.

Earlier this month, the UNJHRO said it had identified 38 more probable mass graves in the western part of Kasai, bringing the total number to 80.

More than 3,000 people have been killed and 1.4 million displaced in the violence, part of growing unrest in the country since President Joseph Kabila refused to step down when his mandate expired in December.

The violence has triggered fears of a wider conflict in the large central African country, a tinderbox of ethnic rivalry and competing claims over mineral resources. Millions died in civil wars between 1996-2003, mostly from hunger and disease.

The government has blamed the militia for the mass graves and also claimed that some of the sites identified by U.N. investigators have turned out not to contain bodies.

It also denies U.N. allegations that its troops have systematically used excessive force, although a court convicted seven soldiers this month for murdering suspected militia members in a massacre that was caught on video.

Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council approved an international inquiry into the violence in Kasai. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected soon to name a team of experts to lead the probe.

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New French ambassador presents his credentials to Somali President

A new French Ambassador to Somalia Antoine Sivan, has presented his credentials to the president of the country Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo on Tuesday in Mogadishu, July 25. President Farmajo and ambassador Sivan, accompanied by Somalia’s state minister for Foreign affairs, diplomats, held talks on the bilateral relations between the two nations. Somali President whose government […]

Nigeria's Acting President to Return to Restive Oil Heartlands

ABUJA — 

Nigeria’s acting president will meet again with community leaders from the Niger Delta oil heartlands next week, his spokesman said Tuesday, in a bid to shore up a fragile truce between militants and the government there.

With Africa’s biggest economy mired in recession, delegations including Acting President Yemi Osinbajo have held talks since late last year with leaders in the oil-producing states in the southeast.

But the local leaders have said the efforts to secure peace are empty promises, and a return to violence in the area would derail any broader recovery in the crude-dependent economy.

“Next week there is going to be a follow-up meeting between the acting president and the stakeholders of the Niger Delta,” said a spokesman for Osinbajo.

The government, including an inter-ministerial committee headed by the acting president, and Niger Delta stakeholders will also issue a report next week, he said.

Osinbajo was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari to head the country while the leader remains in Britain on medical leave for an undisclosed ailment.

In the meeting next week, the government and representatives from the Delta will discuss key issues such as legalizing illicit refineries and turning them into so-called “modular refineries,” which the administration hopes to start from next month.

The contentious cleanup of the heavily polluted Ogoni region and plans to open a maritime university in October, which many community leaders have voiced support for, will also be discussed, said the spokesman.

Oil exports are now set to exceed 2 million barrels per day (bpd) in August, the highest in 17 months, from as little as just over 1 million bpd at certain points last year.

That is due to a steady decline in attacks on pipelines, providing a much-needed injection of cash into Nigerian government coffers.

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Shaka: Extra Time

[unable to retrieve full-text content]We are live. In Extra Time Shaka answers your questions about politics in Africa.

Africa 54

[unable to retrieve full-text content]We are live. Join us and let us know from what part of the world you are watching us.

Kenya’s President a No-Show for Debate

NAIROBI — 

With just two weeks to go before Kenya’s elections, the nation watched the lead opposition candidate for president, Raila Odinga, debate solo Monday after his top opponent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, refused to show for the live event.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga had the stage to himself for the televised presidential debate. He responded to questions from the two moderators for 90 minutes.

“I am running here because of my commitment to change this country. I represent change,” he said.

Odinga promised to address the rising cost of living, and to fight corruption ban those in government from doing business with his administration. He said the current government is over-borrowing on large infrastructure projects. His challenges went unanswered.

No-show

The podium for his opponent, President Uhuru Kenyatta, stood empty. Kenyatta’s team said he would not attend the debate because they were not happy with the format and rules.

Kimani Ichung’wa is a member of parliament from central Kenya. His party is part of Kenyatta’s Jubilee Coalition.

“We have told you we need you to lay out this debate a certain way that will be fair to everybody and will accord Kenyans opportunity to be able to decide on the basis of issues, not personality size. Not inflaming emotions, political emotions in a country where political emotions are very high at the moment. On account of that principle, the organizers ignored and refused because they had ulterior motives,” said Ichung’wa.

The presidency released a statement Tuesday saying the president would engage with Kenyans directly, including plans to speak to an additional 40 radio stations before the vote.

Three of the other six presidential candidates debated during the first half of the event.

Tight race expected

This is the fourth time Odinga is running for the top job. The race is expected to be tight, though it is not clear what impact the debate would have on voters.

Identity politics remains the norm in Kenya with ethnicity and regional loyalty governing people’s choices at the polls, what Odinga called during the debate “a homeboy mentality.”

But there are some undecided voters, as much as five percent of the electorate, according to recent polls done by InfoTrack and Synovate. Those undecided voters were Odinga’s target Monday, says Kenyan political commentator Barrack Muluka.

“The government missed an opportunity to state its position, to call the bluff in what these people were saying, and to show where the weaknesses and failures in these people’s thoughts are, if any,” he said.

There were no major revelations in Odinga’s statements during his solo debate. He pledged to respect the results of a free, fair and credible election.

Kenyans go to the polls August 8.

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