Thursday, August 17, 2017

Sierra Leone: Mass Mourning

SIERRA LEONE

Mass Mourning

Between a decade-long civil war and a 2014 outbreak of Ebola that resulted in a humanitarian crisis, the West African country of Sierra Leone is no stranger to tragedy. But for a beleaguered people, the unprecedented carnage from floods and mudslides this week must seem like the last straw.
With some 400 bodies recovered so far, the dead are being buried in mass graves in the capital of Freetown, the New York Times reported. And hundreds more are still missing.
Some, like 30-year-old Thomas Benson, were dealt an almost incomprehensible blow. Benson lost nine of his relatives in the tragedy, finding his nephew, sister and uncle in a morgue crowded with hundreds of corpses.
The devastation is by no means over, either. A Unicef spokesman told the Times the agency had donated a thousand body bags to assist in providing a “dignified” burial process – even if the bodies wind up in mass graves. But the specter of disease looms large.
“The potential for infectious diseases like cholera is our biggest concern,” Unicef’s John James told the Times. “The water infrastructure has taken a big hit.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Grace Mugabe Under Pressure

ZIMBABWE

Grace Under Pressure

Facing assault charges in South Africa, Zimbabwe’s First Lady Grace Mugabe returned to the safety of her own country rather than honoring a promise to turn herself in to South African police.
A 20-year-old South African woman accused Mugabe of hitting her over the head with an extension cord Sunday evening during an argument at a local hotel, the BBC reported.
Gabriella Engels, a model, accused Mugabe, 52, of hitting her after finding her with her two sons in a hotel room in Sandton, a wealthy suburb north of Johannesburg. South African police said they had been negotiating with Mugabe to convince her to turn herself in, and she had agreed to do so but never appeared.
Born in South Africa, Grace Mugabe married longtime President Robert Mugabe in 1996 after an extramarital affair. Made head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League in 2014, and thus a member of the party politburo, she has been accused of assault in the past, when she allegedly joined her bodyguard in beating up a newspaper photographer in Hong Kong in 2009.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Africa's Biggest Data Center Set To Open In South Africa In November

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Nigeria-The Grimmest Of Ironies

NIGERIA

The Grimmest of Ironies

Oil once fueled a boom in Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria.
But plummeting oil prices, persistent terror threats and drought have caused economic turmoil in this West African nation of 170 million people.
Petroleum exports comprise some 70 percent of the Nigerian government’s revenues. So when oil prices began to plummet a few years back, public spending sagged, forcing the country to fall into recession last year, according to African Economic Outlook figures.
Thanks in part to help from OPEC, Nigeria is expected to post anemic growth this year.
But persistent corruption and sabotage at the hands of terror groups, insurgents and criminals have severely undercut the benefits of that turnaround, Reuters reported.
As much as 30 percent of the oil sent through the Niger River Delta is stolen, reported Stars and Stripes, citing oil industry estimates. Authorities claim former oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke has absconded with $615 million, for example, wrote Bloomberg.
Last month, meanwhile, the militant Islamic group Boko Haram – an Islamic State affiliate in Africa that has plagued Nigeria for the better part of the last decade – ambushed an oil exploration convoy, killing 10 people and abducting several others.
Despite the Nigerian army’s sometimes-controversial advancesagainst them, Boko Haram militants also continue to occupy much of the country’s remote north, exacerbating a famine already gripping the region. Around 1.7 million people have yet to return to their homes in the wake of the jihadists’ rampage, too.
The United Nations said in a recent report that famine conditions affect roughly 5 million people in northeastern Nigeria. But Boko Haram’s grip on the region means that aid workers simply can’t reach those in need.
These hardships have put Nigeria’s youth in a dire situation, the Washington Times reported. According to UNICEF statistics quoted in the article, 45 percent of the population is younger than 15, and 10.5 million of those children aren’t attending school.
Meanwhile, unemployment stands at 14.2 percent.
The grim irony of Africa’s energy superpower not being able care for its own has forced the nation to face a bleak reality.
“Having 10 million children out of school is literally a ticking time bomb for our nation,” said Nigerian Senate President Bukola Saraki. “An uneducated population will be locked in a cycle of poverty for their entire lives. These children could constitute the next generation of suicide bombers and militant terrorists.”
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Friday, August 11, 2017

The Fertile World Of Nigerian Patois

Get the gist?The fertile world of Nigerian patois

Urban Nigerians speak a fantastic blend of languages
NO COMPLIMENT was too flowery at the launch in May of “Antidotes for Corruption”, a book by Dino Melaye, a Nigerian senator who has fended off numerous allegations of graft. “What is being launched today is, ipso facto, a new potent Intercontinental Ballistic-cum-Cruise missile—an unassailable Assault weapon against, arguably, Mankind’s Enemy Number One: Corruption,” read the opening sentence of a leaflet handed out at the event. The 43-year-old politician was described as a “unique, strong-willed, opinionated, stubborn, determined, intelligent, prolific and even sexy young man in his prime”.
It is not just Nigerian politics that is prone to verbal flourishes. In December Arik Air, an airline, blamed flight cancellations on the “epileptic” supply of aviation fuel (it was bailed out by the government soon after). Nigerians have taken English, the former colonial language, and made it their own. Many switch back and forth between standard English and Pidgin, peppering their speech with local words and colloquialisms. For example, “gist” is often used both as a noun and a verb meaning “gossip”. Someone going out for the night is “catching fun”. Traffic jams are “go-slows”. A younger girlfriend is a “smallie”.

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In a country with more than 500 languages Pidgin English is the lingua franca. Pop culture depends on it. Fela Kuti, one of the most popular Nigerian singers of the 1970s and 1980s, argued that, “You cannot sing African music in proper English.” Many Nollywood producers feel the same about the action films and convoluted romantic dramas that they export all over the continent. The Pidgin phrase Naija no dey carry last, roughly meaning “Nigerians strive to finish first”, has become an unofficial national motto (as well as the title of a book satirising the country).
Many English-language radio hosts talk in accents that indicate they have lived in Britain or America. But Nigerians can also tune in to the Pidgin “people’s station” Wazobia FM and, soon, BBC Pidgin. The celebrated novelist Chinua Achebe’s defence of writing in English, rather than his native Igbo, would ring true today whether spoken by politician or pop star. “We intend to do unheard-of things with it.”
This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline "Get the gist?"

How Developers Deal With Hijacked Buildings In Johannesburg

How developers deal with “hijacked” buildings in Johannesburg

Some owners are taking back control of property that has been grabbed by gangsters
BACK in 2010, Gerald Olitzki could only survey his new building from a safe distance across the street. He bought the downtown property for redevelopment, even though criminals still controlled it, extorting rent from poor tenants. Squatters peered warily out of broken windows; inside, a warren of shacks faded into the gloom. At that time, he did not dare approach to give your correspondent a closer view. Fast-forward seven years, and Mr Olitzki now strides proudly towards a building that, like many in Johannesburg’s inner city, has been transformed. What was a vertical shantytown is now a bright, clean shopping arcade bustling with small businesses—a nail salon, a bridal shop, a penis-enlargement clinic—along with floors of office space.
Downtown Johannesburg remains pockmarked with dangerous, dilapidated “hijacked” buildings, where armed gangs have wrested control from legitimate owners. The living conditions in such places are squalid. The problem began in the 1980s as apartheid crumbled. White flight from the inner city left a vacuum filled by job-seeking black migrants who had previously been barred from living there. Many property owners simply abandoned their buildings.

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But the days of “hijacked” buildings may now be numbered. Johannesburg has undergone impressive changes in recent years, led by entrepreneurs and private developers who see opportunity in the neglect. Newly gentrified areas are home to snazzy apartments, stylish new bars and weekend markets that attract middle-class visitors from the suburbs. Mr Olitzki has focused on developing affordable office and retail space, much of it for new businesses. Ensuring safe, clean streets was essential, so he convinced the city to give him 45-year leases on public areas, which are now guarded by his private security officers. “It’s a slow process,” he says. “You start right at the bottom and you slowly elevate the whole market.”
Herman Mashaba, Johannesburg’s fiercely pro-business new mayor, sees the revitalisation of the inner city as crucial to his strategy of creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. In July he declared war on building-hijackers. The city has since launched raids to push back the slum lords, while identifying 85 hijacked buildings that could be taken over by the municipality and converted into low-cost rental housing.
Un-hijacking a building is no easy task. The structures are often in such poor condition as to be only a shell; everything must be rebuilt. There are mountains of rubbish to remove (which have occasionally been found to conceal dead bodies). Water, electricity and sanitation are usually lacking. Rats are plentiful. Floors may be covered in faeces. Such dangerous conditions can easily turn buildings into death traps. In July a fire at a hijacked building in Johannesburg called the Cape York left seven people dead and hundreds homeless. Some residents only escaped the flames by knotting together blankets and lowering themselves from windows.
The big challenge is how to deal with illegal tenants who have nowhere else to go. Mr Olitzki negotiated cash settlements with the squatters and paid them to leave. Other developers call in the Red Ants, a feared eviction squad so named for their red jumpsuits and helmets. After one recent eviction, residents’ possessions—blankets, beds, toys—were left dumped in the street. Evicting residents requires a court’s permission. In a landmark decision in June, South Africa’s left-leaning Constitutional Court ruled that evictions may not be granted if they lead to homelessness.
A lack of alternative housing is a serious stumbling block to Mr Mashaba’s plan. Johannesburg has a housing backlog of 300,000 units. Recent evictees are being housed in tents. But the mayor also sees an opportunity for the private sector to step in and redevelop buildings into affordable housing. Unhelpfully, Mr Mashaba has supplemented this with attacks on human-rights lawyers who advocate for the poor, while scapegoating foreigners for the problems of the inner city—worrying rhetoric in a country that has seen xenophobic attacks on poor African migrants.
Stuart Wilson of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, a group that aims to “challenge inequality”, argues that private developers have free rein to exploit the inner city. He would rather see a mix of housing for different income brackets, as well as subsidised housing and homeless shelters. Mr Wilson talks of islands of gentrification amid a sea of poverty. “In Johannesburg, there’s no overarching vision,” he says. “There is simply a beautification project that is entirely dependent on the private sector for its implementation.” But so far only the private sector has been willing to step up.
This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline "Reclaiming hijacked buildings"
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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Kenya-'No Raila, No Peace'

KENYA

‘No Raila, No Peace’

The challenger in Kenya’s bitterly contested presidential elections blamed his loss to incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta on the alleged hacking of the electronic voting system, triggering violent protests Wednesday that killed at least three, USA Today reported.
While the violence has not as of yet reached the scale seen 10 years ago after another disputed election, when over 1,100 were killed, supporters of Raila Odinga burned tires, smashed shacks, blocked roads and threw stones at police, yelling, “No Raila, no peace,” according to the newspaper.
The violence was reported in the poor neighborhoods that are the stronghold of Odinga’s support. Many fear the street protests will continue in the days ahead.
With the vote count nearly completed, Kenyatta led Odinga 54.3% to 44.8%, or a margin of 1.5 million votes. This would be Odinga’s fourth loss in a presidential election.
Odinga charged that hackers infiltrated the election commission database and manipulated the results using the identity of Christopher Msando, the election official in charge of the IT systems who was found brutally murdered last week.
The election commission said it will investigate the charges and the Kenya Human Rights commission said it will look into discrepancies it found in the results, USA Today said.
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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Kenya-Being Heard

KENYA

Being Heard

Braving fears of violence along with long lines, Kenyans turned out in large numbers on Tuesday to vote in the too-close-to-call election between main contenders President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the Associated Press reported.
As of Wednesday morning, peace reigned.
The final week of campaigning set the country’s nerves on edge after the murder of the top election official in charge of the electronic voting system and growing fears of similar post-election violence that marked elections 10 years ago in which more than 1,100 died.
Moreover, Somalia-based terrorist group al-Shabab, which has staged persistent attacks on the country’s eastern border, promised to disrupt the vote with further violence.
But residents of Lamu County, hard hit by the extremists, voted in large numbers, too. The military provided escorts for some from their homes to the polling stations, AP reported.
In the lead-up to the vote, the candidates avoided inflammatory speeches to keep the country calm. Now all eyes are on how the loser reacts to the outcome. Kenyatta, who has shown an early lead, said he would accept the result and urged rivals to do the same, Reuters wrote.
Final results are not expected before late Wednesday, but it could take three days for a winner to emerge, the news agency said.
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