Bonakele Mtshali was away at a funeral when flash floods on South Africa’s east coast swept her iron-roof shack off the hillside in Lindelani township, taking two of her girls with it. She had been searching with a growing sense of foreboding since Monday’s disaster. Then her elder son, Zamani, 23, got a call on Thursday from some other townspeople who had discovered a body by the river. It was Baphiwe, her 17-year-old. Mtshali’s daughter was one of about 400 people, possibly more, killed in extremely powerful rains that battered the coast, leaving about 13,600 people homeless and numerous families in mourning for lost relatives. There is no sign of Mtshali’s 11-year-old daughter, Ntwenhle. She has lost hope of finding her alive in her township by a river on the outskirts of Durban, the port city at the epicentre of the floods that have upended the lives of 40,000 people. “I feel numb, blank and still empty,” she told Reuters at the wreckage of her home which had collapsed into a pile of rubble falling into a gash in the earth. “There is nothing I can do except to keep looking for my youngest so that they can both be buried together. I don’t think I can recover,” she said, staring wistfully into the distance. “The loss is too deep.” South Africans were still searching for survivors yesterday, and the government has mobilised emergency funds to bring relief to the thousands without shelter, power or water — a tragedy experts say will become more common as the climate warms. Others simply sought closure by finding the dead. “The body was covered in sand. But I could see that it was my sister,” security guard Zamani said of his sibling, a promising student who dreamt of being a scientist. “I covered her body, and took her away.” At the Gandhi settlement, also near Durban, where mud-hewn houses were left in ruins and many had nowhere to sleep, Nokwakha Nonketha, 48, was looking for her nephew Sivela, 32, missing since Tuesday night. She said they had had to search alone, as no authorities had arrived to help them. “We haven’t stopped digging. We will dig until we find him,” she said. “We can’t officially grieve until we find his body.” Family members assist with clearing debris for members of the South African Police Services (SAPS) Search and Rescue Unit to conduct search efforts to locate ten people who are unaccounted for from an area of KwaNdengezi township outside Durban, yesterday.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pledged yesterday to help the victims of devastating east coast floods, as the death toll rose to 259 from heavy rains that washed out roads and disrupted shipping in one of Africa’s busiest ports. Ramaphosa visited families who had lost loved ones in KwaZulu-Natal province, including a family with four children, after floods and mudslides ravaged their homes on Tuesday. Africa’s southeastern coast is on the front line of seaborne weather systems that scientists believe global warming is making nastier - and predict will get far worse in decades to come. “You’re not alone ... We’ll do everything in our power to see how we can help,” Ramaphosa said. “Even though your hearts are in pain, we’re here for you.” Nonala Ndlovu, chief director of the Department of Co-operative Governance for KwaZulu-Natal, told Reuters told Reuters yesterday evening that the death toll had not been updated beyond the 259 that was reported earlier in the day. South Africa’s northern neighbour Mozambique has suffered a series of devastating floods over the past decade, including one last month that killed more than 50 people. “You’re battling one of the biggest incidents we’ve seen and we thought this only happens in other countries like Mozambique or Zimbabwe,” Ramaphosa told the victims. Meli Sokela, a victim who lost his child in the flood, told Reuters that when the area was inundated on Monday night he could hear sounds like a thunderstorm hitting his house roof, and immediately afterward the walls of his home crumbled. “My neighbours, they tried to assist me, it took two hours. After two hours I survived but unfortunately my child did not survive,” he said. A report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in February warned that humanity was far from ready even for the climate change that is already baked into the system by decades of fossil fuel-burning and deforestation. It urged the world to ramp up investments in adaptation.
At least 45 people have died in floods and mudslides after rainstorms struck the South African port city of Durban and surrounding KwaZulu-Natal province, the authorities said yesterday. The country’s meteorologists forecast more “extreme” rains on the way this week, accompanied by “widespread flooding”. “The latest reports indicate that more than 45 people have lost their lives as a result of the heavy rains, this number could possibly increase as more reports come in,” the province’s Department of Co-operative Governance announced in a statement. Days of pounding rain flooded several areas, tore houses apart and ravaged infrastructure across the southeastern city, while landslips caused train services across KwaZulu-Natal province to be suspended. The rains have flooded city highways, torn apart bridges, submerged cars and collapsed houses. Several shipping containers that were stacked high atop of each other, fell like dominoes and lay strewn on a yard, while some spilled over into a main road in the city, one of southern Africa’s largest regional gateways to the sea. The disaster management department in KwaZulu-Natal province, of which Durban is the largest city, urged people to stay at home and ordered those residing in low-lying areas to move to higher ground. More than 2,000 houses and 4,000 “informal” homes, or shacks, have been damaged, provincial premier Sihle Zikalala, told journalists. Rescue operations, aided by the military, are underway to evacuate people trapped in affected areas, the provincial Department of Co-operative Governance said. The city had only just recovered from deadly riots last July in which shopping malls were looted and warehouses set on fire, in South Africa’s worst unrest since the end of apartheid. A local humanitarian agency, Gift of the Givers, said: “The need of the hour is huge.” The country’s rail service PRASA said landslips and rubble on the tracks had forced it to suspend all train services in the province. Southern parts of the continent’s most industrialised country are bearing the brunt of climate change – suffering recurrent and worsening torrential rains and flooding. Floods killed around 70 people in April 2019. “We know it’s climate change getting worse, it’s moved from 2017 with extreme storms to supposedly having record floods in 2019, and now 2022 clearly exceeding that,” University of Johannesburg development studies professor Mary Galvin said.
The first all-private team of astronauts ever launched to the International Space Station (ISS) were welcomed aboard the orbiting research platform yesterday to begin a week-long science mission hailed as a milestone in commercial spaceflight. Their arrival came about 21 hours after the four-man team representing Houston-based startup company Axiom Space Inc lifted off on Friday from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa)’s Kennedy Space Centre, riding atop a SpaceX-launched Falcon 9 rocket. The Crew Dragon capsule lofted into orbit by the rocket docked with the ISS about 8.30am EDT (1230 GMT) yesterday as the two space vehicles were flying roughly 250 miles (420km) above the central Atlantic Ocean, a live webcast of the coupling from Nasa showed. The final approach was delayed for about 45 minutes by a technical glitch with a video feed used to monitor the capsule’s rendezvous with the ISS, but it otherwise proceeded smoothly. The multinational Axiom team, planning to spend eight days in orbit, is led by astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, 63, the company’s vice-president for business development, who is a dual citizen of the United States and Spain, and had flown to space four times over his 20-year career, and last visited the ISS in 2007. His second-in-command is Larry Connor, a real estate and technology entrepreneur and aerobatics aviator from Ohio designated as the mission pilot. Connor is in his 70s, but the company did not provide his precise age. Rounding out the Ax-1 crew are investor-philanthropist and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, 64, and Canadian businessman and philanthropist Mark Pathy, 52, both serving as mission specialists. With docking achieved, it took nearly two hours for the sealed passageway between the space station and crew capsule to be pressurised and checked for leaks before hatches were opened to allow the newly arrived astronauts to come aboard the ISS. The Ax-1 team was welcomed by all seven of the regular, government-paid crew members already occupying the space station: three American astronauts, a German astronaut from the European Space Agency, and three Russian cosmonauts. The Nasa webcast showed the four smiling Axiom astronauts, dressed in navy blue flight suits, floating headfirst, one by one, through the portal into the space station, warmly greeted with hugs and handshakes by the ISS crew. Lopez-Alegria later pinned astronaut wings onto the uniforms of the three spaceflight rookies of his Axiom team – Connor, Stibbe and Pathy – during a brief welcome ceremony. Stibbe is now the second Israeli to fly to space, after Ilan Ramon, who perished with six Nasa crewmates in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia disaster. The new arrivals brought with them two dozen science and biomedical experiments to conduct aboard the ISS, including research on brain health, cardiac stem cells, cancer and ageing, as well as a technology demonstration to produce optics using the surface tension of fluids in microgravity. The mission, a collaboration among Axiom, Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX and Nasa, has been touted by all three as a major step in the expansion of space-based commercial activities collectively referred to by insiders as the low-Earth orbit economy, or “LEO economy” for short. The widely reported price for tickets – which includes eight days on the outpost, before eventual splashdown in the Atlantic – is $55mn. Nasa officials say the trend will help the US space agency focus more of its resources on big-science exploration, including its Artemis programme to send humans back to the moon and ultimately to Mars. While the space station has hosted civilian visitors from time to time, the Ax-1 mission marks the first all-commercial team of astronauts sent to the ISS for its intended purpose as an orbiting research laboratory. The Axiom mission also stands as SpaceX’s sixth human spaceflight in nearly two years, following four Nasa astronaut missions to the space station and the Inspiration 4 launch in September that sent an all-civilian crew into orbit for the first time. That flight did not dock with the space station. Axiom executives say their astronaut ventures and plans to build a private space station in Earth orbit go far beyond the astro-tourism services offered to wealthy thrill-seekers by such companies as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, owned respectively by billionaire entrepreneurs Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.
In gang-ridden Haiti, going to court has become so dangerous for lawyers that they avoid it altogether: at one lower-level tribunal no hearings or trials have been held for months. “In February we had seven kidnappings within our ranks and one lawyer shot,” Marie Suzy Legros, president of the bar association in Port-au-Prince, told AFP. She was among dozens of robed lawyers who demonstrated on Friday outside the private home of Prime Minister Ariel Henry to complain about crime targeting attorneys in destitute and chaotic Haiti. Moving the Palace of Justice is one of their main demands. Few lawyers dare even to go to this court complex because it is right next to a slum that is dominated by Haiti’s most powerful gangs. For years the gangs used to be based in these poorest of the poor areas, by the seaside in Port-au-Prince. However, over time they grew in power and spread across the city and country, staging more and more murders and kidnappings for ransom. So Haitian lawyers are exasperated and feel added frustration with a legal system lacking the resources to work properly. Addressing the demand to move the court building, the government said it would create a sort of safety corridor manned by security forces so lawyers can actually get to court. However, this idea never really got off the ground. “Sometimes gang members go inside the court looking for accomplices or brothers, depending on what they call them, to help them escape,” Legros added. With the court system so paralysed, overcrowding in Haiti’s prisons – among the highest in the world – gets even worse. The prison system has room for 3,000 inmates but holds more than 11,200, 80% of whom are simply waiting to go on trial, and some of them have been for years, according to penal officials. And the living conditions are deplorable. The judicial system will suffer another blow next week when court clerks go on an open-ended strike. “Our working conditions are precarious in Haiti. There is no equipment, no computers. In some courts there is not even any paper,” said Aine Martin, president of a national association of court clerks. She said pay is low – at courts of first instance, at the bottom of the court hierarchy, as little as $150 a month. “You cannot live on that kind of wage and this is why there is so much corruption eating away at the Haitian judicial system,” said Martin. And the decrepit physical condition of the courts defies belief. “Because the gutters are blocked, when it rains, water with garbage flows into the court. The lawyers’ offices sometimes flood and there are files that cannot be saved,” said Legros. The Palace of Justice collapsed during the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people in Haiti. “We broke ground on a new Palace of Justice in 2016, but since then nothing has been done,” said Legros. “With no court, the sense of impunity grows and without justice there is no country.” She knows only too well how slowly the wheels of justice turn here. She took over the Port-au-Prince bar when her well-known predecessor, Monferrier Dorval, was shot and killed outside his home in August 2020. To this day no arrests have been made in that case. Even the probe into the murder of president Jovenel Moise in July 2021 is going nowhere. A fourth investigating magistrate was named to the case in March, but a month later this judge said he had not even received the case file or any resources with which to work.
Fresh fighting erupted yesterday between government and opposition forces in South Sudan just days after both sides pledged to uphold a ceasefire and try to save a teetering peace deal. The clashes in oil-rich Unity State were the latest in recent weeks between forces allied to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to his deputy, veteran opposition leader Riek Machar. The pair rule in a power-sharing government which was brokered in the aftermath of a civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead before a peace agreement paused the bloodshed in 2018. But the ceasefire has been repeatedly violated and their forces remain largely on opposing sides of the battlefield, raising fears of a return to all-out war between the historic foes. The latest violence involved militia backed by the national army attacking a garrison for Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO), according to officials from both sides. In Juba, top military figures from Kiir and Machar’s camps issued a joint appeal for calm. “We direct all forces to cease hostilities and uphold the cessation of hostilities agreement,” said Lieutenant General Thoi Chany Reat, deputy chief of South Sudan People’s Defence Forces. Addressing the same press briefing, SPLA-IO acting chief of staff Lieutenant General Gabriel Duop Lam said a high-level joint security meeting had been convened to de-escalate tensions. “The issue of insecurity... needs to be addressed urgently,” Lam told reporters at the military headquarters. The violence comes just days after Kiir and Machar renewed their commitment to merge opposition fighters into the national army, a key tenet of the 2018 peace deal that has not been honoured. In a rare face-to-face meeting last Sunday, the two leaders agreed to move forward on the unification of their forces, and uphold a ceasefire that has been undermined by recent violence. Their declaration was seen as easing rising tensions between two men, whose past disagreements led the world’s youngest nation into years of grisly conflict. The two men met again “briefly” over the unified command as well as recent fighting, including in Unity State, a presidential statement said yesterday. “President Salva Kiir Mayardit emphasised that, all the confrontations should cease and the people in those affected areas should live in peace and coexist in harmony,” it said. The so-called troika of the United States, Britain and Norway last month condemned attacks by Kiir’s forces on opposition troops in Unity and Upper Nile states, warning that they risked a return to war. South Sudan achieved statehood 2011 after a decades-long struggle for independence from Sudan, but slipped into its own war two years later.
Gunmen who attacked a train in northwest Nigeria and killed eight people have released a video of a bank executive who was among an unspecified number of passengers taken hostage during the assault. The attack on the train between the capital Abuja and the city of Kaduna last week was a major escalation in violence in northwest Nigeria blamed on heavily armed criminal gangs, known locally as bandits. The video posted online shows Alwan Ali-Hassan, director of Nigeria's Bank of Industry, flanked by four armed masked men in military uniform facing the camera, calling on authorities to meet the demands of his captors to secure the release of other hostages who "are in a dire situation." AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the video but family members confirmed Ali-Hassan was released by the gunmen on Wednesday and that it was him in the video. No specific group has claimed responsibility for the video shot in an undisclosed forest area with an armoured vehicle in the background. The men do not claim affiliation to a group, but the recording resembles propaganda videos sent by jihadist groups waging a more than 12-year insurrection to establish an Islamic caliphate in Nigeria's northeast. The opening prayer in Arabic by one of the masked men is the same as in all the previous propaganda videos released by jihadist groups. The positioning of the gunmen with the hostage is also typical of jihadist videos. In the video, the speaker said they decided to release the hostage out of compassion as a "Ramadan gesture", referring to the Muslim holy month of fasting, and his "advanced age". Although the speaker claimed no ransom was paid for Ali-Hassan's release, family sources said they had to pay money to the captors. Survivors of the March 28 train attack say gunmen opened fire after blowing up the railway. Witnesses said gunmen broke into the VIP section of the train and herded out a number of passengers. One week after the train attack, the whereabouts of 168 passengers is still unknown, the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) said, though it is not clear how many may have returned home and not contacted officials. Northwest and central Nigeria have been terrorised by criminal gangs who raid villages, killing residents and kidnapping for ransom as well as looting homes. But their attacks and abductions have intensified. Although the gangs who are motivated by financial gains have no ideological leaning, there is concern among local authorities and analysts of growing potential alliances with jihadists. Nigeria jihadist groups are known to maintain links with the criminal gangs for pragmatic and financial purposes, but is not clear if the train attackers are aligned with any militant group.
Peruvian President Pedro Castillo has announced a curfew in the capital Lima and neighbouring port city Callao, after demonstrations across the country over fuel prices caused roadblocks and “acts of violence”. Protests had erupted across Peru in recent days due to a hike in fuel prices and tolls, during a time of rising food prices. In an attempt to appease protesters, the government eliminated the fuel tax over the weekend. However, truckers and other transport workers took to the streets again on Monday in Lima, as well as several regions in the north – from the coastal city Piura to the densely forested Amazonas, blocking traffic. Castillo announced late on Monday that Peru’s Council of Ministers had approved a curfew for the following day. “In view of the acts of violence that some groups have wanted to create ... and in order to reestablish peace ... the Council of Ministers has approved the declaration of citizen immobility (curfew) from 2am to 11.59pm on Tuesday, April 5,” he said in a televised message. There have been several violent incidents during recent protests, including the burning of toll booths on highways, looting and clashes with police. Protesters had also set fire to tyres and blocked the Pan-American highway, the country’s most important transport and traffic artery snaking north to south, and school was suspended. “I call for calm and serenity,” the leftist president said during his brief appearance on television. “Social protest is a constitutional right, but it must be done within the law.” The 52-year-old former teacher announced the curfew a week after he was saved from being impeached by Congress, where opponents accused his administration of having a “lack of direction” and for allegedly allowing corruption in his entourage. The impeachment attempt last week was the second during Castillo’s eight-month administration in a country with a recent history of ousting presidents. Castillo’s action to impose movement restrictions – which will cover more than 10mn residents in Lima and Callao – was met with immediate repudiation. “A curfew to reestablish order – (this is) an authoritarian measure of Pedro Castillo’s government that shows ineptitude, incapacity to govern,” political analyst Luis Benavente told AFP. “It is like putting an end to traffic accidents by taking vehicles off the roads.” The curfew measures coincide with the 30th anniversary of a coup staged by former president Alberto Fujimori, a controversial figure now jailed after a regime marked by a bloody campaign against insurgents. “The measure dictated by President Pedro Castillo is openly unconstitutional, disproportionate and violates people’s right to individual freedom,” tweeted lawyer Carlos Rivera, one of the defenders of the victims of Fujimori’s government. Like much of the rest of the world, Peru’s economy is still recovering from the damages wrought by the coronavirus pandemic. The country’s Consumer Price Index in March saw its highest monthly increase in 26 years, driven by soaring food, transport and education prices, according to the national statistics institute. The multi-region demonstration was largely organised by the Union of Multimodal Transport Guilds of Peru. To appease them the government eliminated the fuel tax over the weekend, and Castillo decreed a 10% increase in the monthly minimum wage – which would rise to 1,025 soles ($277) beginning in May. However, the General Confederation of Peruvian Workers, the country’s main trade union confederation, rejected the wage hike, stating that it was insufficient, and called on its affiliates to march tomorrow. Influential journalist Rosa Maria Palacios said on Twitter that Castillo’s 11th-hour announcement of a curfew only revealed how the government had “lost all control of public order”. “By denying them the right to work, without any real cause, Castillo has put himself in a situation of absolute vulnerability,” she warned.
Morocco’s village of Inzerki is proud to claim that it has the world’s oldest and largest collective beehive, but instead of buzzing with springtime activity, the colonies have collapsed amid crippling drought. Beekeeper Brahim Chatoui says he has lost almost a third of his hives in just two months – and he is not alone. “At this time of year, this area would normally be buzzing with bees,” said Chatoui, sweating under a blazing springtime sun. “Today, they’re dying at a terrifying rate.” The North African kingdom has seen a dramatic spike in mass die-offs of the critical pollinators, a phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder”. Worldwide, experts say such sudden mass deaths of bees are often linked to the destruction of nature and the rampant use of pesticides. However, authorities in Morocco say these collapses are caused by the worst drought to hit the country in 40 years, which has decimated the plants on which bees rely for food. The crisis is so acute that the government released 130mn dirhams ($13mn), to support beekeepers and investigate the cause of the bee deaths. Morocco’s National Food Safety Office, which carried out the investigation, ruled out disease as a reason. Instead, it blamed the “unprecedented” spike in hive collapses on an intense drought driven by climate change. Inzerki’s unique collective beehive sits on a sunny hillside in the heart of the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, a Unesco-protected 2.5mn-hectare region, some 415km (260 miles) southwest of the capital Rabat. The complex is striking: A five-storeyed structure of wooden struts and dry mud stretch along a hillside, each compartment home to a cylindrical wicker hive, covered with a mix of earth and cow dung. Experts say it is the oldest traditional, collective beehive in the world, dating back to 1850, but today it is under threat amid a changing climate. “This year we hope for rain, because I have lost 40 hives so far,” Chataoui said. Bee expert Antonin Adam, who has studied the insects in southwestern Morocco, also blamed the collapse on the drought. However, he added the problem may have been exacerbated by “the bees’ vulnerability to diseases, nomadic pastoral practices, intensive agriculture and the country’s desire to increase its honey production”. That desire is clearly visible in agriculture ministry figures. Honey output has risen by 69% in a decade, from 4.7 tonnes in 2009 to almost eight tonnes in 2019, generating revenues of over €100mn. However, it is not only Inzerki’s apiary that is in trouble. Mohamed Choudani, of the UAM beekeepers union, said the crisis was hitting bee populations across the country. Last summer, Morocco’s 36,000 beekeepers were managing some 910,000 hives, up by 60% since 2009, according to official figures. However, Choudani said that since last August, 100,000 colonies had been lost in the central region of Beni Mellal-Khenifra alone. Bees and other pollinators are vital for the reproduction of more than three-quarters of food crops and flowering plants. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) say bees play an “essential role... in keeping people and the planet healthy”, with the UN saying they “serve as sentinels for emergent environmental risks, signalling the health of local ecosystems”. For the villagers of Inzerki, the collapse of hives is an ecological and economic disaster – but also a crisis for their unique heritage. Chatoui, the beekeeper, said many Inzerki residents can’t afford to revive the hives they have lost. “Some families have decided just to give up on beekeeping,” he said. The hives at Inzerki are in trouble. Parts of the structure, recently listed as a national heritage site, are sagging. Geographer Hassan Benalayat says the neglect is due to several factors on top of climate change, including the arrival of modern agriculture and a general exodus from the countryside. Around 80 families in the village once kept bees. Today there are less than 20. “It’s urgent to keep this exceptional legacy alive,” Benalayat said. Chatoui and other villagers have set up an association to restore the structure, as well as planting herbs for the bees that are better able to tolerate hot and arid conditions. “The situation is critical, but that doesn’t mean I’m giving up,” Chatoui said. “The aim isn’t to produce honey, but to protect the hives and make sure the bees survive until better days.”
A massive blaze has destroyed the central market in the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, wiping out hundreds of small businesses, officials said yesterday. Fierce flames tore through the Waheen open market late on Friday, sending huge clouds of smoke billowing into the night sky over Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway region of Somaliland. The cause of the inferno that engulfed the sprawling market – the economic heart of the city and home to an estimated 2,000 shops and stalls – is not yet known. Officials have issued urgent appeals for help to recover from the disaster that injured more than two dozen people and is certain to inflict further hardship on thousands more in the impoverished city. “The town has never witnessed such a massive calamity,” Hargeisa’s mayor Abdikarim Ahmed Moge told reporters at the scene. Firefighters battled the flames for hours before the blaze was largely brought under control yesterday, as the overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country joined Muslims around the world in ushering in the holy month of Ramadan. Images of the aftermath in and around Waheen showed charred and blackened buildings with their windows blown out. Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, better known by his nickname Farmajo, telephoned Somaliland president Muse Bihi Abdi, his office said on Twitter. “I call on all Somalis wherever they are to extend their assistance to those affected by the disaster,” Farmajo was quoted as saying. Abdi said about 28 people, nine of them women, were injured, but that there was no loss of life. He said the government of Somaliland – which declared independence from Somalia three decades ago – would be releasing $1mn to help with the emergency response. Hargeisa Chamber of Commerce chairman Jamal Aideed said the loss of the market was immense as it accounted for 40-50% of the city’s economy. Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991, an act still unrecognised by the international community that has left the region of 4.5mn people poor and isolated.
Nigeria’s ruling party held its national convention yesterday to choose a new chairman and overcome infighting before picking a candidate to replace President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2023 election. Thousands of delegates and supporters packed into a main square in the capital Abuja, where the APC will look to end internal bickering that Buhari warned could destroy party unity and its success in the vote. Political manoeuvring is heating up to replace Buhari as leader of Africa’s most populous nation but the race remains open with several heavyweights in the running. All Progressives Congress (APC) party leaders and delegates will select a new chairman and other posts in a final stage before primaries later this year for a presidential candidate. Drums and music accompanied rival groups of APC supporters, many clad in traditional wear bearing prints of their candidates for party positions, as they packed into Abuja’s Eagle Square. Buhari, a former army commander who steps down after two terms, spent weeks talking to the party’s state governors and senior members to try to reach a consensus on leadership before yesterday’s assembly. “Ensure that we go into this election united so we can win this election, I think this has been the message as far as the president is concerned,” Abdullahi Sule, a state governor and senior APC member told local Channels TV. Formed in an alliance of several parties in 2013, the APC managed to win in 2015 over the long-ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which at the time was struggling with its own internal splits. Buhari, who came to power promising to bring security and fight corruption, steps down touting successes in infrastructure and transport projects across the country. But Nigeria is still battling militants in its northeast and its northwest region has been hit hard by criminal gangs behind a spate of attacks and mass kidnappings. Africa’s largest economy and top petroleum producer is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, but recent fuel and electricity shortages have underlined cost-of-living woes for Nigerians. How the APC manages unity in its convention will determine whether it will struggle with further splits and high-profile defections before primaries and 2023, analysts said. “The outcome of the convention will either make or mar the party. We are aware of the bickerings, intrigues and horse tradings going on among the different groups,” said Dr Dapo Thomas, a political science lecturer at Lagos University. “If the party is able to pull through a successful and rancour-free convention, then it will be a strong position to the battle ahead.” Several presidential candidates have already made their ambitions known, including former Lagos State governor and APC strongman Bola Tinubu, and opposition PDP stalwart and former vice president Atiku Abubakar. At yesterday’s convention, some APC supporters brandished signs supporting the much-anticipated candidacy of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who has yet to announce any run, and for Tinubu, who already told Buhari he plans to compete. “He’s coming through. He is the one who can change the situation in Nigeria for us,” said Eze, a Tinubu supporter decked out in a green tunic and pants printed with the smiling face of the former Lagos governor. Under an unwritten agreement among elites, Nigeria’s presidency is expected to rotate between a candidate from the north and the predominantly Christian south. The deal is aimed at keeping balance in country with more than 250 ethnic groups and where intercommunal tensions often flare up. After two terms with Buhari from the north, many southern leaders are pushing for the presidency to return to a candidate from their region.
Egypt hosted the Israeli and UAE leaders for unprecedented three-way talks yesterday as the Ukraine war rocks energy and food markets and major powers inch toward a revived Iran nuclear deal. The summit was held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh between Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed. It comes nearly a month after Russia invaded Ukraine in a move that sparked concerns about security and sent prices of oil, wheat and other key commodities soaring. Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates are allies of the United States but they have so far avoided taking positions against Russia over its war on Ukraine. “Against the backdrop of the recent developments in the world and the region, the leaders discussed the ties between the three countries and ways to strengthen them on all levels,” said a statement from Bennett’s office. It was the first summit of its kind, and signalled “a new doctrine” of regional diplomacy championed by the UAE, said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University. Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed had arrived in Egypt on Monday. At their meeting yesterday, the three leaders discussed “energy, market stability, and food security,” Egyptian presidency spokesman Bassam Radi said. Israeli media said the leaders would also discuss reports that Iran and Western powers, including the United States, are close to a deal to revive the 2015 nuclear accord. Bennett is vehemently opposed to the deal which is designed to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb — a goal the Islamic republic has always denied. Bennett also travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh in September last year, in what was the first visit in over a decade by an Israeli head of government. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, after decades of enmity and conflict. In 2020, the UAE became the third Arab country to forge diplomatic ties with Israel. In contrast with Egypt, which has focused predominantly on strong military and strategic ties with Israel, the UAE has hit the ground running on robust economic relations. Within the first year of establishing diplomatic ties, the two regional heavyweights had agreed a raft of deals ranging from tourism and aviation to cutting-edge technology. The official Emirati news agency WAM said yesterday’s meeting “discussed ways of enhancing relations between the three countries”.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday endorsed his former arch-rival for the country’s top job, weeks after their parties joined forces ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in August. “We have chosen Raila Odinga without any opposition to be the fifth president of Kenya,” Kenyatta told a cheering crowd numbering thousands in the capital Nairobi. The announcement brings together two of Kenya’s top political dynasties, who have a long history of opposing each other at the ballot box. But in 2018, Kenyatta and Odinga stunned the country when they shook hands and declared a truce after post-election violence in 2017 left dozens of people dead. Last month, Kenyatta’s Jubilee party announced that it would join the Azimio la Umoja (Quest for Unity) coalition headed by Odinga. Yesterday, Kenyatta declared his backing for the veteran opposition leader, saying: “We don’t have any doubt that we have a team captain in Raila Amolo Odinga.” Odinga, 77, responded, saying that the pair’s journey from bitter electoral rivals to political partners “has been the most unlikely in the history of our country.” “I accept the nomination with absolute gratitude and dedication to our people,” he added. At a rally later in the day, the duo, both wearing matching blue caps, danced to a song by Odinga with the lyrics: “Leo ni leo. Inawezekana” (Today is the day. It is possible). The announcement came after Kenyatta’s previously anointed successor William Ruto, who also intends to contest the presidential election, was sacked from Jubilee. Ruto, 54, was initially anointed by Kenyatta as his successor but found himself marginalised after the 2018 pact between the president and his former foe. Ruto has positioned himself as a leader looking to upend the status quo and stand up for the “hustlers” trying to survive in a country ruled by “dynasties” — a reference to the Kenyatta and Odinga families which have dominated politics for decades. The East African powerhouse has traditionally been ruled by presidents from the dominant Kikuyu tribe like Kenyatta or the Kalenjin tribe like Ruto. This year’s contest is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Ruto and Odinga, who belongs to the Luo tribe. A former political prisoner and prime minister, Odinga has secured the support of at least 26 parties which are now part of the Azimio la Umoja coalition. But his image as a fiery anti-establishment leader has taken a knock following “the handshake” with Kenyatta. The duo have unsuccessfully tried to introduce sweeping constitutional changes, claiming that the reforms would help to end repeated cycles of election violence. Although Ruto has said he will accept the election results, he has also brought up the possibility of state-backed vote rigging. During a visit to the United States last week, Ruto said: “The biggest issue on the ballot is the democracy of our nation and whether we truly have the opportunity to make free choices devoid of blackmail, threats and intimidation.” “The only concern that many Kenyans have is the intrusion by agencies to try and manipulate decisions of people at different levels.” Both Kenyatta and Ruto had been indicted by the International Criminal Court on crimes against humanity charges for their alleged role in orchestrating post-poll violence in 2007 that cost more than 1,100 lives. The cases later collapsed, with former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda saying a relentless campaign of victim and witness intimidation made a trial impossible. The reforms pursued by Kenyatta and Odinga proposed expanding the executive and parliament to more evenly divide the spoils of victory. But they were seen by critics as a way to enable Kenyatta — a two-term president who cannot run again — to remain in power by establishing the post of prime minister. The government has appealed a court ruling that rejected the proposals and said Kenyatta could even be sued in a civil court for launching the process.
One of the world's most storied shipwrecks, Ernest Shackleton's Endurance, has been discovered off the coast of Antarctica more than a century after its sinking, explorers announced Wednesday. Endurance was discovered at a depth of 3,008 metres in the Weddell Sea, about six kilometres from where it was slowly crushed by pack ice in 1915. "We are overwhelmed by our good fortune in having located and captured images of Endurance," said Mensun Bound, the expedition's director of exploration. "This is by far the finest wooden shipwreck I have ever seen. It is upright, well proud of the seabed, intact, and in a brilliant state of preservation. You can even see 'Endurance' arced across the stern," he said in a statement. The expedition, organised by the Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust, left Cape Town on February 5 with a South African icebreaker, hoping to find the Endurance before the end of the Southern Hemisphere summer. As part of Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition between 1914 and 1917, Endurance was meant to make the first land crossing of Antarctica, but it fell victim to the tumultuous Weddell Sea. Just east of the Larsen ice shelves on the Antarctic peninsula, it became ensnared in sea-ice for over 10 months before being crushed and sinking. - 'Worst sea in the world' -The voyage became legendary due to the miraculous escape Shackleton and his crew made on foot and in boats. The crew managed to escape by camping on the sea ice until it ruptured. They then launched lifeboats to Elephant Island and then South Georgia Island, a British overseas territory that lies around 1,400 kilometres east of the Falkland Islands. Despite the hardships, all of the crew survived. The explorers used underwater drones to find and film the shipwreck in the merciless Weddell Sea, which has a swirling current that sustains a mass of thick sea ice that can challenge even modern ice breakers. Shackleton himself described the site of the sink as "the worst portion of the worst sea in the world". The region remains one of the most difficult parts of the ocean to navigate. "This has been the most complex subsea project ever undertaken," said Nico Vincent, the mission's subsea project manager. The underwater drones produced stunningly clear images of the 144-foot-long ship. Amazingly, the helm has remained intact after more than a century underwater, with gear piled against the taffrail as if Shackleton's crew had only recently left it. The ship's wooden timbers, while damaged from the crush of ice that sank in, still hold together. Sea anemones, sponges and other small ocean life made homes on the wreckage, but did not appear to have damaged it. Photographs of the expedition showed South Africa's Agulhas II icebreaker surrounded by ice, with crew lifted by crane over the frozen sea. Under international law, the wreck is protected as a historic site. Explorers were allowed to film and scan the ship, but not to touch it at all -- meaning no artefacts may be returned to the surface. The team used underwater search drones known as Sabertooths, built by Saab, which dove beneath the ice into the farthest depths of the Weddell Sea. During the mission, they also researched climate change, documenting ice drifts and weather patterns. The team is now returning to port in Cape Town.
Radwa Helmi made history yesterday as the first woman judge to sit on the bench of Egypt’s State Council, a top court in the Arab country. Helmi, making her appearance in a Cairo courthouse, was among 98 women appointed last year to join the council, one of Egypt’s main judicial bodies, following a decision by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. “The 5th of March has become a new historical day for Egyptian women,” said the head of the National Council for Women (NCW), Maya Mursi. The move came ahead of the March 8 International Women’s Day. Women in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, have been fighting an uphill battle for years to secure their rights. Egypt has hundreds of women lawyers but it took decades for one to move up the judicial ladder and become a judge. The first was Tahany al-Gebaly, appointed in 2003 to Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court. Gebaly held that post for a decade before being removed in 2012 by then president Mohamed Mursi. Although no law bars women from being justices in Egypt, the judiciary in the conservative country has traditionally been a male preserve. The State Council was set up in 1946 as an independent body which mainly adjudicates in administrative disputes and disciplinary cases. Since Egypt’s founding as a modern state in the 19th century, women have been marginalised. Women gained the right to vote and run for public office in 1956, but their personal rights have remained flouted. Women currently hold about a quarter of cabinet posts and some 168 seats in the 569-member parliament. In May 2021, the grand imam of the prestigious Cairo-based Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest religious institution, weighed in on the debate. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb said no religious edict prevents women from holding high-ranking posts, travelling alone or having an equitable share of inheritance rights.
Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan and opposition leader Freeman Mbowe pledged to heal rifts and buttress democracy as they met hours after Mbowe was freed from jail in a surprise move. Mbowe, chairman of the Chadema party, was arrested last July to face terrorism charges in a case his supporters said was politically motivated and aimed at crushing dissent. Prosecutors suddenly dropped the charges on Friday and a Dar es Salaam court set Mbowe and his three co-accused free after seven months behind bars. Hassan had increasingly come under pressure to dismiss the case, which raised concerns at home and abroad about the state of political and media freedoms in the country. She “emphasised the need to collaborate to build the nation, through trust and mutual respect,” the presidential office said in a statement late Friday after the two met. “We had consensus that this country is for us all,” Hassan said, referring to Mbowe as “our relative.” Mbowe thanked the president for “her concern,” adding: “We have agreed to build trust between us and ensure democracy so as to move ahead with proper politics and help the government to do its duties nicely.” Since Hassan took power in March last year following the sudden death of her predecessor John Magufuli, who was nicknamed “Bulldozer” for his uncompromising leadership style, she has sought to break with some of his policies. She reached out to the opposition, vowing to defend democracy and basic freedoms, and reopened media outlets that were banned under Magufuli. But the arrest of Mbowe along with a number of other senior party officials just hours before they were to hold a public forum to demand constitutional reforms dimmed hopes she would turn the page on Magufuli’s rule.
Nigerian medical student Oduola Adebowale said he and some friends were trying to get on a train to flee Ukraine when the soldiers pointed guns at them and ordered them back. The Ukrainian troops told him they were only letting pregnant woman on the service from the city of Lviv to the Polish border, but he said he saw them stop some pregnant African women from getting on board. “When we asked why they were doing this, the soldiers pointed guns at us, endangering our lives,” he told Reuters days later after he finally managed to complete his journey and landed at Nigeria’s Abuja airport yesterday. Scores of foreign students have echoed his complaints in social media posts, saying they were treated badly as they queued up with the crowds trying to escape Russia’s invasion. Reuters could not independently verify the accounts of Asian and African students being pulled off trains, held up at borders and pushed to the back of long lines. Ukraine’s national police and state border service did not immediately respond to requests for comment on reports that Reuters had received from refugees. But the African Union said this week it was disturbed by what it had heard and the UN refugee agency said it had urged authorities in countries neighbouring Ukraine to open their borders to African citizens. Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said on Wednesday authorities had set up a hotline for African and Asian students looking for help in getting out. “We are working intensively to ensure their safety & speed up their passage,” he tweeted. Adebowale did finally manage to get away, after waiting for hours for a train at Lviv then getting permission to travel to Romania. He was among 415 Nigerian students who flew into Abuja on a Nigerian government-chartered flight from Bucharest.The government has also sent planes to collect Nigerians from Poland and Hungary. One student still waiting in Warsaw said he and two fellow Nigerians were pulled off a train they had boarded in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. “We were already in our cabin, and they called police on us. The police came and dragged us out. Police (said) that ‘this is specifically for Ukrainians’,” Alexander Orah, a 25-year-old management student, said. Reuters could also not confirm his account. Orah said he and his friends were eventually allowed to board a train to Medyka, on the border with Poland, but then met guards who told them that Africans, South Asians and Arabs had to use a different crossing into Romania. When the students refused, he said the guards put up barricades to stop them crossing while allowing white people to leave. When the growing crowd began to move forward, a soldier pointed a gun. “He cocked his gun and stood in a shooting position, so we raised our hands up and started telling him, ‘We are students; we just want to go home’.” Orah eventually made to the Polish capital and started looking for his next exit.
A national conference in Burkina Faso has authorised the ruling junta to hold power for three years, potentially setting the West African country on a collision course with international partners who have urged a speedy return to constitutional order. The junta seized power in a January coup against President Roch Kabore, blaming him for failing to contain surging violence by militants. The putsch was led by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, who is now interim president. The charter was approved by the conference and signed by Damiba in the early hours of yesterday after a day-long debate in the capital Ouagadougou. It will establish a transitional government made up of 25 ministers and a 71-member parliament. The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), which has imposed strict sanctions against other regional countries in response to military coups, did not respond to a request for comment about whether it found the three-year transitional period acceptable. An African Union spokesperson referred a request for comment to Ecowas. Burkina Faso’s coup was the fourth in West Africa in 18 months, following two in Mali and one in Guinea. That has raised concerns of a backslide in democracy in a region that had been shedding its reputation as the continent’s “coup belt”. A commission that drafted the charter had proposed a two-and-a-half year transition, saying the junta needed around two years to stabilise the country and organise elections. The national conference extended it to three years. Burkina Faso, alongside neighbours Mali and Niger, is struggling to contain attacks by armed militants linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State who have killed thousands of people and displaced hundreds of thousands over the past decade, rendering swathes of territories ungovernable and weakening governments. Eddie Komboigo, an opponent of Kabore and close ally of former president Blaise Compaore, who was ousted in a 2014 uprising, welcomed the charter. “It is true that not everyone is going to be happy...but it was the consensus that we reached,” Komboigo said. He urged the junta to negotiate with international leaders to reach consensus on the length of the transition. Burkina Faso was suspended from Ecowas and the African Union’s decision-making bodies after the coup. Both declined to impose additional sanctions, and Ecowas said in early February that the junta had shown willingness to work with it to organise elections. The sanctions against Mali, which include closing borders with Ecowas members and suspending non-essential financial transactions, have forced Mali to default on more than $100mn in interest and capital payments on its debt.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said yesterday that his party had joined an opposition coalition ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in August in a move to clean up politics of “crooks”. The announcement came after Kenyatta’s anointed successor William Ruto, who wants to contest the presidential election, was sacked from the ruling Jubilee party. “I heard one person saying that there is nowhere in the world where a government unites with and supports the opposition,” Kenyatta said, announcing that Jubilee was joining the Azimio la Umoja (Quest for Unity) coalition headed by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga. “Kenya will be the example. We are mature enough to distinguish between politics and the needs of the people.” The East African powerhouse has traditionally been ruled by presidents from the dominant Kikuyu tribe like Kenyatta or the Kalenjin tribe like Ruto. This year’s contest is shaping up to be a two-horse race between Ruto and Raila, a mainstay of Kenyan politics from the Luo community. Ruto was initially anointed by Kenyatta as his successor but found himself marginalised after arch-foes Kenyatta and Odinga announced a truce in 2018. “We are looking to create a movement that will deliver the country,” Kenyatta said. “Very early in my second term I did make it clear to the Kenyan people that mine was a choice of leadership over politics.” The Azimio la Umoja coalition is expected to pick its preferred presidential candidate in two weeks. However, many observers say Odinga’s nomination is a foregone conclusion. “We are in this to restore the soul and secure the future of our people,” Odinga said yesterday. “If we stand together, I am sure nothing will defeat us.” The 77-year-old – a former political prisoner and prime minister – will then likely head into the polls without his usual fiery anti-establishment image. Odinga is touting his long experience in national leadership. He has also promised to stamp out widespread graft, give a monthly stipend of 6,000 shillings ($52.75) to the unemployed, and unite Kenya’s ethnic groups. Kenyatta said that the coalition “will discuss and pick one strong man to face the crooks on the other side”. With its diverse population and ethnic voting blocs, elections in Kenya have often been marred by violence. More than 1,100 Kenyans lost their lives in 2007 when a disputed election result sparked tribal violence. The rapprochement between Odinga and Kenyatta came about after post-election fighting in 2017 left dozens of people dead. The pair unsuccessfully tried to introduce sweeping constitutional changes as a way to end repeated cycles of election violence. The reforms – popularly known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – proposed expanding the executive and parliament to more evenly divide the spoils of victory. However, it was seen by critics as a way to enable Kenyatta – a two-term president who cannot run for a third – to remain in power by establishing the post of prime minister. The government has appealed a court ruling that rejected the proposals and said Kenyatta could even be sued in a civil court for launching the process.
Ethiopia began generating electricity from its mega-dam on the Blue Nile yesterday, a milestone in the multi-billion dollar project. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed toured the power station and pressed a series of buttons on an electronic screen, a move that officials said initiated production. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is set to be the largest hydroelectric scheme in Africa but has been at the centre of a dispute with downstream nations Egypt and Sudan ever since work first began in 2011. Abiy described yesterday’s development as “the birth of a new era”. “This is a good news for our continent & the downstream countries with whom we aspire to work together,” he said on Twitter. Addis Ababa deems the project essential for the electrification and development of Africa’s second most populous country, but Cairo and Khartoum fear it could threaten their access to vital Nile waters. Abiy dismissed those concerns. “As you can see, this water will generate energy while flowing as it previously flowed to Sudan and Egypt, unlike the rumours that say the Ethiopian people and government are damming the water to starve Egypt and Sudan,” he said as water rushed through the concrete colossus behind him. However, Cairo denounced yesterday’s start-up, saying that Addis Ababa was “persisting in its violations” of a 2015 declaration of principles on the project. The $4.2bn (€3.7bn) dam is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000MW of electricity, more than doubling Ethiopia’s current output. Only one of 13 turbines is currently operational, with a capacity of 375MW. A second will come online within a few months, project manager Kifle Horo told AFP, adding that the dam is currently expected to be fully completed in 2024. The 145m (475’) high structure straddles the Blue Nile in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of western Ethiopia, near the border with Sudan. Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97% of its irrigation and drinking water, sees it as an existential threat. Sudan hopes the project will regulate annual flooding, but fears its own dams could be harmed without agreement on the GERD’s operation. Both have long been pushing for a binding deal over the filling and operation of the massive dam, but African Union-sponsored talks have failed to achieve a breakthrough. William Davison, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the GERD is seen domestically “as a symbol of Ethiopia resisting external pressure”. “The government has propagated the idea that foreign actors are trying to undermine Ethiopia’s sovereignty, so I think this will be cast as showing they are still making progress despite a hostile environment.” Addisu Lashitew of the Brookings Institution in Washington described the GERD’s commissioning as a “rare positive development that can unite a deeply fractured country” after 15 months of conflict with Tigrayan rebels. “The newly-generated electricity from the GERD could help revive an economy that has been devastated by the combined forces of a deadly war, rising fuel prices and the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic,” he said. The dam was initiated under former prime minister Meles Zenawi, the Tigrayan leader who ruled Ethiopia for more than two decades until his death in 2012. Civil servants contributed one month’s salary towards the project in the year it launched, and the government has since issued dam bonds targeting Ethiopians at home and abroad. Getachew Reda, spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front that has been at war with government forces since November 2020, said Abiy was taking credit for a project launched under a Tigrayan-led government. “Today #AbiyAhmed is trying to cash in on a project that he once publicly downplayed as a meaningless publicity stunt,” he tweeted. However, officials credited Abiy yesterday with reviving the dam after delays they claim were caused by mismanagement. “Our country has lost so much because the dam was delayed, especially financially,” project manager Kifle said. The process of filling the vast reservoir began in 2020, with Ethiopia announcing in July of that year it had hit its target of 4.9bn cubic metres. The reservoir’s total capacity is 74bn cubic metres, and the target for 2021 was to add 13.5bn. Last July Ethiopia said it had hit that target, meaning there was enough water to begin producing energy, although some experts had cast doubt on the claims. Kifle declined to reveal how much water was collected last year or what the target is for the coming rainy season.