Category: News & Politics

Burkina Faso leader refuses to quit after day of violent protests

Anti-government protesters set fire to the Parliament building in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso on October 30 2014. (Pic: AFP)
Anti-government protesters set fire to the Parliament building in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso on October 30 2014. (Pic: Reuters)

Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore on Thursday refused to give up power but called off a state of emergency imposed after a violent uprising against his 27-year rule that saw Parliament set ablaze.

Opposition figures said around 30 people had been killed and 100 injured as tens of thousands took to the streets in protest against plans to allow Compaore to extend his long reign.

Hundreds stormed Parliament and other public buildings including the national television headquarters in the capital Ougadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars despite a heavy police and army presence.

Compaore initially called a state of emergency but appeared on television just a few hours later to say it had been called off.

“I have heard the message,” the president said.

But he refused to step down, saying instead that he was “available” for talks on “a period of transition after which power will be transferred to a democratically elected president”.

It remained unclear on Thursday night who was in charge of the country.

Earlier in the day, the army had announced it was seizing power and putting in place a transitional government.

It imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and pledged to restore constitutional order within 12 months.

The communique, read out by an officer, was signed by the army chief of staff Nabere Honore Traore.

Departure ‘non-negotiable’
A leading opposition member, Benewende Sankara, described the army’s move as a “coup”. He also said protesters would accept nothing less than the president’s immediate resignation.

Compaore “is again in the process of duping the people,” said Sankara. “We have been saying for a long time that he must hand in his resignation. His departure is non-negotiable.”

Sankara and another opposition leader gave the death toll from the violence as “around 30”. AFP was only able to confirm four deaths and six seriously injured, based partly on reports from the capital’s main hospital.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about the crisis in the west African nation and criticised Compaore’s attempts to alter the constitution to extend his rule. Former colonial power France appealed for calm and said it “deplored” the violence.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon dispatched a special envoy to help restore calm and the European Union called for an end to the violence.

A protester carries rocks in front of a burning roadblock in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. (Pic: AFP)
A protester carries rocks in front of a burning roadblock in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso. (Pic: Reuters)

Many of the tens of thousands massed on the streets of the capital called for a retired general and former defence minister, Kouame Lougue, to take control, shouting “Lougue in power!”

There were reports that army chief Traore had met with Lougue earlier in the day to discuss the crisis.

The chaos erupted this week as lawmakers prepared to vote on legislation that would allow 63-year-old Compaore – who himself took power in a 1987 coup – to contest elections in November 2015.

The lawmakers called off the vote, but not before Burkina Faso plunged into its worst crisis since a wave of mutinies shook the country in 2011.

Black smoke billowed out of smashed windows at the parliament building on Thursday, where several offices were ravaged by flames.

Several hundred protesters also broke into the headquarters of the national television station RTB, pillaging equipment and smashing cars, AFP correspondents said.

The ruling party headquarters in the second city of Bobo Dioulasso and the city hall were also torched by protesters, witnesses said.

Compaore’s bid to cling to power has angered many, particularly young people, in a country where 60 percent of the population of almost 17 million is under 25.

Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and, with Burkina Faso stagnating at 183rd out of 186 countries on the UN human development index, many have had enough.

The situation is being closely watched across Africa where at least four heads of state are preparing or considering similar changes to stay in power, from Burundi to Benin.

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in the coup in which his former friend and one of Africa’s most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.

He has remained in power since, re-elected president four times since 1991 – to two seven-year and two five-year terms.

Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the landlocked country became independent from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso (“the land of upright men”) in 1984.

The booksellers of South Sudan

In 2012, as civil war loomed – and with just a quarter of the South Sudan’s population able to read and write – Awak Bior’s decision to found a bookshop may have seemed risky. But for Bior it was a necessity.

“Literacy rates are very low in South Sudan,” she says, sitting on a wooden bench at Leaves bookshop in the capital Juba. “It’s to create a way for people to see that reading is a pleasurable thing; it’s something that can give you some advantage personally and professionally.”

Bior had been a frequent traveller between South Sudan and the UK, where she grew up, with her bags stuffed full of books. Her own love of reading was nurtured by regular visits to her local library with her parents. Now, aided by a small but enthusiastic team, she runs South Sudan’s leading bookshop.

The country’s few other book stores mainly sell religious books or textbooks; Leaves’ wooden bookcases are lined with the latest novels and non-fiction from the UK, east Africa and elsewhere, while also promoting a culture of reading through public debates and book launches.

The small bookshop with big ambitions has already attracted devoted customers. Dhieu Williams, a radio presenter, is a regular visitor. He recently picked up a copy of Fidel Castro’s autobiography, My Life. “It’s not only me reading the books I buy, it’s my cousins and brothers as well,” he says.

Peter Biar is an even greater advocate for reading, a passion he traces back to stumbling across a quote by Cicero – “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” Biar, like many young men in South Sudan, was a child soldier “educated in the struggle”. Now he treasures every book he owns.

Leaves has more male customers than female, a reflection of the fact that only 16% of women can read and write, and even fewer have the kind of income which allow them to buy books, which can cost over 100 South Sudanese pounds, around £13.

Women with their faces painted with the South Sudanese flag pose during celebrations marking three years of independence in Juba on July 9,2014.
Women with their faces painted with the South Sudanese flag pose during celebrations marking three years of independence in Juba on July 9,2014.

In December 2013, civil war broke out once again in South Sudan. Thousands have been killed and nearly two million displaced. This makes Leaves even more relevant, the bookshop’s manager, Yohanis Riek, believes.

Speaking to a local radio station, he says that “now more than ever we need books. Self development is key to resolving the South Sudan crisis.” The fighting, largely carried out by young, illiterate soldiers, has also pushed South Sudanese citizens from every walk of life to consider what sort of state they wish to live in.

The rebel leader, Riek Machar, prominently displayed a copy of Why Nations Fail, by political scientists Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, in his bush headquarters. Machar and other politicians have been calling for federalism, and there is increased public criticism about the political failures that led to war.

“We have more South Sudanese customers now than we did during the time of stability,” Leaves’ manager Riek says. “Maybe they are interested in knowing more about politics, and how they can live together.”

The government, led by Salva Kiir, is also being accused of clamping down on dissent, at one point indicating there should be no open public discussions of federalism. So far, Leaves’ public debates have not been affected.

Founder Bior says freedom of expression is vital for South Sudan’s future. “What we are trying to encourage is an environment where people can exchange ideas, debate and be able to come to solutions together. I think when you look at different countries that are successful, one of the things they have in common is that you can access information. If censorship starts to become more common in South Sudan, that would be a disaster, because it would hinder development and social improvement.”

Bior says the next goal is to move out of the current small premises into a bigger bookshop, to create a refuge for readers. “Most people do not read even if they want to read, because their houses are crowded, they don’t have private space.

“Electricity is another issue. In Juba in the evenings, children gather around security guard compounds just so they can read and study. We’d love to be able to fill that gap in providing a place for people to read, whether for pleasure or for study.”

James Copnall for the Guardian Africa Network

Zambia’s President Michael Sata: A no-nonsense man of action

Zambian President Michael Sata gestures upon arrival at Solwezi airport before addressing supporters at an election campaign meeting on September 10 2014. The next national election in Zambia was not due until 2016, but as a result of Sata's death a presidential vote will have to be held within the next 90 days. (Pic: AFP)
Zambian President Michael Sata gestures upon arrival at Solwezi airport before addressing supporters at an election campaign meeting on September 10 2014. The next national election in Zambia was not due until 2016, but as a result of Sata’s death a presidential vote will have to be held within the next 90 days. (Pic: AFP)

Zambian President Michael Sata, who has died aged 77, rose from cleaning railway platforms in London to his country’s highest office, where he vowed to sweep away corruption but leaned heavily on political foes.

Sata died in the British capital where he had been receiving treatment for a long-rumoured but undisclosed illness.

For supporters who voted him into office in 2011 he was a no-nonsense man of action. For critics, the former policeman, trade unionist and taxidermist was an authoritarian populist.

What is undisputed is that he seemed to revel in scorched earth politics.

Detractors, political foes, the media and even allies frequently came under attack from a man who earned the sobriquet “King Cobra”.

He once publicly upbraided his whole cabinet, threatening to collapse his own government if they did not do a better job.

The final period of Sata’s rule saw a crackdown on political opponents and critical journalists who reported on his long-suspected illness and frequent “working trips” abroad, apparently for medical treatment.

In January 2014, an opposition politician was charged with defamation for calling him a potato. In June the authorities charged three opposition activists for claiming that he was dying.

Sata’s surprise election victory, at the fourth time of asking, and a calm power transfer raised hopes things were looking up for his copper-rich but dirt-poor southern African nation.

He vowed to be a champion of the poor, unveiling a plan to transform the country within 90 days by tackling corruption, lowering taxes, creating jobs and scoring a better deal with what he once called Chinese “infestors”.

But it quickly became clear that the targets of his corruption fight were more often than not his political adversaries, including his predecessor Rupiah Banda, who was slapped with various graft charges and blocked from leaving the country.

On the election trail Sata promised to free the media from government interference, but once in office he sacked critical journalists and heads of the state television and newspapers.

‘A showman’
Born on July 6, 1937 in the Mpika district in the north of the then-British colony of Northern Rhodesia, Michael Chilufya Sata had little formal education.

After basic schooling he joined a seminary, with a view to joining the priesthood, according to Zambian historian Field Ruwe. But it was not to be, and he instead entered the police force.

Sata was later arrested. The reason is subject to some controversy – Sata claimed he was jailed for his involvement in the independence fight, while adversaries claim it was for a criminal offence.

On his release he became involved in politics via the trade union movement. After a period in Britain – where he at one stage cleaned railway stations – and some time spent in business as a board member of a taxidermy firm, he became more firmly involved with the United National Independence Party.

Years as a party apparatchik earned the Catholic father of eight the governorship of the capital, Lusaka, under Zambia‘s first president, Kenneth Kaunda.

He later served in several ministerial portfolios, but tensions with Kaunda saw him jump ship to the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which he in turn left to form the breakaway Patriotic Front in 2001.

Ever the showman, in his 2011 presidential campaign he paraded through the streets in a speedboat pulled on a trailer.

Jump on board and be saved from poverty, was the message of his political Noah’s Ark.

He was catapulted to the presidency amid public anger at corruption and frustration among those yet to benefit from a copper mining boom.

But he leaves behind a country buckling under the weight of unemployment that remains around 60 percent.

Obert Simwanza for AFP

From wife-beaters to peace-preachers: Tackling domestic abuse in Zimbabwe’s hinterland

A third of Zimbabwean women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their spouse or partner. (Pic: IRIN / Jaspreet Kindra)
A third of Zimbabwean women have experienced physical violence at the hands of their spouse or partner. (Pic: IRIN / Jaspreet Kindra)

Jairos Maruwe used to beat up his wife so badly he once knocked her unconscious and broke her arm. It landed him in jail at least once, but it was the way he was raised.

“We grew up thinking that women are our tools and we can do whatever we want with them,” the 34-year-old farmer in northeastern Zimbabwe’s Marondera region told IRIN.

“We have this tendency to resort to violence and emotional abuse when we think they have wronged us,” he said.

That was then.

Now, Maruwe is the secretary of the local branch of a group set up to reduce domestic abuse in Zimbabwe, where one in three women, according to a 2013 study, experience physical violence by their spouse or partner during their lifetime.

“It is important for us as men to accept that we are the main culprits where GBV [gender-based violence] is concerned,” he told IRIN.

“The reality is that, in most of the cases, we are the ones that are wrong. My involvement in the GBV group has taught me that there are many ways of solving domestic disputes without having to resort to violence. I now preach the anti-violence gospel,” he said.

Maruwe is among hundreds of men in 26 rural districts (Zimbabwe has 59 districts in all, over 40 of which are in rural areas) to have taken part in an innovative project set up this year by local NGO Padare/Enkundleni, with funding and logistical support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). The scheme encourages men to get involved in the fight against GBV.

It forms part of a four-year, US$96 million Integrated Support Programme (ISP) on Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV prevention launched by the government last year in conjunction with UN agencies, international donors and local NGOs in an effort to reduce maternal mortality, cervical cancer, HIV and GBV.

ISP aims to provide services to 7 000 survivors of sexual assault and rape, in addition to reaching more than a million people with interventions to address some of the underlying issues that result in violence against women and girls.

Village groups
Kelvin Hazangwi, director of Padare/Enkundleni, told IRIN rural communities have been largely by-passed by anti-GBV initiatives which have tended to focus on towns and cities.

He said they had so far trained about 50 men in each district on community engagement, gender and human rights issues and methods for working with men to combat GBV. Those men then transfer their skills and knowledge to village groups (each with up to 50 members).

The men in these groups meet to talk about local reports of domestic violence and how to deal with them, in part by engaging with known perpetrators about the negative effects of GBV.

“While there are numerous initiatives and tools to fight GBV, men, who are generally seen as the perpetrators, have largely been ignored as agents of change,” Hazangwi told IRIN.

The groups write “commitment charters” which promise, among other things, to speak out against GBV and use dialogue to stop violence, to end child marriages, and to create partnerships with relevant local institutions such as the police and health centres. The charters, which are written in local languages, are posted on billboards close to busy places such as rural business centres, while local male artists are hired to paint murals at local community halls and livestock dipping points.

Padare is also targeting two schools per district where groups of a 100 male students have been formed to educate their peers about GBV.

In Marondera, where anti-GBV men’s groups have been set up in several villages, the programme is already paying dividends, say activists.

Rugare Samuriwo (60), an elder in Maruwe’s village and a member of the men’s group, told IRIN that cases of domestic violence had dropped sharply since the programme began.

“The village is now more peaceful. Involving us [men] in fighting violence in the home works, because we have the power to change our own attitudes by talking to and counselling each other. Men are now generally ashamed to be violent because they have been made aware of the negative effects of doing so,” said Samuriwo.

Hazangwi said there are plans to evaluate the programme to establish its efficacy; to date there has not been any independent assessment of the project’s impact.

Samuriwo admitted they faced resistance from some male villagers who refused to be part of the group and still felt that beating up their spouses and subjecting them to abuse was a way of asserting their authority in the home.

Female victims of domestic violence, he added, generally still avoided reporting their cases to the police or health institutions.

According to the 2013 study (a baseline survey on GBV in Zimbabwe), only one in every 14 women who were physically abused reported it to the police and one in 13 sought medical attention.

Sierra Leoneans in Britain answer Ebola ‘call of duty’

A volunteer in protective suit looks on after spraying disinfectant outside a home in Waterloo, 30km outside Freetown. (Pic: AFP)
A volunteer in protective suit looks on after spraying disinfectant outside a home in Waterloo, 30km from Freetown. (Pic: AFP)

Watching with horror as the Ebola crisis ravages their country, Sierra Leoneans in London are mobilising to help their compatriots fight the deadly virus back home.

Health workers are taking leave from their jobs in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) to volunteer in Sierra Leone, where at least 1 200 people have died so far.

Others are raising funds for medical supplies, protective clothing and even hot meals for those affected – anything that makes a difference.

“I see it as a call of duty – I need to go down and help my people,” said Ajan Fofanah, a 46-year-old trained paediatric nurse who has applied to spend eight weeks working in Sierra Leone.

He was born in the west African country and moved to Britain aged 27 to further his education. Now he wants to use his skills to help battle the virus that has killed four members of his extended family.

“I’m far away from them and this is what is heart-rending. I need to get closer,” he added.

Fofanah was one of around 80 Sierra Leonean medics who attended an event in London last week to find out more about how they could help.

All were successful professionals keen to put their careers in Britain on hold and even risk being infected with Ebola to help their country.

Mohamed Koker, a 50-year-old emergency doctor who has worked in Britain for 12 years, hoped his knowledge of languages and traditions would help break down barriers with locals.

“I think the urge within me to perform what I call a national duty overrides my fear,” he told AFP.

“Most importantly, I have all the Sierra Leoneans back home who have no medical knowledge and who are sacrificing themselves, who are doing more than I think I am doing here.”

It is not only doctors and nurses who are desperate to help.

The British government is leading the international aid effort in its former colony, but members of the 23 000-strong Sierra Leonean diaspora here want to go further.

Ebola “is the only topic of conversation” among many, said Ade Daramy, chairman of the Sierra Leone Diaspora Ebola Task Force, which is working to help co-ordinate the response.

Food campaign, clothing
“When you live overseas and you’ve got family there – that just breaks you,” added Memuna Janneh, a 46-year-old British business consultant who grew up in Sierra Leone.

She started a charity in London to help feed people working on the frontline in Freetown, helped by her husband and relatives who are still living over there.

“LunchBoxGift” provided 2 600 meals to people living rough during the three-day lockdown in September, and now hopes to provide 50 000 more to hospital workers and patients.

“We may not have the cure, we may not have the logistics, we may not have the hospitals, all of those more complicated things that the government is battling to deal with,” she told AFP.

“But we can certainly as ordinary people come together to do food. It was really that simple for me.”

The British-based Sierra Leone War Trust for Children (SLWT) has also raised money to provide protective clothing and non-contact infrared thermometers for health workers and to deliver handwashing stations to rural areas.

In another innovative project, it sent 1 000 plastic raincoats to provide basic protection from Ebola for drivers of the “okada” motorcycles commonly used for transport.

For some, the urge to help is fuelled by a desire to save Sierra Leone from another trauma as serious as the country’s 1990s civil war.

Mayene Sesay (32) saw her mother shot dead in 1999 and lost a foot when a house she was in was set on fire.

She now runs an NGO for young disabled people in Sierra Leone.

Although not a medic, she attended the recruitment event in London to find out what she could do to fight Ebola.

“Whatever happens to me, I’m going to stay strong and help my country because I don’t want (it) to go through something else again,” she said.

“At least I can remember the person who shot my mum but I cannot see Ebola, where it comes from, how it affects my family. It’s like a ghost – you’re gone.”