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Burundi votes new President despite Covid-19 threat2 minutes read

Ruling party candidate, general Evariste Ndayishimiye has suggested voters not fear the coronavirus, saying “God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi.”

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A supporter of the ruling party the National Council for the Defense of Democracy - Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD) attends the opening of the campaign in Gitega, central Burundi, on April 27, 2020, ahead of the Presidential and General election scheduled for May 20, 2020 despite the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Tchandrou Nitanga / AFP)

Voters in Burundi are heading to the polls to elect a new president for the country, members of parliament and local officials in Wednesday’s elections, despite the threat of coronavirus that is sweeping through many African countries.

There are also fears of voter oppression and likely violence as the incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza is not on the ballot but under pressure to deliver his party’s candidate, General Evariste Ndayishimiye.

This has prompted the African Union Commission and United Nations to release a joint statement urging the defense, security forces and state-owned media to fully contribute to preserving a stable and peaceful environment, a pre-requisite for free, inclusive, fair, transparent and credible elections in Burundi.

The AU and UN urged “all political actors to refrain from all acts of violence and hate speech, and resort to dialogue, to enable the holding of consensual and peaceful elections. They also encourage the Burundian authorities to ensure and facilitate the full participation of women during this electoral process.”

Burundi’s election marks the country’s first step in moving away from President Nkurunziza’s 15-year reign, which has been marred by allegations of human rights abuses, and his controversial decision to seek a third term five years ago, which propelled the country into an economic crisis.

General Ndayishimiye, the presidential candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party is considered the frontrunner among six other candidates.

Ndayishimiye has suggested voters not fear the coronavirus, saying “God loves Burundi and if there are people who have tested positive, it is so that God may manifest his power in Burundi.” 

Burundi’s leadership has largely ignored the threat of the coronavirus, allowing large political rallies leading up to the vote and imposing no restrictions on people’s movement.

The UN and AU also expressed regret over the government of Burundi’s decision to expel four top World health organization officials from the country without explanation

So far, Burundi has confirmed 42 cases and one death from the virus, but some doctors have expressed concern the government is not revealing the full impact of the virus on the population. 

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East Africa Politics News

Tshisekedi’s ally graft trial resumes after death of judge in DR Congo

A new judge was appointed for the hearing, which took place in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, where Vital Kamerhe has been held in pre-trial detention since April 8. Kamerhe denied the charges again.

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Vital Kamerhe in an undated photo. Kamerhe, once a pillar of former president Joseph Kabila's rule, and appointed as Tshisekedi’s chief of staff in January 2019.

The graft trial of a prominent DR Congo politician resumed in Kinshasa on Wednesday, a week after the sudden death of the presiding judge. 

Vital Kamerhe, a key ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, appeared in court for the third time with two co-defendants during a hearing that lasted more than seven hours.

Kamerhe, accused of embezzling more than $50 million (46 million euros) in state funds from a project to build social housing, offered his condolences to the family of Judge Raphael Yanyi, who are awaiting the results of a post-mortem.

Police said last week that Yanyi had died suddenly overnight after suffering a heart attack, while pro-democracy campaigners have called for inquiries into the cause of death.

A new judge was appointed for the hearing, which took place in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, where Kamerhe has been held in pre-trial detention since April 8.

Kamerhe, once a pillar of former president Joseph Kabila’s rule, and appointed as Tshisekedi’s chief of staff in January 2019, once again denied the charges against him.

The defendants are accused of embezzling public funds for a project to build 1,500 pre-fabricated homes for poor people, under a “100-day” action plan launched by Tshisekedi after he took office.

Kamerhe claims that he never entered a private contract with one of his co-accused, Lebanese contractor Jammal Samih.

He said he inherited a contract signed by the former Minister of Rural Development, Justin Bitakwira.

Bitakwira, meanwhile, denied having signed an amendment to a 2018 contract to bring the total cost of the project to $57 million.

Kamerhe also defended his daughter-in-law, a student in France, who was accused of having received a gift in the form of a piece of land donated by the contractor Samih. 

“Neither I nor my daughter, nobody knows about this matter,” he said.

The trial has no precedent in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recent history.

It takes place in the context of a broader campaign for the “renewal” of the justice system to help root out entrenched corruption.

The biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, DR Congo has an abundance of natural resources, but two-thirds of its 80 million people live in poverty. 

The country struggles with a long history of conflict, poor governance and graft.

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Rwanda genocide suspect okayed for trial by UN tribunal

Felicien Kabuga attended the Paris court hearing in a wheelchair and barely reacted when the decision was read out Wednesday.

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Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga.

A Paris appeals court ruled Wednesday that Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga, arrested in France after evading police in several countries for 25 years, should be handed over to a UN tribunal in Tanzania to stand trial.

Accused of financing the 1994 genocide of some 800,000 people, Kabuga had asked for a trial in France, citing frail health and claiming the United Nations court in Africa would be biased against him, and possibly hand him over to Rwandan authorities.

His transfer still faces a final hurdle with defence lawyers planning to appeal the ruling at France’s highest court of appeal.

He attended the hearing in a wheelchair and barely reacted when the decision was read out. 

A lawyer for the 84-year-old Kabuga said he would appeal the decision to hand him over to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which is based in The Hague but has a branch in Arusha, Tanzania.

“I was expecting this, because it’s a highly politicised case,” said one of his lawyers, Laurent Bayon.

“A transfer to Arusha, and the detention conditions there, would not allow him to survive, so a full trial would not be possible, neither for him nor the victims,” he said.

If the appeal is accepted by France’s court of cassation, a decision would be issued within two months. If it endorses his transfer, he would have one month to appear before the international court.

Described as Africa’s most wanted man, Kabuga was arrested on May 16 at his home outside Paris, where he had been living under a false name.

A judge in The Hague ruled last month, however, that Kabuga should be tried in Arusha by the MICT, which took over the duties of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda when it formally closed in 2015.

Kabuga, once one of Rwanda’s richest men, was indicted by the tribunal in 1997 on seven counts, including genocide.

He is accused of forming the notorious Interahamwe militia that carried out massacres, and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines, whose broadcasts incited people to murder.

Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered over 100 days of ethnic violence committed by Hutu extremists in 1994.

“These are all lies. Everything I did helped the Tutsis, and my businesses offered them credit — I wasn’t going to go and kill my clients,” he told the court, speaking in Kinyarwanda. An AFP report said.

– Hiding with family’s help -The UN tribunal charged him in 1997 with “genocide” as well as “direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” using his position as chairman of Rwanda’s FDN national defence fund to funnel money to militia groups.

It noted in particular that he arranged for shipments of “an impressive number of machetes and other weapons to the Interahamwe militia”.

He is also accused of directly supervising Interahamwe massacres in Gisenyi, northwestern Rwanda, and in the Kigali district of Kimironko.

Prosecutors say Kabuga’s money and connections helped him avoid arrest for decades after he fled Rwanda for Switzerland in July 1994, though he was ordered to leave the country just one month later.

He later moved to the former Zaire and then Kenya, where he managed to avoid three arrest attempts.

In 2002, the US government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

French officials said new intelligence allowed them to track Kabuga down at an apartment in the Paris suburb of Asnieres-sous-Bois, where he had been hiding out for the past three or four years with the help of his children.

Along with top-ranking military figure Protais Mpiranya, who is still at large, Kabuga was one of the most significant suspects still sought over the genocide.

Another key suspect, former defence minister Augustin Bizimana and until recently believed to have been on the run, died in 2000, the the UN tribunal said last month.

France has long been known as a hiding place for wanted genocide suspects and French investigators currently have dozens of cases underway.

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South Sudan minister John Jok dies

Late Jok was South Sudan’s minister of East African Affairs in the current unity government.

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John Luk Jok, late minister of East African Affairs and former South Sudanese Minister of Justice. AFP PHOTO / SOLAN GEMECHU (Photo by SOLAN GEMECHU / AFP)

South Sudan’s minister of East African Affairs in the current unity government, John Luk Jok has died, a government spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.

Michael Makuei Lueth, minister of information and broadcasting, described the deceased as a liberator and scholar who helped write the country’s Constitution in 2011.

“It was this Tuesday morning when I received a telephone call and informed that brother John Luk Jok has passed on. So it is true that it has happened,” Makuei told Xinhua in Juba.

He said there was no official confirmation of the cause of the death.

“We have lost a great man who contributed a lot in a liberation struggle and after liberation. He had ever been a servant of people, and with his death, we have lost a great man,” said Makuei.

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