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Dozens feared dead in DR Congo train derailment2 min read

Witnesses at the scene and local media feared a hundred people could have been killed

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Dozens feared dead in DR Congo train derailment
(File photo)

A freight train derailed in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo early Thursday, killing stowaway passengers who were riding on it, in the latest rail tragedy to strike the nation, officials said.

But in a chaotic situation, estimates of the death toll varied widely, from 10 to a hundred.

“Another disaster! Derailing at 3 am (01:00 GMT) in Tanganyika (province) near Mayibaridi. Provisional toll: 50 dead and several injured,” the minister for humanitarian action, Steve Mbikayi, said in a tweet.

In contrast, the provincial governor, Zoe Kabila, who is the brother of former President Joseph Kabila, issued a tweet that said, “Correction… provisional toll 10 dead, 30 injured and three railcars overturned.”

But witnesses at the scene and local media feared a hundred people could have been killed.

READ: 24 dead in DR Congo train derailment

Victor Umba, the union head of the national rail company SNCC, said the freight train was travelling from the town of Nyunzu to the town of Niemba when two railcars fell on their sides, crushing many people underneath.

“Those who died in this derailment were stowaways. It is impossible for the SNCC to provide any kind of toll,” Umba told reporters.

He added that the SNCC’s chief was in the provincial capital of Kalemie trying to find a way to raise the carriages.

“It seems that many stowaways are trapped under the derailed carriages”.

Railways in the DRC have a poor record for safety, hampered by derelict tracks and decrepit locomotives, many of them dating from the 1960s.

In March, at least 24 people were killed and 31 were injured Sunday when a freight train carrying illegal passengers crashed in the central region of Kasai.

In November last year, 10 stowaways were killed and 24 injured near the eastern town of Samba when the brakes failed on a freight train.

In November 2017, 35 people were killed when a freight train carrying 13 oil tankers plunged into a ravine in southern Lualaba province.

Like many state companies in DR Congo, the SNCC is on the brink of bankruptcy.

READ: Train collision kills 13, injures others in Congo

After Kabila stepped down in January, its employees urged his successor, Felix Tshisekedi, to pay months of back wages. Its former head Sylvestre Ilunga is the country’s current prime minister.

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Central Africa News

Angolan parliament suspends ex-President’s daughter, Welwitschia dos Santos

Nicknamed “Tchize”, Welwitschia was elected to parliament in 2008 and joined the central committee of the ruling MPLA in 2016

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Angolan parliament suspends ex-President's daughter, Welwitschia dos Santos

Angola’s parliament has suspended a daughter of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos for “unjust enrichment” as his successor seeks to crack down on nepotism past and present.

Dos Santos appointed several family members to key economic and political positions during his 38-year rule, which ended after he stepped down in September 2017.

Welwitschia dos Santos, nicknamed “Tchize”, was elected to parliament in 2008 and joined the central committee of the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in 2016.

The National Assembly late on Tuesday voted to suspend Welwitschia — one of the ex-president’s six children — from parliament, saying her absenteeism from the body amounted to “unjust enrichment”.

READ: Angola withdraws real estate contract awarded to Isabel dos Santos

Tchize, the former president’s second daughter, moved to Britain last year after claiming Angola’s secret services were threatening her.

Lower profile than her half-sister Isabel — a billionaire businesswoman appointed to head the state oil company during her father’s reign — Tchize was an influential figure in Angolan media and controlled one of the country’s leading advertising agencies.

From Britain, Tchize has repeatedly used WhatsApp to blast her father’s successor Joao Lourenco.

In her latest recording, she accused parliament of political persecution and claimed she did not choose to leave Angola.

“I had to flee because I was being threatened with death by the MPLA,” Tchize said via WhatsApp on Tuesday.

“I am completely censured by public press and even by most private media (outlets) controlled by people linked to the regime,” she added.  

The MPLA had already threatened to suspend Tchize’s mandate in May for spending more than 90 consecutive days abroad.

Lourenco has launched a large-scale purge of the administration and public companies, mainly targeting dos Santos’ relatives.

The President dismissed Isabel dos Santos from her position as chair of state oil company Sonangol two months after he took office.

READ: Cabinda separatists accuse Angola’s president of ‘persecution’

Her brother, Jose Filomeno who was appointed in 2013 by his father as head of Angola’s sovereign fund, was also dismissed from his post in January 2018.

Most members of the dos Santos family have moved abroad.     

Lourenco is struggling to wean Angola’s economy off of oil, which accounts for one-third of the country’s GDP and more than 90 per cent of exports.

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Central Africa News

At least 28,000 Central Africans rendered homeless by major flooding

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At least 28,000 Central Africans rendered homeless by major flooding
This aerial photograph shows houses flooded by water, in Bangui, on October 28, 2019. - Decadal floods are commonplace on the Oubangui River, but it has been the highest in 20 years, according to the head of the Central African Red Cross, which has left 28,000 people homeless due to rising water levels. (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP)

The worst flooding in two decades in the Central African Republic has left at least 28,000 people homeless, the country’s Red Cross said Tuesday, with the government calling the disaster a “huge natural catastrophe”.

Torrential rains have pounded the country for several days, causing the Oubangui River and its tributaries to overflow.

“The latest toll is 28,000 people made homeless” across the former French colony, Central African Red Cross president Antoine Mbao-bogo told reporters, adding that entire neighbourhoods are “underwater”.

In the capital Bangui, with a population of about one million, mud homes have literally dissolved in the floods.

“Today our country, and not just the city of Bangui, faces a huge natural catastrophe,” government spokesman Ange-Maxime Kazagui said in a television address late Monday.

At least 28,000 Central Africans rendered homeless by major flooding
A student tries to return home by crossing the streets flooded by the water, in Bangui. (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP)

“The Oubangui River has burst its banks, and its tributaries can no longer flow into it, creating a phenomenon of massive overflow.”

The country’s main river overflows about once a decade, with a 1999 disaster causing major destruction — but Mbao-bogo said the current flooding is even worse.

“Add to that the deep poverty of our compatriots,” he said.

With more than two-thirds of the country controlled by militias fighting the government or each other, about a quarter of the population have fled their homes.

Kazagui said Bangui residents living on the banks of the Oubangui had been hit especially hard.

At least 28,000 Central Africans rendered homeless by major flooding
Children displaced by rising waters play in makeshift shelters in Bangui- (Photo by FLORENT VERGNES / AFP)

“Drinking water is lacking. There are problems with latrines, mosquitos, cold and the risk of epidemics such as cholera,” he said.

“We don’t have the infrastructure to shelter people, but we expect that NGOs will provide tents and shelters,” Kazagui said.

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Gabon’s Ali Bongo vows to “complete mission” despite health challenges

Bongo said he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo vows to "complete mission" despite failing health

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Wednesday completed a decade in office, vowing to push ahead with economic reforms and an anti-corruption drive despite questions over his health after suffering a stroke nearly a year ago.

“I feel good. And feeling better and better each day,” Bongo said in an interview published on Wednesday in the pro-government daily, l’Union. 

“I will complete my mission.”

Bongo said he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft. Government departments have been shaken up in recent weeks with a string of top-level changes.

“Mistakes were made in the past, but they won’t be able to be made again in the future,” Bongo said.

“Over time, the standards I require of government members has increased while my level of patience has fallen,” he said.

During his months-long absence abroad for treatment, speculation over Bongo’s fitness surged and the army quashed a brief attempted coup.

At one point, his spokesman was forced to deny rumours that Bongo had died and been replaced by a lookalike, while opposition members made an unsuccessful attempt to have a court assess whether he was fit to rule.

Since returning home, Bongo has attended several well-scripted public events, but every appearance is widely scrutinised for any signs of any disability.

READ: Gabonese President Bongo undergoes ‘routine medical checks’ in London

Nostalgia for father –

The drama has played out against the backdrop of a stuttering economy in the country of two million. 

Bongo initiated an array of major infrastructure projects after coming to power, such as new roads and stadiums, which drew on a flurry of investment from China.

But oil prices slumped after 2014, provoking an economic crisis and discontent, although the country’s political opposition is fractured.

There is widespread nostalgia for the free-spending reign of Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled the country for 42 years until his death in 2009, when he was succeeded by his son.

“Gabon has fallen into deep sleep,” said 33-year-old Gael Ndong, reflecting a commonly-expressed opinion.

“It was better before.”

“Ali Bongo has never enjoyed the legitimacy that his father was able to have,” said Florence Bernault, a professor of sub-Saharan history at Sciences Po in Paris.

His reputation was further battered after elections in 2016 marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud, she added. His current term ends in 2023. 

READ: Gabon’s Ali Bongo makes post-stroke appearance

Diversify –

Under Bongo senior, Gabon became an oil major. Today, hydrocarbons account for 80 per cent of exports and almost half of GDP.

Under Bongo junior, the government is trying to diversify the economy, turning to managed forestry, minerals and other underdeveloped sectors to pick up the slack.

But the president’s vow 10 years ago to place Gabon on the path to emerging nation status remains “far away” from attainment, said Gabon economist Mays Mouissi.

Gabon may rank among Africa’s most prosperous countries but still badly lacks adequate roads, hospitals, homes and schools.

“Bongo did not know how to efficiently use the oil wealth he benefited from at the start of his first term,” said Mouissi, describing the “lost decade” as a wasted opportunity. Joblessness among the young is more than a third.

Bongo, in Wednesday’s interview, argued the reforms are “beginning to bear fruit.”

READ: Ali Bongo joins independence celebration in Libreville

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month predicted growth will reach 3.4 per cent this year compared with 0.8 per cent in 2018, although “ambitious macroeconomic measures and far-reaching structural reforms” were still needed.

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