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Gabon’s president sacks vice president and forestry minister2 min read

The forestry ministry is now placed “under the direct authority” of the Prime Minister.

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Kevazingo gate: Gabon leader sacks vice president and forestry minister
Gabonese President, Ali Bongo Ondimba. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

Gabon’s leader, Ali Bongo on Tuesday announced the dismissal of his Vice President and the Minister of Forests, in a move that comes amid a scandal over the smuggling of precious timber.

The president did not give a reason for the sackings of Vice President, Pierre Claver Maganga Moussavou and Forestry and Environment Minister Guy Bertrand Mapangou, in his statement late Tuesday.

No new minister was appointed to the forest and environment portfolio, which was placed “under the direct authority” of the Prime Minister.

There have been intensifying calls for Mapangou to resign in recent days in the press and from civil society groups in the aftermath of the theft of hundreds of seized containers of kevazingo, a rare wood considered sacred.

Nearly 5,000 cubic metres (177,000 cubic feet) of kevazingo worth some 7 million euros ($7.8 million) was found in two depots belonging to Chinese companies in the Libreville port of Owendo in February and March.

Several suspects were arrested, but 353 of the containers -which had been confiscated -mysteriously disappeared.

The wood had allegedly been loaded into containers bearing water and forestry ministry labels, falsely describing it as okoume -a kind of timber cleared for export.

Local media have called the scandal “kevazingogate”.

Earlier in May, the government said several top Gabonese officials had been suspended over suspected involvement in smuggling the precious timber.

Kevazingo is a rare central African wood that is prized in Asia, notably for sculpting into temple doorways, tea tables and meeting tables.

Gabon, three quarters of whose land mass is forested, last year banned the exploitation of kevazingo after illegal felling reached alarming proportions.

The industry is hugely important for the West African nation’s economy, supporting some 17,000 jobs, and is second only to the petroleum sector in terms of foreign earnings and accounts for 60 per cent of non-oil related GDP.  

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UN Report accuses Kenyan military of attacks in Somalia

The panel, which monitors sanctions on Somalia, said it received reports of KDF attacks on 12 towers operated by Hormuud Telecom

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UN Report accuses Kenyan military of attacks in Somalia

A new report by United Nations special investigators says Kenya’s military was responsible for five attacks on telecommunications masts in neighbouring Somalia, including strikes that killed two civilians.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) attacked communications towers in Somalia between 2017 and 2019, in a possible effort to stop Al-Shabaab using mobile signals to detonate bombs, an expert panel reported in its latest update to the UN Security Council on Monday.

The panel, which monitors sanctions on Somalia, said it received reports of KDF attacks on 12 towers operated by Hormuud Telecom, a Mogadishu-based provider, since 2017, almost all in Gedo along Kenya’s northernmost border with Somalia.

“The Panel has been able to independently corroborate five of those attacks… which resulted in the deaths of two civilians,” the UN sanctions committee said. 

A security guard and his relative died in July 2018 in an alleged KDF shelling on a Hormuud station, the report added.

The KDF denied any involvement in the attacks during a meeting with the UN experts, the report noted.

The report did not give details of how all of the attacks were carried out, although it referred to shelling in one incident and to at least one air strike.

Hormuud Telecom has alleged at least 12 attacks. In August, it said that one assault had not only destroyed a mast but also two power generators, batteries and a building.

The findings come at a time of strained relations between Kenya and Somalia. 

The neighbours are sparring on several diplomatic fronts, including a battle over contested marine borders with possibly lucrative Indian Ocean oil and gas reserves at stake.

Kenya sent troops into southern Somalia in 2011, joining the regional peacekeeping force AMISOM that drove Al-Shabaab from Mogadishu. 

It has justified the incursion to protect Kenyans from the Al-Qaeda affiliate which, among other assaults, killed 21 people in Nairobi in January. 

It was also suspected of a roadside bombing in October that killed 11 Kenyan police officers near the Somali border.

In its report, the UN panel recorded “an unprecedented number” of cross-border attacks into Kenya by the Islamist militants in June and July this year. These were possibly timed to worsen relations between the East African neighbours, it said.

For the first time, investigators also found proof Al-Shabaab had been making homemade bombs since at least July 2017, no longer relying on explosives leftover from Somalia’s devastating civil war.

The UN report acknowledged that KDF attacks on telecommunications equipment may “prevent Al-Shabaab from triggering improvised explosive devices” using mobile networks. 

It also noted KDF complaints that its communications towers had also been attacked since 2015, largely by Al-Shabaab.

“However, there are humanitarian implications to the long-term loss of telecommunications coverage within Somalia, including impeding the coordination of relief efforts, the transfer of food vouchers and the receipt of remittances from outside the country,” it said.

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Tunisian MP accused of indecency sworn in despite protests

“Stalkers shouldn’t make laws,” they chanted outside the inaugural session of the new parliament

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Tunisian MP accused of indecency sworn in despite protests

Tunisian women protested outside parliament Wednesday against the swearing-in of a newly elected lawmaker who was caught in a video that purported to show him masturbating outside a school.

The protesters fear that Zouheir Makhlouf, who walked free after being investigated for alleged sexual harassment and public indecency, will enjoy immunity from prosecution over any future allegations levelled against him by women.

“Stalkers shouldn’t make laws,” they chanted outside the inaugural session of the new parliament.

A video showing the moustachioed politician sitting in a car with his trousers dropped to his knees was shot last month by a pupil who shared it online alongside accusations of harassment.\

Read also: Triggered by MP’s disgrace, Tunisia’s #MeToo breaks taboos

Makhlouf, who was elected for the Qalb Tounes party of controversial media magnate Nabil Karoui, denies inappropriate conduct and has said he was urinating due to a medical condition.

But the video went viral sparking Tunisia’s own #MeToo movement, with sex abuse victims breaking taboos under the hashtag #EnaZeda.

It was inspired by the huge global movement that bloomed in 2017 in the wake of sexual assault allegations by multiple women against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“Immunity is for your parliamentary duties, not your sexual desires,” read one placard waved by the demonstrators.

Article 68 of the Tunisian constitution provides that no sitting MP can be “arrested or tried for their opinions… or for actions taken in connection with their parliamentary duties,” a formulation that in theory excludes allegations of sexual impropriety.

But “the interpretation of the law in Tunisia means that a lawmaker acquires an immunity that covers all of his or her actions, including those committed before they took office,” said jurist Nour Jihene, who joined the protest outside parliament.

The protesters called for stricter implementation of a July 2017 law that outlaws sexual harassment in public places with a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a 3,000 dinar fine.

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Algerians pushback against draft energy law

The bill is expected to be put to a vote on Thursday, roughly a month ahead of presidential elections

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A draft law on Algeria’s oil and gas sector has been met with hostility by an anti-regime protest movement that fears “the nation’s wealth” is being sold off to multinational companies.

But experts say the pushback from the streets is not entirely justified, seeing it rather as a symptom of the distrust that dogs any decision taken by authorities deemed “illegitimate” by opponents.

For nearly nine months Algeria – Africa’s third-largest oil producer and a top 10 global gas producer – has been swept by an unprecedented popular movement challenging a regime in place since independence from France in 1962.

The draft energy law, which has not been officially published, was sent to Algeria’s cabinet on October 14.

Since then, it has been added to the protesters’ list of grievances with the ruling class, seen by demonstrators as “thieves” that have “plundered” the country’s wealth.

“You sold the country, traitors,” demonstrators cried last week as lawmakers began discussing the draft law.

The bill is expected to be put to a vote on Thursday, roughly a month ahead of presidential elections also widely rejected by the street.

Many Algerians suspect those in power of handing over natural resources to foreign companies with the new law, having already “squandered” oil revenues, said El Mouhoub Mouhoud, economics professor at Paris-Dauphine University.

“These opinions are a testament to the current government’s lack of credibility in the eyes of the people.”

Nevertheless, Mouhoud told AFP, everything “suggests that in this new draft law, the mineral title (rights to underground resources) stays in the hands of the state, while exploitation and investment operations can be shared” more favourably than before for foreign investors.

‘Lack of legitimacy’

Francis Perrin, director of research at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), said that while the text makes “adjustments” to the legislation, “the broad direction of Algerian policy on oil and gas is absolutely not called into question”.

The law will continue to guarantee that state-owned oil company Sonatrach has a majority stake in all projects involving foreign players.

It aims to “make the legislative and tax framework more attractive, simple and flexible, to draw more (foreign) investments in the oil and gas sector,” said Perrin, who is also a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South in Morocco.

The text reshapes taxation, notably with a fixed 30-per cent tax on profits and the elimination of a tax on windfall gains.

For Mouhoud, anger in the streets “has crystallised against the law” because of a perceived “lack of legitimacy of the current government”.

The cabinet was named by former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika two days before he resigned in April under pressure from the street, “rendering suspect everything that comes from it,” Mouhoud said.

“There is total suspicion of every bill.”

‘Politically risky’

In this volatile context, remarks made by Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab at the start of October on past discussions with five major oil companies on necessary legislative changes sparked a backlash.

Protesters took the consultations to mean that the draft law was dictated by big multinationals, despite Sonatrach insisting in September on the urgent need for new legislation to boost partnerships with foreign companies.

Since the adoption of the current law in 2005, oil and gas production has steadily declined, as has foreign companies’ interest in Algerian resources.

In the absence of partners, Sonatrach alone bears the risks and steep investments — amid low oil prices — in seeking new deposits.

At the same time, national consumption is on the rise, making exploration crucial.

Perrin said these factors “could lead to a deficit of gas supplies” by the next decade.

He said the authorities have become aware of the risk of “serious difficulties over time for the country”, as the sector represents 95 per cent of export revenue.

“That said, it is politically risky for a government deprived of the necessary legitimacy to tackle such a sensitive issue.”

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