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High hopes as 84 million Nigerians head to the polls4 min read

A record number of 73 candidates are on the ballot

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People gather near information posters to find their polling stations at the office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at Aba - AFP

Nigeria made final preparations on the eve of a presidential election, with continuity pitted against reform in a battle between incumbent Muhammadu Buhari and his main rival Atiku Abubakar.

Buhari, the 76-year-old leader of Africa’s most populous nation, was elected in 2015 on a wave of hope he could defeat Boko Haram Islamists, tackle rampant corruption and boost the economy.

But he faces a stiff challenge from former vice-president Abubakar, 72, amid fears about widening insecurity, claims of creeping authoritarianism and economic incompetence.

Analysts were split over who would win Saturday’s ballot, which is the sixth in the 20 years since Nigeria returned to democracy after decades of miliary rule.

“It’s likely to be very, very tight,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior Nigeria researcher at the International Crisis Group think-tank.

“Initially the president and the ruling party were way ahead in the race but in recent times the opposition has been seen to make a more vigorous and more robust campaign.

“We can’t say exactly how it will go,” he told BBC World Service radio.

A record number of 73 candidates are on the ballot but Buhari, from the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Abubakar, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are considered the main contenders.

Over 84 million people are registered to vote — up 18 percent on 2015 and another record, which has been taken as a sign of Nigeria’s developing democracy.

Also up for grabs are 360 seats in the lower House of Representatives and 109 in the Senate.

Nearly 120,000 polling units are set to open at 0700 GMT and close at 1600 GMT. 

No date has been given for the results, but an announcement is expected from early next week.

Electors face a choice between two elderly candidates who have both been part of the political elite for decades and do not mirror the country’s increasingly young demographic.

Just over half the registered voters are aged 18-35.

Chief among the criticisms against Buhari is security, with signs of a resurgence of Boko Haram in Nigeria’s remote northeast and new conflicts elsewhere.

His anti-corruption campaign has been described as one-sided, unduly targeting political opponents. 

Economic growth picked up last year after a recession in 2016 but remains sluggish. The cost of living is high in a country where most of the 190 million people live in poverty despite billions earned from oil.

Abubakar, 72, bills himself as a dynamic, modern, pro-business leader. But the former vice-president faces allegations about links to corruption.

Buhari said in a televised address Thursday that reelection would give him the chance to fulfil his initial promises and complete vital infrastructure projects.

“There is no best candidate among them,” said Aliyu Jibrilla, a 70-year-old retired teacher in the Adamawa state capital, Yola, adding: “Intellectually… they’re not up to it”.

“It’s about time these old people go,” added Modibbo Sadiq, a 23-year-old university graduate.

In Buhari’s home town of Daura, in Katsina state, Abdulaziz Abdullahi agreed. “Ideally, the young generation should be in charge of country,” said the 25-year-old, who sells glasses.

“But they are not ready for the job.”

Security is a constant threat in Nigeria, after previous outbreaks of deadly election-linked violence. 

As a precaution, all vehicles have been ordered off the roads from 6am to 6pm Saturday.

Nigeria’s police chief Mohammed Adamu said the restrictions were designed to prevent “hoodlums and criminally-minded elements from hijacking and disrupting the electoral process”.

With a reinforced police and military presence on the streets Friday, the interior ministry announced that land borders will shut for 48 hours from midday.

Candidates have pledged to conduct peaceful elections and to accept the results, but there have been clashes in the southern state of Rivers.

APC candidates have been prevented from running in the parliamentary and governorship elections in Rivers because of a dispute over their selection.

Vote-rigging has marred previous Nigerian elections, and this year concerns have been raised both the APC and PDP may have sought to buy votes.

Red flags also went up after voter cards were distributed late, or not at all, and three fires in 12 days Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) offices.

Ahmad Ado Hasan, 21, a tailor and first-time voter in the northern city of Kano, said: “As a citizen, you should vote your choice, not sell your vote. 

“God has already destined the winner, we are only to confirm through our votes. So, vote buying is not the answer.”

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Africa records highest growth in use of modern contraceptives

Gains of 7 per cent were recorded in East and Southern Africa, against a global growth of 2 per cent.

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Africa records highest growth in use of modern contraceptives
Beth Schlachter (C), Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) Executive Director, speaks on the latest data and analysis on global progress in family planning ahead of the 25th International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, on Novemeber 11, 2019. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

The number of women and girls embracing modern contraception has leapt by tens of millions, with Africa recording the biggest gains, according to the organisation Family Planning 2020 (FP2020).

A new report shows that 314 million women and girls in 69 countries – out of 926 million of child-bearing age – now use contraceptive methods like condoms, pills and birth control implants.

The figures represent a gain of 2 per cent globally since 2012, while gains of 7 per cent were recorded in East and Southern Africa.

“The use of modern contraception is growing fastest here in Africa,” FP2020 director Beth Schlachter told a press conference in Nairobi, ahead of a global conference on population and development set to begin Tuesday.

FP2020, a self-described “global movement” founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the British government, works with governmental and non-governmental partners to promote goals set at a conference in London in 2012. 

Specifically, it has been striving for 120 million new contraception users by 2020.  

“Family planning is a basic right,” said Benoit Kalasa, a representative of the United Nations Population Fund, citing the dangers posed by pregnancies that are too close together or that occur at a young age.

“It gives women the means to plan their life. They can stay in school when they avoid unplanned pregnancies. Women can space pregnancies to participate in economic activities.”

Of the 69 countries covered in the report, 41 are in Africa, 21 are in Asia and Oceania, four are in Latin America and the Caribbean and three are in the Middle East.

Schlachter said that governments seem increasingly focused on integrating family planning into health policy with an eye toward overcoming logistical challenges and cultural and religious barriers.

“In many places, even if you resolve things like funding of family planning or supply chain, unless you also work with communities and women to actually understand what contraception is, there will be a barrier to uptake.”

This week’s International Conference on Population and Development in Nairobi is not without controversy. 

On Monday around 100 supporters of a Catholic organisation demonstrated against the conference, which will focus on demographics and reproductive rights.  

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Victoire Ingabire launches new political party in Rwanda

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire announced Saturday she was launching a new political party

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Victoire Ingabire launches new political party

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire announced Saturday she was launching a new political party, hoping it will be allowed to operate in a country where the ruling regime has no real rival.

Ingabire’s previous party FDU-Inkingi, which she founded while in exile in 2016, was not recognised by the government of long-ruling President Paul Kagame.

She was imprisoned until receiving a presidential pardon last year from Kagame, whom she regularly accuses of suppressing freedom of speech, repressing the opposition and neglecting the country’s poor. 

“I am announcing the launch of a new opposition party,” Ingabire told AFP, saying it would be called Dalfa Umurunzi (Development And Liberty For All).

“This will help me to continue the mission that had been assigned to me by the FDU-Inkingi party,” she added.

“The political space in this country is very limited but we are ready to fulfil all legal requirements for registration and conduct our activities in accordance to the laws of the nation.”

She returned from exile in The Netherlands intending to run for president in 2010 as FDU-Inkingi’s leader.

But she was arrested, charged with terrorism and sentenced to more than a decade in jail during a widely criticised trial. She was unexpectedly granted early release alongside more than 2,000 other prisoners in September last year.

Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was accused of “genocide ideology” and “divisiveness” after publicly questioning the government narrative of the 1994 genocide of mostly Tutsi people that killed around 800,000 people.

Numerous FDU-Inkingi members have disappeared or been killed in mysterious circumstances over the last few years. The party accuses the government of brutally cracking down on dissenting voices.

One member was stabbed near the capital Kigali in September, while party spokesman Anselm Mutuyimana was kidnapped in March, his body later found in a forest. 

Although Rwanda is constitutionally a multi-party system there is practically no opposition, with most of the recognised parties supporting the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).

Kagame, the de facto ruler since his rebel army stopped the genocide in 1994, has been praised for bringing stability and economic growth to his tiny nation but often comes under fire for restricting political freedom.

He commonly wins re-election with more than 90 per cent of the vote.

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Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win springs hope of unity in South Africa

The significance of Kolisi lifting the trophy after a 32-12 victory over England resonated across South Africa.

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Springboks Rugby World Cup win springs hope of unity in South Africa

South Africans white and black celebrated wildly on Saturday and expressed hopes that the Springboks’ Rugby World Cup win, inspired by black captain Siya Kolisi, would bring the nation together.

The significance of Kolisi lifting the trophy after a 32-12 victory over England in Yokohama resonated across South Africa.

During the years of apartheid, rugby was clearly identified as the sport of the country’s white minority. 

Springboks rugby World Cup win springs hope of unity in South Africa
Siya Kolisi of South Africa receives Webb Ellis Cup after winning the Rugby World Cup Japan final match at the International Stadium Yokohama in Yokohama City, Kanagawa prefecture on Nov. 2, 2019. South Africa won the match by 32-12 to claim the championship. ( The Yomiuri Shimbun )

When Kolisi was made South Africa’s first black Test captain last year, it felt as if a barrier had been broken down — and in Yokohama on Saturday his achievement, and the team’s gradual racial transformation, was there for the world and millions of South Africans back home to see.

“Knowing where we come from as a country and to see Kolisi lift the trophy is absolutely monumental. It is really an incredible moment. Tears come to my eyes,” said Tshenolo Molatedi, a 26-year-old who watched the match at a Johannesburg sports club.

Joseph Mitchell, 50, a black actor, said the victory would have enormous significance.

“We are now 25 years into democracy and for the last 25 years, whites have dominated rugby and everything! It’s about time that people of colour can come forward to prove to the world that we are capable and probably better.”

The apartheid-era legacy meant that whites dominated the Springboks’ previous two World Cup-winning teams, despite only representing 10 per cent of the South African population.

Only one black player, Chester Williams, was in the victorious 1995 team and two, JP Pietersen and Bryan Habana, were part of the Springboks team that triumphed again 12 years later. 

On Saturday, black wingers Makazole Mapimpi and Cheslin Kolbe scored the two late tries that put the final beyond the reach of England, who were pre-match favourites.

“If you give black people a chance they can deliver and today’s win is a proof of that,” said Tsakane Mabunda, 45.

Seeing Kolisi hold the Webb Ellis trophy aloft brought back memories of the 1995 win when South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, presented the trophy to the team’s white captain, Francois Pienaar.

“Our father, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, is smiling from the heavens today. Halala Siya Kolisi, treasure of the nation!” another of the heroes of the fight against racial segregation, Desmond Tutu, said in a congratulatory message to the team.

Read also: Siya Kolisi: Trying for greatness

‘Rainbow Nation’

A quarter of a century after the fall of apartheid, South Africa is still riven by racial tensions and deep economic inequality between whites and blacks remains.

But Tom Hammonds, 34, a white teacher, said the Rugby World Cup had united the country.

“We feel we are the Rainbow Nation. We have had a lot of problems in this country but sports always bring us together,” he said.

The ruling ANC also drew on Mandela’s legacy to express its hope that the World Cup win would bring lasting dividends.

“Sport is one of the biggest catalysts of social cohesion and nation-building, bringing together all South Africa’s people,” it said in a statement addressed to the team.

“Thank you for reigniting the Madiba magic – and making our Rainbow nation come alive.”

In Cape Town, the crowd watching the match on big screens erupted in joy at the final whistle.

“Look around, we have black, white, coloured … we are all united here today,” said Justin Johnson, a 35-year-old IT worker.

“The Springboks have done more for South Africa than any political party.

“I feel like in 1995 and even 2007 the Springbok emblem was still synonymous with the old regime and caused a lot of division. But today I think we have come full circle.”

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