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Ivory Coast hope on Nicolas Pepe to banish memories of disastrous AFCON outing

The 2015 champions were held by Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo and lost against Morocco to make an undignified exit from Gabon after the first round.

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Ivory Coast coach Ibrahim Kamara sees Nicolas Pepe as one of the young stars who can banish the memories of a disastrous Africa Cup of Nations title defence two years ago. The 2015 champions were held by Togo and the Democratic Republic of Congo and lost against Morocco to make an undignified exit from Gabon after the first round.

Kamara hopes Pepe, the 22-goal second highest French Ligue 1 scorer last season behind superstar Kylian Mbappe, can ensure there is no repeat of that debacle in Egypt. “We are building a team to match the great ones of the past and hope players like Nicolas can take us a long way in Egypt,” said Kamara.

Ivory Coast is in Group D with South Africa – who they face in Cairo on Monday – Morocco and Namibia, a section widely regarded as the toughest of the six to qualify from. Here is a preview of the three-match Monday schedule, which also includes a Group E double-header in Suez involving Angola, Mali, debutants Mauritania and Tunisia.

Ivory Coast v South Africa – these countries resume a rivalry 21 years after drawing 1-1 in Burkina Faso, and a similar outcome at the Al Salam Stadium would not be surprising as neither side dare lose. “As much as every team wants to win its first tournament match, it is crucial not to lose because it puts you on the back foot immediately,” says South Africa coach Stuart Baxter.

While Ivory Coast has a potential matchwinner in Pepe from Ligue 1 runners-up Lille, South Africa hope Percy Tau can rise to the occasion after a season in the Belgian second division. The slightly-built attacker was signed by Premier League outfit Brighton last season, lent to Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, and his brace against Libya ensured qualification for Egypt.

South Africa had a puzzling build-up with Baxter rejecting a chance to play in a regional championship, then complaining that he had only one warm-up match, a draw against Ghana.

Angola v Tunisia – This is another match that brings together teams for only the second time in the Cup of Nations, with a goalless draw 11 years ago in Ghana ensuring both of quarter-finals places. It will be a record-extending 14th straight appearance at the tournament by the Tunisians, who failed to go beyond the group stage only four times.

“Our first target is the quarter-finals and after that, we shall see,” says cautious Tunisia coach and 19080s France star Alain Giresse. “Tunisia has been serious contenders in many Cup of Nations and my dream is to take them back to the top,” he said.

Angola is a workmanlike side whose star is a wide attacker from Egyptian giants Al Ahly nicknamed Geraldo – real name Hermenegildo da Costa Paulo Bartolomeu.

Mali v Mauritania – Mali created several negative pre-tournament headlines with FIFA threatening to ban the country from the Cup of Nations over squabbling among officials.

Mohamed Magassouba then took four days longer than any of the other 23 coaches to name his squad, without offering an explanation.

Such chaotic build-ups can build team unity or destroy it as Mali seek to regain a reputation for punching well above their weight in the African showpiece.  “We have to do better than in the last two tournaments,” stressed defender Hamari Traore, referring to first-round exits in 2015 and 2017 without winning even one match.

Long-time pushovers Mauritania has improved steadily under French coach Corentin Martins, whose aim in Egypt is simply to “be competitive and achieve some victories”.

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East Africa News

International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique’s polls

The country voted in general polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud

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International election observers flag concerns over Mozambique polls

International observers on Thursday said Mozambique’s election was conducted in an “orderly manner”, but expressed concerns about voter registration irregularities and “an unlevel playing field”.

The country voted in presidential, parliamentary and provincial polls on Tuesday after a campaign marked by violence and claims of electoral fraud.

President Filipe Nyusi’s Frelimo party — which has ruled Mozambique since independence in 1975 — is widely expected to again beat its civil war foe, Renamo, a former rebel group turned main opposition party.

Election day was seen as largely peaceful, but tensions have risen with uncertainty over when the results will be released.

The final results must be published within 15 days of the vote, but the electoral commission has indicated a provisional tally — which had been expected on Thursday — would not be issued.

Ignacio Sanchez Amor, leader of the European Union’s OSCE observer mission, said “voting procedures were well-implemented” on election day.

However, he said the fact that there were no observers in almost half of the country’s polling stations “did not contribute to the transparency of the process”.

Amor added that “an unlevel playing field was evident throughout the campaign”.

READ: Mozambique votes in tense election after violent campaign

“The ruling party dominated the campaign in all provinces and benefited from the advantages of incumbency, including use of state resources.”

The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) said it was regrettable that irregularities in voter registration had not been addressed before the vote.

Local non-profit observer groups had reported the presence of 300,000 “ghost voters” — names not aligned with real voters — on the electoral roll in the southern Gaza province.

“Key aspects of the process such as the security challenges, voter registration, the campaign and selective accreditation of citizen observers posed challenges to the integrity of the elections,” said EISA Mozambique head and former Ghana President John Dramani Mahama. 

Former Kenyan Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka said the Commonwealth’s observer mission “remained concerned about the impact” of the suspected ghost voters on the election.

However, observers from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) had no such concerns.

READ: Mozambique’s Renamo party says members attacked after peace deal

“The pre-election and the voting phases of the 2019 electoral processes were generally peaceful and conducted in an orderly manner,” said Zimbabwean Defence Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, the SADC observer head.

The election has been seen as a key test of the peace deal sealed in August between Frelimo and Renamo, which fought a brutal 1975-1992 civil war.

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East Africa News

Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia

Officials say the landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains

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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia
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Rescue workers on Tuesday used excavators to dig out bodies after a landslide in southern Ethiopia washed away homes and killed more than 20 people, a local official said. 

The landslide in the district of Konta occurred Sunday following 10 hours of heavy rains, said the official, Takele Tesfu.

“There are 22 people dead and we have only been able to dig up 17 using manpower and machine power,” Takele told reporters.

“So far, we cannot get the others, so tomorrow we will continue to dig.”  

He said the victims included nine women and six children.

While the district — located in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region — sees landslides with some regularity, Takele said this was the deadliest he could remember. 

“The area where this occurred is very mountainous, and this means the landslide was very dangerous,” he said. 

Ethiopia is nearing the end of its rainy season, but security forces are nonetheless relocating some families for fear that more rain in the coming days could lead to similar disasters, Takele said.

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