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Landslide kills 22 in southern Ethiopia1 min read

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
(File photo)

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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Prominent Abiy critic says to stand in Ethiopia election

Jawar Mohammed, a former ally of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, announced on Saturday he would join the race for the 2020 election

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Jawar Mohammed, a former ally turned foe of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, announced on Saturday he would join the race for the 2020 election to ensure that it is “free and fair”.

Jawar, a media mogul and activist who was at the center of last month’s deadly protests in Addis Ababa, is credited with helping to sweep Abiy to power but has recently criticized some of the premier’s policies.

Jawar told an audience in the US state of Minnesota that he would run in next year’s vote, a decision he confirmed on social media.

“I’ve not decided which position or which party. What I’ve decided is to run,” he said.

“The purpose is to help to ensure the election is free and fair. I want to add my voice and my influence to ensure the election is free and fair. And I want to make sure the federalist voices are given enough space in the debate.”

Both Abiy, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, and Jawar are from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, and their feud highlights divisions within the Oromo support base that could complicate the prime minister’s bid for a five-year term.

Ethiopian-born Jawar said he would have to give up his current US citizenship and reclaim Ethiopian citizenship to be able to enter the contest, in which he said he could run for the Oromia regional parliament or the national assembly.

Jawar, who has 1.7 million followers on Facebook, said he would return to Ethiopia within 10 days to start the paperwork needed for his candidacy.

Ethiopia’s general election is scheduled for May 2020, but many observers expect the vote to be delayed as preparations are already running behind schedule.

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Will power-sharing deadline delay bring peace to S Sudan?

South Sudan’s president and its armed opposition leader have been given another extension to join forces

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SSUDAN-CONFLICT-PEACE
Members of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), a coalition of rebel groups. (Photo by Dimo Silva Aurelio / AFP)

South Sudan’s president and its armed opposition leader have missed another 100-day deadline to form a power-sharing government, threatening a tenuous ceasefire that has paused years of bloodshed in the world’s youngest country.

The warring camps were given another extension to join forces after a meeting brokered by regional leaders but whether another delay will bring peace remains to be seen.

History on repeat –

It’s not the first time President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, his former deputy, have faltered on a peace agreement since a power struggle between the two threw the country into war in 2013.

Ceasefires failed, truces collapsed and the war raged on, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions more.

The latest pact, signed in September 2018, brought a rare lull to fighting in parts of the country. But progress toward a more permanent peace has been glacial.

Kiir and Machar agreed to share power in a new unity government by May 2019 but could not break a deadlock over security arrangements and state boundaries.

The deadline was extended until November 12 but that also proved fruitless: six months later, the rivals were no closer to breaking the impasse, and another 100 days were granted.

Army revamp –

Members of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), a coalition of rebel groups
Members of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), a coalition of rebel groups (Photo by Dimo Silva AURELIO / AFP)

A cornerstone of the September 2018 peace accord was that fighters would be gathered in military camps, retrained and deployed as a new national army.

But a lack of funding and distrust hobbled efforts to build an 83,000-strong unified force. 

Suspicions abound over the make-up and command structure of this new army, and who would control it.

Kiir promised $100 million to bankroll the process but just a fraction had trickled out so far, said Alan Boswell, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank. 

“It’s a bit unclear what’s happened to the money that was released,” Boswell told reporters.

Opposition fighters who did report to cantonment sites soon left, complaining of a lack of food and shelter.

Drawing red lines –

The drawing of state boundaries in South Sudan is possibly an even bigger stumbling block. Both sides have long disagreed over the number of states, who should control them, and where boundaries should lie.

At independence in 2011, South Sudan had 10 states. But it has since been carved into 32 in what critics saw as gerrymandering of traditional boundaries by Kiir to reward loyalists, a move that angered his opponents.

“He sees this as a part of a strategy to maintain his power in the country. It’s not a concession he has any interest in making,” Klem Ryan, former coordinator of the UN Security Council’s expert panel for South Sudan, told reporters.

Read: Sudan agrees to ceasefire after peace talks with rebels

Boswell said a deal on states, even a temporary compromise, is “very possible if the two leaders actually want to move this forward”.

“The peace deal is stalled, but it’s not yet dead,” he said.

Security fears –

Machar holds major reservations over his security in Juba and had been demanding a personal protection force to oversee his safety if he returns to the capital.

But Kiir is reluctant to order government forces from the city, keen to keep loyal fighters on hand to shore up his power at the risk of Juba becoming a tinderbox primed to explode.

It has happened before — in 2016, Machar arrived in Juba flanked by his best fighters for talks with Kiir. Three months later his bodyguards and Kiir’s men open fire on each other, and South Sudan returned to war.

“It’s just a redux of what we’ve seen before,” Ryan said.

Stalemate? –

The latest extension brokered again by regional leaders during last-minute crisis talks has sharpened criticism of Kiir and Machar and raised fresh doubts over their commitment to peace.

The United States’ top diplomat to Africa, Tibor Nagy, openly questioned “their suitability to continue to lead the nation’s peace process” amid pessimism over what difference another 100 days would make.

Ryan expected little progress come February: “There’ll be some new proposed process or mechanism at that time to keep this going, but the fundamentals just won’t shift,” he said.

Kiir and Machar have been difficult to budge. Not even Pope Francis — who knelt to kiss their feet during a stunning Vatican intervention in April — could facilitate a breakthrough.

Something worth fighting for –

South Sudan has spent more than half its short life as a nation at war: fighting has left some 400,000 people dead and forced roughly four million people — one-third of the population — from their homes.

But the September 2018 ceasefire is holding. The country is witnessing its longest truce since the civil war began in 2013, though violent skirmishes between non-signatories to the pact are still claiming lives.

Still, observers say the ceasefire has allowed for higher food production, freer movement of civilians, and greater access for aid to reach parts of the country in desperate need.

The UN Human Rights Council said civilians wanted to start rebuilding their lives and “the leaders of South Sudan owe this to their people, who deserve no less”.

A unity government is also a precondition for elections in 2022, and a further delay risks undermining the roadmap toward a democratic vote.

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Madagascar paddy farmers against ‘new city’ relocation

Tempers flare in Antananarivo over plans to relocate Madagascar’s capital

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MADAGASCAR-DEMOSTRATION-URBAN PLANNING
Protestors damage construction equipment after clashes between the inhabitants of Ambohitrimanjaka and police broke out over the protest against the Tana-Masoandra project in the Ambohitrimanjaka suburbs of Antananarivo on October 17, 2019. - Clashes broke out overnight in Madagascar after protesters stormed a company tasked with a controversial urban expansion project, prompting a violent police response. (Photo by Mamyrael / AFP)

Anger is boiling over in the hills surrounding Antananarivo over plans to relocate part of Madagascar’s choked capital to emerald-green farmland.

Hundreds of farmers in Ambohitrimanjaka village are facing off with the authorities over a presidential scheme that threatens to engulf a thousand hectares (2,500 acres) of rice fields.

“We will not swap our land for money and we will not accept being moved,” said Jean Desire Rakotoariamanana, 57, who took part in protests last month.

“These rice paddies provided for our ancestors.”

The unrest has been sparked by a scheme to unclog Antananarivo, a polluted city of three million people wedged in the hills of the central highlands.

If the Tana-Masoandra (“Tana Sun”) project comes to fruition, the area will house all of the government’s ministries, the Senate, a university, a conference centre, hotels and homes for 100,000 people.

Its backers claim that relocation — to what is the city’s distant outskirts — will cost the equivalent of $600 million (542 million euros) and create 200,000 jobs — a major economic boost in the impoverished Indian Ocean island nation.

Construction is scheduled to be completed by 2024.

Choked capital –

Tana-Masoandra stems from President Andry Rajoelina’s vow on the election campaign trail last year to ease the capital’s chronic problems.

“Antananarivo was built to house between 300,000 and 500,000 people, but today there are 3.25 million,” said project manager Gerard Andriamanohisoa, who is also an advisor to Rajoelina.

According to UN projections, the capital’s population could double within the next 15 years, he said.  

Only 36 per cent of Madagascar’s 26 million people live in urban areas, but the majority of these are congregated in Antananarivo.

Overcrowding has bred monster traffic jams, garbage pile-ups and slums which become routinely flooded.

Air pollution, caused by exhaust fumes and bush fires, is sky-high. On one day last month, a monitoring group found that levels of fine particulates were eight times higher than guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

But the capital’s problems gain little sympathy in the village of Ambohitrimanjaka, which lies around 12 kilometres (eight miles) from the capital.

And the government’s offer of relocating the farmers 700 kilometres (435 miles) away in the town of Bevoay, spiced by the promise of a five-for-one land swap, has gained little traction.

Sacred heritage –

“We are not opposed to development and progress,” said 60-year-old paddy farmer Dada Leba. 

“But let the president set up his project somewhere else. It is not land that we’re short of in Madagascar.”

Referring to a revered 18th-century monarch, Leba added: “King Andrianampoinimerina himself awarded these rice paddies to our ancestors and bequeathed to us the responsibility of farming them.

“Going against this wise king’s wish will cast a curse on the president,” he said darkly.

“If they take our land away from us, we’ll have nothing to live from,” declared Dede Antsahamarina, 60. “This new city is not intended for uneducated farmers like us.”

Violent clashes broke out between police and protesters last month over the building of a bridge designed to link the planned complex with Antananarivo.

One civilian and four officers were injured before police fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.

The government has tried to ease the mood by offering around 700 families the equivalent of around $20 million (18 million euros) in compensation.

“We are going to implement support measures to provide retraining for the farmers or to relocate their activities to other places,” said Andriamanohisoa.

The president has sent envoys to try to talk the farmers around and made a direct pitch to them on the airwaves.

“If you’ve got a one-hectare (2.5-acre) rice paddy… listen, I’ll give you five hectares in Bevoay,” Rajoelina said on TV.

But rather than backing down, the farmers say they are considering filing a lawsuit against the grand plan.

The Battle of the Rice Fields, it seems, has only just begun.

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