President Emmanuel Macron visited Djibouti and Ethiopia on Tuesday, promising “respectful” partnerships in the face of growing regional indebtedness to China, which is fast expanding its foothold in the continent.
Looking to strengthen economic, military and cultural ties in East Africa, Macron announced a new defence deal with Ethiopia and is expected to seal a major transport contract in Kenya on Wednesday.
Macron described Djibouti, the last colony to gain independence from France – in 1977 – as a “historical partner and strategic ally”.
Both Paris and Beijing – as well as Japan and the United States – have military bases in Djibouti due to its strategic location along a key shipping lane leading to the Suez Canal.
Its geographic importance in the Horn of Africa region forms the foundation of Djibouti’s hopes of becoming a major trading hub.
Two years ago, East Africa’s smallest country inaugurated its newest and biggest port – part of
Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s administration hopes to turn the country into a “new Dubai” competing for business with overcrowded African ports such as Mombasa in Kenya.
Sandwiched between Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea, tiny Djibouti is a crucial part of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” global infrastructure initiative along what has been dubbed the “Maritime Silk Road”.
It allows China to reach Africa and Europe via the Indian Ocean.
The project has seen Beijing lend developing countries in Asia and Africa huge amounts of money to develop infrastructure and ease trade.
But the International Monetary Fund has sounded the alarm over an increase of Djibouti’s public debt from 50 percent of GDP in 2014 to 85 percent in 2017.
The US-based China Africa Research Initiative in 2017 estimated Djibouti’s debt to China at some $1.3 billion.
“I would not want international investments to weaken the sovereignty of our partners,” Macron said Tuesday, in a reference to China’s growing African presence.
“French companies are able to offer a respectful partnership,” the president added.
Guelleh, who described himself as “a great friend of China” when he visited President Xi Jinping in 2017, told Macron: “There are opportunities for French companies, particularly in the field of infrastructure.
“Our country is open, I have not lost hope that France can boost its investments in Djibouti.”
Defence deal with Ethiopia
Later Tuesday, Macron visited the remote Ethiopian town of Lalibela with its renowned 13th-century church complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
He promised to “finance and assist the work with the Ethiopians to restore these churches”, threatened by erosion and temporarily covered by vast metal-and-tarpaulin structures much hated by locals.
Macron added he believed in a model of “cultural diplomacy” made of “balanced partnerships”.
At a press conference with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Macron also announced a defence agreement in which France will loan 85 million euros ($96 million) to Ethiopia to support the establishment of a navy for the landlocked country.
Macron is scheduled to attend a state dinner in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. On Wednesday, he will meet leaders of the African Union before making the first-ever trip to Kenya by a French president.
On Thursday, he will attend the One Planet Summit on reversing climate change in the capital Nairobi.
He is also expected to head to Nairobi Central Railway Station to announce contracts worth around three billion euros to extend a line to the capital’s airport.
During his visit to East Africa on Tuesday, Rwanda invited Macron to attend the 25th anniversary of the country’s 1994 genocide that killed some 800,000 of its citizens. Rwandan authorities have long accused France of complicity in the massacre. Macron has not indicated whether he will attend the event on April 7th in the capital Kigali.
Tshisekedi’s ally graft trial resumes after death of judge in DR Congo
A new judge was appointed for the hearing, which took place in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, where Vital Kamerhe has been held in pre-trial detention since April 8. Kamerhe denied the charges again.
The graft trial of a prominent DR Congo politician resumed in Kinshasa on Wednesday, a week after the sudden death of the presiding judge.
Vital Kamerhe, a key ally of President Felix Tshisekedi, appeared in court for the third time with two co-defendants during a hearing that lasted more than seven hours.
Kamerhe, accused of embezzling more than $50 million (46 million euros) in state funds from a project to build social housing, offered his condolences to the family of Judge Raphael Yanyi, who are awaiting the results of a post-mortem.
Police said last week that Yanyi had died suddenly overnight after suffering a heart attack, while pro-democracy campaigners have called for inquiries into the cause of death.
A new judge was appointed for the hearing, which took place in the courtyard of the capital’s main jail, where Kamerhe has been held in pre-trial detention since April 8.
Kamerhe, once a pillar of former president Joseph Kabila’s rule, and appointed as Tshisekedi’s chief of staff in January 2019, once again denied the charges against him.
The defendants are accused of embezzling public funds for a project to build 1,500 pre-fabricated homes for poor people, under a “100-day” action plan launched by Tshisekedi after he took office.
Kamerhe claims that he never entered a private contract with one of his co-accused, Lebanese contractor Jammal Samih.
He said he inherited a contract signed by the former Minister of Rural Development, Justin Bitakwira.
Bitakwira, meanwhile, denied having signed an amendment to a 2018 contract to bring the total cost of the project to $57 million.
Kamerhe also defended his daughter-in-law, a student in France, who was accused of having received a gift in the form of a piece of land donated by the contractor Samih.
“Neither I nor my daughter, nobody knows about this matter,” he said.
The trial has no precedent in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s recent history.
It takes place in the context of a broader campaign for the “renewal” of the justice system to help root out entrenched corruption.
The biggest country in sub-Saharan Africa, DR Congo has an abundance of natural resources, but two-thirds of its 80 million people live in poverty.
The country struggles with a long history of conflict, poor governance and graft.
Rwanda genocide suspect okayed for trial by UN tribunal
Felicien Kabuga attended the Paris court hearing in a wheelchair and barely reacted when the decision was read out Wednesday.
A Paris appeals court ruled Wednesday that Rwandan genocide suspect Felicien Kabuga, arrested in France after evading police in several countries for 25 years, should be handed over to a UN tribunal in Tanzania to stand trial.
Accused of financing the 1994 genocide of some 800,000 people, Kabuga had asked for a trial in France, citing frail health and claiming the United Nations court in Africa would be biased against him, and possibly hand him over to Rwandan authorities.
His transfer still faces a final hurdle with defence lawyers planning to appeal the ruling at France’s highest court of appeal.
He attended the hearing in a wheelchair and barely reacted when the decision was read out.
A lawyer for the 84-year-old Kabuga said he would appeal the decision to hand him over to the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), which is based in The Hague but has a branch in Arusha, Tanzania.
“I was expecting this, because it’s a highly politicised case,” said one of his lawyers, Laurent Bayon.
“A transfer to Arusha, and the detention conditions there, would not allow him to survive, so a full trial would not be possible, neither for him nor the victims,” he said.
If the appeal is accepted by France’s court of cassation, a decision would be issued within two months. If it endorses his transfer, he would have one month to appear before the international court.
Described as Africa’s most wanted man, Kabuga was arrested on May 16 at his home outside Paris, where he had been living under a false name.
A judge in The Hague ruled last month, however, that Kabuga should be tried in Arusha by the MICT, which took over the duties of the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda when it formally closed in 2015.
Kabuga, once one of Rwanda’s richest men, was indicted by the tribunal in 1997 on seven counts, including genocide.
He is accused of forming the notorious Interahamwe militia that carried out massacres, and the Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines, whose broadcasts incited people to murder.
Hundreds of thousands of Tutsis but also moderate Hutus were slaughtered over 100 days of ethnic violence committed by Hutu extremists in 1994.
“These are all lies. Everything I did helped the Tutsis, and my businesses offered them credit — I wasn’t going to go and kill my clients,” he told the court, speaking in Kinyarwanda. An AFP report said.
– Hiding with family’s help -The UN tribunal charged him in 1997 with “genocide” as well as “direct and public incitement to commit genocide,” using his position as chairman of Rwanda’s FDN national defence fund to funnel money to militia groups.
It noted in particular that he arranged for shipments of “an impressive number of machetes and other weapons to the Interahamwe militia”.
He is also accused of directly supervising Interahamwe massacres in Gisenyi, northwestern Rwanda, and in the Kigali district of Kimironko.
Prosecutors say Kabuga’s money and connections helped him avoid arrest for decades after he fled Rwanda for Switzerland in July 1994, though he was ordered to leave the country just one month later.
He later moved to the former Zaire and then Kenya, where he managed to avoid three arrest attempts.
In 2002, the US government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
French officials said new intelligence allowed them to track Kabuga down at an apartment in the Paris suburb of Asnieres-sous-Bois, where he had been hiding out for the past three or four years with the help of his children.
Along with top-ranking military figure Protais Mpiranya, who is still at large, Kabuga was one of the most significant suspects still sought over the genocide.
Another key suspect, former defence minister Augustin Bizimana and until recently believed to have been on the run, died in 2000, the the UN tribunal said last month.
France has long been known as a hiding place for wanted genocide suspects and French investigators currently have dozens of cases underway.
South Sudan minister John Jok dies
Late Jok was South Sudan’s minister of East African Affairs in the current unity government.
South Sudan’s minister of East African Affairs in the current unity government, John Luk Jok has died, a government spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.
Michael Makuei Lueth, minister of information and broadcasting, described the deceased as a liberator and scholar who helped write the country’s Constitution in 2011.
“It was this Tuesday morning when I received a telephone call and informed that brother John Luk Jok has passed on. So it is true that it has happened,” Makuei told Xinhua in Juba.
He said there was no official confirmation of the cause of the death.
“We have lost a great man who contributed a lot in a liberation struggle and after liberation. He had ever been a servant of people, and with his death, we have lost a great man,” said Makuei.