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Cameroonian separatists’ jailing sparks shutdown protest in anglophone region2 min read

The conflict has killed some 2,000 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes

Kathleen Ndongmo

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Cameroonian separatists' jailing sparks shutdown protest in anglophone region

Cameroon’s anglophone regions were in shutdown on Monday as schools and shops closed in protest at the sentencing of charismatic separatist leader Julius Sisiku Ayuk Tabe to life in prison.

Troops were seen patrolling the streets in flashpoint areas and in Bamenda, the capital of the anglophone Northwest Region, residents reported hearing sporadic shooting and explosions.

Since 2017, Cameroon’s army has battled anglophone separatists seeking an independent state in response to perceived discrimination from the country’s francophone majority. 

The conflict has killed some 2,000 people and driven hundreds of thousands from their homes. 

After two years of fighting, schools across English-speaking regions, for the most part, have remained shut, and the government and civil-society organisations had wanted children to return to school as normal this September. 

However, separatist leaders decided to put anglophone towns on shutdown from Monday for a period of two weeks, after a military court last month sentenced Ayuk Tabe, in a ruling many feared would deepen the crisis.

“It seems that most residents in the Northwest and Southwest regions are abiding by the lockdown,” James Nunan, the head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) in the two areas, told reporters.

Most schools and shops remained closed in Buea, the capital of the Southwest region, according to a local charity worker who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons. Other Buea residents confirmed the city was at a standstill.

Flashes of violence were reported in Bamenda.

“Soldiers are occupying the streets and very few people have left their houses,” said a regional official who chose to remain anonymous.

Two other Bamenda residents said there had been unrest. “The streets are full of soldiers, no-one is outside, we heard gunshots in the city this morning,” said one. Another reported hearing explosions. 

Reporters were unable to independently confirm the reports. 

Separatists have been pursuing the so-called “dead city” protest tactic since 2017, bringing towns to a standstill every Monday.

English speakers — making up roughly one-fifth of Cameroon’s 24 million inhabitants — mostly live in the country’s Northwest Region and Southwest Region. 

The regions, formerly a British colony, voted to join French-speaking Cameroon after the end of colonial rule six decades ago.

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Central Africa News

Angolan parliament suspends ex-President’s daughter, Welwitschia dos Santos

Nicknamed “Tchize”, Welwitschia was elected to parliament in 2008 and joined the central committee of the ruling MPLA in 2016

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Angolan parliament suspends ex-President's daughter, Welwitschia dos Santos

Angola’s parliament has suspended a daughter of former President Jose Eduardo dos Santos for “unjust enrichment” as his successor seeks to crack down on nepotism past and present.

Dos Santos appointed several family members to key economic and political positions during his 38-year rule, which ended after he stepped down in September 2017.

Welwitschia dos Santos, nicknamed “Tchize”, was elected to parliament in 2008 and joined the central committee of the ruling Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in 2016.

The National Assembly late on Tuesday voted to suspend Welwitschia — one of the ex-president’s six children — from parliament, saying her absenteeism from the body amounted to “unjust enrichment”.

READ: Angola withdraws real estate contract awarded to Isabel dos Santos

Tchize, the former president’s second daughter, moved to Britain last year after claiming Angola’s secret services were threatening her.

Lower profile than her half-sister Isabel — a billionaire businesswoman appointed to head the state oil company during her father’s reign — Tchize was an influential figure in Angolan media and controlled one of the country’s leading advertising agencies.

From Britain, Tchize has repeatedly used WhatsApp to blast her father’s successor Joao Lourenco.

In her latest recording, she accused parliament of political persecution and claimed she did not choose to leave Angola.

“I had to flee because I was being threatened with death by the MPLA,” Tchize said via WhatsApp on Tuesday.

“I am completely censured by public press and even by most private media (outlets) controlled by people linked to the regime,” she added.  

The MPLA had already threatened to suspend Tchize’s mandate in May for spending more than 90 consecutive days abroad.

Lourenco has launched a large-scale purge of the administration and public companies, mainly targeting dos Santos’ relatives.

The President dismissed Isabel dos Santos from her position as chair of state oil company Sonangol two months after he took office.

READ: Cabinda separatists accuse Angola’s president of ‘persecution’

Her brother, Jose Filomeno who was appointed in 2013 by his father as head of Angola’s sovereign fund, was also dismissed from his post in January 2018.

Most members of the dos Santos family have moved abroad.     

Lourenco is struggling to wean Angola’s economy off of oil, which accounts for one-third of the country’s GDP and more than 90 per cent of exports.

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Central Africa Politics

7 Cameroonian soldiers plead not guilty to executing women and children

The video that went viral on social networks in early July 2018 showed men in military uniform summarily executing two women and two kids

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7 Cameroonian soldiers plead not guilty to executing women and children

Seven Cameroonian soldiers accused of killing two women and their children in an alleged summary execution that was caught on video pleaded not guilty at a military tribunal on Monday.

The six soldiers and a captain have been charged with joint participation in murder, breach of regulations and conspiracy, according to the indictment.

The video that went viral on social networks in early July 2018 showed men in military uniform summarily executing two women, blindfolded and on their knees, along with a little girl and a baby one of the mothers was carrying on her back.

The video was initially dismissed as “fake news” by the Cameroonian authorities. But Amnesty International revealed credible evidence that Cameroon’s military was responsible, and the authorities later announced that the seven soldiers depicted in the video had been arrested and would be prosecuted.

For the first time, the military tribunal in Yaounde trying the soldiers allowed them to enter their pleas, all of which were not guilty, a journalist reported.

The killings took place in 2015 in Zeleved, in Cameroon’s Far North region where troops have been deployed to fight Boko Haram jihadists who have crossed over from Nigeria to wage attacks in the neighbouring country.

During the investigation, the six soldiers claimed they acted on orders from the captain, their superior officer, according to a lawyer involved in the case.

The captain has contested this version of events, claiming he told the soldiers to hand over the two children and their mothers, accused of ties to Boko Haram, to the police, the same lawyer added.

The tribunal has set the next hearing in the case for November 4.

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Gabon’s Ali Bongo vows to “complete mission” despite health challenges

Bongo said he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft

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Gabonese President Ali Bongo vows to "complete mission" despite failing health

Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba on Wednesday completed a decade in office, vowing to push ahead with economic reforms and an anti-corruption drive despite questions over his health after suffering a stroke nearly a year ago.

“I feel good. And feeling better and better each day,” Bongo said in an interview published on Wednesday in the pro-government daily, l’Union. 

“I will complete my mission.”

Bongo said he was “fiercely determined” to push ahead with a campaign against graft. Government departments have been shaken up in recent weeks with a string of top-level changes.

“Mistakes were made in the past, but they won’t be able to be made again in the future,” Bongo said.

“Over time, the standards I require of government members has increased while my level of patience has fallen,” he said.

During his months-long absence abroad for treatment, speculation over Bongo’s fitness surged and the army quashed a brief attempted coup.

At one point, his spokesman was forced to deny rumours that Bongo had died and been replaced by a lookalike, while opposition members made an unsuccessful attempt to have a court assess whether he was fit to rule.

Since returning home, Bongo has attended several well-scripted public events, but every appearance is widely scrutinised for any signs of any disability.

READ: Gabonese President Bongo undergoes ‘routine medical checks’ in London

Nostalgia for father –

The drama has played out against the backdrop of a stuttering economy in the country of two million. 

Bongo initiated an array of major infrastructure projects after coming to power, such as new roads and stadiums, which drew on a flurry of investment from China.

But oil prices slumped after 2014, provoking an economic crisis and discontent, although the country’s political opposition is fractured.

There is widespread nostalgia for the free-spending reign of Bongo’s father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, who ruled the country for 42 years until his death in 2009, when he was succeeded by his son.

“Gabon has fallen into deep sleep,” said 33-year-old Gael Ndong, reflecting a commonly-expressed opinion.

“It was better before.”

“Ali Bongo has never enjoyed the legitimacy that his father was able to have,” said Florence Bernault, a professor of sub-Saharan history at Sciences Po in Paris.

His reputation was further battered after elections in 2016 marred by deadly violence and allegations of fraud, she added. His current term ends in 2023. 

READ: Gabon’s Ali Bongo makes post-stroke appearance

Diversify –

Under Bongo senior, Gabon became an oil major. Today, hydrocarbons account for 80 per cent of exports and almost half of GDP.

Under Bongo junior, the government is trying to diversify the economy, turning to managed forestry, minerals and other underdeveloped sectors to pick up the slack.

But the president’s vow 10 years ago to place Gabon on the path to emerging nation status remains “far away” from attainment, said Gabon economist Mays Mouissi.

Gabon may rank among Africa’s most prosperous countries but still badly lacks adequate roads, hospitals, homes and schools.

“Bongo did not know how to efficiently use the oil wealth he benefited from at the start of his first term,” said Mouissi, describing the “lost decade” as a wasted opportunity. Joblessness among the young is more than a third.

Bongo, in Wednesday’s interview, argued the reforms are “beginning to bear fruit.”

READ: Ali Bongo joins independence celebration in Libreville

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) this month predicted growth will reach 3.4 per cent this year compared with 0.8 per cent in 2018, although “ambitious macroeconomic measures and far-reaching structural reforms” were still needed.

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