Tanzania was in mourning Sunday, preparing to bury 69 people who perished when a crashed fuel tanker exploded as crowds rushed to syphon off leaking petrol. President John Magufuli declared a period of mourning through Monday following the deadly blast near the town of Morogoro, west of Dar es Salaam.
He will be represented at the funerals by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, an official statement said. “We’re currently mourning the loss of 69 people, the last of whom died while being transferred by helicopter to the national hospital in Dar es Salaam,” Majaliwa told residents in comments broadcast on Tanzanian television.
The number of injured stood at 66, he said. The burials will start Sunday afternoon, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jenista Mhagama announced during the morning after relatives identified the dead.
“The preparations for the burials have been completed. Individual graves have been dug and the coffins are ready,” Mhagama said, adding that experts would be available to offer psychological counselling to the victims’ relatives.
DNA tests would be carried out on bodies that were no longer recognisable, Mhagama said, adding that families could take the remains of their loved ones and organise their own burials if they preferred.
Pay Attention: Fuel tanker blast kills 10 in Nigeria
In the latest in a series of similar disasters in Africa, 39 seriously hurt patients had been taken to hospital in Dar es Salaam while 17 others were being treated in Morogoro, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the economic capital of Tanzania.
Footage from the scene showed the truck engulfed in flames and huge clouds of black smoke, with charred bodies. The burnt-out remains of motorcycle taxis lie scattered on the ground among scorched trees. A video posted on social media showed dozens of people carrying yellow jerricans around the truck.
No-one wanted to listen
“We arrived at the scene with two neighbours just after the truck was overturned. While some good Samaritans were trying to get the driver and the other two people out of the truck, others were jostling each other, equipped with jerricans, to collect petrol,” teacher January Michael told reporters.
“At the same time, someone was trying to pull the battery out of the vehicle. We warned that the truck could explode at any moment but no one wanted to listen, so we went on our way, but we had barely turned on our heels when we heard the explosion.”
Pay Attention: Tanker accident in Tanzania claims 57 lives
President Magufuli called Saturday for people to stop the dangerous practice of stealing fuel in such a way, a common event in many poor parts of Africa. He issued a statement saying he was “very shocked” by the looting of fuel from damaged vehicles.
“There are vehicles that carry dangerous fuel oil, as in this case in Morogoro, there are others that carry toxic chemicals or explosives, let’s stop this practice, please,” Magufuli said. Last month, 45 people were killed and more than 100 injured in central Nigeria when a petrol tanker crashed and then exploded as people tried to take the fuel.
Among the deadliest such disasters, 292 people lost their lives in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in July 2010, and in September 2015 at least 203 people died the South Sudan town of Maridi.
Ethiopia set to vote on breakaway state
Members of Ethiopia’s Sidama ethnic group are expected to vote Wednesday to form a breakaway regional state
Members of Ethiopia’s Sidama ethnic group are expected to vote Wednesday to form a breakaway regional state, a milestone that risks further destabilizing the country ahead of next year’s national elections.
The Sidama push for statehood already triggered days of unrest in July that left dozens dead and prompted the government to place Ethiopia’s southern region under the control of soldiers and federal police.
In Hawassa, the regional capital, some fear a return of those tensions, but resident Cherinet Deguye said the violence will have been worth it if the referendum passes and the Sidama get a state of their own, an outcome analysts believe is likely.
“The process leading to the referendum has come with a bitter price with many of our people killed and injured,” Cherinet told media last week shortly after registering to vote.
“But there is a great deal of excitement and the atmosphere is currently peaceful.”
The referendum touches on the issue of autonomy, the bedrock of a federal system designed to provide widespread ethnic self-rule in a hugely diverse country of more than 100 million people.
At present, Ethiopia is partitioned into nine semi-autonomous regional states. The constitution requires the government to organize a referendum for any ethnic group that wants to form a new entity.
Even if the referendum proceeds smoothly and the result is accepted, it could embolden other groups that have the same goal and inflame broader ethnic tensions.
At least 10 other groups have submitted statehood bids in the south.
William Davison, a senior analyst with International Crisis Group, a conflict analysis and prevention organisation, said the Sidama referendum “does not fit well” with key aspects of the agenda Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has pursued since taking power last year.
These include merging the current ruling coalition of ethno-regional parties into a single political party.
The last flare-up
The Sidama — who number more than three million — have agitated for years to leave the diverse Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region.
But Abiy dithered on responding to the Sidama referendum request, and Sidama nationalists vowed to move ahead with a self-declaration of statehood on July 18.
The Sidama Liberation Movement, a leading voice for statehood, backed away from self-declaration at the last minute, but that was not enough to stave off protests that devolved into ethnic clashes.
Security forces opened fire on protesters in Hawassa and elsewhere, and Sidama youth attacked non-Sidama residents of the region.
Local security officials say at least 53 people were killed.
Hundreds more were arrested, dozens of whom remain behind bars, according to Sidama activists.
How security forces’ respond during and after this week’s vote is a “cause of worry”, said Fisseha Tekle, a researcher with Amnesty International.
“If there is violence or unrest are they going to respond in their usual way, with excessive force, or are they going to use proportional force or proportional measures to control the unrest? It’s going to be an issue,” he said.
We’re living in fear
Abiy has spent recent months trying to put a damper on other statehood bids, pleading for patience in meetings with leaders of ethnic groups trying to follow the Sidama example.
Meanwhile, the implementation of the Sidama referendum is expected to raise a host of thorny issues.
One major sticking point is the status of Hawassa, which the Sidama are eyeing as the capital of their would-be state.
The city is ethnically diverse only about half the population is Sidama and up to now has served as the administrative centre for the entire southern region.
In the short term, tensions over Hawassa may be defused by a recent agreement that will allow the regional government to stay in the city for two five-year election terms.
Desalegn Mesa, a spokesman for the Sidama Liberation Movement, said members of other ethnic groups in Hawassa “shouldn’t feel threatened” about their security.
“Many ethnic minorities have found wealth, made their living and even formed marriage bonds with ethnic Sidamas for decades and this will continue in the future,” he said.
But not everyone is convinced.
“We’re living in fear. We’re afraid things will not change for the better after the referendum is held,” said Tesfaye, a non-Sidama resident of Hawassa who did not want his full name used for safety reasons.
“I’m afraid that if Sidama becomes a regional state what will come next is institutionalised discrimination against ethnic non-Sidamas.”
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
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.
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
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 –
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.
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.
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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