Hard times lie ahead for EA citizens as states raise budgets to spur growth

East African governments this week presented their most expensive budgets yet, seeking to reinvigorate their economies, finance expanded government operations and repay ballooning debts.

Economists are warning the region’s citizens to brace for harder times as the fiscal measures proposed in the 2023/24 budgets are wont to further raise the cost of living, cause investor flight in some countries, and result in job losses.

Kenya, the region’s biggest economy, has proposed a $26.3 billion spending plan, while Tanzania has a $19.2 billion budget. The Democratic Repulic of Congo is planning to spend $16 billion, Uganda $13.9 billion, Rwanda $4.7 billion, Burundi $1.5 billion and South Sudan $1.4 billion.

The region’s taxpayers are facing more levies, with Kenya introducing measures to raid payslips of the working class to finance election promises President William Ruto made to his “hustlers,” to shore up forex reserves and spur growth.

In Uganda, the Museveni administration is seeking to borrow to finance some 18 big-ticket infrastructure projects while promising more on household incomes through the Ush1 trillion ($271.9 million) Parish Development Model, a programme the government launched in February 2022 to bring 39 percent of poor Ugandan households into the money economy.

Tanzania’s Samia Suluhu ’s regime has sought more cash to finance an economy shaking out of slumber, with Finance Minister Mwigulu Ncheba proposing to boost domestic revenue collection through a raft of measures while reducing domestic and external borrowing.

Reduced incomes

In Burundi, Finance Minister Audace Niyonzima presented a $1.4 billion budget against a struggling economy where spending will rise 65 percent and the budget deficit is expected to rise to BF728.9 billion ($258.3 million), from BF197.4 billion ($69.9 million) in the ending financial year.

South Sudan and DRC are yet to read their budgets but the estimates have already been made public.

In Kenya, Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, the Treasury Cabinet Secretary, on Thursday presented a Ksh3.68 trillion ($26.3 billion) budget whose implementation will involve raiding the wallets of salaried workers, increasing fuel costs and heavy borrowing.

Salaried employees will part with more to finance the National Health Insurance Fund (2.7 percent) and pay a 1.5 percent of gross salary to support the affordable housing programme in addition to a 35 percent income tax.

Prof Ndung’u proposed an amendment to the Income Tax Act to adjust Pay as Your Earn by introducing two additional tax bands: 32.5 percent for individuals earning monthly incomes between Ksh500,000-Ksh800,000 (($3,570- $5,712), and 35 percent for those earning more than Ksh800,000.

He said the two new bands will affect 26,676 employees, who constitute 0.8 percent of the employed workers.

“It remains to be seen how much additional tax revenue will be generated from the two new tax bands and whether the government will achieve its objective in making the tax system more progressive,” said Dr Benson Okundi, a partner at audit firm PwC.

Prof Ndung’u proposed to allocate Ksh35.3 billion ($252.3 million) to Dr Ruto’s pet project, the housing programme, to reduce mushrooming of slums and create more jobs for the youth.

He proposed to amend the Employment Act, 2007 to introduce a housing levy payable by employers and employees at 1.5 percent of an employee’s gross monthly.

Yet the minister hinted at a possible retrenchment of lower-cadre staff in state corporations. He said the State Corporations Advisory Committee will start “rationalising staff establishment to keep them lean.”

Kenya proposes an increase in VAT of petroleum products from eight percent to 16 percent; zero rating of liquified petroleum gas from VAT and increase of turnover tax from one percent to three percent, with the upper threshold lowered to 25 percent.

The doubling of VAT on fuel will see the cost-of-living skyrocket as fuel has a ripple effect on transport, infrastructure, energy, agriculture and food and housing.

PwC, in its budget review, observed that an increase on VAT on fuel will impact inflation.

“The inflation rate in Kenya rose to eight percent in May 2023, from a ten-month low of 7.9 percent in the prior month. Increase in VAT of petroleum products is likely to have far-reaching consequences,” PwC said.

Prof Ndung’u indicated that the National Assembly will formulate a county revenue bill to provide governance around revenue generation for counties.

The government is seeking to raise Ksh2.57 trillion ($18.4 billion) – the highest amount in its history – from ordinary revenue, amid opposition by lobbies and the opposition in parliament.

Investor concerns

Foreign businesses, through lobbies, have expressed their concerns. In a letter to the National Assembly, Maxwell Okello, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce, asked legislators to remove several proposals deemed detrimental to business.

Foreign businesses have also taken issue with the digital content monetisation tax – which has now been reduced to five percent from the proposed 15 percent – saying it will put undue burden on digital service firms, which are mostly foreign multinationals.

“The additional administrative requirements and possible additional tax costs may discourage the use of content creators for advertisement and other digital campaigns and kill this budding industry in Kenya,” Okello said.

The proposal to raise income tax for those earning above Ksh500,000 ($3,575) may also discourage foreign investors and expatriates from working in Kenya due to the high taxes.

“We will lose business to other countries that position themselves as global business and lifestyle destinations. The founders of businesses and expatriates have the option of setting up in other markets such as Rwanda, Tanzania and South Africa, and those currently in Kenya may relocate to these destinations,” he said.

A top executive in a regional petroleum company who asked not to be named told The EastAfrican the rise in VAT on petroleum products will depress demand, impacting the entire economy.

“In the end it’s a zero-sum game,” he said.

“If demand reduces, the private sector will have to take measures to reduce their overhead costs, including by reducing their workforce. On the other hand, if revenue is not met, government will take austerity measures, and if the state doesn’t spend as it should, it will depress the entire economy.”

However, Prof Ndung’u said the move is meant to enable oil companies “recover the VAT credits that they have been carrying forward over the years.”

On the flip side, foreign businesses in Kenya will now pay a lower corporate income tax of 30 percent – like local firms – down from 37.5 percent, to eliminate ‘discrimination’ of non-resident businesses.

Uganda austerity measures

Uganda’s Ush52.7 trillion ($13.9 billion) is dedicated to poor Ugandans but does not address the high cost of living. Instead, Uganda will borrow more to finance infrastructure.

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija proposed austerity measures, including a freeze on new administrative units, domestic borrowing and rationalisation of agencies to save the government Ush1 trillion ($271.9million) annually.

The decision to look for more credit to fund 18 new infrastructure projects is raising fears of disrupting the country’s debt management, amid risks of aggressive behaviour by local lenders and the consequences of shor-term loans.

The 18 projects are valued at $3.344 billion and are scattered across transport, energy, agricultural, education and ICT sectors.

Uganda borrowed $1.26 billion in the 2021/22 financial year to finance nine projects in those sectors, according to the latest government report.

Some of the new projects are industrial parks, which require a $173.8 million loan, expected from the China Exim Bank; and an Industrial Transformation and Employment Project that bears a $150 million loan from the World Bank.

The Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area Project requires a $518 million loan expected from the World Bank, while the Climate Smart Agriculture Project also bears a $325 million World Bank loan request. In addition, upgrade of Kitgum-Kidepo road carries a loan financing burden of $117.7 million expected from Standard Chartered Bank.

Uganda’s overall public debt portfolio increased from Ush73.5 trillion ($19.6 billion) in June 2022 to Ush86 trillion ($22.8 billion) by end of March 2023, government data shows.

Its annual debt servicing bill is projected to expand from $500 million in 2022/23 to around $1 billion by close of 2024/25, with a debt servicing costs to revenue ratio increase from 25 percent in 2022/23 to 30 percent in 2024/25, according to Bank of Uganda (BoU) data. The debt servicing costs to GDP ratio is forecast to rise from 17 percent to 22 percent in the period.

“We are still examining the viability of all the selected projects together with different lenders but we are confident that all of them will receive funding in the next financial year,” said Patrick Ocailap, deputy secretary to the Treasury at Uganda’s Finance Ministry.

“We also expect debt servicing to GDP ratio to remain at less than 50 percent after absorption of the new projects in government’s infrastructure portfolio in line with strong economic growth patterns.”

Uganda’s top borrowing priority lies with concessional loans for certain projects in the education and health sectors, while commercial loans will be used for a few high-yielding projects, the Ministry of Finance said.

Massive government borrowing is blamed for aggressive investor behaviour in local debt markets and lukewarm short-term credit ratings.

“The government’s latest move appears very risky in the financial markets. Dollar borrowing is very costly today,” argued Allan Lwetabe, director for investment operations at the Deposit Protection Fund of Uganda.

A commercial dollar-denominated loan would cost eight percent per annum over a five-year period. It cost two percent per annum three years ago.

“Borrowing so much in US dollars would also require matching loan repayments with dollar supply flows anchored on export earnings from coffee, gold, tea and fish among others,” Lwetabe told The EastAfrican.

Uganda will need to manage the two issues, as it may require more dollars than the local market has.

Dar plans

Tanzania’s Tsh44.39 trillion ($19.13 billion) budget tabled by Finance Minister Mwigulu Nchemba is meant to boost domestic revenue collection through a raft of measures while reducing domestic and external borrowing.

Projected domestic revenue has been pegged at Tsh31.38 trillion ($13.52 billion), an increase of 12 percent from the 2022/2023 target of Tsh28.02 trillion ($12.07 billion). It will make up 70.7 percent of the total budget and includes Tsh26.73 trillion ($11.52 billion) from tax collection as new levies, which appeared to target middle-income earners , take effect.

Just Tsh7.57 trillion ($3.26 billion) is expected from external sources, including grants and concessional loans (Tsh5.47 trillion, $2.36 billion) and non-concessional loans (Tsh2.1 trillion, $905.17 million), according to Nchemba.

Concessional borrowing will provide Tsh2.22 trillion ($956.9 million) for key projects compared with Tsh1.65 trillion ($711.2 million) in 2022/2023, while external commercial loans will drop by 30.8 percent from Tsh3 trillion ($1.29 billion) to Tsh2.1 trillion ($905.17 million).

The government expects to borrow Tsh5.44 trillion ($2.34 billion) from the domestic market. Maturing government paper is projected to yield Tsh3.54 trillion ($1.52 billion) while the remaining Tsh1.9 trillion ($818.56 million) will be canvassed from locals to help finance development projects.

Tanzania’s private sector is set to be fully incorporated into this fund-raising drive under a new public-private partnership law passed by parliament on June 13.

Some Tsh6.3 trillion ($2.71 billion) will be spent on servicing national debt which, by April 2023, stood at Tsh79.1 trillion ($34.09 billion), up 13.9 percent from Tsh69.44 trillion ($29.93 billion) in April 2022.

External debt stood at Tsh51.16 trillion ($22.05 billion) against a domestic debt of Tsh27.94 trillion ($12.04 billion), with concessional loans standing at Tsh37.69 trillion ($16.24 billion).

At least Tsh4.13 trillion ($1.78 billion) will go to external debt repayments including principal payments and interest. Nchemba said the concessional loans component in the new budget has been increased by 22.8 percent and non-concessional loans cut down by 14.4 percent.

The government’s spending plan also includes Tsh1.14 trillion ($491.37 million) to cover government subsidies in education (free primary/secondary school education and higher education student loans), Tsh1.5 trillion ($646.55 million) to complete the Julius Nyerere Hydro Power Project and Tsh1.11 trillion ($478.45 million) to the standard gauge railway project.

Other priority areas will include Air Tanzania revival, developing a special economic zone at the coastal town of Bagamoyo, and developing a Rare Skills programme aimed at increasing youth’s capacity for self- employment.

In Rwanda, Finance Minister Uzziel Ndagijimana proposed increased spending by six percent to Rwf5.03 trillion ($4.4 billion), from Rwf4.7 trillion ($4.1 billion) in 2022/23.

The government plans to finance 63 percent of its budget with domestic revenues while external loans would constitute 24 percent and external grants 13 percent.

“The budget reflects the government’s economic resilience efforts in the face of global shocks.

The government will continue to prioritise fiscal consolidation, ease inflation and invest in agriculture, scale up social protection coverage; improve the quality of education, create employment opportunities and support micro, small, medium and large enterprises affected by Covid-19 through the enhanced Economic Recovery Fund and Manufacture and Build to Recover Programme,” Dr Ndagijimana said.

Rwanda announced a 10 percent increase in customs duty on imported construction materials, including metal tubes, doors, windows, and their frames. Wheelbarrows, plastic bags, and cloth bags will also face a 35 percent import duty.

Import duty for second-hand clothes will remain at $2.5 per kilogramme, while second-hand shoes will be taxed at $5 per kilo. Under the EAC Customs act, import duty on second-hand clothes and shoes is $0.4 per kilogramme.

The government will allocate Rwf2.8 trillion ($24.7 billion — 55.9 per cent of the budget) to the Economic Transformation Pillar.

These resources will scale up agricultural productivity, create jobs, support private sector development and strengthen climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.

It will also increase access to electricity and clean water, support urbanisation and settlement, improve the national road network, scale up the adoption of ICT, and implement agriculture de-risking and financing facilities.

Under the Social Transformation Pillar, the government will allocate Rwf1.5 trillion ($1.3 billion — 30.4 per cent of the budget).

“Is government borrowing to invest or consume? And what is the actual return on investments on those projects?” pondered Paul Corti Lakuma, a senior research fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre based at Makerere University.

On stays of application of import duty rates per the East African Communty Common External Tariff. Prof Ndung’u said it will apply for one year on rice (35 percent), imported iron and steel products (35 percent), vegetable products (35 percent), baby diapers (35 percent), leather and footwear products (35 percent), paper and paper products (35 percent).

It will also apply to timber (plywood and particleboard $120/MT – $200/MT), furniture (45 percent), plastic and rubber (35 percent), smartphones (25 percent), and billets (10 percent).

“Interestingly, one of the reasons for the introduction of a four-band EAC CET (version 2022) was to minimise the request for stays by partner states, but it seems this trend persists,” PwC observed.

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East African governments this week presented their most expensive budgets yet, seeking to reinvigorate their economies, finance expanded government operations and repay ballooning debts. Economists are warning the region’s citizens […]

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US issues travel advisory against Uganda after anti-gay law adoption

The United States has updated its travel warning for Uganda following the adoption of anti-gay legislation last month, the US State Department said.

“Reconsider travel to Uganda due to crime, terrorism, and anti-LGBTQI+ legislation,” it said in a new advisory issued late Monday.

It said the Anti-Homosexuality Act “raises the risk that LGBTQI+ persons, and those perceived to be LGBTQI+, could be prosecuted and subjected to life imprisonment or death based on provisions in the law”.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law on May 29, triggering outrage among human rights groups, the United Nations and LGBTQ activists as well as Western powers.

It is considered one of the harshest such laws in the world, containing provisions making “aggravated homosexuality” a capital offence and penalties for consensual same-sex relations of up to life in prison.

“LGBTQI+ persons, or persons perceived to be LGBTQI+, could face harassment, imprisonment, blackmail, and violence,” the US State Department said, warning also of the risk of attacks by “vigilantes”.

“Be mindful that any public identification with the LGBTQI+ community, as either a member or supporter, could be grounds for prosecution, and that even private consensual same-sex relations are illegal.”

In May, US President Joe Biden called for the immediate repeal of the measures he slammed as “a tragic violation of universal human rights” and threatened to cut aid and investment in Uganda.

But earlier this month Museveni defied international calls to rescind the law, saying “no one will move us”.

The legislation has broad support in the conservative Christian country, where lawmakers have defended the measures as a necessary bulwark against Western immorality.

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The United States has updated its travel warning for Uganda following the adoption of anti-gay legislation last month, the US State Department said. “Reconsider travel to Uganda due to crime, […]

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LGBTQ ‘merchandise’ ignite dispute at DR Congo mining conference

Controversy erupted at a key mining conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after merchandise said to promote gay, lesbian queer and other special sexual groups were distributed at the venue.

The mining conference known as the DRC Mining Week had opened its 18th edition on Wednesday in Lubumbashi, in the south of the country.  But the appearance of rainbow-coloured bags on the first day of the conference annoyed some groups.

“The promotion of homosexuality is against our morals, our values and our laws. And we won’t let this sham pass!” protested a group calling itself the Civil Society of Lubumbashi, in a statement.

“It’s a misguided attempt and a trial balloon in the form of a provocation! No LGBT in Lubumbashi” wrote the group. 

The youth group threatened to disrupt the conference on Thursday by staging a sit-in in front of the Pullman hotel, which is hosting the event.

In the DRC, the law does not specifically criminalise LGBTQ people, but they are culturally loathed.

The controversy overshadowed the debates on the first day of the conference, which had focused on electrical energy whose access in the DRC has become a major problem for the mining sector in particular.

Several mining firms have said they are considering working on a solution that would involve importing electricity in Zambia to compensate for the shortage in the DRC, with a view to enabling the mining industry in the Congo to develop more effectively.

Mr Owen Silavwe, the Managing Director Zambia’s Copperbelt Energy Corporation Plc: “We are committed to identifying mutually beneficial public-private partnership projects that will support electricity consumers in Zambia and the DRC”. 

This year, the conference includes three days of exchanges between nearly 3,000 professionals and 200 exhibitors from more than 40 countries, aims to present and explore the projects and investment opportunities offered by the mining sector in the DRC.

Controversy erupted at a key mining conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) after merchandise said to promote gay, lesbian queer and other special sexual groups were distributed at […]

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South Sudan envoy urges nationals to return, invest at home

South Sudan is urging its nationals in Uganda to come home and invest, citing the return of peace in the country torn apart by civil war.

The South Sudanese ambassador to Uganda, Juach Deng, said the agriculture and industrialisation sectors are ripe for investments.

He also urged citizens of neighbouring countries to invest in South Sudan while acknowledging the presence of “some small armed groups” causing economic sabotage by ambushing traders and robbing them of their merchandise.

“The South Sudan economy has improved since 2018. Come back and invest in South Sudan because it is strategically located in the East African Community (EAC). That is why we have both licensed and unlicensed Ugandans doing business. I am inviting you to pass the message that there is peace across the country,” Mr Deng said Tuesday as his country

Read: S.Sudan receives 10,000 civilians fleeing Sudan

According to Mr. Deng, 67 percent of South Sudan is arable land, and only four percent is under cultivation. He added that agriculture, agro-industrialisation, electricity generation, petroleum, and mining are sectors with opportunities for other East African countries to exploit to realize stability in the region.

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South Sudan is urging its nationals in Uganda to come home and invest, citing the return of peace in the country torn apart by civil war. The South Sudanese ambassador […]

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Katiba: President Samia pulls a fast one on Tanzania opposition

Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu has formally re-introduced the constitutional review, pulling a fast one against an opposition that has been using it to criticise her administration.

Her move, coming after two recent failed attempts led by the opposition, could be the President’s way of taking charge of the process that could define her political future.

On May 6, President Samia gave the go-ahead for an all-inclusive political parties meeting to get the constitution-writing process underway based on the recommendations of a government-backed taskforce on democratic reforms.

The taskforce concluded its work of collecting public views in September 2022 and advised, among other things, that the draft that was shelved in 2015, just before being presented for voting in a public referendum, would provide the best basis for the next steps.

According to state house, the Registrar of Political Parties Rtd Justice Francis Mutungi will convene a meeting to “evaluate progress in implementing the recommendations of the task force” and set out a proper participatory roadmap for the new drafting process.

Opposition parties will also discuss with representatives of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) amendments to laws related to elections and political party activities ahead of next year’s local government elections and the 2025 presidential and parliamentary polls.
All these, particularly the new Katiba and an independent electoral system, have been key aspects of the opposition’s demands for major political reforms and a level playing field by the time the next elections cycle comes around.

Samia said that the constitution-making process should involve not only politicians but also “various other stakeholders, and particularly ordinary citizens” from both Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar.

Read: Plunder in state-owned firms rattles Samia

By the end of the week, the registrar had yet to announce a date for a meeting, even as public debate began to gather pace.

A national dialogue

In its recommendations, the taskforce proposed a “national dialogue” to pinpoint particular clauses in the current constitution that need to be amended or scrapped altogether, and a “panel of experts” appointed by the President to prepare a fresh draft using ideas from the dialogue and the 2014 draft.

Demands for constitutional change have dominated Tanzania’s political landscape since 2012, due to growing public impatience with a document that has been in place since 1977 before the return of multi-parties and now appears outdated.

The first government-sponsored constitutional review led by former prime minister Joseph Warioba produced a draft in 2014, after public consultations, but it was abandoned, amid significant disagreements at the political level.

Samia, then a Cabinet minister, was the deputy chair of the second review sittings, which produced another draft for tabling in a national referendum. However, opposition parties disassociated themselves with the entire process, complaining of CCM’s manipulation and unsanctioned alterations to the original Warioba Draft.

The referendum was postponed indefinitely in April 2015, months before the general election that saw Samia’s predecessor John Magufuli come to power, with her as vice-president.

Her initiative to kick-start the process this time round is in keeping with her reconciliation (Maridhiano) agenda designed to appease an opposition still hurting from years of political persecution under Magufuli.

In January, she ended a ban on political rallies imposed during the Magufuli years which had also been high on the opposition’s reforms agenda.

Read: Harris hails Samia as ‘champion’ of democracy

Opposition parties reacts

Opposition parties have reacted in a somewhat muted fashion to the latest move in the constitutional review.

ACT Wazalendo said it hoped the proposed meeting would agree on a timetable to ensure new laws for elections and political party activities were enacted “before the end of this year.”

“We also expect the issues that thwarted the 2014 constitutional review process to be discussed in depth, followed by resolutions to ensure those issues do not recur,” the party’s secretary-general Ado Shaibu said.

Chadema Deputy Chairman Tundu Lissu appeared to maintain his customary vocal stance, telling public rallies in Dodoma and Singida during the week that if the new constitution is not in place by 2025, “no one will be able to live comfortably in this country”.

Referring to CCM public banners portraying successful reconciliation talks with the opposition, Mr Lissu also warned the government to “first solve all the issues brought up in the talks” before sending out messages to the people that “everything is now good”.

“They have not changed a single law; instead, it’s just banners everywhere, like they’ve already started campaigning for the next election three years early,” he told supporters in Singida on Wednesday.

“I am not against Maridhiano, but I object to being led on, massaged with soothing oil, blindfolded. The only real solution is a new constitution, and if that fails, we are all finished,” he added.

Chadema is being represented by its chairman Freeman Mbowe in the Maridhiano talks with CCM leaders. According to Mr Lissu who was the party’s presidential candidate in the 2020 election, the talks have so far yielded little more for Chadema than “slice of bread” promises of inclusion in a coalition government and equitable parliamentary representation after the 2025 election.

Damas Ndumbaro, minister for justice and constitutional affairs, told parliament while presenting the ministry’s 2023/2024 budget proposals last month that the new Katiba and election laws review process would be prioritised during the year, with Tsh9 billion ($3.88 million) added to the budget for that purpose.

Minister of State responsible for Parliamentary Matters Jenista Mhagama also pledged in the House this past week that the government would table bills for the electoral and political parties’ laws for endorsement before the end of 2023.

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Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu has formally re-introduced the constitutional review, pulling a fast one against an opposition that has been using it to criticise her administration. Her move, coming after […]

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Salaried Kenyans, youth hit hard in Ruto’s tax plan

Salaried Kenyans, mainly youth digital content creators and the middle class at large will have it harder under President William Ruto’s taxation plan following a raft of proposals that will hit their earnings.

In the Finance Bill, 2023, which carries tax proposals for the 2023/24 financial year, the National Treasury plans several actions that will leave Kenya’s middle class, who the government has always gone after in seeking more revenues, with more deductions.

The Bill proposes a 3 per cent deduction from workers’ basic salaries towards the National Housing Development Fund, to which the employer will make an equal contribution.

“An employer shall pay to the National Housing Development Fund in respect of each employee, the employer’s contribution at 3 per cent of the employee’s monthly basic salary and the employees contribute,” the Bill states.

Both the employer and the employee’s contributions are, however, capped at Sh5,000 per month.

Kenyans earning at least Sh500,000 monthly also face deeper tax chops as the Bill proposes to raise their income tax from 30 per cent to 35 per cent This will see a worker earning Sh500,000, pay over Sh200,000 in tax. The proposal comes at a time when President Ruto has been hard on the wealthy, even hinting at introducing a wealth tax.

Read: Content creators feel the pinch of YouTube charges

But the pain will not befall only the salaried as Treasury also proposes to raid Kenya’s digital content creators, an industry that has attracted the youth, offering an alternative to a population category hard hit by unemployment.

The Bill proposes a 15 per cent tax on payments relating to digital content monetisation, as a withholding tax. The tax will have huge implications on thousands of youth who currently earn a living from the digital space and comes when the government has been aggressively driving investment in internet connectivity and technology to attract the jobless.

“In respect of payments relating to digital content monetisation, 15 per cent (withholding tax),” the Bill proposes in relation to the sector.

Treasury has also proposed to raise turnover tax for businesses with revenues from as low as Sh500,000, from 1 per cent to 3 per cent, a move that will hit more businesses classified under small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which may not be stable.

National Treasury and Economic Planning Cabinet Secretary Njuguna Ndung’u. Treasury has proposed to raise turnover tax for businesses with revenues from as low as Sh500,000, from 1 per cent to 3 per cent, a move that will hit more businesses classified under small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which may not be stable. | Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“Section 12C of the Income Tax Act is amended in subsection (1), by deleting the words “Sh1 million but does not exceed or is not expected to exceed Sh50 million” and substituting therefore “Sh500,000 but does not exceed or is not expected to exceed Sh15 million,” the Bill proposes, on businesses to be slapped with the 3 per cent turnover tax.

Tax on every business

The tax is charged on every business, notwithstanding whether it has made a profit or a loss.

Read: Digital tax will hurt firms

Consumers of various products will also pay more if the Bill’s proposals are adopted and enacted into law. Among new products proposed to attract Excise Duty in the new financial year include imported fish (Sh100,000 per metric tonne or 20 per cent of the value) and powdered juice (Sh25 per kilo).

Those who consume beauty products such as wigs, false beards, eyebrows and eyelashes, and artificial nails will be hit with a 5 per cent excise tax, as the government goes harder on the industry that has over the past decade grown significantly.

Cement importers will pay a 10 per cent excise tax per kg of the product, or Sh1.50 per kg, whichever is higher.

Other areas Treasury has proposed to slap taxes on include digital assets, targeting owners of platforms that facilitate the exchange or transfer of digital assets. The assets include cryptocurrencies, token codes and numbers held in digital form and generated through cryptographic means.

“The owner of a platform or the person who facilitates the exchange or transfer of a digital asset shall deduct the digital asset tax and remit it to the Commissioner. A person who is required to deduct the digital asset tax shall, within twenty-four hours after making the deduction, remit the amount so deducted to the Commissioner together with a return of the amount of the payment, the amount of tax deducted, and such other information as the Commissioner may require,” the Bill states.

It also adds that any person who receives rental income on behalf of the owner of the premises shall deduct tax and within 24 hours remit the amount to the taxman. This cuts the period the rental income tax is paid from the 20th day of the month, as has been the case.

Read: Tech giants face tripled digital tax in fresh plan

Companies with tax disputes with Kenya Revenue Authority and who wish to pursue the dispute at the tax tribunal will be required to deposit an equivalent of 20 per cent of the disputed taxes with the tribunal, a move that could affect many companies’ cash flows and deter many from pursuing such disputes legally.

The Bill also proposes some reliefs, mainly to consumers and businesses, who have been slapped with annual inflation adjustment that has often raised the cost of consumer goods.

Employees of startups who receive shares from the companies they work for will also not be taxed on the value of the shares immediately, as the Bill proposes to defer the payment.

State targets per diems, allowances

Employees face tighter times as the State plans to tax any travel allowances exceeding the standard rates approved by the Automobile Association of Kenya (AA).

The Finance Bill 2023 proposes that the AA rates will be assumed to be the amount used, ending a common line of wastage of public funds through excessive claims.

“Notwithstanding the provisions of the sub-paragraph(ii), where an amount is received by an employee as payment of travelling allowance to perform official duties, the standard mileage rate approved by the Automobile Association of Kenya shall be deemed to be reimbursement of the amount so expended and shall be excluded in the calculation of the employee’s gains and profit,” the Finance Bill states.

The Finance Bill also targets club membership allowances.

“By inserting the following new paragraph immediately after paragraph(f) (fa) club entrance and subscription fees disallowed against employer’s income,” it says.

“Any amount paid or granted to a public officer to reimburse an expenditure incurred for the purpose of performing official duties, notwithstanding the ownership or control of any assets purchased,” it adds.

This comes amid proposals by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to eliminate four allowances for civil servants, translating to billions of shillings.

The commission has recommended the abolishment of perks including retreat allowance, sitting allowance for institutional internal committee members and task force allowance.

Presently, there are over 247 remunerative and facilitative allowances payable within the public service, up from 31 in 1999, straining the national bill through double payments. Besides trimming allowances, the SRC targets to cap allowances at a maximum of 40 per cent of a public worker’s gross pay.

Retreat allowance is currently paid to public officers participating in special assignments meant to review, develop and produce policy documents away from their work station.

The SRC also targets to scrap sitting allowance for members of internal committees which are constituted to assist the execution of the mandate of institutions.

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Salaried Kenyans, mainly youth digital content creators and the middle class at large will have it harder under President William Ruto’s taxation plan following a raft of proposals that will […]

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Burundi Court Upholds Journalist’s Conviction

Authorities Should End Cynical Assault on Media, Civil Society

Burundi: Journalist’s Conviction Violates Free Speech Rights

Last week, civil society in Burundi breathed a collective sigh of relief at the announcement that five human rights defenders charged with state security crimes had been released from prison. But as is often the case in Burundi, their relief was short-lived. Four days later, an appeals court in Bujumbura confirmed the conviction of journalist Floriane Irangabiye.

Irangabiye was convicted in January on charges of criticizing the government during a radio broadcast, in defiance of her most basic media freedoms. Her conviction came less than a week after lawyer and former human rights defender Tony Germain Nkina was released following two years of unjust imprisonment.

Irangabiye was given a 10-year sentence and fined 1,000,000 Burundian Francs (US$480). Her months-long detention without charge and the prosecutor’s failure to produce credible evidence of a crime during the trial amounted to flagrant violations of Burundian and international law.

Adding insult to injury, the appeals court’s decision was announced on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, underscoring Burundian authorities’ contempt for freedom of the press.

The five rights defenders released last week were charged with rebellion and undermining state security and the functioning of public finances. The charges appeared to stem from their relationship with a foreign organization and the funding they received from it. Three were acquitted and two were convicted of rebellion, fined 50.000 Burundian Francs ($25), and handed a two-year suspended sentence. They work for some of Burundi’s few remaining human rights organizations, and their arrests sent a chilling message to the few activists who stayed in Burundi despite a brutal crackdown against civil society triggered by the country’s 2015 political crisis.

As Burundi, faced with serious economic and humanitarian challenges, is pressing international partners to restore financial assistance, it seems reckless to jeopardize the government’s relationship with donors over abusive arrests and trials of human rights defenders and journalists. Yet after repeated convictions and acquittals, it looks increasingly like they are being used as bargaining chips.

Burundi should put an end to this cynical game. The European Union, the United States, and Burundi’s other international partners should call for Irangabiye’s immediate and unconditional release. They should also make clear, through public statements and concrete demands, that their trust in Burundian authorities will only be restored once they truly respect the rights of media and civil society.

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Authorities Should End Cynical Assault on Media, Civil Society Burundi: Journalist’s Conviction Violates Free Speech Rights Last week, civil society in Burundi breathed a collective sigh of relief at the announcement that five human rights defenders […]

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Kenyan opposition stages new anti-government demonstrations

Kenyan anti-riot police were out on the streets on Tuesday as the opposition defied a police ban and staged new demonstrations over the cost of living crisis and last year’s election results.

Previous protests called by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga have turned violent, with at least three people killed as police fired tear gas and gangs went on the rampage, attacking people and property.

The capital Nairobi was largely peaceful on Tuesday, although a bus was torched on one of the city’s main roads, while youths blocked roads in several slum areas, witnesses said.

Protesters also set fires and used rocks to block roads in and out of Odinga’s lakeside stronghold of Kisumu in western Kenya, they said.

Nairobi Regional Police Commander Adamson Bungei had announced Sunday that Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja coalition had been denied permission to hold the demonstrations, saying the previous protests in March were “marred with violence”.

But the coalition insisted the action would go ahead. 

Protected by constitution

“Police cannot decide in advance that there shall be violence and then proceed to ban political activities that are protected by the constitution. That is the making of dictatorship,” it said in a statement Monday.

Odinga’s side had in April announced a halt to the demonstrations to allow bipartisan talks to take place, but the process appears to have stalled.

Azimio said it would deliver a petition to President William Ruto’s office on Tuesday over the “unacceptably high” cost of food, fuel and electricity.

It also planned to submit a petition to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission showing that the results of the August election were “doctored”.

Odinga narrowly lost to Ruto — his fifth presidential election defeat — and continues to insist that the poll was fraudulent and that victory was “stolen”.

Campaign promises

Ruto, who critics say has broken several campaign promises since taking office in September, has branded the opposition action as “nonsense”.

“No property will be destroyed again. The government will stand firm to ensure and protect the life, property and business of every Kenyan,” he said at the weekend.

His government has voiced concerns about the impact of the demonstrations on the economy, which is slowly recovering after the Covid-19 pandemic, but is facing high inflation and a huge debt mountain as well as a plunging currency.

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Kenyan anti-riot police were out on the streets on Tuesday as the opposition defied a police ban and staged new demonstrations over the cost of living crisis and last year’s […]

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A convoy of buses transporting people fleeing the war in Sudan on April 25, 2023. South Sudan says hundreds of civilians fleeing the conflict in Sudan have arrived in northern and western Bahr el Ghazal states. PHOTO | AFP

South Sudan receives over 10,000 civilians fleeing Sudan

South Sudan on Tuesday confirmed receiving more than 10,000 civilians displaced by the ongoing conflict in neighboring Sudan.

South Sudan’s Interim Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Deng Dau Deng said the majority of the returnees are the country’s nationals, while others include Sudanese, Kenyans, Ugandans, Eritreans, and Somalis.

“On the situation of South Sudanese, the government is doing everything within its power to receive its citizens who are returning to the country. In the last 24 hours, nearly 10,000 arrived in Renk, including nationals of some neighbouring countries,” Deng said in a statement issued in the South Sudanese capital of Juba on Monday evening. 

He disclosed hundreds of other civilians have arrived in Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal states respectively. Deng said the South Sudanese government has opened its airspace for countries evacuating their diplomats and nationals. 

He said 24 Kenyan nationals who arrived from Sudan through the northern border from Paloch Airport in Upper Nile State were evacuated on Monday to Juba. This came after Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the Sudanese Armed Forces (Saf) and his rival Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reached a three-day ceasefire deal. 

Read: Kenya considers evacuating citizens from Sudan

Deng revealed that the lull in fighting has allowed diplomatic missions to evacuate staff and nationals, adding that hundreds of Sudanese have also been given time to relocate to nearby regions. He also said South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has engaged the warring Sudanese parties to ensure that the temporary humanitarian ceasefire is held to allow foreign missions to evacuate their diplomatic staff and nationals. 

Efforts are underway

Meanwhile, Somalia on Tuesday said efforts are underway to bring back some 200 nationals who are stranded in Sudan where the fighting may trigger further displacement both within and outside the country.

Somalia’s Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdirahman Nur Dinari said the country’s government is working to ensure a safe return for its citizens from Sudan. Nur lauded the Somali embassies in Sudan, South Sudan and Ethiopia for their efforts in evacuating citizens who are trapped inside Sudan following days of military clashes between Sudan Armed Forces (Saf) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), a paramilitary unit. 

Read: Thousands flee battle-scarred Khartoum

“Some 200 citizens will be evacuated from the border of Sudan and Ethiopia today,” he told journalists in Mogadishu capital of Somalia.  He thanked the Kenyan government which brought 19 Somalis from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and the government of South Sudan which allowed the Somali people to come to their border and facilitate their journey. The latest move came a day after the Somali Disaster Management Agency (Sodma) launched hotlines for Somalis stranded in Sudan.

The hotlines which will run 24 hours daily, are for Somalis to report their locations to ease the evacuation process from Sudan. The move came after the rival parties agreed to the three-day ceasefire which aims to establish humanitarian corridors, allowing citizens and residents to access essential resources, healthcare, and safe zones, while also evacuating diplomatic missions. 

More than 400 people have been killed and over 3,000 more injured in clashes in Sudan since the unrest started, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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South Sudan on Tuesday confirmed receiving more than 10,000 civilians displaced by the ongoing conflict in neighboring Sudan. South Sudan’s Interim Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Deng Dau […]

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Kenya’s mass protests have a rich history, but have been hijacked by elites

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga and his coalition party, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya, recently called for mass protests across the country. Odinga and his team have questioned the legitimacy of President William Ruto’s win in the country’s August 2022 election, and taken issue with the rising cost of living. The Conversation Africa’s Kagure Gacheche spoke with Westen K Shilaho, a senior researcher on African politics, who explores the evolution of political protests in Kenya.

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What does the law say about political protest?

The right to protest is enshrined in the constitution of Kenya under Article 37. It states that:

Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.

The right to protest is also affirmed by international instruments to which Kenya is a signatory. These include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, successive Kenyan governments have repeatedly criminalised the right to protest. As a result, the police consistently react with brute force against protesters.

Protestors stand amid tear gas on March 30, 2023 as they engaged police in running battles in Nairobi’s Mathare Area 10 during anti-government demonstrations called by the opposition. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

What led to the latest wave of protests in Kenya?

Kenya held general elections on 9 August 2022, and William Ruto was declared president. The opposition contested the election results and filed a petition before the Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed the petition for lack of evidence.

ReadNo handshake with Raila, Ruto says

Raila Odinga, the losing presidential contestant, rejected this ruling and has refused to recognise Ruto’s win. He has taken the dispute to the court of public opinion – the streets. He has made three main demands:

  • that the electoral agency’s servers be opened to prove that he won the 2022 election
  • that Ruto halts reconstitution of Kenya’s electoral body
  • that the government lowers the cost of living.

Protests began on August 15, 2022 when the presidential election results were declared. Hoodlums assaulted the electoral agency’s chairperson and other officials. They are yet to be held to account for these attacks.

After a six-month lull, these protests recently spilled over into the streets. The opposition called for demonstrations twice a week from 20 March until the government accedes to its demands.

ReadKenya protests: Police attack journalists

Ruto and his supporters have been scornful of the opposition’s demands, saying they have no basis in law, morality or logic. Ruto dismissed the protests as acts of economic terrorism.

An anti-riot police officer speaks to residents of Mathare in Nairobi on March 30, 2023 during anti-government protests. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Ruto’s olive branch

After two weeks of violence – where at least three people died, several others injured and property vandalised – Ruto extended an olive branch to the opposition and asked them to call off the protests. He suggested that the issue of the reconstitution of the electoral body could be revisited.

In response, the opposition suspended the protests.

ReadRaila and Malema: Two of a kind in Africa

Ruto has previously said he would not be blackmailed into a power-sharing arrangement with the opposition. If not checked, power-sharing arrangements – or “handshake” in Kenya’s political parlance – could become the country’s default arrangement after elections. This would be to the detriment of democratic tenets.

What is the history of political protests in Kenya?

Kenya’s political history is marked by mass protests that date back to the colonial period and continued into independence.

Amid police crackdowns, Kenyans protested against political assassinations and autocracy during the tenures of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and his successor, Daniel Moi.

Through a constitutional amendment, Moi turned Kenya into a one-party state in 1982, which heightened political tensions. Later that year, Kenyans protested in Nairobi in support of an attempted coup against Moi as opposition politicians and civil society sought a return to political pluralism.

Residents of Mathare in Nairobi confront anti-riot police officers on March 30, 2023 pleading for peace and an end to running battles during the Azimio anti-government protests. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NMG

Multiparty politics

Countrywide protests were held in 1990. This agitation, coupled with pressure from civil society, religious groups and western donors, forced Moi to accede to multiparty politics in 1991.

In 1992, mothers of political prisoners held an 11-month hunger strike in Nairobi to demand the release of their sons.

Protests against presidential results in 2007 led to a horrific crackdown. More than 1,100 people were killed, several of them extrajudicially by the police. Odinga had disputed Mwai Kibaki’s win. Protests and summary executions also followed the 2013 and 2017 announcements of presidential election results.

ReadHow politicians planned Kenyatta farm attack

Protests are important. They can influence a government or a body of authority to respond to popular interests and injustice. Through protests, a government can be forced to address service delivery concerns, corruption, labour disputes, extrajudicial and summary executions and education matters, and to abandon dictatorial tendencies. In some countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, protests collapsed regimes.

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing his supporters in Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate on March 30, 2023 as he led mass demonstrations. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Personality driven

As I discuss in my book, Political Power and Tribalism in Kenya, political protests in the country have become insular, sectarian, tribal, unashamedly personality driven and elitist.

My research found that the political elite have used protests for self-preservation and to pursue their interests.

ReadPoverty unites Raila, Malema in the streets

Protests have become about getting opposing political personalities to come to an agreement so that election losers don’t lose all the benefits of being in power – but such agreements stifle healthy debate.

Elections must produce winners and losers among the contestants. The citizenry should be the only constant winners. Their concerns must be met regardless of who ascends to power.

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Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga and his coalition party, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya, recently called for mass protests across the country. Odinga and his team have questioned the legitimacy […]

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Outrage as Kenyan police attack journalists during protests

A barrage of tear gas canisters and a deluge from an armoured water cannon directed at journalists in Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s convoy highlighted the brutality of security forces on the third day of anti-government protests.

Anti-riot officers battered the journalists as their vehicle was trapped between a barricade erected by police and Mr Odinga’s convoy — which wasn’t spared either — with the Kenyan opposition leader of the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition alleging his car was shot at seven times.

Faced with the vicious attacks, the journalists, who were perched on the carrier of the black Toyota Land Cruiser, scampered for safety and, in the process, four were seriously injured.

A woman helps police officers with water
A woman offers police officers water to rinse their faces during opposition protests in Nairobi’s Mathare estate on March 30 ,2023. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NMG

Six journalists injured

In total, six journalists were injured during Thursday’s protests in different parts of the country, victims of brutality by police and violent protesters. It brought to 22 the total number of journalists injured since the start of the demonstrations on Monday, March 20.

ReadKenya protests: Envoys urge urgent solution

And even after the journalists and the driver of the vehicle had fled, a plainclothes policeman smashed the car’s windscreen, shoved a rifle through the cracks and fired inside several times.

In the aftermath, bloodied faces of victims of the attack, including local broadcaster NTV’s cameraman Eric Isinta told of the horror. Others injured at the scene in Nairobi were Mr Timon Abuna of Standard Media Group, Mr Mauritius Oduor of Royal Media Services and Mr George Oduor, an independent photojournalist. The journalists were rushed by colleagues to a nearby hospital for treatment.

Protesters run away from police officers as demonstrators block a highway in Nairobi on March 30, 2023 during a protest called by the opposition coalition Azimio la Umoja against the government and high food prices. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP

Tear gas canisters

Mr Isinta said police lobbed three tear gas canisters directly at him with one getting into his clothes and another hitting his face.

“There were many tear gas canisters that were thrown as we were getting near the junction. I could not see where I was going. One tear gas canister hit me on the head and another one on my chest and into my clothes. I got it out before it could burn me but a third one hit my face and I was injured,” Mr Isinta said.

He sustained a serious injury on the right side of the face.

ReadHow politicians planned Kenyatta farm attack

In Kisumu, a Citizen TV cameraman was critically injured while fleeing from rowdy protesters. Mr Dismas Nabiswa, who was covering the riot from a footbridge on the Kisumu-Nairobi highway, was injured after he missed a step and fell, breaking some of his ribs. He was rescued by boda boda (motorcycle taxi) operators who rushed him to the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital where he was treated before being transferred to Avenue Hospital.

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing his supporters at Nairobi’s Pipeline Estate on March 30, 2023. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Hostile hooligans, police

His phone, camera and a live video transmission gadget were damaged during the melee. Azimio leaders condemned the attack on the press.

ReadAU calls for calm, restraint in Kenya

“It is very unfortunate that in the whole of these skirmishes, the media is being targeted for attack. The other day and today, several journalists have been injured,” Mr Odinga said shortly after the incident.

In a similar incident on Monday, journalists covering the protests were attacked by hooligans and the police in different areas. Reporters covering the protests said they faced hostility from both the protesters and the police.

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A barrage of tear gas canisters and a deluge from an armoured water cannon directed at journalists in Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s convoy highlighted the brutality of security forces […]

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Vehicles recently acquired by the Uganda Police Force to be used in dealing with civil disobedience in the country and also help in their missions in Somalia. PHOTO | MONITOR

Uganda police carry out drills in anticipation of protests

Officers of the Uganda Police Force have performed anti-riot drills in anticipation of Kenya-like protests in urban areas due to the rising cost of living.

Police’s directorates held joint drills at a training facility in Kigo, Wakiso District on Monday where they displayed their capabilities to deal with terror attacks and protests at the same time.

The Deputy Inspector-General of Police Maj Gen Geoffrey Katsigazi personally witnessed the drills.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga told Daily Monitor on Monday that several groups, including those from the opposition, are holding secret meetings with the intention of rallying their members to carry out street protests.

ReadRaila and Malema take supporters to streets

“Our joint security teams have got intelligence that groups are holding meetings to protest against the rising prices of commodities like it is the case in Kenya,” Mr Enanga said.

High cost of living

In several African countries, including Kenya, people are rising up to protest the high cost of living and democracy.

Similar uprisings due to food prices in 2011 led to the toppling of African leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. In Uganda, the protests — code-named Walk-to-Work — led by Mr Mathias Mpuuga, now the leader of the opposition in Parliament, and Dr Kizza Besigye, lasted for five years and left more than a dozen people killed and hundreds injured.

ReadKenya’s chaos puts Uganda on edge

Mr Enanga said they will deal firmly with any uprising.

“There are many sections of the Public Order Management Act that are still in place, including notifying the inspector-general of police about the planned demonstrations. Organisers of demonstrations should follow the law,” he said.

At the Kigo drill, the joint police team re-enacted an incident that happened during the recent general elections where police arrested National Unity Platform leader Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine in Luuka District leading to protests in which security personnel killed 54 people and arrested hundreds of others.

Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said the drill was intended to show how to handle incidents that evolve fast from the use of teargas to live bullets.

ReadRaila’s ‘mother of all demos’ acid test for Ruto

Since the November 2020 protests, the Ugandan government has invested billions of shillings in the procurement of equipment to deal with civil disobedience.

Police bought 65 trucks, including 15 riot control vehicles this month. Some of the trucks use laser beams to target protestors. The laser causes serious headaches.

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Officers of the Uganda Police Force have performed anti-riot drills in anticipation of Kenya-like protests in urban areas due to the rising cost of living. Police’s directorates held joint drills […]

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South Sudan releases journalists held over viral Kiir video

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Two journalists detained over a video reportedly showing him urinating on himself have been freed. PHOTO | PETER LOUIS | AFP

Two South Sudanese journalists detained over a video reportedly showing President Salva Kiir urinating on himself have been freed, a media lobby group said Wednesday as it demanded the release of two other colleagues.

Two of the seven journalists arrested in January remain in police custody over the video that went viral on social media in December, the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) said.

The journalists — staff at the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation — were arrested by agents from the National Security Service as part of an investigation into the source of the clip.

In the footage, Kiir, dressed in his trademark black hat and a grey outfit at what is described as a road commissioning ceremony, is seen with a damp patch on his left trouser leg.

“We are still calling on the government to release the two (journalists) who are still behind bars,” UJOSS president Patrick Oyet told AFP.

Probe dragged

Oyet urged the government to present the duo in court if they have broken any law, adding that the probe had dragged on for months. 

“The law says you should carry out investigations and produce somebody in the court within 24 hours.”

“If there is no case they should be released,” he said.

In January, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for the unconditional release of the journalists and for state authorities to “ensure that they can work without further intimidation or threat of arrest.” 

Arbitrary detention

The arrests match “a pattern of security personnel resorting to arbitrary detention whenever officials deem coverage unfavourable”, said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo.

Kiir, 71, oversaw the birth of South Sudan as an independent nation after it broke free from Sudan in July 2011.

But the world’s youngest country has lurched from crisis to crisis since then, enduring brutal conflict, political turmoil, natural disasters and hunger.

South Sudan ranks 128th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index.

According to the media watchdog, freedom of the press is “extremely precarious” in the landlocked nation, “where journalists work under constant threat and intimidation, and where censorship is ever-present.”

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South Sudanese President Salva Kiir. Two journalists detained over a video reportedly showing him urinating on himself have been freed. PHOTO | PETER LOUIS | AFP Two South Sudanese journalists […]

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CIVIC SPACE IN NUMBERS

The CIVICUS Monitor measures enabling conditions for civil society or civic space. We provide ratings for civic space in 197 countries and territories (all UN member states and Hong Kong, Kosovo, Palestine, and Taiwan). At CIVICUS, we see civic space as the respect in policy and practice for the freedoms of assembly, association and expression which are underpinned by the state’s duty to protect civil society.

We view civic space as a set of universally-accepted rules, which allow people to organise, participate and communicate with each other freely and without hindrance, and in doing so, influence the political, economic and social structures around them.

CIVIC SPACE IN 2022

Today, only 3.1% of the world’s population lives in countries with Open civic space. 

For better accuracy and comparison over time, this year we added a decimal point to the percentages.

GLOBAL CIVIC SPACE RESTRICTIONS 

Over the past year, civil society across the world has faced a variety legal and extra-legal restrictions. Below we document the top ten violations captured in the CIVICUS Monitor.

Top 10 Violations to Civic Freedoms

COUNTRY RATINGS

The CIVICUS Monitor currently rates 39 countries and territories as Open, 41 rated as Narrowed, 42 rated as Obstructed, 50 rated as Repressed and 25 rated as Closed.

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS

 OpenNarrowedObstructedRepressedClosed
Africa2413246
Americas 109952
Asia and Pacific8710114
Europe and Central Asia1921644
Middle East and North Africa00469
This page was last updated on 22 June 2022

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The CIVICUS Monitor measures enabling conditions for civil society or civic space. We provide ratings for civic space in 197 countries and territories (all UN member states and Hong Kong, Kosovo, Palestine, and Taiwan). […]

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Congolese Tutsis describe violent campaign to stop them voting

A group of Congolese Tutsis were guarded by armed police as they registered to vote in the eastern town of Nyangezi in February, with one of the groups describing a campaign of threats and violence aimed at excluding them from the upcoming election.

One newly registered voter at the enrolment centre had a bruised face and cradled her wrist after she was allegedly beaten with sticks and rocks by youths on her way to sign up.

“They were saying, ‘go home’,” said Philippe Ruhara, a local representative of the Tutsi ethnic group in South Kivu province known as the Banyamulenge.

“Look at how her arm is broken, her face injured,” he said on February 25, gesturing towards the woman who asked not to be named or quoted.

Anonymous leaflets

He said members of his community had received anonymous leaflets warning them not to vote — part of a hostile campaign that has also seen groups of young men gather at registration centres to deter would-be Tutsi voters.

Elsewhere, in the courtyard of a school in the provincial capital Bukavu, a group of young men shouted and jeered as they scuffled with a Tutsi man who had come to register to vote on February 24, according to a Reuters witness.

The state representative in Nyangezi, Papy Migabo, said on Sunday local authorities and the police had intervened after such incidents were reported in February. Since then “enrolment is going well and we hope that it will continue like this,” he told Reuters.

The Tutsi minority has long faced discrimination in the Democratic Republic of Congo due to their ethnic link to Rwanda’s Tutsi community.

M23 rebel group

Congo accuses Rwanda of seeking to destabilise its eastern territories — most recently by supporting an offensive by the M23 rebel group that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Rwanda denies supporting the armed group.

The offensive has fuelled internal tensions as Congo gears up for presidential and parliamentary elections in December. The United Nations has expressed concern about the spread of hate speech in the run-up to the vote, particularly towards the Banyamulenge.

On February 27, President Felix Tshisekedi addressed the issue in a speech to the UN Human Rights Council.

“The Congolese government stands firm against any individual or group of individuals who would engage in such a speech and reiterates its request to every person, organisation or external partner to denounce it.”

There is no data on how many Banyamulenge have been prevented or deterred from registering to vote since enrolment kicked off in South Kivu on February 16.

Cases of intimidation

Enock Sebineza, a prominent community elder and former deputy minister, told Reuters he was aware of numerous cases of intimidation in South Kivu and elsewhere, including in the eastern city of Goma and the capital Kinshasa.

“Today, unfortunately, hate speech based on how you look is excluding us from the country and we are excluded from the electoral process,” he said.

Everyone with the appropriate voter card has the right to register to vote, said Godens Maheshe, head of the election commission in South Kivu province.

“Citizens must respect the law,” he told Reuters.

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A group of Congolese Tutsis were guarded by armed police as they registered to vote in the eastern town of Nyangezi in February, with one of the groups describing a […]

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EU to inject $574m in women-led businesses in Tanzania

The European Union, through the Europe Investment Bank, has entered into an investment deal with Tanzania that will unlock over $574.4 million worth new business investments in women-led businesses and the blue economy agenda.

The investment is meant to facilitate businesses and projects in different areas including electricity, clean energy, regional airports, Dar es Salaam port, clean water around Lake Victoria and the blue economy agenda in Zanzibar.

This was revealed by the bank’s Vice President Thomas Östro during the opening ceremony of the Tanzania-EU Business Forum on Thursday in Dar es Salaam.

“After a seven-year gap, it is great to be back in Tanzania. These new investments are specifically targeted to support the blue economy and dedicated to finance women-led businesses and entrepreneurs. My colleagues and I are also looking forward to discuss further investment and business opportunities in Tanzania,” he said.

Tanzania also used the platform to market its potential investment areas of agriculture, tourism, the energy sector, manufacturing, logistics and technology to European businesses in a joint business forum with the EU.

“Tanzania is a de facto gateway to and from landlocked countries, making it a strategic investment hub. We welcome investors in our potential investment areas including agriculture, tourism, logistics and energy sector including oil and gas exploration in Zanzibar, different power sources such as wind and water. ICT is also another area posing potential investment for the EU,” noted Tanzania’s Vice President Phillip Isdor Mpango.

The EU-Tanzanian Business Forum brought together high-level dignitaries and businesses from across the host country and various European countries. The forum was jointly organised by the European Union in Tanzania, together with the government of Tanzania, in cooperation with the EU member states and the Tanzanian private sector.

“Tanzania values very highly the good and cooperative relations we have had with the European Union since the 1970s and the support we have been getting from EU to complement our development efforts,” said Dr Mpango.

Data shows that Tanzania has so far received support and investment from the EU to a tune of more than $1 billion.

“But special mention goes to the vaccine support we received from EU which was much needed,” added Dr Mpango

Tanzania signed three investment deals with European Union institutions including an MoU on air service agreement between France and the Tanzania Civil Aviation Agency.

The air service agreement will allow the airlines of both countries to increase the number of flights between them.

Air France will benefit from it as it plans to increase the number of flights to Tanzania with the incoming inauguration of a direct flight between Dar es Salaam and Paris in June 2023.

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The European Union, through the Europe Investment Bank, has entered into an investment deal with Tanzania that will unlock over $574.4 million worth new business investments in women-led businesses and […]

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UN rights office seeks to stay put in Uganda after being told to go

The UN rights office said on Tuesday it was in discussion with Uganda over how to continue its work in the country after the government said it had to leave, a move activist say highlights the country’s deteriorating record on civil liberties.

The office was set up in 2006 and has brought to light widespread rights violations by security personnel including torture, illegal detentions and failure by the state to prosecute offenders.

Uganda told the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) last week that it would not renew the mandate of its office, effectively expelling the rights monitors.

Presence everywhere

“We are in discussions with the government of Uganda at the highest levels to see what can be done to continue our important work in the country,” OHCHR told Reuters in an email.

“A conversation is being scheduled between the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, and the president of the republic of Uganda. The High Commissioner’s view is that there should be a UN Human Rights presence everywhere.”

The government said in a letter to OHCHR that the UN presence was no longer necessary because of the progress it had made in developing a domestic capacity to monitor human rights compliance, including the emergence of a strong civil society.

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The UN rights office said on Tuesday it was in discussion with Uganda over how to continue its work in the country after the government said it had to leave, […]

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DR Congo EALA representatives boycott Kampala meeting

The Democratic Republic of Congo representatives at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) have boycotted a retreat of the members of the regional body that is being held in Kampala, Uganda.

Mr Stephen Odongo, a Ugandan representative in the EALA, said their DRC counterparts were concerned about their security while in Kampala. They are said to have avoided entering Rwanda for the committee sessions of EALA on the same grounds.

Members of the regional body were Monday evening hosted to a dinner by the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament Anita Among at her residence in Kampala where she committed to have the Speakers of the respective parliaments in the region develop standards to be observed by EALA members.

“Let us have a meeting as Speakers and agree on what should be done by our members who are in the community,” Ms Among said.

Caution

Speaking about the boycott, Ms Among cautioned members against involvement in matters that do not concern them.

“Don’t enter into wars that do not concern you,” she said.

Ms Among’s remark was prompted by Mr Odongo when he raised concern about the boycott and called upon her to give assurance to the legislators about the state of security in Uganda.

“As the number three in the country, we would wish that you make a very strong statement of the state of our security to inspire confidence in our colleagues who are not here with us that this country is safe and we are here for regional integration,” Odongo had appealed.

EALA Speaker Joseph Ntakirutimana said he was shocked when he received the communication from the DRC representatives that they would not attend the committee sessions both in Kigali and Kampala.

M23 rebels

DRC last year severed relations with Rwanda as the former accused Kigali of providing material support to the M23 rebels who have captured swathes of territory around North Kivu province.

Both the United Nations and the United States accuse Rwanda of supporting the rebels but Rwanda has vehemently denied the allegations.

However, the relations between Kampala and Kinshasa appear to have been warm, signified by the signed Status of Forces Agreement which has allowed the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) to hunt down the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel group in the jungles of eastern DRC.

The same cannot be said for Rwanda whose deployment of the country’s army as part of the East African Joint Regional Forces has been objected to by DRC.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo representatives at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) have boycotted a retreat of the members of the regional body that is being held in Kampala, […]

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EU blames Rwanda, DR Congo over fighting amid calls for ceasefire

The European Union is blaming Rwanda, again, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for ignoring proposals of regional peace initiatives even as Kinshasa’s government forces battle the M23 rebel movement.

A statement issued on Tuesday said Rwanda, the DRC and the M23 should adhere to regional peace processes and lay down arms. 

The European bloc said all armed groups should also withdraw from the positions they occupy and take part in the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process. It blamed Rwanda for fanning M23, and DRC for continued collaboration with other armed groups.

“The European Union condemns their violent actions and urges Rwanda to cease its support to the M23, and to use all means to put pressure on the M23 to withdraw from the occupied areas, as foreseen in the plan agreed between the East African Community heads of state and government on 9 February in Nairobi,” the EU said.

Attacks on civilians

It said the Congolese army, FARDC, should stop collaborating with armed groups, including the FDLR, seen by Rwanda as remnants of the 1994 genocidaires.

The EU “strongly condemns the repeated attacks targeting civilians carried out in particular by the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) and the Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO) in North Kivu and Ituri,” it said.

In December, the EU had accused Rwanda of fomenting rebellion in eastern DRC by arming and supporting the M23, claims that Kigali denied.

On Tuesday, the EU said the peace process under the EAC — known as the Nairobi process — and another under the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region — known as the Luanda process — must be supported.

Withdrawal of M23

The Nairobi Process is pursuing both military and diplomatic solutions. On February 9, military chiefs from the East African Community proposed that the M23 should begin its withdrawal from February 28 for a period of one month.

DRC’s Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs Christophe Lutundula says the new withdrawal timetable and the new deployment plan for EAC member countries’ troops are only proposals at this stage that the government will assess.

“We are following this with great attention, anything that is not in the sense of allowing the republic to fully exercise its sovereignty, to safeguard its territorial authority, to safeguard the independence of our country, we will not accept it, that’s for sure,” said Lutundula.

“We will further decipher the content, not only the writing, but the spirit of what has been proposed. We are following that very carefully”, he added.

Rapid EAC troops deployment

The European Union also encouraged the rapid deployment of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) and the continuation of an inclusive dialogue.

The deployment is supposed to follow the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) but the Congolese government has not yet confirmed the arrival of new troops this week.

“We will evaluate the SOFA without any omissions. I can say that we will not hesitate to put an end to it. But we don’t want to. Our view is that we must continue to review the SOFA,” said Lutundula on Monday.

Despite this roadmap signed on November 23, 2022, and the appeals of heads of state, the parties continue to fight, causing civilians to flee en masse.

The European Union noted that “the lack of implementation of commitments and decisions taken by the various parties, and the continuation of fighting, particularly around Goma, is aggravating a disastrous humanitarian situation”.

Though critical of Kigali’s involvement in the conflict, the EU last week renewed a refugee holding programme with Rwanda for Kigali to help with hosting refugees rescued from Libya as they await processing to other countries. The programme is to last for three years.

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The European Union is blaming Rwanda, again, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for ignoring proposals of regional peace initiatives even as Kinshasa’s government forces battle the M23 rebel […]

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Burundi sends ten disaster management specialists to Turkey

The Burundian government on Sunday announced that it had deployed ten officers specialised in disaster management to Turkey as part of the efforts to rescue lives after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Turkey and Syria. 

“Taking into account the quality of the ties of friendship and cooperation with Turkey, and the deadly earthquake that struck it, Burundi is sending a specialised natural disaster intervention team in solidarity with the brotherly people of Turkey,” Burundi’s Foreign Affairs Minister Albert Shingiro tweeted. 

In a letter from the Secretary-General of Burundi Government Prosper Ntahorwamiye, Gitega designated the team that will help in rescue missions in Turkey for a period of at least one week.

Funding the rescue mission

“Financing of the mission is provided by the Government of Burundi from the Disaster Prevention and Management Fund which is under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Public Security,” the letter read.

This comes a week after the deadly earthquake that hit Turkey and its neighboring Syria, and which has killed nearly 40,000 people.

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The Burundian government on Sunday announced that it had deployed ten officers specialised in disaster management to Turkey as part of the efforts to rescue lives after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake […]

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Africa getting little of $382bn renewable energy projects cash

Renewable energy projects attracted investments worth $382 billion globally in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency, but only $13 billion, or three percent of that, funded projects in Africa, highlighting a major funding gap foiling green transition and energy access on the continent.

With only 48 percent of African population having access to electricity, experts say investment in the continent’s renewable energy sector could both leapfrog the green transition efforts and connect more people to the grid.

Despite this, it has been established that investors with the capacity to invest in this sector shy away from the African market, a problem which brought together several stakeholders in the energy sector in Nairobi this week, attempting to change the narrative.

At a forum convened by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, participants drawn from the private sector, government, civil society organisations from Kenya and beyond deliberated on how investors can be mobilised to support Africa’s green transition through investments.

Reluctant to invest

Rebekah Shirley, WRI’s deputy regional director told the forum that private sector players are reluctant to invest in this sector, creating a funding gap of billions of dollars every year, despite the wide access gap.

“Even in other regions of the world where energy access is still a challenge like the Southeast Asia, we don’t see funding gaps of this magnitude, why Africa?” she posed.

Alex Wachira, principal secretary for the state department of energy, said that there is a list of challenges contributing to the energy gap, even in Kenya, which slow down economic growth in the country.

“We (the Ministry of Energy) are aware of the many challenges attributed to this, including limited incentives to attract private sector investors,” he said in a speech read by a representative.

Lack of political will

Another challenge identified is the lack of political will for appropriate legislation and implementation of policies to incentivise private sector investment in renewable energy projects, especially in rural areas.

For instance, only two of Kenya’s 47 counties have drafted energy plans that would give way to appropriate energy policies, deprioritising renewable energy projects at the local governments.

This, according to Eva Sawe – a senior programmes officer at the Council of Governors, is because lawmakers have not been sensitised on why renewable energy projects should be a priority.

But even with the right policies and incentives to support private sector investment in renewable energy on the continent, investors said there is a still a shortage of talent in Africa limiting the production capacity of companies investing in the sector.

“If an investor is coming into the country to do any renewable energy project, the first hurdle they will face is the lack of skilled people,” said Andrew Amadi, the chief executive of Kenya Renewable Energy Association.

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Renewable energy projects attracted investments worth $382 billion globally in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency, but only $13 billion, or three percent of that, funded projects in Africa, […]

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Media Services Act amendments to be tabled  today

THE suspended bill of the amendments of Media Services Act of 2016 will be tabled in the National Assembly for the first reading today, the Minister for Information, Communication and Information Technology Nape Nnauye revealed on Thursday.

The development comes after the Director of Information Services and Chief Government Spokesperson, Mr Gerson Msigwa, announced on Tuesday  that  the long-awaited amendments of the Media Services Act of 2016 has been pushed forward to the forthcoming budget session of the National Assembly slated to start in April, this year.

The suspension triggered complaints from the Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) on why the delay was necessary in the amendment process.

Addressing the media in Dodoma, Mr Nnauye urged the media stakeholders to continue having faith in the government, especially on the process of amending the provisions of the Act.

The Minister said that the amendments will be read today in the National Assembly following the cancellation of Universal Health Coverage bill which was scheduled to be  tabled  in Parliament.

“The amendments of the  Act  was suspended due to limited time but the cancellation of Universal Health bill pushes information bill to be read tomorrow (today)” he said

However, he urged the media stakeholders to cooperate with the government if there are issues that need clarification.

“I call upon media stakeholders to cooperate with the government on issues related to the amendment of the Media Services Act rather than discouraging journalists and Tanzanians in general with news that have not been well researched,” he said.

He added that in ensuring freedom of information and expression, the sixth phase government under President Samia Suluhu Hassan has spared no effort in improving relations with the Media as well as ensuring freedom of expression.

“President Samia has made a lot of efforts to improve the media sector including meeting with media stakeholders and discussing the challenges of the media law and advising them to propose amendments to the law,” he added

Last year Mr Nnauye announced that the government is planning to amend the Media Services Act as part of its efforts to uphold the welfare of journalists and the media industry at large.

“The aim for the amendments is to provide a conducive working environment for journalists through which their freedom and rights will be promoted and protected,” Mr Nnauye said.

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THE suspended bill of the amendments of Media Services Act of 2016 will be tabled in the National Assembly for the first reading today, the Minister for Information, Communication and […]

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Capacitating Civil Society Actors to Advance Digital Rights in Africa

Internet freedom in Africa has been on the decline over the past years with several countries continually adopting repressive measures that curtail civil liberties. Many governments have embraced digital authoritarianism, which has resulted in criminalisation of speech online, internet disruptions, arrests and prosecution of social media users, and abuse of citizens’ data rights, thus undermining free expression and civic participation. 

Several governments have continually enhanced their technical capacity to intercept and monitor electronic communications, including through the installation of equipment and software or spyware that enable remote controlled hacking and eavesdropping, and deployment of video surveillance systems, some of which have facial recognition capabilities. These enhancements have been partly aided by introduction of regressive laws ostensibly to fight terrorism and to protect national order. 

Some control measures – such as trolling and cyberbullying – target critical democracy actors, including women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and journalists, and have far-reaching impacts on rights protection, including free expression, access to information and civic participation. Other measures, such as digital taxation, registration and licensing of online users, greatly undermine internet access and affordability and weaken the potential of digital technologies to catalyse free expression and civic participation.

These measures are worrying not only because they directly undermine citizens’ digital rights and their appetite for public participation but also because they endanger the safety of some critical democratic actors. Without adequate digital security capacity, activists and human rights defenders (HRDs) are not able to meaningfully undertake advocacy and engagements around human rights, transparent and accountable governance. Concerningly, digital security and safety skills are lacking among some of the most at-risk groups, yet trainers and support networks are in short supply. In this brief we review some key intervention measures necessary to  grow the capacity of  civil society actors to navigate the rising digital authoritarianism and highlight CIPESA’s work in this regard.

Shrinking Civic Space

Recent years have seen an increase in the number of reported incidents of governments in the region cracking down on civil society organisations, especially those addressing human rights and social justice issues. Various illegal means, including physical assaults, arbitrary detention, torture, killings, intimidation and surveillance by security agencies, have been adopted to limit the rights to freedom of assembly, association, expression, and access to information.

The situation was exacerbated by measures adopted by national governments to curb the spread and mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The different measures including the clamp down on media platforms, intimidation, arrests, detention and prosecution, affected the work and operations of HRDss and civil society organisations (CSOs) in many countries. The ability of citizens to participate in civic matters and the conduct of public affairs were also eroded. Meanwhile, HRDs, journalists, activists, the political opposition, and ordinary citizens have been forced to self-censor, disengage from participating in public affairs, and refrain from exercising their rights to participate.

Limited Capacity of Civil Society Actors

Although there has been a growing number of civil society and justice actors responding to, and challenging government excesses, some of them have been hampered by lack of requisite knowledge, skills, and tools to engage in meaningful policy advocacy. There is also limited understanding of the linkages between Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), human rights and democracy and how government control measures undermine democratic participation.

According to Ashnah Kalemera, Programme Manager at CIPESA, advancing digital rights is a new phenomenon for most of the traditional human rights organisations in Africa, “with many still trying to understand the relationship between ICT and human rights, on top of dealing with an already hostile environment.” 

Through various interventions, CIPESA is building the capacity of different social justice organisations and equipping them with the requisite skills, including research, communicating digital rights, designing evidence-based advocacy campaigns, as well as digital resilience, especially how to cope with the increasing cyber attacks.

Findings from a 2017 joint research study conducted by Small Media, DefendDefenders, the Centre For Intellectual Property And Information Technology Law (CIPIT), and CIPESA showed that in Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda, most CSOs failed to demonstrate a baseline of digital security knowledge and practices.

The study noted that although the internet and other ICT had empowered CSOs to engage with the public, share information, and advocate for citizens’ rights in sometimes challenging and closed political environments, it had also offered means and tools that regional state and non-state actors utilised to interfere with their work, surveil them, and censor their voices.

Similarly, an assessment CIPESA conducted in five countries during 2020 indicated a need to bolster capacity, organisational practices, and implementation of security and safety measures for social justice organisations and staff. It also found that skills and protections (software and hardware) were low and inadequate among many HRD organisations and individuals. 

Building Digital Resilience Among CSOs

In many countries in the region, skills in digital security and safety are lacking among some of the most at-risk groups, yet trainers and support networks are in short supply. Without adequate digital security capacity, activists and HRDs are not able to meaningfully continue advocacy and engagements around human rights, transparent and accountable governance.

For several years CIPESA has provided digital security resilience including conducted training for civil society groups, HRDs and other democracy actors. Through the Level-Up programme, CIPESA has provided security support to 16 HRD organisations in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Uganda. 

The initiative helped to strengthen the participating entities’ organisational and information systems security capacity, entailed a Training of Trainers (ToT) component – which benefitted 19 individuals – to grow the network of individuals and organisations that offer digital security training and support to journalists, activists, and HRDs, and organisational security assessments. The training and support were delivered through innovative approaches to geographically distributed individuals that could not meet physically due to Covid-19 social distancing and travel restrictions.

The individuals trained in turn conducted safety and security training sessions which benefitted 120 staff of HRD organisations. The Level Up programme also conducted an assessment of organisational digital security needs and practices which informed the provision of hardware, software and security equipment to nine beneficiary organisations in four countries, and the development of organisational digital security policies.

“Several justice actors, both individuals and organisations, have fallen victims to cyber attacks, hacking, and online harassment, with some reporting loss of  their brand assets. It is therefore important to bolster their capacity, enhance their organisational practices, especially the implementation of security and safety measures related to digital and social media platforms usage by the organisations and their staff,” says Brian Byaruhanga, Technology Officer at CIPESA.

Supporting Impactful Digital Rights Advocacy and Communication

Digital rights advocacy and communication has become crucial in promoting human rights in Africa. Accordingly, CIPESA has over the years supported capacity development for CSOs, HRDs particularly WHRDs, and key duty bearers, to cultivate cross-country and cross-sectoral partnerships, and promoted joint advocacy and communications campaigns. 

In June 2022, CIPESA convened a regional advocacy and engagement training workshop in Lusaka, Zambia that brought together media, civil society and technology policy actors from 10 African countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The regional engagement equipped participants with a keen understanding of key digital rights trends in the region, alongside practical skills in impactful digital rights advocacy and communication.

Also in June 2022, CIPESA convened a digital rights policy advocacy webinar where participants shared their experiences, challenges and lessons learned in advocating for digital rights in Africa. Panelists were mainly drawn from the Africa Digital Rights Fund (ADRF) beneficiaries, a grant facility managed by CIPESA whose main purpose is to offer flexible and rapid response grants to select initiatives in Africa to implement activities that advance digital rights, including advocacy, litigation, research, policy analysis, digital literacy and digital security skills building 

In July 2021, CIPESA in partnership with the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), conducted an intensive training course on Digital Rights and Impact Communication for grantees of the ADRF. The training was preceded by a capacity and training needs assessment. The ADRF was launched in April 2019 to offer funding and capacity development to expand the pool of actors that advance digital rights in Africa, amidst rising digital rights violations.

These capacity building efforts serve to equip civil society actors with skills, knowledge, and tools to effectively engage in evidence-based advocacy as well as communicating digital rights issues. They inspire these actors to approach advocacy and communication systematically in order to increase the visibility of digital rights issues in different media and to promote public discussion of digital rights issues.

Building Capacity and Collaborations for Digital Rights Research

Evidence-based digital rights advocacy has become particularly crucial in Africa as a growing number of governments and powerful private actors continue to undermine citizens’ online rights through legal and extra-legal means. However, as the need for internet policy advocacy that is informed by research grows, it is essential to increase the amount and depth of research originating from, and relevant to, Africa. 

Over the last few years, CIPESA has responded by building capacity and enhancing collaborations for digital rights research among academia and CSOs. During the 2019 Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica19) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, CIPESA organised a Digital Rights Research Methods Workshop as one of the pre-events. The workshop was attended by 58 participants who included university lecturers, staff of international human rights organisations, digital rights researchers, activists, technologists, and lawyers.

The Ethiopian training built on the foundations of a five-day intensive training on internet policy research methods co-organised with the Annenberg School for Communications Internet Policy Observatory in 2018, which aimed to train, connect, and build collaboration between researchers, activists, academics and internet freedom advocates, and brought together 40 participants from 17 countries.

CIPESA has continued to build this capacity through additional training, and providing research and grant opportunities through the CIPESA Academic and Media Fellowships, which seek to nurture university students’ and early career academics’ understanding of ICT for governance, human rights and development, as well as enhance the media’s understanding of and coverage of ICT, democracy and human rights issues, respectively.

Digital rights continue to evolve alongside technological changes and advancement. CIPESA will continue to tap into the opportunity of skilling civil society personnel to facilitate knowledge building and enhance their capacity to continually engage in digital rights proactively and securely.

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Internet freedom in Africa has been on the decline over the past years with several countries continually adopting repressive measures that curtail civil liberties. Many governments have embraced digital authoritarianism, which has resulted […]

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40 cases in 40 days: Regional court settles EAC treaty violations suits

The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has ended its rotational inter-state court session in Uganda, where it determined cases related to violations by member states of the East African Community (EAC) Treaty.

The president of the regional court, Nestor Kayobera, said the 40 days that the court held its session in Kampala at the Commercial Division of the High Court, saw a total of 40 cases disposed of.

EACJ held court from November 2 to December 2, ending its annual rotation of sessions in a member country.

“During this period, the court handled 40 cases. You can see, we spent 40 days in Uganda and we have handled almost 40 cases. I don’t know why 40, maybe we ask the philosophers why that number of 40,” Mr Kayobera told the media on Friday.

He added that the appellate division handled matters regarding the revocation of sale agreements, terms of employment of the East African Community and criminal defamation, among other cases.

“All the cases we handled were about the violation of the Treaty by the partner states,” he said.

Read: Regional court needs more autonomy, says president

On the rotation of the East African Court of Justice among the member states, Mr Kayobera said this was initiated last year when the court was celebrating its 20 years anniversary in Bujumbura, Burundi.

He said this was being done to implement Article 7 (1) of the Treaty that states that a community is people-centred and market-driven.

The next partner state to host the regional court after Uganda will either be Rwanda or Kenya, according to Mr Kayobera.

The EACJ is a treaty-based judicial body of the EAC tasked to ensure adherence to law in the interpretation and application of and compliance with the East African Community Treaty of 1999.

Justice Anne Mugenyi Bitature, the deputy head of the Commercial Court, said they were happy to have been chosen by the Judiciary top management to host the regional court session.

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The East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has ended its rotational inter-state court session in Uganda, where it determined cases related to violations by member states of the East African […]

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Uhuru warns planners over delayed closure of DRC peace meeting

Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, the facilitator of the East Africa Community (EAC)-led Nairobi Peace Process that seeks to end the war in DRC, Monday read the riot act to the organisers of the meeting after it emerged that participants’ allowances would be less than had been planned before they left their homes in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Without mentioning their names, a visibly angry Mr Kenyatta called out the organisers for delaying the closure of the meeting which he extended to Tuesday to give room for the funds to be made available as earlier planned.

“My intention is that we finish the meeting well and I know that is what you also want. So, I ask that we postpone today’s meeting to tomorrow and I assure you that the planners of this event do not assume that peace is something to toy around with. Be here tomorrow, if not, I shall stand and ask the whole world to deny them funds if they cannot plan things effectively,” he said on Monday.

Hr added, “Let us meet again at 10am and attend to the issues that have cropped up before closing the meeting. Maybe they (organisers) have done this thinking that my influence waned but they shall realise that it hasn’t.”

Funds adequate

Mr Kenyatta warned the organisers that failure to release the funds as earlier planned will have consequences.

“Let them sleep wherever they are but bring the funds that had been rightly allocated to the participants of this process tomorrow. I know we have adequate funds because I was among those that were sourcing for the funds,” he said.

The week-long event in Nairobi began on Monday last week, bringing together over 50 armed groups, victims of atrocities taking place in eastern DRC, civil society, special interest groups and government officials.

On Wednesday last week, the participants engaged the facilitator in focus group discussions where they each shared their grievances and proposals for a peaceful DRC.

The meeting was to end on Saturday but was pushed to Monday to allow for adequate discussions into the matters arising.

The outcome of the discussions will inform the speed at which the East Africa Community Regional Force (EACRF) will engage in combat the armed groups fighting in eastern Congo.

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Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, the facilitator of the East Africa Community (EAC)-led Nairobi Peace Process that seeks to end the war in DRC, Monday read the riot act to […]

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Kenyans tell how allure of jobs landed them in hands of Myanmar junta

For every Kenyan who has been a victim of human trafficking to Myanmar, their story is that of hope for a rags-to-riches experience that instead dives them into the murky world of the Myanmar junta.

And as the government tries to save many from the jaws of militants, many Kenyans, particularly young women below the age of 30, are continuously getting duped into accepting fake job offers in Thailand, from where they are then trafficked to Myanmar to work as scammers targeting men from particular countries.

To help others from falling into the same trap, three women recently rescued from Myanmar shared the stories about how they left Kenya in search of job opportunities that never came, lost a fellow Kenyan but found a way back home after discovering that they had crossed over to a foreign land and were controlled by an armed group.

Their hope is to protect others from falling into a similar predicament and shed light on the desperation that makes young people easily trust whatever opportunity is thrown at them without thinking through the dangers that might lurk ahead.

Read: Family’s hope of receiving kin’s body from Saudi diminishes as agent vanishes

For 29-year-old Damaris Akumu, from Migori County, the allure of a better life for herself and her child pushed her to use her savings to pay for what she thought was an opportunity of a lifetime.

“I had searched for jobs but none was forthcoming, so I paid the lady that was to arrange my travel Sh150,000 and borrowed another Sh100,000 for emergencies and personal effects and left Kenya on August 4,” she recalls.

Ms Akumu travelled on the same day with 26-year-old Marleen Nduta Gitau, who learnt about the job offers through a relative that she had met at her grandparents’ burial earlier this year.

“I am the second-born in a family of three. My elder sibling has Down syndrome, our last-born is a college student and my parents are casual labourers. This, therefore, means the responsibility of the firstborn falls squarely on me,” Ms Gitau explains.

The relative told her about opportunities in Thailand and she quickly started thinking about working in another country.

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For every Kenyan who has been a victim of human trafficking to Myanmar, their story is that of hope for a rags-to-riches experience that instead dives them into the murky […]

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‘Around 300’ dead in east DR Congo massacre blamed on M23 rebels

Around 300 people died in an attack on villagers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last week blamed on the M23 rebel group, government minister Julien Paluku said on Monday.

The government has been locked in a months-long conflict with the notorious armed group M23 — with the latest violence coming just five days after a ceasefire was agreed between the rebels and Congolese forces.

The army originally accused the M23 insurgents of killing at least 50 civilians in Kishishe village in eastern North Kivu province last week, before the government put the number of dead at more than 100.

But Paluku and government spokesman Patrick Muyaya laid out updated figures for the deadly attack during a press briefing on Monday, citing data collated by civil society and communities in the region.

No connection with militia

“We are looking at around 300 deaths” of “people known to be regular inhabitants of Kishishe,” industry minister Paluku said, saying the victims had no connection with militia groups.

“Every community has been able to record the people who died from units in Kishishe and its environs,” said Paluku, who was governor of North Kivu province from 2007 to 2019.

“One community alone has more than 105 deaths,” he added.

The rebel group has denied it was responsible and called the allegations “baseless” — although it said eight civilians were killed by “stray bullets” during clashes in the village on November 29.

All the fatalities were civilians and at least 17 believed to be children, Muyaya told reporters, saying there were fatalities recorded from a church and a hospital.

Calls for investigation

The UN’s peacekeeping mission in DR Congo has led calls for an investigation after the government said 50 villagers had been massacred by a notorious armed group in the country’s troubled east.

Representatives for the United States and European Union said the killings were potential war crimes, while Human Rights Watch said UN troops should be deployed to protect survivors.

The government has said it is difficult to confirm the data because the area is still under rebel control.

Muyaya said consolidation work was underway to try and ascertain the full number of victims.

Residents who spoke to AFP by telephone said they had been ordered by the rebels to bury the victims in mass graves.

The March 23 movement, or M23, is a predominantly Congolese Tutsi rebel group that was dormant for years.

It took up arms again in November last year and seized the town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda in June. 

After a brief period of calm, it went on the offensive again in October.

Kinshasa accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of providing M23 with support, something that UN experts and US officials have also pointed to in recent months.

Kigali disputes the charge and has accused Kinshasa of collusion with the FDLR — a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group established in the DRC after the genocide of the Tutsi community in 1994 in Rwanda.

Talks between the two countries in the Angolan capital Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23.

The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect on November 25. It should also have been followed by a pull-out by the M23 two days later from territory it had seized, but this did not happen.

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Around 300 people died in an attack on villagers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo last week blamed on the M23 rebel group, government minister Julien Paluku said on Monday. […]

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Regional forces mull next step after M23 decline ceasefire

Regional forces assembling in the Democratic Republic of Congo have underlined the priority of guarding civilians suing for peace, by providing a buffer against M23 rebels, The EastAfrican can reveal.

The decision came in response to a defied ultimatum given to the M23 last week by leaders who had gathered in Luanda, Angola.

And as community and armed groups representatives from the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered in Nairobi this week, seeking long-term peace, military experts were holed up in Goma mulling the next step after M23 rebels defied a ceasefire call.

The three-day dialogue forum, the third in a series of the Nairobi Process, is backed by the East African Community.

Yet to ease hostilities

In Goma, military experts from EAC member states contributing troops to the regional force (EACRF), as well as the UN stabilisation mission (Monusco) were activated after participants of the Nairobi process reported that the group was yet to ease its hostilities in spite of publicly vowing to do so last week.

As the first step, sources told The EastAfrican the Kenya Defence Forces troops which have been on standby in Goma will be tasked with creating a ring around civilians to reduce casualties among local communities.

The idea is to ensure M23 attacks are thwarted by the Congolese forces, FARDC, the regional EACRF and Monusco, if the regional heads of state under the East African Community approve it.

The decision was first mooted in Angola last week, where a mini summit of the EAC and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), under the chairmanship of Angolan President Joao Lorenco, called for ceasefire by all armed groups or they be forced out of occupied territories.

“Kenya to initially deploy its contingent in Goma, DRC and subsequently in Banagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja upon the withdrawal of M23 to its initial positions not beyond the line along Sabinyo (DRC side), Bigego, Bugusa, Nyabikona, Mbuzi, Rutsiro and Nkokwe,” the communique stated.

Continued battles

The M23 in a statement had agreed to the ceasefire call by the Heads of State after the Luanda process with a rider that they would not cease to defend themselves if they were violated by FARDC. But this week, locals reported continued battles between the rebels and Congolese forces.

The peace bid is, however, challenged by DRC’s own local politics. Kinshasa had opposed the idea of the buffer zone, fearing it could incite political heat, including ethnic divisions. Such an eventuality could hurt President Felix Tshisekedi as he bids for re-election due on December 20, 2023.

In the DRC, well before the announcement of the election date, candidates had already declared themselves for the elections and political parties had already put themselves in order of battle. Among the candidates is Martin Fayulu, his challenger in the 2018 election, who claims he won. Others are Moïse Katumbi. The former governor of the ex-province of Katanga is currently allied to Tshisekedi but is expected to challenge him.

Party dynamics

Former president Joseph Kabila’s camp has remained uncertain as his party the Common Front for Congo has yet to reveal its intentions. The other is Dr Denis Mukwege, the famous gynaecologist who co-won the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2018. 

Some Congolese have asked him to stand, something he hasn’t taken on but which has attracted jibes on him from Tshisekedi.

After the announcement of election dates, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission Denis Kadima mentioned “constraints that may hamper the implementation of the elections.”

Among the challenges is insecurity, with Mr Kadima admitting that parts of DRC in rebel hands “have an impact on the smooth running of the elections.”

“No electoral operation can be organised properly without security for voters, electoral agents, sites of operations, materials and candidates,” he said last month.

Corneille Nangaa, former chairman of the electoral commission, said DRC’s “number one enemy of the electoral process is mistrust between actors and stakeholders.”

The registration of the estimated 50 million voters has not yet started, he told The EastAfrican.  In 2018, the electoral body needed 15 months to be ready.

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Regional forces assembling in the Democratic Republic of Congo have underlined the priority of guarding civilians suing for peace, by providing a buffer against M23 rebels, The EastAfrican can reveal. The decision […]

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S. Sudan fails to pull its weight in EAC amid missed deadlines

Six years since South Sudan was admitted to the East African Community, domestic problems, including weak institutions, have eaten into its will to integrate, leaving neighbours feeling the burden.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 but plunged into a civil war three years later. Today, even at relative peace, it has been constantly on the brink of war.

By joining the EAC, leaders argued back in 2016 that the country could tap into regional support, including the safety of neighbours with whom it could trade and improve lives. Instead, it has been a humanitarian burden, needing food aid and refuge for its fleeing citizens.

The country has failed to implement the Customs Union and the Common Market protocols, two of the basic pillars of the EAC. In fact, more than 18 months since he was appointed, the South Sudan minister in charge of EAC Affairs Deng Alor Kuol is yet to set foot in Arusha, the EAC headquarters where the council meets regularly to make decisions.

 “South Sudan joined the EAC in 2016, with expectations that joining will be able to stabilise their institutions politically, socially and economically,” said John Kalisa, chief executive of the East African Business Council.

“But after joining they fell off again. The conflict distorted all the programmes, progress and projects because they even threatened the donors who were ready to support their integration agenda. So they created a lot of fears, because of their political risk,” he told The EastAfrican.

South Sudan applied for EAC membership in 2011 but the process of admission was delayed for a number of reasons, key among them internal conflicts. The country would be admitted during the 17th Ordinary Heads of State Summit in Arusha on February 2,2016.

Missed deadlines

In Juba, delays in the ratification of protocols and non-implementation of ratified protocols have combined to impair the smooth enforcement and execution of EAC plans.

Bloc decisions requiring amendments to national laws have often remained outstanding for a long time.

In terms of trade integration, the Customs Union is operational within the EAC – except in South Sudan, which is yet to fully meet the accession requirements to the EAC. It has missed the deadlines twice. DRC will have at three years to operationalise the Customs Union.

Adopt common laws

EAC’s establishing treaty doesn’t have provisions for expelling errant members as leaders thought members would at least show will to adopt common laws.

While EAC partner states have adopted the CET (common external tariffs) e-Tariff tool kit framework and the Single Customs Territory (SCT) procedures, which have been simplified and harmonised, South Sudan is still learning the ropes.

During the 39th meeting of the Sectoral Council on Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment held in Arusha on November 12, 2021, South Sudan’s National Revenue Authority observed that the country is yet to fully implement the Customs Union.

The meeting was informed that the Secretariat and partner states have updated the SCT Procedure manual to incorporate changes to the Single Customs Territory clearance processes that have taken place since 2014.

The changes include transmission of data through a centralised platform, multi-modal importation process, process for inland waterways/lakes to cover goods transported on ferries and process for temporary transfer of motor vehicles.

Common market protocol

The recently-released African Integration Report 2021 on the Status of Regional Integration in Africa reveals that South Sudan is yet to enjoy the benefits of a common market protocol that came into effect in 2010.

“The free movement of people within the EAC is a reality grounded in the EAC CM (common market) Protocol. However, whereas all the states have signed and ratified this protocol, national laws in South Sudan are yet to be fully harmonised to conform to it,” the report reads.

“East Africans can move across the region without the need for visas except in the case of South Sudan that is still in the process of conforming.”

Common market

Nevertheless, bilateral arrangements exist that have seen Kenya lift visa requirements for South Sudan citizens with effect from July 26, 2021. However, the majority of Kenyans visiting South Sudan are still forced to pay for a visa.

South Sudan hardly remits its contributions to the EAC yet its citizens and MPs have been accommodated in the EAC’s organs and institutions.

South Sudan was yet to disburse $27.4 million while Burundi had not disbursed $7.44 million by February.

Insecurity, extortion and harassment by security agencies of Sudan are also hindering trade at the Nimule-Elegu border post between South Sudan and Uganda, the busiest land border in South Sudan, where 90 percent of goods imported from Uganda are processed.

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Six years since South Sudan was admitted to the East African Community, domestic problems, including weak institutions, have eaten into its will to integrate, leaving neighbours feeling the burden. South […]

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Uprooting of baobabs in Kenya sparks outrage of conservationists

Lisa Libutu was going about her business at the Kenyan coastal county of Kilifi when a truck loaded with an uprooted giant baobab tree drove by on the Mombasa-Malindi Highway.

She was astonished at the sight of what is considered an everlasting tree uprooted.  It had not happened before.

The baobab is known as Africa’s “Tree of Life”, adapting to arid landscapes, living for up to 5,000 years and with many useful properties for local communities.

They are landmarks where they stand for centuries.

Libutu was not the only person shocked by the uprooting of the baobab. Soon, it became the talk of villagers as more of uprooted gigantic trees were seen being ferried to Mombasa.

Villagers approached by buyers

Libutu later learned that villagers had been approached to sell their trees for $3,000, an offer they could not turn down, she told The EastAfrican.

It is not clear whether the uprooting of the iconic baobab trees in Kenya’s coastal county of Kilifi is a case of ignorance on the part of national agencies and the county government or it is bio piracy.

Researchers fear that Kenya risks losing the baobab species to foreign multinationals who will patent its products and the country will pay the price of negligence yet again after it lost crucial species that were patented and cannot now be uses for commercial purposes in the country.

Lost patents

Dr Amos Lewa, a Kenyan biomedical scientist with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri), notes that Kenya lost the Prunus africana (the African cherry), endemic in the Rift Valley, which was harvested and sent to Europe and later patented.

Formulations from the Prunus africana are used to treat prostate gland inflammation.

Dr Lewa says Kenya also lost frangipani, a flowery tropical tree whose milk is potent for herpes zoster, and is useful in HIV management of dermatological disorders.

“We lost the patent of the Prunus africana and frangipani, and we can no longer use it commercially. Kenya has lost patents of the kiondo basket and now the baobab tree – whose leaves, bark and roots show febrifuge potential and other medicinal uses – is threatened. The fruit pulp is highly potent for nutrition in children as an alternative to breast milk. We shall lose it in patents too,” he said.

Fibrous leafy tree

The baobab, or mbuyu in Kiswahili, is a gigantic fibrous leafy tree, common in the open semi-arid areas of eastern and coastal counties of Kenya.

Local communities use baobab leaves, pulp and seeds as a source of food.

Baobab seed oil is used in cosmetic products and stem fibres are used in rope making, the fruit shells as fuelwood, the leaves as vegetables and livestock fodder and the powder is used in making jam and juice.

Libutu is the founder of Baossence, an organisation that works with local women and youth at the Kenyan coast to care for and trade in baobab-based products.

“I used to get about 100kgs of baobab seeds in a week from women groups in Kilifi but they suddenly stopped supplying. It turned out the trees they harvested from had been “sold” to a foreigner who intended to export them to Georgia, in the United States,” Libutu said.

Go-ahead to uproot trees

It turned out that in October, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and the county government of Kilifi had given the go-ahead to Ariba SeaWeed International to uproot the trees in Mtondia and Tezo for botanical purposes for two years. A Kenya Forest Service approval was granted on November 1.

Eight huge baobab trees had by then already been uprooted and stored for shipping to Shekvetili Dendrological Park Ltd in Ureki in Ozurgeti Municipality, Georgia, US.

KFS said it allowed the uprooting of the baobabs because the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) did not list them as an endangered species.

Libutu has now launched a petition dubbed “Please Save our Baobab Trees from Wanton Destruction”, which has attracted over 3,000 people including government officials who sought explanation from county officials.

Petition details

The petition is an appeal to the Kenya government, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature to immediately ban the “carnage” of baobab trees and to place them on the World List of Threatened Trees/Species.

The petition also seeks to have the baobab become a protected tree species in Kenya, included on the appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals from the threats of international trade.

Researchers, scientists and environmentalists have jumped on the petition and propelled it to the public for discourse. They are calling out the Ariba Seaweed International Ltd, which has been uprooting the trees in Tezo, Kilifi North, and condemning the environment management agency and the Kenya Forest Service for allowing the decimation of the iconic species.

Amisha Patel, the founder of O’bao, a baobab-based natural skincare brand in Kenya, called on the government to protect the trees.

“I would like to strongly condemn any uprooting and export of whole trees or live parts thereof. I strongly urge the Kenyan government to enforce, be vigilant and protect Kenyan resources,” said Patel.

she said uprooting the baobab tree deprives communities of future economic benefits and sets a dangerous precedent for other natural resources.

Nature Kenya coast conservation programme coordinator Francis Kagema alleged that the uprooting of the trees could be biopiracy as there were no consultations and there was no environment impact assessment.

“It is biopiracy because that is our biological resource. Someone is uprooting and taking it to another country. We do not know who allowed that and the process involved because there were no consultations,” he said.

Nagoya protocol

Kenyan President William Ruto says the harvesting of the trees must conform to the existing regulations, including the Convention on Biodiversity and the Nagoya Protocol.

“I have instructed the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to look into the ongoing uprooting of baobab trees in Kilifi County to ensure that it sits within the Convention on Biodiversity and the Nagoya Protocol,” he tweeted.

“There must be adequate authorisation and an equitable benefit-sharing formula for Kenyans. Further, the exercise must be in line with the government’s agenda of planting 15 billion trees in the next 10 years,” he added.

The Nagoya Protocol, formally known as the Convention on Biological Diversity, came into force on October 12, 2014, and has been signed by over 50 countries.

Baobab is native to Africa and is typically found in sub-Saharan African countries. In Kenya, it grows in several counties including Kitui, Kilifi, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi, and Lamu.

“Research shows that baobab trees, commonly called the iconic trees of life, grow in 32 countries in Africa and live for 5,000 years,” says Libutu.

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Lisa Libutu was going about her business at the Kenyan coastal county of Kilifi when a truck loaded with an uprooted giant baobab tree drove by on the Mombasa-Malindi Highway. […]

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The sweet and sour of the Luanda summit on DRC and the M23 rebels

If Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has ever dreamt of lifting a magic wand to have M23 rebels and Congolese Tutsi instantly vanish from his country’s territory, the mini-summit in the Angolan capital Launda last week might have been the closest he’ll ever get to realising such a dream.

It was a heads of state summit’ communiqué which read as though it had been written by some bored Congolese populist on Twitter, living on welfare in Brussels who’s never set foot in eastern DR Congo.

Essentially, the Luanda mini-summit stipulated that:

•M23 would withdraw from all seized territories and retreat into their initial positions.

•The relinquished territories would be taken up by a buffer regional force led by Kenyan troops, who form part of the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF).

•The Rwandan genocidaire forces in DR Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) would then be disarmed and repatriated.

It pains to say that nothing from that communiqué will be implemented, mainly because none of the recommended actions are realistic. For starters, the five days’ ultimatum to M23 was not feasible. At the time of the communiqué, in which warring parties were called to a ceasefire, fighting was ongoing in Kichanga, Masisi territory, and the 1,000 troops Kenyan contingent is too small to man a territory twice the size of Rwanda.

Not a total waste

That said, although Luanda wasn’t the turning point we all weren’t expecting, it wasn’t a total waste of time either. By asking M23 to relinquish Ruchuru and return to its initial positions, Tshisekedi unwittingly admitted for the first time that M23 did not come from Rwanda, that they were always within Congolese forests – and they listed them: Bigega, Bugusa, Nyabikona, Mbuzi, Rutsiro and Nkonkwe. The second takeaway from the summit was the admission of the threat posed by FDLR.

The rest of the communique was meant to appease the Congolese hoi polloi – and that too is a first. I suspect that following the episodes in August this year, when angry mobs looted Monusco headquarters in Goma and Beni in reaction to its spokesperson’s declaring that the UN body had no proof of Rwanda’s support to M23; and that the Monusco had no force, strong enough to face M23, it seems the international community seems to have agreed with Tshisekedi to “protect the Congolese from the truth,” so to speak, to avoid further attacks on, say the American and French embassies and the UN headquarters in Kinshasa. Also, to de-escalate the possibility of UN forces having to open fire on Congolese mobs attacking them.

Indeed, to appease the masses, the honest Monusco spokesperson was given 48 hours to leave the country, while the Rwandan ambassador who insisted his country wasn’t supporting any militia in DR Congo suffered the same fate.

Self-defence

The Monusco elements returning from a rest and recreation and shot in self-defence and killed Congolese mobs charging at them at the border with Uganda, were repatriated and the incident silenced.

The issue with this new theatrical approach is that if negotiators keep-up the smokescreen, they’ll lose all legitimacy.

Is it necessary to remember that M23, which stands for “Movement of March 23, 2009”, refers to peace accords signed on that date between its ancestor the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) and Kinshasa.

On November 20, 2012, M23 took control of Goma, and was asked to relinquish it in exchange for the implementation of its grievances captured in said accords.

The M23 movement has its roots in the “Banyarwanda question.” Communities of Rwandan ancestry, speaking Kinyarwanda and practicing the Rwandan culture, are estimated to number 40 million, all located in the Great Lakes region. Only 13 million of them are Rwandan citizens. The majority are Ugandan citizens and the rest are located mainly in Burundi, DR Congo and Tanzania. The presence of Banyarwanda in those areas predates both colonialism and African borders, and their Congolese nationality is a consequence of the division of Africa at the Berlin conference on 188-1885.

Catastrophic déjà-vu

When the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) was fighting for the return of Tutsi refugees to Rwanda in the 1990s, the government in Rwanda brought in the question of their citizenship. To then president Juvenal Habyarimana, the Tutsi had no place in Rwanda and were to be “sprinkled” across countries of the region. Today, Congolese are saying the same thing.

But Tutsi aren’t spices that are to be peppered into other communities and expected to shrink into oblivion. That is what the 1994 genocide perpetrators in Rwanda wanted. Tutsi are a community with an identity and one of the oldest cultures in the region. They trace their ancestral homestead in this region and in current DR Congo since the seventeenth century. It is uncanny that the colonisers’ Berlin Conference of 1884/1885 should be the prism through which Africans interact with one another in this day and age.

Tshisekedi’s request for M23 to withdraw to their initial position has the hallmarks of FDLR leaders written all over it, straight from Habyarimana’s disastrous playbook of the 90s.

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If Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi has ever dreamt of lifting a magic wand to have M23 rebels and Congolese Tutsi instantly vanish from his country’s territory, the […]

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Mediators walk a tightrope with mention of fear of polls

When Rwanda President Paul Kagame this week gave a speech criticising his Congolese counterpart Felix Tshisekedi, it looked like he was merely responding to Kinshasa’s incessant accusations that Kigali fuels rebel activity in its territory.

President Kagame, while addressing legislators in Kigali, said, “This problem can be resolved if one country headed for elections next year is not trying to create an emergency so that the elections don’t take place…”

“If he is trying to find another way of having the next elections postponed, then I would rather he uses other excuses, not us,” Kagame said.

He did not name Tshisekedi by name but DR Congo is heading into elections in December next year.

Initially political friends, Kagame and Tshisekedi have been exchanging barbs, often cooling on mediation, but resuming exchanges soon after. The bone of contention is rebel movements in eastern DRC. The region has at least 120 armed groups but the main focus has been on M23 and the FDLR, which the two countries alternately accuse one another of sponsoring to interfere with each other’s stability. Each side denies the charge.

Focused on M23

In his speech that lasted for over an hour, President Kagame said the country has focused on the M23 rebel group, even when over several other armed groups are operating in the Eastern DRC.

There is a historical problem to it. The M23 is mostly made up of ethnic Tutsi, who are in Rwanda. The Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) is seen as made up of remnants of the genocidaires who fled Rwanda after Kagame defeated the Hutu-led genocide gangs.

Kagame said he offered President Tshisekedi assistance to fight off some of the rebel groups including the FDLR, which is responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but the latter refused. DR Congo in fact has argued the FDLR, having been disarmed, is not a big problem.

The ethnic link and association with past atrocities have elevated hate speech in the DRC, a UN official warned this week. The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Alice Wairimu Nderitu expressed concern that the spread of hate speech and armed groups and violence in Eastern DRC could trigger a genocide. Some of those massacres have been linked to people who originally fled genocide in Rwanda.

Warning sign

“The current violence is a warning sign of societal fragility and proof of the enduring presence of the conditions that allowed large-scale hatred and violence to erupt into a genocide in the past,” she said after completing her three-day visit to Eastern DRC.

Her visit followed a technical-level mission by her office that established that indicators and triggers contained in the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes, including dissemination of hate speech and absence of internal mechanisms to address it, were present in DRC

Other triggers are the politicisation of identity, proliferation of local militias and other armed groups across the country, widespread and systematic attacks including sexual violence against the Banyamulenge on the basis of their ethnicity and perceived allegiance to neighbouring countries.

According to Ms Wairimu, the current violence in Eastern DRC mainly stems from the refugee crisis that resulted from the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, leading to formation of armed groups that have led to the conflict that has rocked the region for two decades.

Mediators headache

The complexity of ethnic compositions, political grievances and interested parties mean mediators must walk on eggshells in seeking peace. That burden is now carried by former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, the EAC Facilitator for Peace in the DR Congo.

Mr Kenyatta must push for penalties on errant parties, while rewarding those suing for peace. Peace, however, is not the reward everyone wants.

This week, all the EAC leaders except South Sudan’s Salva Kiir took part physically or via video link in the discussions in the Nairobi Process that are meant to lay the foundation for continuous dialogue between the government in Kinshasa and the armed groups as well as neutralise negative forces in eastern DRC.

“There are groups that are yet to honour promises to lay down arms and we urge those who are not yet with us on the table to still give support to the Nairobi process. The resources of Congo are supposed to foster development and not to shed blood,” said Mr Kenyatta.

Agreed to disarm

The armed groups agreed to disarm and gave their proposals including withdrawal of foreign armed groups, freeing of imprisoned fighters by the FARDC and amnesty for those wanted for running armed groups.

The call for ceasefire was partly heeded by more than 52 armed groups that showed up for the Nairobi peace process.

The armed groups include those from North and South Kivu, Ituri armed groups, Maniema and Tanganyika as well as a small portion of the M23 rebels.

In attendance at the Nairobi meeting included Cooperative for the Development of Congo (Codeco), a mystical-military organisation that claims to defend members of the Lendu community in Ituri region; Collective Movement for Change (CMC), based in Rutshuru, Masisi, and Nyiragongo; and the Mai Mai. 

The Ugandan rebels based in DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and the M23 were not invited. Both the governments of Yoweri Museveni and Felix Tshisekedi have designated the two groups as terrorist organisations.

DRC’s plans

President Felix Tshisekedi’s Special Envoy Prof Serge Tshibangu said DRC has plans to absorb the local armed groups’ ex-combatants into the army after the due recruitment process has been followed.

“The amnesty will however, not be automatic to all armed groups that lay down their arms as some will have to go through the transitional justice process and be held accountable for their atrocities,” he said. In the past three weeks, Mr Kenyatta has visited Bujumbura, Kinshasa, Goma and Luanda in his diplomatic endeavours.

However, some of the armed groups that are involved in the diplomatic process are concerned that EAC leaders are not doing enough to pressure President Felix Tshisekedi to listen and act on their grievances. Basa Zukpa, the spokesperson for Codeco, said they have had formal talks with President Tshisekedi since 2019, but Kinshasa instead prefers to send delegations to tell them to lay down their arms.

“We are willing to lay down our arms but we need the EAC leaders to make serious efforts to bring peace to eastern Congo because our previous talks with the government have not produced any formal agreement,” said Mr Zukpa.

He said that Codeco is more concerned about intermittent attacks by the Congolese Armed Forces (FARDC) while their only intention is to defend their people from negative forces.

Jules Mulumba, the spokesperson for the Collective Movement for Change (CMC), expressed similar sentiments, saying they have been in touch with the government but there is no official communication yet.

Expressed frustrations

However, President Tshisekedi, while addressing the gathering via a video link, expressed frustrations that criminal activities are sabotaging diplomatic efforts to bring peace.

President Kagame said that persistent insecurity in eastern DRC is due to the failure to implement various agreements in the past years. He, however, sees some hope in resolving the conflict because the recent resurgence has attracted attention globally.

On the other hand, President Museveni said that the region should adopt a dual approach: Political dialogue and military action against those groups that don’t want peace.

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When Rwanda President Paul Kagame this week gave a speech criticising his Congolese counterpart Felix Tshisekedi, it looked like he was merely responding to Kinshasa’s incessant accusations that Kigali fuels […]

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M23 urged to stop targeting civilians as 50 killed in east DRC

Emotions are still running high after the killing of civilians in Kishishe, in the chiefdom of Bwito, Rutshuru territory, about 100 kilometres from Goma in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the Congolese army, 50 civilians were killed by the M23 rebels with the massacre being condemned by various agencies.

In the DRC, the government declared three days of national mourning while the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) denounced “these appalling acts”.

In its statement, Monusco called on “all relevant authorities to investigate without delay and bring the perpetrators to justice”.

Amnesty International also reacted by calling on M23 to cease targeting civilians following the killing of dozens of non-combatants in towns in the east of the DRC in recent days in indiscriminate attacks and, in some cases, summary killings.

“The M23 rebel group must immediately end deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians,” said Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes Region.

Protect civilians

“We urge all forces in the area, including the Congolese army and the East African Community Regional Force, to take all necessary measures to protect the civilian population while respecting international humanitarian law,” Ms Mwangovya added.

Human Rights Watch is also calling for an independent investigation and sanctions. The massacre of civilians in Kishishe could constitute a war crime, said Stephanie Miley, chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Kinshasa.

Young men targeted

According to local civil society sources in North Kivu, the M23 targeted young men from Kashishe who had previously ambushed the rebels through community defence groups.  The bloody attack also claimed the lives of children and elderly people.

According to the Congolese army (FARDC), several other civilians are now missing or have been kidnapped by the M23.

General Sylvain Ekenge, the spokesman of the Congolese army, also denounced the forced recruitment of young people by the M23 and the use of children in the fighting.

The fighting resumed Thursday in North Kivu in violation of the ceasefire decreed in Luanda, Angola.

On November 23, East African heads of state and other political leaders from the region declared a ceasefire.

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Emotions are still running high after the killing of civilians in Kishishe, in the chiefdom of Bwito, Rutshuru territory, about 100 kilometres from Goma in the east of the Democratic […]

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Rwanda expects GMO responsibility as African scientists back Kenya

Rwanda says it is counting on Kenya to be a responsible member of the region by ensuring transparent information is shared with neighbouring EAC countries on all genetically modified (GM) seeds and food products imported.

Kigali’s sentiments must have come as a relief to the Kenyan government, coming on the back of recent support by a scientific lobby of African scientists who this week said genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption and the environment.

There is public debate in Kenya after the government in September lifted a ban on GMO foods and seeds, prompting a suit that resulted in a temporary court order stopping importation.

Now Rwandan authorities have jumped into the fray, saying they want Kenya to abide by international laws such as the Cartagena Protocol to ensure others are not harmed by its actions on GMOs.

The Rwanda Inspectorate, Competition and Consumer Protection Authority (RICA) said it expects Nairobi to keep the imported products within its borders.

Be transparent

“In this regard, testing is not a very important aspect as countries are requested, under the Cartagena Protocol, to which both Kenya and Rwanda are signatories, to be transparent and to share information on transboundary movement of GMO. Both countries have competent authorities that have the mandate to implement provisions of the protocol,” the authority said.

“We believe that this particular trade will be handled through the existing regulatory framework and through the existing good collaboration between the two parties.”

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity, passed in 2003 is the basic international law on biosafety, allowing countries to restrict importation of GMOs if they believe there is insufficient evidence on their safety. Countries routinely require GMO foods to be labelled as such and retain rights to restrict biosafety technologies that could harm public health.

Porous EAC borders

Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda have raised concerns over potential infiltration of banned GMO products through the porous EAC borders, with Burundi warning that it had neither the capacity nor the technology to test for GMOs.

Rwanda said it uses a national reference laboratory for testing but does not have a GMO policy in place. Officials say this complicates regulation and gatekeeping of GMO products.

But the lobby of African scientists backing Kenya on GMOs has sought to re-assure Kenyans.

“We would like to assure Kenyans that GMO products are safe,” said Prof Ratemo Michieka, the chair of the Kenya National Academy of Sciences, at the close of a three-day conference for scientists under the Network of African Science Academies (Nasac).

The scientists recently met and discussed GMOs as a solution to the growing hunger problem in Africa at the African Science Academies 2022 held in Nairobi from November 28-30.

Enhance research

The scientists called on governments to put in place structures to enhance research and collaboration on the continent.

“Many African countries are facing declining agricultural productivity and food insecurity. The discussions during the three-day conference were focused on the latest ideas and appropriate solutions and technologies that come and enhance sustainable agriculture and food systems in Africa,” said Prof Nobert Hounkonnou, Nasac president.

In Kenya, trials on GMOs have been ongoing in laboratories and in research fields throughout the decade despite the ban.

“GMO plants have no danger whatsoever to the indigenous plants,” argued Prof Michieka.

“They can grow side by side or even mixed, with no impact at all.”

Africa lags behind in the adoption of modern food production technologies and especially GMOs. Only a handful of countries on the continent have commercialised GM crops at various levels, namely South Africa, Sudan, Egypt and Burkina Faso.

“African countries have the scientific infrastructure and the human capacity to carry out the research and give the right advice. We can’t just say don’t allow it without scientific evidence, yet we have a worsening food situation in the region,” said Prof Michieka.

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Rwanda says it is counting on Kenya to be a responsible member of the region by ensuring transparent information is shared with neighbouring EAC countries on all genetically modified (GM) […]

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Kenya’s tea ‘chokes’ under unclear policy, clashing roles

Kenya’s lucrative tea sector is running on contradictory policies, with players clashing on roles.

The East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) wants some of the policies addressed through a law that will clarify roles and relationships between management agencies, growers, and factory boards, to enhance accountability.

EATTA chairperson Arthur Sewe said the clash in roles can be resolved by adopting the Draft National Tea Policy (2018) to guide on procedures.

“The government initiated a draft National Tea Policy in 2013. However, arising from delay approving it, EATTA contracted a consultant to review it, identify any gaps and suggest remedies. It should be implemented immediately,” said Mr Sewe.

“The key issues to be addressed are low productivity, insufficient development and transfer of technology, high cost of inputs, multiple taxation regime and poor governance,” he proposed this week.

Extreme weather events

Since September, Kenya’s tea production has dropped significantly due to erratic weather, according to records at the Mombasa Tea Auction.

Data from EATTA indicated, a dip in the volume of tea offered by over half a million kilogrammes in October and projected that production is likely to drop further in the coming years.

The lobby blames climate change that had affected small-scale farmers’ livelihoods. According to a Food and Agriculture Organisation report released in May, Kenya’s temperature was expected to rise by 2.5 degrees Celsius between 2000 and 2050.

A new policy, the association argues, would set guidelines on sustainable farming practices to help farmers and small- and mid-sized enterprises in the agricultural sector adapt to the change in weather patterns.

These include selection of the most suitable areas for tea growing, crop diversification in low production areas, efficient management of soil and water resources, catchment protection, soil water conservation and rainwater harvesting.

For years Kenya basked under the optimal climate for tea growing comprising tropical, red volcanic soils, sunny days and stable rainfall.

Other major tea-producers India, Sri Lanka and China also face rising temperatures and extreme weather events that affect production.

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Kenya’s lucrative tea sector is running on contradictory policies, with players clashing on roles. The East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) wants some of the policies addressed through a law […]

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EAC member states not ready yet for single currency rollout

East African Community member states will have to wait longer for a monetary union. A taskforce to look into the matter has proposed to delay the implementation of the East African Monetary Union (EAMU) until 2031 from initial date of 2024, saying it is too soon considering members have not attained all requirements.

The proposed delay is an indictment on the members’ commitment to achieve EAMU, a key pillar of integration.

The EAMU is the third pillar of the EAC, others being the Customs Union and the Common Markets Protocol. The region, under EAMU, is expected to adopt a single currency by 2024.

“We have a roadmap that was supposed to be implemented between 2013, when the Monetary Union protocol was signed, and 2024. But we did not manage to implement most of the activities in that roadmap,” said Dr Pantaleo Kessy, Principal Economist, EAC Secretariat.

“According to the roadmap, the EAC convergence criteria were to be attained by 2021 and be maintained for three years in the run-up to the establishment of the Monetary Union in 2024.”

Behind schedule

However, going through each activity, shows that all the partner states – Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan – are behind schedule.

According to the EAMU roadmap, four broad prerequisites need to be achieved ahead of the establishment of the Monetary Union and the first one includes the full implementation of the Customs Union and Common Market protocols.

However, both the Customs Union and Common Market Protocols are currently under implementation. Although much progress has been made, the protocols are not yet fully implemented.

“Partner states are at different levels of implementation and that partly slows the implementation of the EAC third pillar, the EAMU,” said Dr Kevit Desai, Principal Secretary at the EAC and Regional Ministry of Kenya.

Second, not all partner states have attained the four macroeconomic convergence criteria, for the implementation of the monetary union.

Headline inflation

These include ceilings on headline inflation of 8 percent; reserve cover of 4.5-month import; on overall deficit of 3 percent of GDP; and on gross public debt of 50 percent of GDP.

“Attainment of these criteria has been challenging to most Partner States, partly due to increased demand for infrastructure development and spending to mitigate the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Kessy explained.

“Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda attained the headline inflation target of less than 8 percent in 2021. But only three Partner States attained the official foreign exchange reserve target of 4.5 months of imports.”

Long past deadline

Further, three Partner States attained the debt to GDP target of less than 50 percent; while none was able to attain the fiscal deficit criterion of 3 percent of GDP (including grants).

The EAC is yet to put in place institutions that will carry out the mandate and implement the EAMU protocol.

The taskforce is made up of financial experts from EAC’s partner states’ ministries of Finance, Central Banks, capital markets, insurance and pension firms.

The East African Monetary Institute is one of the institutions expected to carry out the preparatory work for the One Single currency under EAMU which was planned to be in place by 2024.

The Council of Ministers designated July 1, 2021, as the date for the coming into effect of the EAMI, the precursor to the East African Central Bank.

But the deadline is long past.

The other three institutions proposed under the EAMU include the EAC Financial Services Commission; the EAC Surveillance, Compliance and Enforcement Commission; and the EAC Statistics Commission. Establishment of these institutions is lagging behind, partly due to lack of resources.

The fourth criteria that is still lacking behind is the harmonisation of Policies and legal frameworks to support implementation of the EAMU Protocol.

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East African Community member states will have to wait longer for a monetary union. A taskforce to look into the matter has proposed to delay the implementation of the East […]

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Pope Francis to visit DR Congo and South Sudan early 2023

Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan early 2023, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, the Apostolic Nuncio to the DRC, has said.

Monsignor Balestrero made the announcement after meeting President Felix Tshisekedi on Thursday in Kinshasa. He said that Pope Francis will make the already announced trip to DRC from January 31, 2023 to February 3. He will visit Kinshasa and South Sudan on an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace.

Prime Minister Jean-Michel Sama Lukonde revealed that Pope Francis will arrive in Kinshasa at the invitation of President Félix Tshisekedi, adding that the pontiff’s arrival is “a comfort for the Congolese people”.

The prime minister asked all DRC citizens to “remain in an attitude of prayer” as they welcome the pope, especially at a time “when the DRC is going through all these security situations”. He also asked the Congolese to re-launch the preparations for the visit which had been prepared a few months ago.

Initial visit postponed

Pope Francis had earlier been expected visit to the DRC and South Sudan in July but the visit was called off after he developed a knee problem.

“Accepting the request of the doctors and in order not to cancel the results of the knee therapies still in progress, the Holy Father is forced, with regret, to postpone the apostolic journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, planned for 2-7 July, to a new date to be determined,” the director of the Pope’s press office Matteo Bruni announced then.

In the postponed papal trip, the pontiff had been scheduled to visit the DRC capital Kinshasa and Goma in North Kivu province, where M23 rebels have been fighting with government forces. But in the January 2023 trip, the pope will stay in Kinshasa before flying to Juba, in South Sudan, skipping Goma

The announcement of the pope’s planned arrival in the DRC has already started generating enthusiasm among the Catholic faithful.

In July, several towns in the DRC had put up billboards with the image of the pope under the theme “All reconciled in Jesus Christ”.

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Pope Francis will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan early 2023, Monsignor Ettore Balestrero, the Apostolic Nuncio to the DRC, has said. Monsignor Balestrero made the announcement […]

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DR Congo accuses M23 rebels of civilian massacre, breaching truce

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army on Thursday accused M23 insurgents of killing 50 civilians and breaching a five-day-old truce in the country’s restive east.

The rebel group issued a statement late Thursday denying the alleged massacre of civilians.

The ceasefire took effect in North Kivu province at the weekend following a summit between DRC and its neighbour Rwanda.

It was to have been followed by a rebel pull-out from captured territory, a withdrawal that has yet to take place.

General Sylvain Ekenge said the M23 group was “carrying out massacres… the most recent of which is that of 50 Congolese civilians, heinously murdered on Tuesday in Kishishe,” a village some 70 kilometres north of the eastern city of Goma.

‘Baseless allegations

Ekenge claimed that while Congolese forces had “scrupulously observed the truce”, the M23 had attacked government positions.

The M23 responded with a statement describing accusations of a massacre in Kishishe as “baseless allegations” and insisting that “it has never targeted civilian populations”.

Sources said earlier that fighting had resumed Thursday in Kirima in the same region, about 10 kilometres from the town of Kibirizi.

“The rebels have crossed the bridge, heading for Kibirizi… there’s panic,” said Paul Lutibahwa, head of civil society groups for the Bambo region.

A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused the M23 of having breached the ceasefire and “carrying on looting and fighting”.

“The fighting is heavy — we are using heavy artillery,” said a DRC army officer who also asked not to be identified.

Contacted by AFP, M23’s military spokesman Willy Ngoma confirmed that there was fighting with the army.

Resurgent force

The March 23 movement, or M23, is a predominantly Congolese Tutsi rebel group that was dormant for years.

It took up arms again in November last year and seized the town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda in June. 

After a brief period of calm, it went on the offensive again in October 2022, greatly extending the territory under its control and advancing towards the city of Goma.

Kinshasa accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of providing M23 with support, something that UN experts and US officials have also pointed to in recent months. 

Accusation disputed

Kigali disputes the charge, and in turn accuses Kinshasa of collusion with the FDLR — a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group established in the DRC after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. 

Talks between the two countries in the Angolan capital of Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23.

The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect on Friday, November 25 at 1600 GMT and be followed by a pull-out by the M23 two days later.

A parallel initiative has been undertaken by the East African Community (EAC), a seven-nation regional bloc that includes Rwanda.

It has decided to deploy a regional force to help stabilise the region, for which Kenyan troops are already deployed in Goma, and on November 28 launched peace talks, to which the M23 are not invited.

Until Thursday’s violence, there had been no fighting between government forces and the M23, although the rebels had clashed with local militia, especially in the Bambo area, where civilian casualties were reported.

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The Democratic Republic of Congo’s army on Thursday accused M23 insurgents of killing 50 civilians and breaching a five-day-old truce in the country’s restive east. The rebel group issued a […]

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Botswana detects new Covid-19 Omicron sub-variants

Botswana has detected new sub-variants of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, the government announced Friday, saying the sub-lineages have been dominant in other countries in Europe and Asia.

In a statement, the Botswana government also said that the sub-lineages of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have been detected following routine genome sequencing of Covid-19, adding that the impact of the observed changes remains to be established.

As at December 2, Botswana had recorded 326,633 coronavirus cases, 2,790 deaths and 323,747 recoveries.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Omicron variant is of concern and remains the dominant variant circulating globally.

“While we are looking at a vast genetic diversity of Omicron sub-lineages, they currently display similar clinical outcomes, but with differences in immune escape potential.”

BQ.1* is a sub-lineage of BA.5, which carries spike mutations in some key antigenic sites, including K444T and N460K, the WHO says.

In addition to these mutations, the sub-lineage BQ.1.1 carries an additional spike mutation in a key antigenic site (i.e. R346T).

 “based on currently available knowledge, protection by vaccines against infection may be reduced but no major impact on protection against severe disease is foreseen,” WHO said.

“The two (BQ.1 and BQ.1.1) are sub-lineages of the existing BA.5 Omicron variant that has been dominant in Botswana for the last few months and has additional changes to the virus,” Botswana Health Permanent Secretary Christopher Nyanga said in a statement.

“The Ministry of Health advises Botswana and all residents to remain vigilant and take precautionary measures of protection,” Dr Nyanga said.

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Botswana has detected new sub-variants of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, the government announced Friday, saying the sub-lineages have been dominant in other countries in Europe and Asia. In a statement, […]

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Change habits or perish, Museveni tells youth on World Aids Day

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has warned the youth to take their lives seriously in face of the HIV/Aids disease which he said is killing 17,000 Ugandans every year, adding that a UN report has indicated that girls are four times more likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts.

Records from the Ministry of Health indicate that the increased infections in the country have been driven by multiple sexual partnerships as well as transactional sex, which the youth have been identified to be engaged in more.

The Covid-19 lockdown was also blamed for interfering with efforts to control the Aids epidemic when it disrupted outreach services and access to care, increasing the worry among the people that the Ebola restrictions currently in Mubende and Kassanda could lead to a spike in HIV infections in the two districts.

Behaviour

Museveni, who spoke during the World Aids Day celebrations held in Rukungiri, western Uganda, said the main cause of rising HIV infections now appears to be changed behaviour “where you do what you should not do”.

“I am really determined to insist on behavioural change,” the president said.

“Infections among young people (15-24 years) accounted for 37 percent of all the new HIV infections in the year 2021, with new infections occurring more among young girls compared to the boys in the same period,” said the Minister of the Presidency Milly Babalanda in a statement presented to Parliament ahead of the World Aids Day celebrations.

She said that over 1,000 Ugandans are infected with HIV every week and about 325 people die weekly from Aids-related causes, while statistics also indicate that infections are high among school-going age group.

1.4 million HIV patients

According Dr Nelson Musoba, the executive director of the Uganda Aids Commission, there are 1.4 million people living with HIV in Uganda and the country needs about $263 million to treat the patients annually.

Dr Musoba said that only $40 million is available for treatment of patients on retroviral therapy alone.

While lauding the US government for its continued support, President Museveni pledged more support for HIV/Aids treatment. He said treating one patient costs about $200 annually.

The US government, through the President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR), has been providing funds in excess of $400 million for the provision of antiretroviral drugs to over one million Ugandans.

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Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has warned the youth to take their lives seriously in face of the HIV/Aids disease which he said is killing 17,000 Ugandans every year, adding that […]

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Air Tanzania plane held in the Netherlands in row over land title

A plane belonging to Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) has been seized in the Netherlands after a Swedish firm won a $165 million award against Tanzania due to a revoked land title in the Bagamoyo sugar project.

It is still not clear exactly which particular aircraft on ATCL’s fleet has been seized and under what circumstances.

However, on Wednesday, the government dispelled fears of the possible attachment of an ATCL plane by a Dutch court, with the Attorney-General Eliezer Feleshi saying everything was under control.

Dr Feleshi confirmed to The Citizen that a Swedish firm that won a $165 million award against Tanzania had persuaded the court to uphold the attachment of the aircraft despite the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) having issued a stay of execution, pending annulment proceedings.

“It’s true that they went to court in the Netherlands after we had successfully appealed to the ICSID for a stay of execution. Everything is under control,” he said.

Appealed court’s decision

Dr Feleshi added that the government had already appealed against the Dutch court’s decision but declined to offer further details.

“I can’t disclose further details. Let’s be patient as the matter is in court.”

Tanzania has argued that the attachment is unlawful because it was obtained a day after the state petitioned the ICSID to annul EcoDevelopment’s award.

But the judge reasoned that the ICSID’s provisional stay of execution of the award only took effect on the date the institution registered the state’s annulment request.

EcoDevelopment, which is owned by 18 Swedish nationals, brought its ICSID claim in 2017 under the Sweden-Tanzania bilateral investment treaty.

That came after the government decided to unilaterally revoke the land title for a sugar project in Bagamoyo.

The case commenced at the ICSID, a World Bank organ based in Washington.

The land title revocation was a major blow to the Swedish company, which had for over ten years worked to develop the project and invested $52 million in a ready-to-go project for local production of sugar, renewable electricity and fuel.

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A plane belonging to Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) has been seized in the Netherlands after a Swedish firm won a $165 million award against Tanzania due to a revoked […]

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Kagame claims Tshisekedi using DRC crisis to delay presidential poll

Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Wednesday accused DRC leader Felix Tshisekedi of exploiting the ongoing insecurity in eastern Congo to postpone next year’s presidential election.

Addressing a parliamentary session after the signing in of new members of the Cabinet, President Kagame said he believes the current leadership of the Democratic Republic of Congo is creating a security emergency a year before the country holds presidential elections in order to find a reason to postpone the elections scheduled for December 2023.

“This problem can be resolved if one country headed for elections next year is not trying to create an emergency so that the elections don’t take place, not that he won the first elections as we know. If he is trying to find another way of having the next elections postponed, then I would rather he uses other excuses, not us,” Kagame said.

ReadCaution greets DRC deal on rebel violence

Tshisekedi came to power in January 2019 and DRC will hold its next presidential election in December 2023.

President Kagame was addressing MPs on Wednesday while officiating the swearing-in of Rwanda’s new minister of Health, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana, and the permanent secretary in the ministry, Ivan Butera.

In his speech that lasted for over an hour, President Kagame said Congo has focused on the M23 rebel group, even when over 400 other armed groups are operating in eastern DRC.

The M23 is among armed groups that have turned eastern DRC into one of Africa’s most violent regions.

‘Assistance declined’

He said that when the conflict resumed, he offered President Tshisekedi assistance to fight off some of the rebel groups including the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), which is said to be responsible for the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, but the DRC leader declined.

ReadRwanda army kills ‘unidentified’ DRC soldier

Given how long the conflict has been ongoing and how attempts to solve the issue remain ineffective, President Kagame said that he believes that someone somewhere wants the issue to remain unresolved.

“It has become so convenient for a long time that all problems are put on the shoulders of Rwanda. Rwanda is always the culprit, not FDLR. The government of DRC should be responsible for its people, not the UN, not the powerful countries like the US, UK, and France. Why does it always come back to Rwanda,” Kagame said. 

ReadLuanda hosts summit on DRC, Rwanda crisis

He added that “the blame that Rwanda carries for DRC issues should be carried by Congo and those who want to alleviate DRC’s responsibilities”.

Military clashes between rebel groups in the eastern DRC have forced thousands out of their homes. By Monday, a ceasefire between government troops and M23 rebels appeared to hold for a third day despite clashes between rival militias.

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Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Wednesday accused DRC leader Felix Tshisekedi of exploiting the ongoing insecurity in eastern Congo to postpone next year’s presidential election. Addressing a parliamentary session after […]

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Unite for lasting peace, Uhuru Kenyatta urges DR Congo citizens

Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has implored on Congolese citizens meeting with him in Nairobi for the third Inter-Congolese dialogue this week to embrace forgiveness as the search for lasting peace in the eastern parts of the country continues.

Mr Kenyatta is leading the East African Community-led Nairobi Peace Process talks that have brought together armed groups, civil society groups, women and youth groups, survivors of the conflict and government representatives led by Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi’s Special Envoy Serge Tshibangu.

The groups are represented in Nairobi by about 350 participants, over 50 of whom represent armed groups fighting in eastern DRC.

“Though the pain from the atrocities committed against you may be too much in the last 20 years as lives have been lost, animals stolen and minerals stolen by foreign nations who are happy to spur conflict as they steal your minerals leaving your children unable to go to school and your mothers unable to give birth in hospital, let us embrace a forgiving heart and agree to unite to bring lasting peace to the region,” he said.

Territorial sovereignty

Mr Kenyatta assured the participants that the talks will not delve into discussions over DRC’s territorial sovereignty.

“The Republic of DRC belongs to the Congolese and we are not here to discuss how an inch of your territory shall be cut off. Ours (the Nairobi Process) is to find ways you can co-exist with one another and resolve conflicts that arise between you without taking arms against one another,” he said.

The Luanda process that is closely inter-linked with the Nairobi process is attempting to resolve external conflict between DRC and Rwanda.

“We believe we shall find solutions from both processes so that you can live in peace at home, refugees and internally displaced persons can go back to their home and that all arms in the hands of armed groups shall be silenced and surrendered to the government,” Mr Kenyatta said.

In the last Luanda meeting held last week, EAC member states ordered M23 and other foreign groups operating in eastern DRC to ease hostilities, lay down their arms and leave the country unconditionally.

Conditions for M23

The M23 was particularly asked to leave Banagana, Rutshuru and Kiwanja but they are yet to do so and that is why they are not part of the armed groups attending the Nairobi peace process.

“Until that is done, the M23 cannot be part of these discussions. The process happening here only involves armed groups that have agreed to lay down their arms and ease hostilities,” said Mr Kenyatta.

But Prof Tshibangu confirmed that about six percent of the M23 group has shown up in Nairobi and reiterated that the Congolese government will not negotiate with groups that have deliberately declined to take part in the process.

“There will be no amnesty for these people. There will be no forum for us to discuss with foreign armed groups. They should lay down their arms and go to their homes. There shall be no negotiations with them; military action shall be deployed against them,” he said.

Absorb ex-combatants

He added that DRC has plans to absorb other ex-combatants into the army known by its French acronym FARDC after the due recruitment process has been followed.

“The amnesty will however not be automatic to all armed groups that lay down their arms as some will have to go through the transitional justice process and be held accountable for their atrocities,” he said.

The dialogues are meant to create mechanisms for bringing back peace in eastern DRC where more than 120 armed groups are fighting.

They kicked off on Monday with a resolution by EAC heads of state to deploy troops against armed groups that defy calls to ease hostilities, create channels for voluntary repatriation of IDPs and refugees hosted in neighbouring countries in addition to a call for the unconditional departure of foreign armed groups from DRC territories.

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Former Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta has implored on Congolese citizens meeting with him in Nairobi for the third Inter-Congolese dialogue this week to embrace forgiveness as the search for lasting […]

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Experts: New approach needed to resolve conflicts in E. Africa region

Political settlements as a means of resolving conflicts in the eastern Africa region are not fully working and the region should put more emphasis on the social peace approach, experts have said.

This is because various peace agreements in the eastern Africa region are concentrating on political settlements while ignoring the socio-economic aspects to improve the lives of civilian victims.

At a three-day seminar held in Bujumbura, Burundi from November 22 to 24 hosted by Principles for Peace, experts noted that political settlements are failing because politicians are eager to portion their percentage in government, but they do not often translate into socio-economic improvement of the masses.

The seminar on Regional Dialogue in the Great Lakes region was hosted by the International Commission on Inclusive Peace (ICIP) and the Principles for Peace, a global initiative to develop a new set of principles to reshape how peace processes are structured, sequenced and achieved.

Security experts noted that the region should develop a new approach that is based on social peace, where people have a two-way relationship with the state and other community groups, and feel that the agreements are made fairly, even if they do not directly benefit from them.

Desire Yamuremye, a Burundi security expert, said that most of the political agreements after conflicts do not reflect social realities on the ground because they do not consider the economic and psychological damage and hardly provide a change in the lives of the common people.

“For a conflict to be transformed into full peace, there must be economic progress that is seen to be open to all. Social peace is more important than a politically-negotiated settlement. The absence of war does not necessarily mean peace,” said Mr Yamuremye.

Participants concurred that lack of legitimacy and inclusion continues to drive protracted conflict globally and that it is important to adopt a new approach to dialogue based on respect, solidarity and reciprocity.

Prof Alain Ndedi, a Burundian scholar and author who is also the founding president of the Young Entrepreneurs for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (YENEPAD), said that political settlements are like a pyramid that is fraught with uncertainty because if the majority at the base feel that they have been excluded, they can cause a lot of instability.

Clinging to power

He said that in the absence of social peace, leaders in many of the fragile states in Africa employ political settlement including behind-the-scenes resources in order to hold on to power. He gave the example of Cameroon, Rwanda and Uganda.

“Holding power refers to the capability of an individual or a group to engage and survive in conflict, and impose costs on others and also hold the capacity to absorb costs inflicted on them,” said Prof Ndedi.

The East African region has seen various peace agreements in Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Burundi that could not be effectively implemented because the masses believed that pollical agreements would translate into better socio-economic well-being.

In Somalia, the 2004 peace deal signed in Nairobi concentrated on the formation of the government and parliament in exile but did not address the unemployment and illiteracy among the youth. The same was the case for the 2015 and 2018 South Sudan peace agreements that put more emphasis on power-sharing but neglected ingrained inter-ethnic divisions and youth unemployment.

On the other hand, the Kenya National Accord following the 2007 post-election violence came up with a four-point agenda, of which the most important for social peace was Agenda 4 which sought to address long-term issues including land reforms, institutional reforms and tackling poverty and unemployment among the youth.

But the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission report is yet to be implemented, which contributed to another violent election in 2017.

Lazy

Ariya William Aida, a South Sudan peace activist, faulted the common approach of arranging for political settlements between ethnic groups which she described as lazy.

“We were fighting one enemy since 1983 but now we are fighting among the 64 tribes of South Sudan. Citizens have been traumatised and without counselling and rehabilitation, any small incident can spark conflict,” said Ms Aida.

In Burundi, Mr Yamuremye gave the example of the Burundi Arusha Accord of 2000, in which an agreement that was presided over by the international community came up with power-sharing percentages between Hutus and Tutsis.

The international community put pressure on the combatants to end the 12-year conflict through a power-sharing agreement in 2000 in Arusha. The agreement commonly known as the Arusha Accord set out the modalities for power sharing between Hutus, Tutsi and Twa ethnic groups to ensure that no community was overrepresented in government, and the country’s leadership was to be rotational.

However, the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD-FDD), which was created by the late president Pierre Nkurunziza did not sign the agreement and continued fighting till it came to power in the 2005 elections. CNDD-FDD later violated the Arusha Accord when Nkurunziza contested the 2015 elections.

Power-sharing percentages

“It was absurd that the international community offered power-sharing percentages to Hutus and Tutsis. It was shameful to categorise people as Hutu and Tutsi while we speak the same language,” said Mr Yamuremye.

Social peace is a method of sustaining social life in the absence of internal conflict. It is one of the goals of social politics to provide peaceful solutions to disputes and conflicts that may arise from disagreements and social tensions among various sectors of society on a national and regional scale.

Fred Ngoga Gateretse, an ICIP commissioner and African Union ambassador, said that for a long time, peace processes on the continent have been facing challenges because of the multiplicity of regional and international actors that often push the socio-economic interests of the victim to the back burner.

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Political settlements as a means of resolving conflicts in the eastern Africa region are not fully working and the region should put more emphasis on the social peace approach, experts […]

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New clashes erupt between DR Congo army and M23 rebels

Fighting with heavy weapons erupted between government forces and M23 insurgents in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, shaking a five-day-old truce, security sources and rebels said.

The ceasefire took effect in North Kivu province at the weekend following a summit between DRC and its neighbour Rwanda.

It was to have been followed by a rebel pull-out from captured territory, a withdrawal that has yet to take place.

The sources said fighting resumed Thursday in Kirima, about 10 kilometres from the town of Kibirizi.

“Fighting resumed this morning between the FARDC and the M23,” said Paul Lutibahwa, head of civil society groups for the Bambo region. The FARDC stands for the armed forces of the DRC.

Panic

“The rebels have crossed the bridge, heading for Kibirizi… there’s panic,” he said, an account confirmed by a representative of civil groups there, who said that people were fleeing.

A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, accused the M23 of having breached the ceasefire and “carrying on looting and fighting”.

A DRC army officer, who also asked not to be identified, said: “The fighting is heavy — we are using heavy artillery.”

Contacted by AFP, the M23’s military spokesman Willy Ngoma confirmed that there was fighting with the army.

Resurgent force

The March 23 movement, or M23, is a predominantly Congolese Tutsi rebel group that was dormant for years.

It took up arms again in November last year and seized the town of Bunagana on the border with Uganda in June 2022. 

After a brief period of calm, it went on the offensive again in October, greatly extending the territory under its control and advancing towards the city of Goma.

Kinshasa accuses its smaller neighbour Rwanda of providing M23 with support, something that UN experts and US officials have also pointed to in recent months.

Kigali disputes the charge, and in turn accuses Kinshasa of collusion with the FDLR — a former Rwandan Hutu rebel group established in the DRC after the genocide of the Tutsi community in 1994 in Rwanda. 

Luanda talks

Talks between the two countries in the Angolan capital of Luanda unlocked a truce agreement on November 23.

The ceasefire was scheduled to take effect on Friday, November 25 at 1600 GMT and be followed by a pull-out by the M23 two days later.

A parallel initiative has been undertaken by the East African Community (EAC), a seven-nation regional bloc that includes Rwanda.

It has decided to deploy a regional force to help stabilise the region, for which Kenyan troops are already deployed in Goma, and on November 28 launched peace talks, to which the M23 are not invited.

Until Thursday’s violence, there had been no fighting between government forces and the M23, although the rebels had clashed with local militia, especially in the Bambo area, where civilian casualties were reported.

Pope’s visit

The Vatican, meanwhile, announced that Pope Francis would visit the DRC and South Sudan from January 31 to February 5.

His trip to the two countries had been planned for July this year but was postponed because the pope was undergoing treatment for knee pain.

His stay in the DRC from January 31 to February 3 will take place in Kinshasa and no longer includes Goma. 

The site that had been chosen for a papal mass, located 15 kilometres north of Goma, is currently occupied by a forward position of the armed forces.

Scores of armed groups roam eastern DRC, making it one of Africa’s most violent regions.

Many are legacies of two wars before the turn of the century that sucked in countries from the region and left millions dead.

Demonstrators protesting perceived international indifference to the crisis rallied in Goma early Thursday.

Another march staged by the Catholic church took place in Bukavu, in neighbouring South Kivu province.

source

Fighting with heavy weapons erupted between government forces and M23 insurgents in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, shaking a five-day-old truce, security sources and rebels said. The ceasefire […]

Continue reading "New clashes erupt between DR Congo army and M23 rebels"

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