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June 2 (GIN) – In his second try for elected office, Peter Mutharika captured the winning margin of victory and edged out Malawi’s first woman president – Joyce Banda.

The 74 year old Mutharika, brother of a former president, was declared the victor last week in a disputed election. But he comes into office under a cloud, accused of attempting a constitutional coup two years ago by hiding the death of his brother, President Bingu wa Mutharika, in order to block Mrs. Banda – then vice-president – from assuming the presidency.

When President Bingu wa Mutharika suffered a cardiac arrest on April 5, 2012, brother Peter allegedly pushed forward a measure allowing him to become President, overriding the constitution. A secret meeting to swear him in failed and Mrs. Banda was elevated to the top job.

As president, Mrs. Banda undid some of Bingu’s more damaging measures: she opened up political space (resulting in this past election being Malawi’s most fiercely contested) and enticed donors back into the country (40% of Malawi’s budget comes from international aid), took a personal pay cut and sold the ex-president’s luxury jet.

She fired the Inspector General of Police, Peter Mukhito, accused of instilling a climate of fear through arbitrary arrests and the shooting of 19 people during anti-government protests in 2011.

Others dismissed were finance minister Ken Lipenga and justice minister Ralph Kasambara over the so-called “Cash-gate” corruption controversy.

Still, Mrs. Banda appeared to go too far in appeasing the International Monetary Fund, agreeing to austerity measures and painful structural reforms. These came at a high price for the majority of Malawians who now struggle to cope with the continuous rise in the cost of food, especially bread and the staple maize meal.

Incoming president Mutharika, meanwhile, gave his inaugural address this week at the Kamuzu Stadium in the commercial capital, Blantyre, where he made grand promises, pledging to grow the economy based on tobacco by 7.5 percent annually over the next five years, and fight corruption.

He said his government would invest in infrastructure and improve food supplies in a country where about half of the population lives on less than $1 a day.

“The economy of this country has collapsed, our civil servants aren’t working, the private sector isn’t working and our children aren’t going to school,” he said.

Mutharika, who lived abroad for approximately 40 years, reportedly turned in his U.S. green card this year. The constitution of Malawi prohibits dual citizenship. 

The U.S. and UK have already sent congratulations to the newly-elected Mutharika and Mr. Saulos Chilema, vice president with the U.S. “look(ing) forward to continuing our close partnership with the Government of Malawi in the advance of our mutual interests of supporting Malawi’s development.” w/pix of P. Mutharika


June 2 (GIN) – Ugandan opinion writer Charles Onyango-Obbo took up his pen this past week to denounce the deadly meltdown in the north African nation of Libya and the apparent neglect of that country by black Africans.

“Terrible things are happening in the Arab North, and the rest of Africa south of the Sahara desert, aka sub-Saharan Africa, doesn’t seem to be interested or bothered, “ wrote veteran journalist Onyango-Obbo in a recent online edition of The East African.

“Libya is dying, and black Africans don’t give a damn,” he said harshly.

“The place is falling apart,” he went on. “There are probably more weapons and bombs in Libya than people, in the inevitable crisis that has followed the grim end of (Col.) Muammar Gaddafi’s rule two years ago. Hundreds of people have been killed. The country is broke, and getting worse by the day. The US has cut and run, telling its citizens to leave.”

“The biggest mess is happening in Libya,” he said ominously.

Chaos has been building in Libya since Col. Gaddafi was chased from power and murdered with a bayonet in a NATO-backed uprising in October 2012.

“To begin with, it is no longer clear who is in charge,” the writer observed. Three weeks ago, for example, an Islamist-backed businessman was elected by the General National Congress – Libya’s third prime minister in three months. But outgoing Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni has now refused to turn over power, claiming irregularities in the appointment of his successor.

“Enter rogue former general Khalif Haftar. He has raised a formidable army and is launching attacks on Islamists groups all over the country, most intensely in Benghazi. He even has a private air force.”

“If Libya was elsewhere in Africa, we would have pressured the African Union to send a peacekeeping force there. So why don’t we?” 

Onyango-Obbo chided the “Arab brothers and sisters up north” who, he said, “don’t pay much attention to us, either. They have not sent peacekeepers to Somalia, Central African Republic, or DR Congo either.”

Sub-Saharan countries, however, may be stretched too thin with internal issues to bring relief to their north African neighbor. This week, heavy fighting broke out in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, apparently between the armed group Ansar al-Sharia and irregular forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar, a former army general.

"Residents are at home and they are very scared, waiting for the clashes to be over," Suleiman El Dreswsi, a Benghazi resident said in a press interview.

"Central government cannot control anything happening here, in the east [of the country], they are hopeless and useless”.
*C. Onyango-Obbo is an Executive Editor with the Nation Media Group, Nairobi, Kenya. He is a political commentator on issues in East Africa and the African Great Lakes region


June 2 (GIN) – Police in Nigeria have issued a ban against further protests by Nigerian citizens, mostly women, who are demanding that government rescue the nearly 300 kidnapped schoolgirls whose whereabouts government claims to know.

National anger and frustration has turned on the government for its failure to rescue the teenage students and many others being targeted around the country. The girls had been studying in the remote northeastern village of Chibok near the Cameroon border when they were kidnapped on April 14.

The administration of Goodluck Jonathan appears to be growing defensive as an international spotlight remains focused on the country’s security failures. Last week a government-sponsored group appeared, calling itself “Release Our Girls” with the intention of turning attention away from government failures to blame the insurgent movement. 

Former World Bank vice president for Africa Obiageli Ezekwesili, recently joined the protests in Abuja’s Maitama park.

In announcing the ban, Police Commissioner Joseph Mbu, called the protests dangerous and embarrassing. "As the Federal Capital Territory police boss, I cannot fold my hands and watch this lawlessness,” he told the state-run news agency... Dangerous elements are planning to join the groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosives aimed at embarrassing the government."

Mbu further complained that the Fountain of Unity, the venue for protests in the capital Abuja, had become a place for "cooking and selling" by vendors to the protesters, becoming a nuisance and too near to the homes of diplomats.

Recently Peter Biyo, a legislator representing Chibok, called on federal officials to demolish the Sambisa forest – believed to be the Boko Haram hideout and so dense “you can only see the next person by your side with a flashlight. Lions, elephants and other animals roam freely,” he claimed. “Sambisa Forest must be destroyed. If the government can do that, the problem of insurgency will end”.

But Forest Management Professor Labode Popoola discounted Biyo’s remarks. In a published editorial, he wrote: “Sambisa Forest, now a National Park, has been heavily deforested… In fact, most of the animals have also migrated as a result of perturbation.

“Nigeria has lost her forest cover which as of 1979 represented about 20 per cent of its total land area… 
With barely six per cent of her land area now under forest cover, the country is now at the mercy of ravaging negative climate scenarios, desertification, gully erosion, incidence of diseases and communal conflicts. 

To now suggest that one of the few relics of forests in the northern part of Nigeria be destroyed because of a social problem accentuated by years of government insensitivity, mindless corruption and impunity in high places, is to say the least, a wrong approach to solving a self-inflicted problem. Why create more problems in an attempt to solve one?” w/pix of O. Ezekwesili at Abuja protest


June 2 (GIN) - The West African nation of Niger has one of the highest rates of child marriage.

About a quarter of all girls are married by 15 and on the road to child-bearing. That rises to nearly 80% by the age of 18. 

Prominent clerics in Niger staunchly defend the practice. Sheikh Abbas Yahaya at the Koranic school in Agadez, for example, told the BBC that marriage depends on the body of the girl and the man. "If the two are mature the marriage can be OK also, because in Islamic religion even at age nine years, if the girl is in the right condition she can be able to get married."

Now a campaign has been launched by the African Union to bring an end to child marriage on the continent. Olawale Maiyegun, director of the AU Social Affairs Commission, says AU member states should follow and implement legal frameworks that protect children. 

“The Charter on the Rights of the Child, for example, has clear provisions on harmful practices against the child,” he said. “It’s clear in the provisions of the charter, that cultural or religious or whatever should not be an excuse and states must take measures to eliminate them. People use all sorts of excuses to perpetuate what they are doing but it’s not an excuse as far as the commission is concerned.”

“We cannot down play or neglect the harmful practice of child marriage as it has long term and devastating effects on these girls whose health is at risk and at worst leading to death due to child birth and other complications,” said Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

“Child marriage concerns human rights, gender, health and culture and is a development issue which is complex, caused and maintained by a number of factors, such as poverty, gender based violence and gender discrimination, among others,” she said in her statement read at the continental launch of the African Union Campaign to End Child Marriage in Africa, held May 29, at the African Union Commission Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Participants at the launch, including African Ministers in-charge of Social Development, UN agencies, civil society organizations, experts, and survivors of child marriage, were informed that if nothing was done in the next decade, 14.2 million girls under 18 years will be married every year, which translates into 39,000 girls married each day. If this trend continues, the number of girls under 15 giving birth is expected to rise from 2 million to 3 million by 2030, in Africa.

The costs of inaction, in terms of rights unrealized, foreshortened personal potential and lost development opportunities, far outweigh the costs of interventions.

Ms. Bineta Diop, Special Envoy for Women, Peace and Security emphasized that educating girls will help improve Africa’s socio-economic development and that no child’s education should be interrupted at any time because of marriage. She noted that the real cases of child marriage happen at the grassroots and all stakeholders must work to ensure that this campaign gets to the local communities.

A two year campaign has been organized in partnership with UNICEF, UNFPA, the Ford Foundation, Girls Not Brides, among others. w/pix of Archbishop Tutu, founder of Girls Not Brides

Lisa Vives
Managing Editor
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