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Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Mexico ‘did well’ in releasing Guzman son to avoid violence, president says
18 October 2019, 7:24 PM

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador defended security forces on Friday over their handling of a shocking outbreak of drug violence, saying they had saved lives by releasing a son of jailed kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after his brief capture. Cartel gunmen surrounded security forces in the north-western city of Culiacan on Thursday and made them free the drug lord’s son Ovidio Guzman, after his detention triggered gun battles and a prison break that stunned the city.

Lopez Obrador was asked at his regular morning news conference who had taken the decision to release Guzman’s son, and he said that his top security officials had made the call, adding that he supported it because it saved lives.

“The officials who took this decision did well,” Lopez Obrador said. “We’re doing really well in our strategy.”

The violent reaction in Culiacan, in Sinaloa state, to Guzman’s capture was on a scale rarely seen during Mexico’s long drug war, even after his more famous father’s arrests.

Chaos in the city continued into the night.

A large group of inmates escaped from the city prison. Residents cowered in shopping centres and supermarkets as gunfire roared. Black plumes of smoke rose across the skyline.

Lopez Obrador, a veteran leftist who took office in December, rejected criticism that the government had acted weakly in releasing the younger Guzman, describing this view as “conjecture” put about by his adversaries to discredit him.

A trenchant critic of past administrations, Lopez Obrador said the previous strategy had turned Mexico into a “graveyard” and that his critics wanted him to continue with it.

He said security forces had swooped in to capture Ovidio Guzman after a judge issued a warrant for his arrest and extradition. On Thursday the government said the soldiers had come under fire as they neared the house where Guzman was.

The chaos in Culiacan, long a stronghold for the Guzmans’ Sinaloa cartel, has turned up pressure on Lopez Obrador, who took office promising to pacify a country weary after more than a decade of gang violence, disappearances and shootouts.

However, murders in 2019 are set to reach a record high.

Thursday’s events follow the massacre of more than a dozen police in western Mexico earlier this week and the killing of 14 suspected gangsters by the army a day later.

The elder Guzman escaped from prison in Mexico twice, in 2001 and 2015. Under the previous administration, security forces captured him two times in Sinaloa; in 2014 and 2016.

The previous government extradited the senior Guzman to the United States on the eve of President Donald Trump’s accession. He was found guilty in a US court in February of smuggling tons of drugs and sentenced to life in prison.

Joaquin Guzman is believed to have about 12 children including Ovidio.

The US Department of Justice unveiled an indictment against Ovidio and another of the brothers in February, charging them with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in the US.

Ebola survivors battle grief and stigma in eastern DRC
18 October 2019, 6:46 PM

Arlette Kavugho was discharged from an Ebola ward in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in March, but her troubles did not end there. When the mother of six tried to return to work as a seamstress in her hometown of Butembo, her customers were too scared of catching the disease, despite doctors’ assurances that she was no longer contagious.

Instead, she found work as a caregiver to children suspected of having Ebola, only to be accused by neighbours of faking her illness to get the job.

To this day, Kavugho has not been able to find the graves of her 19-year-old daughter and two-month-old granddaughter, who died of Ebola while she was receiving treatment and were hastily buried to avoid any further contamination.

“I try to find the dates on the crosses that may coincide with their deaths but I always come back empty-handed,” the 40-year old said softly as she clung to a picture of her daughter with the word “adieu” written alongside.

As of October, more than 1 000 people have survived the 14-month Ebola outbreak in the DRC, the world’s second-deadliest, helped by new medicines that have proven effective against the virus when administered early.

More than 3 200 people are known to have been infected with the virus, of whom more than 2 100 have died since the outbreak was declared in the eastern region.

The survivors, who call themselves “les vainqueurs,” French for “the victorious,” however, struggle to return to their former lives as they deal with the fear of relapse, long-term health issues like blurry vision and headaches and stigmatisation by their families and neighbours.

Vianey Kombi, 31, was a maths teacher when he contracted Ebola in November 2018. Like Kavugho, he found it impossible to return to his former job and now cares for Ebola patients.

“It hurts when I walk past the school where I was teaching and the children who recognise me start screaming in my direction: Ebola, Ebola,” Kombi said. “We have all been accused of receiving money to say that we had Ebola. It hurts a lot when your community treats you as corrupt after you’ve been at your sickest.”

GIVING BACK

Accusations like this are common in eastern DRC, where many residents see the outbreak as a money-making scheme made up by the government and outside organisations.

“I was even accused of having received money to bring people from my community to the treatment centre, to kill them with the virus and then sell their organs abroad,” said Moise Vaghemi, 33, who survived Ebola in August.

Mistrust and armed attacks against medical staff have slowed efforts to stamp out the epidemic. Even so, health authorities say survivors play a vital role in their communities by showing that Ebola can be overcome.

Some say they draw strength from returning to treatment centres to work as caregivers for children with Ebola, many of whom have lost parents and siblings to the disease.

The antibodies developed during their illness mean they can spend entire days with patients wearing only partial protective gear and not the stifling head-to-toe suits donned by doctors and nurses.

In Katwa, outside of Butembo, Noella Masika, wearing blue scrubs, a surgical mask and a hair net, bathed a 1-year-old girl suspected of having Ebola in a small plastic bucket. Masika lost 17 family members to Ebola, including both parents and two grandparents, but she counts herself fortunate to have survived.

“I feel compassionate and grateful for the care I received,” she said. “I feel an obligation to contribute to the fight against Ebola.”

Poor infrastructure impacts North West school’s academic performance
18 October 2019, 6:36 PM

Poor school infrastructure is said to be one of the main factors impacting academic performance. Conditions at some schools in the North West are appalling, infringing on the right to quality education.  Dilapidated classrooms, overcrowding and pit toilets putting learners’ health and safety at risk; those are conditions at Kgosi Shope Secondary School in Setlhwatlhwa, North West.

The school’s SGB and parents say they’re concerned. They say there are 123 learners in one Grade 8 class while Grade 11’s and grade 12’s are taught Maths and Physical Sciences in a shack.

Martha Matashu, North West University’s Director of Education, says poor infrastructure affects academic performance.  “There is strong evidence that high-quality infrastructure betters instructions and improves learners’ academic performance and reduces dropout rates. Therefore, the implication is that the lack of infrastructure might be a barrier that might lead to the realisation of education as a fundamental constitutional right.”

In 2018 the North West Education Department failed to spend its infrastructure grants. The money was eventually transferred to its Eastern Cape counterpart, a blunder the department has vowed never to repeat.

Department spokesperson Elias Malindi says they have now employed qualified people to manage projects.  “We have now employed qualified people who can deal with projects such as project managers, architects. So we believe that going forward, we will not be able to experience the past incident where the money was transferred to another province.”

The department says it is upgrading school infrastructure, but with the year-end exams already underway, it will be too late for many pupils.

Reverend Bernice King
Martin Luther King’s daughter tells Facebook disinformation helped kill civil rights leader
18 October 2019, 4:08 PM

Disinformation campaigns helped lead to the assassination of Martin Luther King, the daughter of the US civil rights champion said on Thursday after the head of Facebook said social media should not fact check political advertisements.

The comments come as Facebook Inc is under fire for its approach to political advertisements and speech, which Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg defended on Thursday in a major speech that twice referenced King, known by his initials MLK.

King’s daughter, Bernice, tweeted that she had heard the speech.

“I’d like to help Facebook better understand the challenges #MLK faced from disinformation campaigns launched by politicians. These campaigns created an atmosphere for his assassination,” she wrote from the handle @BerniceKing.

King died of an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee, on 4 April 1968.

Zuckerberg argued that his company should give voice to minority views and said that court protection for free speech stemmed in part from a case involving a partially inaccurate advertisement by King supporters. The US Supreme Court protected the supporters from a lawsuit.

“People should decide what is credible, not tech companies,” Zuckerberg said.

“We very much appreciate Ms. King’s offer to meet with us. Her perspective is invaluable and one we deeply respect. We look forward to continuing this important dialogue with her in Menlo Park next week,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

Alpha Conde
What limits? How African leaders cling to power for decades
18 October 2019, 3:28 PM

Guinea erupted in protest this week over proposals to draft a new constitution that could allow President Alpha Conde to extend his legal mandate and run for a third term in 2020.

If Conde tries to stay, he would be copying from an established playbook in Africa, where incumbent presidents have sought, often successfully, to remain in power by massaging, bending or outright breaking laws often meant to ensure democratic handovers of power.

Below are details on how some of Africa’s longest-serving leaders have managed to stay in power, or are trying to do so, denting hopes of a dawn of democracy across the region.

BURUNDI – President Pierre Nkurunziza

Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, announced in 2015 he would run for a third term in what his opponents saw as a breach of the constitution which only allowed leaders to rule for two terms. Since his re-election, hundreds of Burundians have been killed in clashes with security forces and half a million have fled abroad.

A referendum in May 2018 overwhelmingly approved changes that extended the length of presidential terms to seven years. Under the new constitution, Nkurunziza is now able serve a further two terms, potentially extending his rule until 2034.

The opposition rejected the results and the United States said the process had been marred by voter intimidation.

CAMEROON – President Paul Biya

Biya, 86 and sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest leader, took over the presidency in 1982. The national assembly adopted a constitutional bill in April 2008, removing a two-term presidential limit to allow him to extend his rule past 2011. He has won two elections since then that opposition candidates have said were fraudulent.

CHAD – President Idriss Deby

Deby has ruled Chad since coming to power after a 1990 coup. A 2005 referendum removed a two-term limit from the constitution. Parliament approved a new constitution in 2018 re-imposing the two-term limit, but it will not be applied retroactively, meaning Deby could serve two terms after the next election in 2021, potentially ruling until 2033.

COMOROS – President Azali Assoumani

The president, a former military officer who first seized power in a coup in 1999, won a referendum in 2018 to extend term limits and end a system of rotating power among the archipelago’s three main islands off Africa’s east coast. The vote allowed him to run for two more five year-terms.

The opposition dismissed the referendum as illegal.

CONGO REPUBLIC – Denis Sassou Nguesso

The constitution in Congo Republic was changed by referendum in 2015, lifting term and age limits that would have excluded Nguesso from running again. He won a new five-year term in a 2016 election, although the opposition rejected the outcome, alleging fraud.

He has ruled for all but five years since 1979.

DJIBOUTI – President Ismail Omar Guelleh

Lawmakers in Djibouti approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that paved the way for Guelleh, in power since 1999, to run for a third term. He has won two subsequent elections.

GUINEA – President Alpha Conde

Conde’s second and final five-year term expires in 2020, but the 81-year-old leader has refused to rule out running again. In September, he asked his government to look into drafting a new constitution, raising concerns he might use it as a reset button on his presidency and run again.

Conde was first elected in 2010.

IVORY COAST – President Alassane Ouattara

Ouattara, in power since 2010, has claimed the adoption of a new constitution in 2016 would allow him to run for a third term in the 2020 presidential race because a new constitution would mean the first two terms did not count. He has not yet said if he will stand for re-election.

RWANDA – President Paul Kagame

In 2015, Rwandans voted to extend the constitution’s two-term limit. Under the changes, Kagame could seek another seven-year term and two five-year terms after that, potentially remaining in power until 2034.

Kagame, who won a third term in 2017, has faced mounting criticism for what human rights groups say are widespread abuses, a muzzling of independent media and suppression of political opposition. He denies wrongdoing. He first came to power in 2000.

TOGO – President Faure Gnassingbe

Togo changed its constitution in 2019 to cap the presidential mandate at two five-year terms ostensibly in response to opposition calls for an end to a political dynasty that started when Gnassingbe’s father seized power in a 1967 coup.

However it does not take into account the three terms Gnassingbe has already served since coming to power in 2005, the latest of which ends in 2020. Gnassingbe could therefore remain in power until 2030.

UGANDA – President Yoweri Museveni

Museveni has ruled Uganda since 1986. A term-limiting clause that would have prevented him from seeking re-election was deleted from the constitution in 2005.

In 2017, lawmakers voted to remove a constitutional limit on the age of presidential candidates, paving the way for 75-year-old Museveni to stand again in the 2021 election.

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