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Vote counting in Benin after election marked by violent protests
11 April 2021, 10:08 PM

Vote counting began in Benin on Sunday after a presidential poll that was boycotted by some opposition parties over pre-election violence and their objection to President Patrice Talon’s quest for a second term.

Talon, a multi-millionaire cotton magnate who touts strong economic growth under his leadership, is accused by his opponents of undermining Benin’s standing as one of West Africa’s most stable democracies.

Protests in several cities this week turned violent. Some people were killed in gunfire on Thursday in the central town of Bante when security forces fired warning shots, its mayor told local radio, without saying how many died.

After casting his vote at a primary school in the commercial capital Cotonou, Talon said Benin was “writing another page in its history despite the intimidation.”

“There are people who have mobilised fighters to attack the republic. Police officers have been attacked with weapons of war. It is regrettable,” he said.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm where or when such violence occurred.

Among the protesters’ complaints are Talon’s U-turn on a pledge he made as a candidate in 2016 to serve only one term, and changes he pushed through to election laws, which resulted in total control of parliament by Talon’s supporters and the exclusion of leading opponents from the presidential race.

A coalition of opposition parties in a statement late on Saturday called on their supporters to boycott the poll, and voters largely stayed away from at least five polling stations in opposition-supporting areas of Cotonou.

“I think it is an election whose results are known in advance. My vote will not change anything,” said Nadine Abibou, a 27-year-old shopkeeper.

Others were undeterred by the boycott call.

“I came to vote this morning to choose the president. I hope that the Beninese will come out massively to do the same as I did,” said Diane Fanou, a 30-year-old hairdresser, in the Zogbo neighbourhood.

As of 11 a.m. local time (10:00 GMT) voting had not started in several districts in the centre of the country because election materials had been blocked from reaching polling stations, a group of civil society organisations monitoring the election said.

U.S. democracy watchdog Freedom House downgraded Benin last year in its annual rankings from “free” to “partly free”.

Talon faces two relatively little-known opposition candidates. Several prominent opposition leaders have been detained this year on terrorism-related charges, Amnesty International said. Talon has denied his government is targeting his opponents.

Benin, a country of about 12 million people, became Africa’s top cotton exporter in 2018.

Provisional results of the first round of the election are expected by April 13.

Tanzania opposition calls for new constitution, faster COVID-19 research
11 April 2021, 9:59 PM

Tanzanian opposition leader Freeman Mbowe called on Sunday for the new government to prioritise a new constitution, reviving calls for limiting presidential powers.

Mbowe, chairman of Chadema, the country’s main opposition party, said in a speech the current constitution gives “someone the chance to be a dictator or a king”, adding it should be a government priority to set a timetable and a procedural framework to change the constitution.

Mbowe also called on President Samia Suluhu Hassan to “fast track” her proposal, presented on Tuesday, to form a scientific committee to research COVID-19.

Hassan took office on March 19 following the death of President John Magufuli, who had been Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 sceptic.

Magufuli had urged people to shun mask-wearing and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy, and the country also stopped reporting data on coronavirus last May.

Magufuli disappeared from public life for several weeks before he died and there were rumours he was that he was ill with COVID-19. Hassan, who served as Magufuli’s deputy for six years, has said he died of heart disease.

Tuberculosis remains a huge problem in Eastern Cape
11 April 2021, 9:22 PM

COVID-19 has ravaged the Eastern Cape, claiming more than 11 000 lives in the province. At the same time, tuberculosis remained a huge problem.

The TB survey conducted in 2018 found the disease present in 737 out of every 100 000 people. Statistics from 2015 showed the Eastern Cape to be the province with the highest prevalence of TB.

And now a sharp increase in infections in the Ntabankulu area of the province has raised a red flag.

Ntabankulu is nestled in the rural heartland of the Eastern Cape. But despite its natural beauty, poverty bites deep here. Infectious diseases like TB also run rampant.

The lack of access to health care is a contributing factor. People are defaulting on their TB treatment. The provincial government is stepping in.

Tuberculosis remains a huge problem in the Eastern Cape: 

Health MEC, Nomakhosazana Meth says, “We have since discovered that numbers are rising in children that are younger than 16 – who are defaulting their TB treatment. That is exposing them to XDR and MDR. So we are saying let’s end TB within our communities, so we are saying to our people they must come back and take their treatment. Nobody is going to fight with them.”

The outreach brought health care to the people living in the rural outskirts of Ntabankulu.

Villager Maxaba Tshewana says, “I am happy that these services have been brought closer to us. I am suffering from chest pains, legs and my waist is soaring. So I hope that I will be assisted by the doctors.”

Another villager, Maphelo Ntlangula says, “I am excited because I have come here for vaccination. We have been hearing about it, but today we are here we need vaccination so that we can be protected from COVID-19 and other diseases.”

The comprehensive intervention related to TB and HIV/AIDS in the Alfred Nzo region has been welcomed.

Eastern Cape Aids Council Secretary, Vuyisile Dlayile explains, “We are very concerned that the statistics are high and the TB prevalence in this area of Ntabankulu. We are very excited that at least this intervention is taking place here so that the TB programme is addressing it. We are very unfortunate that we have five provinces that are TB prone. I am happy we are dealing with it.”

The Health Department is encouraging people to consult health professionals when they fall ill. TB claimed 58 000 South African lives in 2019.

Chad count votes as Deby seeks sixth term after 30 years in power
11 April 2021, 8:52 PM

Vote counting has started in Chad after a tense presidential election on Sunday that is likely to see President Idriss Deby extend his three-decade rule, despite signs of growing discontent over his handling of the nation’s oil wealth.

Election officials began counting ballots at a polling station in centre of the capital N’Djamena immediately after polls closed, watched by a group of observers, a Reuters reporter said.

The election commission has until April 25 to announce provisional results.

Deby, 68, was the first to cast his ballot at a polling station in the capital N’Djamena. He is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and an ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamist militants in West and Central Africa.

“I’m calling on all Chadians to come out and vote for the candidate of their choice who will have to tackle the major challenges facing our country over the next six years,” Deby told journalists after voting.

Deby seized power in 1990 in an armed rebellion, and in 2018 pushed through a new constitution that could let him stay in power until 2033 – even as it reinstated term limits.

He has relied on a firm grip over state institutions and one of the region’s most capable militaries to maintain power. Deby said recently he knew in advance that he would win again “as I have done for the last 30 years”.

“Many of you, my daughters and sons, were not yet born when I took power in 1990,” he said at his final campaign rally on Friday. “You have asked me to be a candidate for this sixth term.”

RIVALS

Among Deby’s six rivals is former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke, but several leading opponents are boycotting the race, including the 2016 runner-up Saleh Kebzabo, who has vowed to make Chad “ungovernable” if Deby wins.

Observers are closely watching the turnout after several recent anti-government demonstrations turned violent. A heavy military presence patrolled the capital on Sunday.

In the Moursal and Chagoua southern neighbourhoods of N’Djamena, considered as opposition strongholds, few voters had shown up at polling stations by mid-morning.

Jules Ngarbatina, a resident of Moursal said were scared of coming out in large numbers because they feared reprisals from other who supported the boycott.

Yacine Abderaman Sakine, leader of the Reformist Party, who joined the call for a boycott, said Chadians were tired of pretending that elections are free and fair.

“The lack of enthusiasm in polling stations today is a strong message to those who confiscate power by force,” Sakine told Reuters.

On Friday authorities said they had arrested several people, including at least one opposition leader, for what they said was a plot to assassinate politicians and bomb polling stations and the electoral commission headquarters.

The opposition said the arrests showed mounting repression under Deby. The government rejects the accusations of human rights abuses.

Chad has come under increasing public pressure over a flagging economy as low prices for its main export, oil, in recent years forced cutbacks in public spending and sparked labour strikes.

Pacific island devotees of Prince Philip send their condolences
11 April 2021, 8:41 PM

The chief of an indigenous group in the South Pacific island of Vanuatu that venerated Prince Philip offered condolences to Britain’s royal family on Sunday and recalled meeting the late prince during a visit to England.

“The connection between the people on the Island of Tanna and the English people is very strong,” said Chief Yapa of Ikunala village, Tanna. “We are sending condolence messages to the royal family and the people of England.”

The people of Ikunala plan to hold a special ceremony on Monday to remember Philip, the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, following his death last Friday at the age of 99.

The veneration of Philip by people on Tanna Island, Vanuatu, stemmed from a local legend about the pale-skinned son of a local mountain god who ventured across the seas to look for a rich and powerful woman to marry.

In 2007, Yapa and four other men from Ikunala village on Tanna travelled to England to participate in a three-part British television documentary called “Meet the Natives” – the “natives” being the English.

The men visited Windsor Castle, a residence of the Queen near London, where they met Philip and took photos with him which they now cherish.

Kirk Huffman, an anthropologist and Honorary Curator of the National Museum at Vanuatu Cultural Centre, said that the men were honoured to be welcomed by the English and loved meeting them. “They were treated very well,” Huffman said.

However, he said the islanders were amazed and saddened when they saw beggars and homeless people in England because none is homeless on their island.

Anthropologists believe Philip became linked to the legend in the 1960s when Vanuatu was an Anglo-French colony known as the New Hebrides.

Villagers at the time were likely to have seen portraits of Philip and Queen Elizabeth at government offices and police stations run by colonial officials before he visited the island with the Queen in 1974.

The villagers’ special interest in Philip manifested itself in daily prayers for his blessing of their banana and yam crops and the posting of photos in village homes. One such photo was from 1980 and showed the prince, dressed in a suit, holding a club used to kill pigs that had been made by the islanders and sent to London.

Philip, who had a reputation for often being outspoken and with a propensity for occasional gaffes, maintained a respectful 50-year relationship with the group.

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