Africa

The SADC Wrap: DRC elections still on hold, Mugabe launches cybersecurity ministry – and ‘vampires’ murdered in Malawi

By Kristen Van Schie 16 October 2017

From the DRC and to Zimbabwe and Lesotho, KRISTEN VAN SCHIE gives you a round-up of news from the region.

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s electoral commission announced last week that the country was unlikely to hold elections until 2019, extending President Joseph Kabila’s rule even further after his term expired in 2016.

The government cited funding constraints and voter registration delays as reasons for postponing last year’s vote. After a series of violent protests, the state and opposition agreed to form a unity government to work towards holding the election this year instead.

But Kabila has been accused of failing to honour the spirit of the agreement and has used many a public appearance on the international stage this year to undermine a 2017 vote.

The statement released last week by the commission – calling for an extra 504 days to prepare – has now shattered any illusions of the election happening this year… or even next.

And the potential for violence is real.

Writes Deutsche Welle: “The initial delay [in 2016] generated deadly protests across the country, and there are fears that Tuesday’s postponement could make a tense situation far worse.”

United Nations envoy to the DRC Maman Sidikou said the postponement had led to “the re-emergence of a climate of political uncertainty and tensions”.

In a worrying statement to Reuters, opposition politician Claudel Lubaya said the people “must take matters into its own hands”, while AFP reports that the opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi said the commission had “declared war on the Congolese people”.

There’s an enormous amount of anger,” Phil Clark, DRC expert and political scientist at the University of London, told Deutsche Welle. “I think we’re going to see the protests continue. And every time there have been large-scale protests in the last 12 months, there has also been a very violent crackdown, particularly by the Congolese police… I think the fear of many Congolese people is that this will also lead to a very significant civilian death toll. So it’s very volatile days ahead for Congo.”

***

A cabinet shuffle in Zimbabwe last week saw the creation of a new cybersecurity ministry, just weeks after the government blamed social media for a recent slew of panic buying amid the country’s ongoing cash crisis.

Former finance minister Patrick Chinamasa – who was one of the loudest critics of social media as the queues formed outside shops and petrol stations – will be heading the ministry.

And it’s a development that already has free speech activists concerned.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa’s Zimbabwe wing said in a statement that Chinamasa’s threats to tighten social media controls have had “chilling effects on the use of social media by the citizenry”.

MISA Zimbabwe takes notes that these unfortunate threats have resulted in self-censorship by the citizenry when engaging on topical issues affecting the country,” they said.

Which was probably the intended effect, given the move was inspired by authoritarian regimes the world over. That’s according to presidential spokesman George Charamba, who told the state-owned Chronicle that Mugabe had “specifically made reference to Russia, he made reference to China, and he made reference to the Koreans as countries who have done exceedingly well in terms of ensuring some kind of order and lawfulness in that area”.

Said one Zimbabwean IT expert to Quartz: “People have been making jokes about this ministry but I see serious threat to freedom of expression, access to information and the right to privacy… We now have a ministry dedicated to surveillance and monitoring of the cyberspace.”

***

The former army chief blamed for much of the insecurity plaguing Lesotho in recent years last week handed himself over to the police for questioning.

Tlali Kamoli headed the military from 2012 to 2014 and was accused of masterminding a quasi-coup that year after Prime Minister Tom Thabane fired him.

A snap vote saw former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili return to power in early 2015 and, after Kamoli’s successor was murdered, he was reinstated as army chief. He stood down in late 2016. In September 2017, yet another successor was shot dead.

Speaking to the Lesotho Times, police spokesman Mpiti Mopeli said Kamoli was being questioned “about the events that took place during his leadership of the Lesotho Defence Force”.

***

And vigilante murders of people accused of being vampires in Malawi have left seven dead, with the UN pulling some staff out of the affected districts.

Reuters reports that, according to a UN document, the murders began in September and now “mobs searching for vampires have been mounting road blocks in the district”.

The document called for a “temporary suspension of UN activities in the area until the situation is normalised”.

The government has now imposed a curfew, reports the BBC, while President Peter Mutharika has urged citizens not to take matters into their own hands.

If anyone is caught in relation to the blood sucking rumours, he or she will face a severe penalty because the situation is hindering development progress in the country,” Mutharika said at a meeting with some of the affected communities, reports the Nyasa Times.

Over 30 people have been arrested in connection with the killings. DM

Photo:  Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe (C)   inspects a guard of honour mounted for him, before he officially opened the Fifth Session of the Eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe, 12 September 2017. The Fifth Session will be the last before the 2018 elections of which the date is yet to be set.  EPA-EFE/AARON UFUMELI

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