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Africa in December: Electoral mayhem in the DRC, the violent suppression of seething Sudanese, and more

The election in DRC finally took place - and now there is a delay announcing the results; the opposition in Togo boycott their elections; demonstrators in Sudan shot during protests against fuel and bread price hikes; South African opposition politician publicly attacks specific journalists who in turn are verbally abused and threatened.

A man holds his voter card after voting at a symbolic polling station at Malepe Stadium in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, 30 December 2018, where voting was postponed
A man holds his voter card after voting at a symbolic polling station at Malepe Stadium in Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, 30 December 2018, where voting was postponed

ALEXIS HUGUET/AFP/Getty Images


Rising post-election tensions

The delay in announcement of election results in the Democratic Republic of Congo is causing friction and has raised suspicions of electoral fraud.

There is concern that the main presidential contender, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, who is also President Joseph Kabila's personal choice, will be declared the winner despite evidence to the contrary. It's a complex situation. He was pitted against the coalition leader - Felix Tshisekedi. His party, the Union for Democracy and Social Progress (UDPS) and the Union for the Congolese Nation, led by Vital Kamerhe, came together to form the Coalition for Change (CACH) alliance, with Tshisekedi as the chosen candidate. The third contender, Martin Fayulu, who stood for the Lamuku Alliance, was backed by opposition heavyweights Jean-Pierre Bemba and Moïse Katumbi, both of whom the CENI has barred as presidential candidates.

The long-promised general election finally took place on 30 December 2018, after a period marred by controversy, chaos, violence, and what has been described as deliberate mismanagement.

On 20 December, Journalists in Danger (JED) reported that a journalist-technician working with Radio Mwinda in the DRC was arrested soon after the station he works for aired the rally of opposition presidential candidate Martin Fayulu. As Rodrigue Ndakazieka was leaving the office, he was shoved into the back of a car allegedly belonging to an MP of the ruling party. He was allegedly assaulted by members of the police force who were also in the car. JED strongly condemn the arrest and detention of Ndakazieka, and are demanding that he be released immediately.

Voting day was characterised by long queues, instances of delayed or missing ballot papers, delayed openings and early closures of polling stations, alleged errors on the voters' roll and other technical problems.

The internet shutdown ordered by the government just as the vote counting began is just one of the many obstructions citizens in the DRC have had to contend with. Along with the suspension of access to the internet and social media platforms, authorities ordered the blocking of broadcasting signals of certain stations, and refused to accredit a foreign correspondent.

Senior presidential adviser Barnabe Kikaya bin Karubi reportedly justified the shutdown "as a measure to prevent the spread of "fictitious [election] results... that could lead us straight toward chaos". According to the Minister of Information and Media, Lambert Mende, internet and SMS services in DRC would remain disconnected until the announcement of results - scheduled for January 6, but since postponed. It is difficult to predict when the results will be made public.

With the delay, pressure is mounting for regional and international bodies to take a position.

According to a Reuters report, the United Nations Security Council is divided in its reaction to the election turmoil, while the United States has condemned the lack of transparency. Despite strong evidence of irregularities, China has lauded the process, and there is support from the SADC electoral observer mission (SEOM), whose preliminary statement "observed that the 2018 Presidential, Legislative and Provincial Elections were comparatively well managed and the voting process proceeded relatively smoothly, enabling the majority of the people of the DRC to exercise their right to vote."

The EU referred to the crossroads the DRC has come to as: "a historic moment toward a democratic transition," and it called on the authorities "to ensure the upcoming results conform with the Congolese people's vote". In a tweet, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, indicated that the results of the election process must be respected. Citizens and civic society are rallying behind the National Episcopal Conference of Congo (CENCO), which managed to deploy 40,000 observers throughout the country. Considered to be one of the more trusted institutions in the country, CENCO have announced they are confident there is one clear winner, and have accordingly called on the electoral management body to publish accurate results.

The fact that the elections took place at all is a feat in itself.

Originally scheduled for 27 November 2016, the general elections were pushed forward to the end of 2017, and it was agreed that President Joseph Kabila should leave his seat of power. There was a further delay to 2018, and with internal and international pressure, the elections were eventually scheduled for 23 December 2018. The head of CENI, Corneille Nangaa, then announced there would be a further postponement to December 30. This was followed by an announcement that voting in Beni and Butembo areas, with about 1.3 million registered voters, would be postponed to March 2019, ostensibly because of an Ebola outbreak and militia violence. Angered by the decision to postpone elections in the 3 counties, residents in neighbouring Goma and specifically in the Majengo neighbourhood took to the streets. Businesses were shut down while demonstrators placed barricades across the roads. Youths who had congested the main road were dispersed by the police. In defiance of the decision to delay the vote, residents of Beni went ahead and voted anyway. With yet another delay in the announcement of the results, many Congolese are ready to challenge what they say has been a deliberately mismanaged vote out on the streets.


Sudan erupts once more

What started out as isolated incidents of people opposing the bread and fuel hikes in Sudan on 19 December has grown into a nationwide protest. The demonstrations have mushroomed in both size and volume, with citizens calling for the resignation of President Omar al Bashir. Years of economic mismanagement resulting in crippling inflation and a repressive regime have pushed people over the edge. They are demanding change. The use of the army to brutally quell the growing dissent has done little to deter protestors. Organisers and activists have found ways around the internet disruptions and blocking of social media to organize and express solidarity.

Sudanese authorities have arrested opposition leaders and activists as a direct response to calls for more anti-government rallies. The media have not been spared either. Before 2018 came to a close, security agents arrested columnist Kamal Karrar from a café in downtown Khartoum. A few days later National Security and Intelligence Service (NSIS) agents arrested Faisal Mohamed Saleh and Ghurashi Awad in Khartoum and interrogated them over their coverage of the protests, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

During similar protests in September 2013 when people took to the streets objecting to the high cost living, at least 185 people were shot, either in the head, chest or back, by Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) and the police. The authorities have not yet prosecuted anyone for those killings. In these latest protests, Amnesty International has estimated the death toll at 37 and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for an investigation.

Al Jazeera reports that while "addressing police generals, al Bashir cited a Quranic verse about retribution in an apparent defense of security measures against protesters: 'What is retribution? It's killing, is it not? It is execution. Our Lord described [it] as life because it is a means of deterring others so that we can maintain security'."

Since he seized power through a bloodless coup in June 1989, al Bashir has ruled Sudan for longer than anyone in the country's history. His grip on power has been maintained by creating divisions, fuelling ethnic conflicts, intimidation, arrests, torture and executions.

Flustered and wavering in his response, he has promised to focus on development and reduce inflation. This time, citizens do not appear to be buying into his promises.


Opposition boycott Togo elections marked by pre-vote deadly demonstrations

Parliamentary elections initially scheduled for July 2018 in Togo were finally held in December with pressure from the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS). The regional economic body made up of 15 countries showed their mettle during the 31 July ECOWAS Conference of Heads of State meeting, issuing a roadmap aiming to put an end to the crisis in Togo. Top of the agenda was the holding of parliamentary elections.

While the election itself was peaceful, there were deadly demonstrations two weeks before voting day. Amnesty International recorded four deaths, including that of a 12-year-old boy who was shot in the head during clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

The main opposition parties boycotted the elections following the refusal of President Faure Gnassingbe to cancel proposed constitutional reforms that would allow him to run for two more terms beyond his current term ending in 2020. The inevitable result was a major victory for President Faure Gnassingbe's party as they won the highest number of seats in parliament.


Complaint filed against opposition party leader hitting out at journalists

Journalists in South Africa have been verbally and physically threatened and intimidated after the leader of the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, called on party supporters to deal with specific journalists "decisively."

Addressing a crowd outside the Zondo commission of inquiry looking into state capture, Malema hit out at seven prominent journalists and commentators. He accused the journalists of being complicit in a campaign to protect Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Political journalist Ranjeni Munusamy, one of the journalists targeted by Malema, describes how her Twitter account has been flooded with abusive and threatening tweets from his supporters. "I've been called a witch, a c**t, a snake, an achaar-eating bitch and a street girl, was told to 'go hang' and have been accused of being a racist. I have also been told I should be f**ked in the arse to be taught a lesson".

In a bid to discourage the attacks and harassment of journalists, the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) filed a complaint with the Equality court on the grounds of upholding media freedom and seeking protection for journalists. Munusamy is joined by fellow journalists Pauli van Wyk, Adriaan Basson, Max du Preez and Barry Bateman - all of whom have received threats and been verbally abused.

SANEF says it resorted to taking the legal route after Malema snubbed several attempts to meet to discuss the issue.

They want the court to interdict Malema and the EFF from:
• Intimidating, harassing, threatening or assaulting any journalist;
• Publishing personal information about any journalist;
• Expressly or tacitly endorsing the intimidation and harassment of journalists by supporters or followers on social media or on public platforms; and
• Expressly or tacitly endorsing the publication of personal information by supporters or followers on public platforms or on social media.


In brief

The secretary general of Mali's newly established Truth, Justice and Reconciliation and Commission (TJRC), Colonel Abdoulaye Makalou, brutally assaulted and threatened to kill journalist Hamidou Toure El Hadji. El Hadji, the managing editor of the online news organisation malimedias.com was forced to drink urine after being viciously beaten by the colonel's bodyguards.

Sheikh Khalifa, the founder and head of Human Rights Journalists in Somalia, was seriously injured in a targeted bomb attack in Somalia.

Journaliste en Danger (JED) have published their 2018 annual report which looks at the political context the media in the DRC have to contend with, and statistics on threats, censorship and arrests.

Verbal attacks on the media by ruling party officials are on the increase in Liberia. President George Weah is being asked to uphold media freedom and preserve freedom of expression and condemn government officials taking part in such attacks.

Two Kenyan journalists, Brian Ondeng' and Geoffrey Oguma, were arrested and their equipment confiscated while covering the arrest of a community member in the Bondo area. The two journalists were detained overnight and charged with police obstruction. The court ordered the police chief, Abdikadir Yusuf, to return the equipment that had been confiscated from the two journalists. Soon after a chief attacked another reporter, the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) expressed its concern. The MCK also made reference to the attack on Ondeng' and Oguma.

Also, activists in Kenya have been intimidated and threatened by government officials.

They have been speaking out against the lack of compensation for relocations and environmental degradation caused by a development project called the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET).

The Public Affairs Officer of the Lesotho Defence Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Mashili Mashili sent a threatening letter to Pascalinah Kabi - a journalist with Lesotho Times and Sunday Express.

Nigerian journalist Olanrewaju Lawal, who works for The Sun newspaper in the state of Kebbi, was arrested on 10 December for a story he wrote. Lawal was hurriedly arraigned before a magistrate's court without legal representation, and charged with publishing false information.

On 15 December 2018, all charges against journalist Michel Biem Tong were dropped and he was released in Yaounde, Cameroon, following a presidential pardon.

Tong, editor of the privately owned Hurinews, had been detained on 23 October after being summoned to the State Secretariat for Defense. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported that "prior to his arrest, Tong had published articles criticizing the Cameroonian government's handling of grievances of Anglophone Cameroonians from the western regions of the country in the run-up to presidential elections on October 7."

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