Sunday, 25 February 2018
Items filtered by date: August 2017

In the eyes of some voters, Philippe Mpayimana, a fresh-faced former journalist running for president of Rwanda, is just a clown. Otherwise, they ask, why would he be running against longtime President Paul Kagame?

Some of Mpayimana's campaign venues are nearly empty of people, underscoring a widespread belief among Rwandans that Friday's election is just another coronation for Kagame, who won 93 percent of the votes in the last election.

In the tidy capital, Kigali, there is little hint of the coming vote.

Presidential candidates are barred from putting campaign posters in most public places, including schools and hospitals. The electoral commission vets candidates' campaign messages, warning that their social media accounts could be blocked otherwise.

FILE - Presidential candidate Philippe Mpayimana speaks to a crowd in Rwanda.
FILE - Presidential candidate Philippe Mpayimana speaks to a crowd in Rwanda.

"Some people here even don't know names of candidates running against Kagame," said Chris Munyaneza, a university lecturer who lives in Kigali. "People are not bothered."

"There is no excitement because people knew the winner a long time ago," said another Kigali resident who insisted on anonymity for his safety.

Kagame has been de facto leader or president of the East African nation of 12 million people since his rebels ended its 1994 genocide. While he remains popular for presiding over impressive economic growth, he inspires fear among some Rwandans who say he uses the powers of the state to remove perceived opponents.

Three potential candidates for Friday's election were disqualified by the electoral commission for allegedly failing to fulfil certain requirements, including collecting enough signatures. Two others — Mpayimana and Frank Habineza of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda — were cleared to run.

The 59-year-old Kagame has already claimed victory, telling a rally in July that the winner of the election is already known: "The day of the presidential elections will just be a formality." He pointed to a constitutional amendment after a referendum in 2015 that allows him to stay in power until 2034.

'Climate of fear'

Ahead of the polls, tension has been growing following the mass retirement of over 800 army officers — rare before an election — and the reported arrest of at least four senior officers. The arrests include a man related to the late Col. Patrick Karegeya, a former intelligence chief who became a prominent dissident but was found dead in January 2014, apparently strangled, in South Africa.

FILE - Incumbent Rwandan President Paul Kagame gives a speech during a campaign rally, July 31, 2017 in Gakenke, Rwanda, ahead of August 4 presidential election.
FILE - Incumbent Rwandan President Paul Kagame gives a speech during a campaign rally, July 31, 2017 in Gakenke, Rwanda, ahead of August 4 presidential election.

Karegeya's widow, who now lives in the United States, said of Kagame: "I think he is a man with an endless hatred, even to those he has put in the grave like my husband." Leah Karegeya said six family members, including her sister Goretti Kabuto, are in detention in Rwanda because of their ties to her late husband.

Two decades of often deadly attacks on political opponents, journalists and rights activists have created a "climate of fear" ahead of Rwanda's election, Amnesty International said in a report last month.

"There are many unknown prisons in this country, and many people have vanished and died there," said one supporter of opposition candidate Habineza, Charlotte Umutesi. "My brother disappeared for a long time and we didn't find him until much later. We need a change before it is too late."

'Visionary' leader

Rwandan authorities, including Kagame, deny critics' claims that the government targets dissidents for assassination or disappearances.

Others insist the president has widespread support. Eric Ndushabandi, a professor of political science at the National University of Rwanda, said many admire Kagame as a "visionary" leader who united a country scarred by the 1994 genocide, in which over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were massacred by Hutu extremists.

"People are influenced by the traumatic situation of the genocide and conflictual politics in the past and no one is ready to go back," Ndushabandi said.

Meanwhile, opposition rallies often flop, apparently because some people are afraid to be seen associating with the president's opponents.

FILE - Presidential candidate Frank Habineza of the opposition Democratic Green Party gestures to supporters at an election campaign rally in Musanze District, Rwanda, July 28, 2017.
FILE - Presidential candidate Frank Habineza of the opposition Democratic Green Party gestures to supporters at an election campaign rally in Musanze District, Rwanda, July 28, 2017.

In the southeastern town of Nyamata, where independent candidate Mpayimana held his first campaign rally, only about 15 people — most of them children — attended. Police last week arrested the mayor of the western district of Rubavu, Jeremie Sinamenye, over allegations that he and some of his staff prevented voters from attending Mpayimana's rallies.

The other candidate running against Kagame, Habineza, called his campaign an act of "hope" despite the obvious risks. The organizing secretary of Habineza's party went missing two years ago and remains unaccounted for. The body of his deputy, Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, was discovered in 2010 with a severed head in the southern town of Butare.

That killing followed the shooting death of newspaper journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, whose tabloid had been suspended by Rwandan authorities.

"Running against President Kagame comes with courage," Habineza said.

Published in Business and Economy

Gideon Morik bends down before a neatly piled mound of red soil just beside his home. It’s the grave of his daughter, Anna. She was fourteen years old when she and her friends were gunned down on Christmas Eve.

The dry breezes of the harmattan swirl around Morik as he speaks in low tones.

“May your sweet soul rest in perfect peace,” he says. Morik remembers picking up her corpse and taking it to the mortuary. It’s a day that still haunts him.

“Up till now, I don’t believe it was my daughter I was carrying,” he pauses and blinks his eyes rapidly. “At a very, very tender age, a promising young girl.”

The men who shot up Morik’s community that day also set his house on fire. There’s a collapsed ceiling fan in the middle of the living room. Pieces of his children’s bicycles lean along a burned wall. The restroom is covered in rubble and shards of glass.

Morik lives in a remote community of mainly Christian farmers called Goska. He’s a leader here, having served on the state and regional level. Goska is in the southern region of the northern Nigerian state of Kaduna. Southern Kaduna is a hotbed of sporadic sectarian strife. Politics, land rights and other disputes have fueled the violence since the 1980s.
That’s when residents say Christians and Muslims started using violence to advocate for their communities. Hundreds of people have been killed in the latest bout of unrest that began in December 2016. The state government management agency says 204 people have been killed since December, but numbers are still being compiled.

Morik does not know if he will ever see justice for Anna’s murder.

She was in her bedroom when she heard gunshots outside in the evening of December 26. She fled out the backdoor, but it was already too late.

About 200 attackers, according to witnesses, had invaded Goska. Witnesses saw them shooting AK-47s and heard them shouting “Allahu Akbar!”

When Morik saw his daughter’s bloodied body on the ground, he froze.

That’s when police came. That’s when the assailants fled. But no one really feels safe.

“The attackers are still outside the village,” Morik says. “Any attempt by anybody to go one kilometer outside this village, he will be killed.”

Morik’s cars were set on fire. In the house next to his, stray chickens strut around in a daze. The coop is still lying on its side and there’s no one around to pick it up - the homeowner fled Goska weeks ago, like many others.

Goska sits in a valley surrounded by rolling hills where Christian farmers of various ethnic groups share the fertile land with nomadic cattle herders who belong to the predominantly Muslim ethnic group called Fulani.

Conflict is increasing to unprecedented levels here as more cattle herders move south, oftentimes entering farming land. Farmers accuse the Fulani herdsmen of allowing their cattle to trample and eat their crops. Fulani cattle herders accuse the farmers of killing their cattle.

“We lost almost more than 6,000 cows,” says Haruna Usman, a Fulani leader and head of the Kaduna State chapter of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders association.

Usman accuses the Nigerian media of bias. He says that Christians, unlike Fulanis, have greater access to the media.

“They will go to the media and say Fulani are killing them. They are the people causing all these problems, blocking roads. When they meet someone grazing his cows in the bush, they will just kill him,” Usman says.

Abdullahi Jibril, a Fulani cow herder, says his three adult sons are missing. They were last seen grazing their cows in a predominantly Christian neighborhood a few weeks ago. They are presumed dead.

“What hurts me most is that I can’t find the corpses,” Jibril explains, speaking in Hausa. “I’m calling on the government to take charge and wipe my tears.”

Jibril wants the government to compensate him for his losses. He says he also wants the Christians to stop killing Muslims.
But there are deep-rooted suspicions between Christian farmers and the Fulani Muslim herdsmen, according to Agyole Abeh, the Kaduna state police chief.

Abeh tells VOA that the police force is still investigating the attack in Goska.

They’re also investigating an attack on Dangoma, a few kilometers away from Goska. In Dangoma, homes belonging to Fulani families were razed to the ground on December 23 and December 26.

“It was Christians from Goska who attacked the Muslims in Dangoma. Look at the houses, completely destroyed,” says Usman.

Several communities across southern Kaduna are nearly deserted except for elders who say they were too weak to run away when an attack happens. It’s not difficult to find bullet casings in the dirt.

The ones who do summon the strength to run away sometimes go to makeshift relief camps.

Binta Linus holds her son, Alfa, on her lap. She’s waiting to get food donations at a camp set up by a Christian pastor named Gideon Mutum in Takau Primary School’s yard.

“For them, this place is actually like a safe haven because they lack food. They lack clothing. If you actually beg them, in the nearest possible time to go back to their villages, they’re not ready,” Mutum tells VOA.

Linus says she watched Fulani cattle herdsmen slaughter her husband with a machete in January.

In the afternoon, Linus joins a line where Mutum and his wife distribute packages of noodles and juice. In another line, Alfa reaches for a free notebook to use when he eventually goes back to school.

Ndi Kato, a 26-year-old native of southern Kaduna, passes out the notebooks for children. She’s an activist and founder of the Dinidari Empowerment Foundation.

“There is something happening here. And as long as you’re not paying attention, this thing is going to keep on happening and nothing is going to be done to relieve people of the pain they’re going through,” Kato tells VOA.

The violence is colored with religious hues - Muslims and Christian leaders blame the other.

Rev. John Mark Chitnum of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kafanchan, tells VOA about 800 Christians have been killed in southern Kaduna in the past two years.

“You can go and count from the graveyards, you can go. Even the bones are still there,” he says. In December, Christians gathered on these streets to hold a peaceful rally. But the rally turned into a riot.

“I joined the protest because the killing of the people in southern Kaduna is too much and mostly our Christians, says Shadrack Samson, a 31 year old local activist. “Our people are dying. We see it as a genocide. Seriously it’s a genocide because we don’t see anything from the government to safeguard the lives of these innocent people.”

Meanwhile, Muslims clerics are demanding the arrest of Christian leaders who they say are spreading incendiary messages to their followers.

“Most of these people actually called onto the people of southern Kaduna to take up arms to protect themselves. We’ve seen these people go to the media to tell their people to pick up arms,” says Sheik Usman Abubakar Babatune, the chairman of the Kaduna State Council of Imams and Ulama.

The killings have stopped in the past few weeks as police, soldiers and personnel from the nearby Nigerian Air Force base monitor the area. But no one has been prosecuted in connection with the recent violence.

Communities are left to mourn and pray for peace.

Published in Headliners

OIL giant Oando Plc has declared a N4.6 billion profit in its half year ended June 30, 2017.

An analysis of the half-year  results of oil and gas companies operating in the country revealed an increase in earnings.

Royal Dutch Shell’s cash flow rose to the highest since the oil price crash began. It generated $3.6 billion.

Tullow Oil’s revenue increased by 46 per cent to $0.8 billion . A comparative review of Oando’s financials showed positive performance. Its turnover increased by 26 per cent to N267.1 billion from N212.3 billion; its gross profit rose by 76 per cent to N33.4 billion from N19 billion; and its net finance costs more than halved to N16.4 billion from N35.3 billion.

The firm’s profit-after-tax  (PAT) increased by 117 per cent to N4.6 billion from a loss of N26.9 billion in the same period last year. For the third time in a row, Oando posted positive financials, defying speculations and bolstering confidence in the Oil and Gas sector.

In its final year-end 2016 results, the oil firm declared N3.5 billion PAT; in the first quarter of 2017, it posted N1.7 billion PAT and more recently, N4.6 billion PAT in its half year ended June 30, 2017 results. Amidst the sectorial challenges the company continues to wax strong. These numbers are indicative of the company’s ability to manoeuvre the cyclical nature of the sector by adapting quickly to continued low oil prices. Oando has done this through the successful implementation of its corporate strategic initiatives of growth, deleverage and profitability alongside its renewed focus on its dollar earning businesses.

Commenting on the company’s financials, its Group Chief Executive, Mr. Wale Tinubu said: “With security concerns in the Niger Delta receding, Nigeria’s economic recovery has been buoyed by a boost in oil output, while the legislative approval of certain segments of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) provides greater long-term policy certainty for the sector. Our returns underline our continued successful foray into the upstream.”

Oando scored significant operational highlights in the first half of this year.

Through its upstream business, Oando Energy Resources, successfully realised N3.2 billion in net cash from the crystallisation of the corporate facility hedges (1,590 bbls/day) while in the second quarter of 2017, it successfully completed the sale of its interest in oil mining leases (OMLs) 125 and 134 to Nigerian Agip Exploration Limited (NAE) for a profit of N4.6 billion.

In its Downstream business, Oando Trading (OTD), the company recorded a 40 per cent growth in traded volumes and a commendable 147 per cent increase in turnover to N217.5 billion compared to N88.1billion for the comparative period of last year. The trading business lifted volumes exceeding 7.5mmbbls of crude and imported 610,000MT of refined petroleum products, a 72 per cent and 20 per cent increase respectively.

The Structured Trade Finance lines in its downstream business increased by N76.5 billion to N214.1 billion in total, from a total of five international and African banks, further validation that Oando is still a good business investment. This increase in financing allows the company to achieve greater trading capacity and in turn more volumes.

Speaking on the outlook for the company in the second half of 2017, Tinubu said: “We remain committed to optimising our overall production base, seeking unique profit-driven opportunities to further partner with IOCs, while firming up our balance sheet to provide greater shareholder value.”



Analysts say the oil and gas sector is gradually recovering from the upheaval of low oil prices due in part to the exemption of Nigeria from the global oil production cut by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as containment of the Niger Delta unrest which has led to a steady rise in oil production. In May 2017, the country’s oil production increased by 273,600 barrels per day (bpd) to 1.484 million barrels per day (bpd), a testament to these changes.

The approval of the PIGB is set to further improve the sector. The anticipated fall out of the PIGB is a more efficiently regulated oil and gas industry and a conducive business environment for sector players. More recently, three petroleum industry bills passed second reading in the Senate; this is expected to further encourage substantial investment in the petroleum industry.

Published in Headliners
Page 9 of 9