Eswatini Shuts Schools Amid New Wave of Protests

MBABANE, ESWATINI —

Eswatini, Africa’s last absolute monarchy, said Saturday it had shut its schools “indefinitely with immediate effect” as the country faces a wave of pro-democracy protests.

Students of the tiny, landlocked nation formerly known as Swaziland have been protesting for a number of weeks, boycotting lessons and calling for free schooling, as well as an end to the regime under King Mswati III.

“His Majesty’s government has taken the decision to close schools indefinitely with immediate effect,” Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini said in a statement.

According to pro-democracy activists, the army and police have been deployed in schools this week, and several students have been arrested.

Civil society and opposition groups demonstrated in the largest cities, Manzini and Mbabane, in June, looting shops and ransacking business properties.

At least 28 people died as police clashed with protesters in some of the worst unrest in the southern African country’s history. The latest fatality came Wednesday.

On Friday, Eswatini shut down the internet for two hours as pro-democracy marchers headed to the capital.

The shutdown came as images of the protests circulated on social and traditional media, including pictures of two people who said they had been injured by gunshots fired by security forces.

The internet shutdown blocked social media and left many services running very slowly afterward.

On Saturday, the situation was calm, according to an AFP journalist.

King Mswati III has ruled Eswatini since 1986 and owns shares in the country’s telecoms.

He is criticized for living a lavish lifestyle in one of the world’s poorest countries and is accused of stifling political parties.

The king has accused demonstrators of depriving children of their education by taking part in the protests.

Source: Voice of America

Laurent Gbagbo Launches New Political Party in Ivory Coast

ABIDJAN, IVORY COAST —

Former Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo launched a new political party Saturday, formally breaking ties with those who ran his previous party while he spent years facing war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court.

Gbagbo, 76, who returned home in June after his acquittal was upheld, announced a few months later that he would be setting up a new party in order to avoid legal battles with his former ally, Pascal Affi N’Guessan.

Gbagbo was extradited to The Hague in 2011 and his Ivorian Popular Front party splintered three years later — with one faction led by N’Guessan, while former first lady Simone Gbagbo played a prominent role in the other.

Organizers say the proposed name of Gbagbo’s new party is the African People’s Party — Ivory Coast, shortened to its French acronym, PPA-CI.

On Saturday, Gbagbo greeted a crowd of more than 1,600 delegates in Abidjan, many holding small flags bearing his image. The ex-president is expected to address his supporters on Sunday, organizers said.

The creation of Gbagbo’s new political party comes amid lingering questions about his future political aspirations. He served as president from 2000 until his arrest in 2011 after he refused to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara. The post-election conflict left more than 3,000 people dead and brought the country back to the brink of civil war.

Ouattara ultimately prevailed and has been the president of Ivory Coast ever since.

Ouattara won a controversial third term late last year after the opposition claimed many of its candidates were disqualified, including Gbagbo.

On Saturday, the executive director of the ruling party, Adama Bictogo, was among those in attendance at the party congress.

“For us, coming to witness the birth of a new party led by President Laurent Gbagbo reinforces the existing democratic vitality and it will help with the advancement of democracy,” he said.

Notably absent, though, was the former first lady, Simone Gbagbo, who had traveled to Congo. Charles Ble Goude, Gbagbo’s former youth leader who also was acquitted at the ICC, also did not attend.

Laurent Gbagbo spent eight years awaiting trial on war crimes charges. A judge acquitted him in 2019, saying prosecutors failed to prove their case. The verdict was appealed but upheld in late March, clearing the way for Gbagbo to leave Belgium, where he had spent the past two years.

While some had feared his return could set off new unrest, Gbagbo was received by Ouattara himself and has mostly maintained a low profile. Some of Gbagbo’s opponents, though, maintain he should have been jailed in Ivory Coast upon his return and not given a statesman’s welcome.

Source: Voice of America

Food Experts in Uganda Say They Want Farmers’ Opinions Before Introducing Innovations

KAMPALA, UGANDA —

As climate change continues to hit farmers because of erratic weather conditions, researchers believe there is a need to not only improve agricultural innovation but seek farmers’ opinions before introducing new farming methods.

Hadijah Naigaga has been a banana farmer for over 10 years. With Uganda experiencing erratic rainfall in some parts of the country and prolonged dry seasons, Naigaga says her garden was not spared.

She says there used to be huge banana plantations but they have collapsed. First, we had a prolonged dry spell and the plantation dried up, she says. Then, the rain was so heavy and the trees fell down. I had calculated that I would make a profit of between $3 and $6. But you realize that where you calculated $6, you have nothing. The trees are gone, she says.

Antonio Querido, the Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Uganda, says in order to have better production, nutrition, environment and life, there’s a need to transform agri-food systems. That would ensure that everyone has access to enough affordable, safe and nutritious food to lead an active and healthy life. According to the FAO, 690 million people suffer from hunger worldwide and that number has increased due to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Querido said the agri-food systems are also contributing to climate change and that calls for better ways in the long term to produce safe and nutritious food.

“We need to invest more in research and development, to make farming more technology-advanced. We need innovation in digital agriculture to improve literacy rates among women. Because these can only go a long way in reducing hunger,” Querido said.

Ambrose Agona, the director general of the National Agricultural and Research Organization, says that while Uganda is considered a food basket for the Eastern African region, the question now is on the quality of food.

He says to ensure farmers grow quality of food, researchers need to talk with farmers, who often apply indigenous methods to raising crops.

“So, for instance, you’re talking about adaptation maybe to climate change. They have, for instance, certain crops, sorghum, finger millet, ground nuts, pigeon peas. They have been actually drought tolerant. But now, the farmers will be saying, if this newly improved variety is actually tolerant to climate change, how does it compare to ours,” Agona said.

According to the FAO, $40 to $50 billion must be invested worldwide to end hunger by 2030.

In Uganda, efforts are focused on training farmers and improving methods to produce information that leads to early warning systems to help them plan and anticipate the impacts of climate change.

That would be in addition to supporting post-harvest management and collective marketing to drive economic success and reduce poverty among farmers.

Source: Voice of America