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Kwaluseni, Eswatini. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” remembers Sifiso. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. “Bullets were flying everywhere,” remembers Sifiso. © Alessandro Parodi.

The Southern African country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) is in military lockdown as a result of violence and brutal retaliation, which escalated in the last two weeks in the Manzini district. The civil unrest opposes pro-democracy protesters and King Mswati III’s army, which defends the royal family through the barrel of the gun.

The marches started at the University of Eswatini (UNISWA) in Manzini, the country’s second biggest city, to express the dissatisfaction of the young generations with the authority and the excesses of the last absolute monarch in Africa. For weeks, the government ignored the rallies organized in the country’s four districts by students and political parties. The uprising took an unexpected turn as the disheartened rioters started destroying and looting businesses owned by the King and by foreigner entrepreneurs.

 

“The protest was peaceful until the police arrived,” commented Sifiso, who witnessed an intense stand-off on June 29. “They threw tear gas bombs and were shooting to kill.”

 

“The protest was peaceful until the police arrived,” commented Sifiso, who witnessed an intense stand-off on June 29. “They threw tear gas bombs and were shooting to kill.”

The rioters replied with petrol bombs and set the Kwaluseni police station alight. Hell broke loose.

“Suddenly we were in the crossfire,” added Sifiso, showing a bullet shell he found on the street. “They beat up people and shot them down. Somebody tried to run and cut his leg with barbed wire. There was blood everywhere, and the whole block was burning down.”

The Kwaluseni constituency was one of several areas targeted during the protests. The district of Manzini and the city of Matsapha were the hardest hit, with entire neighborhoods destroyed by fire, looting, and the brute force used by law enforcement officials.

“It was Thursday, at 4 o’clock in the morning around the brewery area,” remembered Thando (not his real name), a protester from Matsapha. “The police and the army came to stop our riot. My brother Sicelo was in the front. They shot, they shot -- I think they shot him three times, while he was running away.”

“We took his body to the hospital and he died there,” continued Thando. “In the night, the soldiers came to steal the body from the morgue to burn it. Fortunately a friend tipped me off. I went to the hospital and got the body back with the help of the secretary of PUDEMO [Peoples' United Democratic Movement] to go ahead with the autopsy.”

Thando is no longer afraid for his life. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die. I’m already dead. It’s just a matter of how it happens,” he said.

Silencing the opposition seems to be the modus operandi of the regime, as several “accidents” reportedly resulted in the death or disappearance of political analysts, journalists and dissidents. The Swazi government also refused to address the public, denying interviews and media accreditation in the country. However, rumors talk of an imminent Sibaya, a general assembly called by the monarch to address his subjects on Friday 16.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also become an excuse to restrict the citizen’s freedom with the enforcement of a 6pm curfew and the temporary jamming of internet connections. Most of the killings and torture reportedly happened at night.

One of the alleged accidents caused the death of Thabani Nkomonye, a law student at the University of Eswatini who was killed and mauled by the police on May 8. In the academic circles, his memory still provokes pain and resentment. His murder ignited a revolutionary sentiment among his peers, who flooded the Tinkhundla Centres with thousands of petitions. The Tinkhundla Centres are 55 administrative establishments where the population can express their democratic rights and petition the undertakings of the royal family and its government.

The students demanded inclusive governance and a transition to a parliamentary monarchy with the support of three vocal MPs, who questioned the authority of a puppet Parliament. The government’s response was marked by dismissal and repression. The Tinkhundla Centres were shut down and military cordons were established around them.

“What we were doing was guided by the Constitution of Swaziland,” commented student leader Bongumenzi Dlamini. “They were wrong to ban the submission of petitions, which were given to the rightful Member of Parliament.”

“The protests are not going to stop, simply because the government doesn’t want to listen to us. Our parents are used to solving issues in a more peaceful way, our culture is based on that. We have seen that this attitude doesn’t work. We are taken for granted because we employ respect and it backfires on us. When we engage ourselves in strikes, instead, we are taken as hooligans because they use the Swazi culture as a shield,” concluded Dlamini.

 

“I don’t know what to think, I lost everything,” asserted Rambo Maziya, the owner of two pharmacies in Matsapha and Manzini. “But I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines. My people are dying.”

 

Despite the peaceful intentions, the protests turned into bloodshed and fratricide. As violence erupted, looting and shoplifting were at large.

“I don’t know what to think, I lost everything,” asserted Rambo Maziya, the owner of two pharmacies in Matsapha and Manzini. “But I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines. My people are dying.”

“I didn’t expect things to be that bad,” added Ali Tasty, who owns several shops in Kwaluseni. “I only went back after two days and found all my businesses were burned down. Now what can I do?”

Supermarkets and car dealers were also destroyed, for an estimated damage of 3 billion Emalangeni ($208 million). 5,000 jobs went up in smoke.

“In any situation like this there are casualties. I am one of them,” commented a shop employee, who requested to remain anonymous. “They are protecting the regime at our expense.”

The Swazi population now faces a serious shortage of basic goods such as food and medicines. The supply of petrol, which is a monopoly of Southern Star Logistics, has become erratic and resulted in endless lines at filling stations. The Swazi business community is also disillusioned with the monarch’s attitude toward the free market, which he is accused to dominate with unfair competition and insatiable greed.

As the country attempts a painful return to normality, dissident MPs Bacede Mabuza, Magawugawu Simelane and Mthandeni Dube are in hiding, with police on their trail. A mandate of arrest justifies the manhunt, although their defense has not had any clarity about the charges against them.

“The Inkundla system opposes the existence of democratic voices in Swaziland,” stated their defense lawyer Adv. Thulani Maseko, director of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Mbabane.

“Whilst we have the elections of MPs in the 59 constituencies, the executive remains a prerogative of the King, in particular the choice of a Prime Minister. The second fundamental point is that political parties are not allowed to contest political power as a block.” Political parties were banned in 1973 by King Sobhuza II.

“These MPs who today are facing arrest have come out asking for elections to be held. That is the reason why the system is upset,” concluded Maseko.

His colleague Emmanuel Mabuza is concerned about his safety and fears for retaliation: “If the protests fail, we are all dead. They will find us and make us disappear,” he affirmed.

On July 4, a fact-finding mission of observers from SADC countries (Troika) met government officials in Mbabane. The international inquiry was dismissed as the delegation could not engage with civil society and other stakeholders.

The mission returned on July 12, despite the eruption of unrelated violence in neighbouring South Africa.

While awaiting the results of the inquiry, the Swazi population is bracing for new protests scheduled for July 16, in occasion of the King’s Sibaya. The alert levels are on the rise, amid increasing fears of further violence, destruction and death.

 

Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Trying hard to return to normality. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Trying hard to return to normality. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. “I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines,” said Rambo Maziya . © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. “I need to reopen, no matter what, because the people in my community need my medicines,” said Rambo Maziya . © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. The uprising exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. The uprising exacerbated the difficulties caused by the Covid pandemic. © Alessandro Parodi.
Manzini, Eswatini. Several ATMs were assaulted during the riots. © Alessandro Parodi.
Manzini, Eswatini. Several ATMs were assaulted during the riots. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Arson at HB Motors caused damage for 13 million Emalangeni ($883,000). © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Arson at HB Motors caused damage for 13 million Emalangeni ($883,000). © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Angry students did not spare the book shop at the University of Eswatini. © Alessandro Parodi.
Kwaluseni, Eswatini. Angry students did not spare the book shop at the University of Eswatini. © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Thabo (not his real name) lost his brother in the protests. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die.” © Alessandro Parodi.
Matsapha, Eswatini. Thabo (not his real name) lost his brother in the protests. “When you talk the truth, here, you’re going to die.” © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. A young supporter of the King reads the daily news © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. A young supporter of the King reads the daily news © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. King Mswati III surrounded by his escort © Alessandro Parodi.
Lobamba, Eswatini. King Mswati III surrounded by his escort © Alessandro Parodi.

 

Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (Photo by Kola Sulaimon/via AFP)

In Lagos, twenty-five anti-government protesters arrested on Wednesday were released after appearing in court, where they were cautioned against unruly and unlawful behavior. They were arrested during peaceful demonstrations—organized under the aegis of the #RevolutionNow movement and tagged “national day of action”—across major cities. The protestors are demanding better governance from the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.

Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of a failed protest called by the journalist and activist Omoyele Sowore, who was arrested as a result and charged with treason, money laundering, and cyberstalking. He was freed in December, but he still faces trial.

The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), an alliance formed in 2018 by Nigeria’s main opposition People’s Democratic Party and dozens of other parties, has condemned the crackdown on #RevolutionNow activists during Wednesday’s demonstrations.

 

Government Priorities

The arrest of the twenty-five protesters in the Ikeja suburb for unlawful protest and disregarding COVID-19 social distancing measures elicited stronger reactions than usual, as it occurred around the same time as a deadly attack on a community in Kaduna State, allegedly by a Fulani militia group. The authorities appeared to be more preoccupied with clamping down on protestors violating interim measures than acting against violent bandits, which has prompted rising anti-government sentiment.

 

Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara
Ivorian president Alassane Ouattara (Photo by Sia Kambou/via AFP)

After weeks of speculation, President Alassane Ouattara has confirmed that he will stand as the candidate for Côte d'Ivoire’s ruling RHDP party, taking the place of his chosen successor Amadou Gon Coulibaly, who passed away suddenly last month. Opposition parties claim Ouattara’s announcement is a violation of the Ivorian constitution, which limits a president to two consecutive terms. But the RHDP argues the constitution adopted in 2016 effectively reset Ouattara’s term limits, so his first term didn’t count.

Though this decision is seemingly an about-face from prior statements made by the incumbent, Ouattara had warned that should Laurent Gbagbo and Henri Konan Bédié run as candidates he would consider seeking a third term.

Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie
Former Ivorian president Henri Konan Bédie (Photo by Issouf Sanogo/via AFP)

Bédié was president of Côte d’Ivoire from 1993 to 1999, and implemented changes to the country’s constitution that barred Ouattara from running for president in 1995 and 2000. The changes stipulated that both parents of a presidential candidate must be of Ivorian birth, which Ouattara and his supporters said was designed to specifically exclude him given that one of his parents was rumored to be from Burkina Faso. Another stipulation that barred him from running was the prohibition of ever having claimed citizenship of another country; Ouattara held Burkinabe citizenship for a while.

Ouattara was formally granted Ivorian citizenship in 2002, and in 2004 the National Assembly voted in favor of changing the constitution to specify that Ivorians with at least one parent who was Ivorian at birth would be allowed to contest presidential elections. The change was not immediately ratified, however, but was finally adopted in the 2016 constitution.

 

A Third Candidate

As for Gbagbo, his refusal to step down after the 2010 elections was one of the catalysts for the Ivorian Civil War, which claimed more than 3,000 lives. Gbagbo’s party, the Ivorian Popular Front (FPI), declared former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan as its candidate. Both the FPI and Bédie’s party, the PDCI, declared they would run a joint ticket should the presidential election go to a second-round runoff.

The election is set to be held on October 31, 2020.

 

Chadian president Idriss Déby
Chadian president Idriss Déby (Photo by Georges Gobet/via AFP)

Late Monday, Chad’s communication minister Chérif Mahamat Zene said that a government measure to slow down internet speed in the country, introduced on July 22, was intended to halt “the dissemination of messages inciting hate and division.” He said the slowdown would be lifted soon, but did not specify a date.

Speaking anonymously, Chadian telecommunications officials allege this most recent blackout was in response to a video circulating on WhatsApp and social media showing a Chadian military officer in a dispute with two mechanics firing point-blank at one of them. The man died of his wounds. Some social media users have pointed out that the soldier was from the same community as President Idriss Déby.

 

The social media shutdown lasted sixteen months

 

This is not the first time Chad has limited Internet access. In March 2018, the government blocked access to social media platforms after protests had broken out over proposed constitutional amendments allowing Déby to remain in power until 2033. The shutdown lasted sixteen months. The official justification was a similar argument of protecting internal security, but civil society organizations claimed the real motive was to suppress public dissent against Déby, who has ruled Chad since he seized power in 1990.

Despite growing smartphone usage in Chad, Internet penetration is only 14 percent and data costs are high.

 

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)
President Emmerson Mnangagwa and a member of the Commercial Farmers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Photo via Twitter)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe announced an agreement had been struck with the Commercial Farmers’ Union to compensate farmers whose land had been seized during former president Robert Mugabe’s agriculture reform efforts in the early 2000s. He said Zimbabwe would pay US$3.5 billion in compensation for infrastructure but not for the land itself. He did not give details about the amounts to be paid to individual farmers or their descendants, nor how the country will be able to afford this large sum of money considering its dire socio-economic situation.

The Mugabe regime evicted 4,500 white farmers and redistributed the farms to black families as part of a land reform program to redress colonial imbalances.

 

Authoritarian Rule

Two days after Mnangagwa’s announcement, his administration deployed security forces to close down the capital Harare and arrest several dozen activists in response to mass demonstrations on July 31. The protest action, organized by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, was planned to coincide with a general strike against the deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Internationally acclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga was among the protesters who were arrested.

Resolving the land question was a precondition placed on Mnangagwa by Western powers in 2017 in order to lift crippling sanctions and reintegrate Zimbabwe into the global community. This could explain Mnangagwa prioritizing compensation for expropriated farms while maintaining the same hardline approach against dissent as his predecessor, who also used military force to quell civil disobedience.

 

A fire burns in north-west Algeria. (Photo via STR/AFP)

It has been a troublesome past few days for Algeria, with power outages and drinking water shutoffs impacting the capital Algiers and several other cities during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, celebrated on Friday. Moreover, the banks had a liquidity problem, and country has seen a sharp economic downturn due to lower revenue from its energy industry. Capping this all off were forest fires that have destroyed hundreds of hectares of vegetation.

The combination of these misfortunes prompted President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to launch an investigation into what his administration believes were targeted actions meant to destabilize the country. Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad, speaking to reporters, blamed the water shortages on the deliberate sabotage of a desalination plant. Djerad also said people were caught setting the fires, but he did not provide any further details.

 

The greatest contributors to the forest fires were desertification and rising temperatures

 

The geography journal Méditerranée published a study in 2013 that found the greatest contributors to the forest fires were desertification and rising temperatures accelerated by climate change. The underlying problem was poor urban planning processes that led to population-dense regions burning forests to clear space for agriculture and housing.

Depicting these setbacks as deliberate actions could be a way for the Algerian government to lend itself legitimacy in cracking down on public protests, especially as the Hirak movement continues to gather in the streets demanding the complete overhaul of the Algerian political system.

 

Tundu Lissu, former Tanzanian member of parliament with the Chadema main opposition party, reacts to supporters as he returns after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in elections later this year. (Photo by STR/AFP)
Tundu Lissu, former Tanzanian member of parliament with the Chadema main opposition party, reacts to supporters as he returns after three years in exile to challenge President John Magufuli in elections later this year. (Photo by STR/AFP)

Tundu Lissu, a principal political rival to Tanzanian president John Magufuli, flew home after spending nearly three years in Belgium receiving medical treatment for gunshot wounds he had sustained in September 2017. Lissu, who was an opposition member of parliament at the time, was hit by five bullets out of about thirty-two shots aimed at his car as he was returning home from a parliamentary session.

Welcomed by a few hundred of his supporters as he alighted from the aircraft, Lissu intimated he would be challenging Magufuli in the presidential election set to be held on October 28.

 

Observers are worried the country is backsliding into authoritarianism

 

The attack against Lissu was one of the most egregious examples of political intimidation and harassment against opposition figures under President Magufuli’s administration, a trend that has observers worried the country is backsliding into authoritarianism.

The top opposition parties are considering joining forces behind one candidate to stand against Magufuli, who will be seeking a second five-year term.

 

Patrick Chinamasa
Patrick Chinamasa (Alexander Joe/AFP)

Patrick Chinamasa, spokesperson for Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, accused United States ambassador Brian Nichols of “engaging in acts of mobilizing and funding disturbances, coordinating violence and training insurgents” in an effort to topple the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa. “Diplomats should not behave like thugs, and Brian Nichols is a thug,” he said. He provided no evidence to back these serious claims, and the US embassy in Harare did not immediately respond to the allegations.

Former president Robert Mugabe frequently invoked similar rhetoric during his 42 years in power, accusing the United States and Great Britain on several occasions of aiming to institute regime change.

 

More than 105,000 people have been arrested since March for violating lockdown regulations

 

This latest accusation comes a few days ahead of a planned mass demonstration on July 31. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance and Zimbabwean civil society organizations have urged Zimbabweans to take to the streets to protest against government corruption, the declining Zimbabwean economy, and harsh COVID-19 lockdown measures.

The authorities have warned against the demonstration, claiming concerns of spreading COVID-19. However, opposition leaders accuse the government of using the lockdown measures as cover to stifle political dissent and target the opposition. The police have confirmed that more than 105,000 people have been arrested since March for violating lockdown regulations.

 

Hichem Mechichi, Tunisia’s minister of the interior and advisor to President Kais Saied, has been designated as the new prime minister following the abrupt resignation of Elyes Fakhfakh more than a week ago. The transfer of power was formally conducted on July 25, and the president tasked Mechichi with forming a new government within a month.

Forming a government is one thing; maintaining one will be much more difficult.

In this handout picture provided by the Tunisian Presidency Press Service, Tunisian president Kais Saied (R) appoints Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi as the country's new prime minister, tasked with forming a new unity cabinet, at the Carthage Palace on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on July 25, 2020. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP)
Tunisian president Kais Saied (right) and new prime minister Hichem Mechichi, photographed at the presidential palace in Carthage on July 25, 2020. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP)

The new government will need parliamentary approval, which requires an absolute majority. This means that the kingmaker will once again be the largest party in Tunisia’s legislature: Ennahda, an Islamist political movement that gained significant influence following the 2011 Arab Spring. Should the parliamentary vote of confidence fail, new elections must be held three months later.

During the political tug-of-war between the presidency and Ennahda over Fakhfakh’s appointment, the prospect of holding new elections finally convinced the party to form a coalition government, as their majority was not guaranteed given the months of political crises and economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

 

President Félix Tshisekedi
President Félix Tshisekedi

In a televised address, President Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of the Congo announced that the national COVID-19 state of health emergency will be lifted starting July 22. It was declared on March 24 and extended six times Most daily activities are set to resume immediately; educational facilities will open on August 3; and borders, houses of worship, and other public venues will open on August 15.

 

Reported new daily cases remained below 100 for a week

 

The lifting of restrictions comes as the DRC reported that new daily cases remainted below 100 for a full week, with new daily deaths numbering just one or two over the same period. It also arrives one month after the World Health Organization announced that the Ebola outbreak in the country’s east, the second deadliest in world history, was officially over.

As the country contends with a massive and ongoing measles outbreak, severe flooding, and continued violence in North and South Kivu provinces, the lifting of the state of emergency can be regarded as a small victory for the beleaguered Congolese people. President Tshisekedi acknowledged, however, that the end of the state of emergency did not mean the end of COVID-19. He emphasized the need to adhere to safety measures to prevent infection.

 

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