African press review 18 September 2013

The ICC hears harrowing testimony over Keny'as 2008 violence. Mugabe threatens to turn up the heat on foreign companies. Is Swaziland a failed feudal state? And are Vietnamese men a threat to African rhinos?


The first witness in the International Criminal Court (ICC) case against Kenyan Deputy President William Ruto yesterday gave a harrowing account of the attack on Kiambaa Church in which 30 women and children were burnt to death on New Year's Day, 2008.

Kenya's post-election violence 2007-8

According to the Nairobi-based Standard newspaper, the witness, known only as P0536, broke down as she described how more than 3,000 youths armed with bows and arrows, whom she identified as Kalenjin by their dialect, barricaded the main entrance of the church before setting it ablaze. She estimated that approximately 1,800-2,000 people were inside the church at the time.

The witness maintained that she identified one of the attackers through a small opening next to a window where he stood carrying a jerrycan of fuel.

“I saw Stephen Chemalan, who was then running for a seat as councillor where I stayed. He was carrying a blue jerrycan,” she recalled. “From the small space, I saw him throw it on the roof and the fire exploded.”

A separate article in The Standard says that ICC judges have sought clarification on whether or not Kenya’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute threatened the safety of witnesses.

The ICC is expected to make a decision on how the prosecution witnesses will be protected should the judges be convinced that Kenya’s proposed withdrawal from the Rome Statute exposes them.

The judge was responding to claims made by Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda that her witnesses were recanting their evidence because their safety would not be guaranteed after Kenya ceases to be a member of the statute, the legal document establishing the ICC.

News from neighbouring countries dominates the front page of this morning's South African financial paper, BusinessDay.

Dossier: War in Mali

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe on Tuesday promised to turn up the heat on foreign-owned companies and gave a strong indication that his new government would step up its indigenisation programme. Mugabe was speaking at the official opening of the eighth session of the Zimbabwean parliament.

The ceremony was boycotted by legislators from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, who have refused to approve the government led by Mugabe following their defeat in the 31 July election.

Mugabe won 61 per cent of votes against Tsvangirai’s 33 per cent.

The president made no reference to the recent World Food Programme report suggesing that over two million people are at risk of starvation in rural Zimbabwe before the next harvest, due in April.

Major companies with investments in Swaziland should join the pro-democracy campaign against King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, according to US human rights group Freedom House.

The group's report describes Swaziland as a failed feudal state and appears three days before Swaziland holds non-party elections on Friday. The polls have already been condemned as meaningless window-dressing by opponents at home and abroad.

UK political observers Chatham House warned earlier this month that the kingdom was on an "unsustainable trajectory", financially and politically.

Freedom House warns Swazi civil society to prepare for "a long, hard struggle" to force democratic change in the landlocked country of about 1.2 million people.

King Mswati III, who is 45, has a personal fortune of about 200 million euros, according to media reports. He has 15 wives.

Unemployment in the kingdom is estimated at 40 per cent and Swaziland has the world’s highest rate of HIV/Aids.

There's a worrying story on BusinessDay's science pages, under the headline "Vietnam’s market for rhino horn could quadruple".

The article explains that more than three times as many Vietnamese want to obtain rhino horn as those who actually buy it and the population has the means to become wealthy enough to boost the illegal market, according to research funded by the World Wide Fund and published yesterday.

Conservationists see Vietnam as integral to curbing the poaching that feeds the illegal horn trade and has cost South Africa at least 635 rhinos so far in 2013, about the same as 2012’s full-year tally.

Vietnam, a known destination for much of the illegal rhino horn poached in South Africa, had the highest wildlife crime score in the WWF’s 2012 blacklist.

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